Sunday, August 31, 2008

Bombay to Goa !!!

Spent 3 days in Goa last week ... a welcome and refreshing break from the routine of Mumbai life !!!

Taj Exotica is a fabulous resort ... the views are breathtaking !!! Here are some snaps I clicked all within the resort.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Tata Nano : Singur to Maharashtra ?

Mamata Banerjee is at it again. Just when the first Tata Nano was being readied for the October launch she had to throw a spanner in the works. Where was Mamatadi when the project was conceived 6-7 years ago, why was she silent all this time and what made her suddenly "wake-up" + "take-up" the cause of the farmers ??? Obviously this is nothing but a desperate gimmick to stay in the news.

I understand she is demanding 400 of the allocated 997 acres be returned to the farmers unless the government doles out a significantly higher compensation to the farmers. The government has already paid the farmers INR 12 lacs per acre. Agreed that the land rates have gone up since ... but the rates would not have gone up without the Nano factory in any case. Land for such projects is always bought at prevelant rates during project commencement and its not possible to keep compensating owners for future price hikes !!!

The irony is that no one gains from this :

a) West Bengal as a state loses as no other big project / investments will come to the state in the near future if the Tatas withdraw now ... even if they dont this whole issue will be a huge disincentive for anyone considerig setting up shop in WB.

b) The farmers may get some short-term gains if there is a compromise ... but in case the project moves away from Singur the local population will surely lose out on long term development of the region.

c) The Tatas of course lose time, money and business opportunity ...

d) Mamatadi herself suffers credibility erosion for taking up a Lose-Lose-Lose ... cause. If only someone could drill some sense into her !!!

Not in a mood to relent ( and rightly so I think ) Tata Motors is already formulating Plan B ie. moving production base to a more hospitable state ... and many have already extended an open invitation. Wont be easy to uproot a factory and transplant it ... but knowing the Tatas they will do the right thing for the long-term rather than try to buy a short-term compromise.

West Bengal's loss could well be Maharashtra's gain.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Matka Phod @ Mumbai

"Matka" is quite a deceptive word ... there are 3 entirely unique connotations I myself am aware of :
a) In most IITs & IT-BHU ( I can at least vouch for the latter coz I went there ) "matka" is the mildly derogatory term for M. Tech students ... derogatory coz the assumption is that one should naturally be doing MS in an US univ instead.
b) In Mumbai underworld parlance "matka" is a particularly infamous form of gambling originally started by a gentleman named Ratan Khatri. IF you are curious to learn more please go here.
c) Then of course there is the straight "matka" ie clay pitcher. This in conjunction with "phod" ie smash ( the other more colourful meanings of phod and its derivatives like phad, phadna etc could be the subject of a future discussion !!! ) becomes "matka-phod" which many young folks in Mumbai ( also refered to as Govindas ... no connection with the bollywood Govinda ) become obsessed with during Janmashtami. The objective is to phodofy the matka which is suspended high in the air by forming a human pyramid ... the group doing it the fastest wins the prize ( which goes into lacs ... hence a big deal !!! ).

Today is Janmashtami and the original plot was to go out into the streets of Mumbai ( specifically around Dadar ) to see the Govindas in action ... but the Olympics closing ceremony and the India-Srilanka third one-day fuelled the inertia already triggered off by a particularly heavy Sunday lunch :-) and I happily lounged in front of the TV all afternoon switching channels to get as much of the action as possible.

The Beijing olympic torch at the Bird's Nest stadium 5 seconds before closing. Was the best ever olympics for India finishing 50th with 3 medals.

With Sri Lanka at 94-6 one would have expected a cake walk for India ... Jayawardane & Thushara put up a good fight to get the match quite close though in the end we won easily. Here's a Thushara run-out goof up ... luckily Yuvraj got him out the next ball before he could do any further damage.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bangalore store visit

Was in Bangalore oops ... Bengaluru ( when will the new moniker catch on ??? ). Logistically a very painful trip ... The new airport is in the middle of nowhere ... 2hrs drive from to/from the city ... Same time as the mumbai-bangalore flight !!!

The choice of location was clearly driven by greedy politicians who have conveniently grabbed acres of adjoining land for peanuts. The airport is surprisingly small - was expecting it to be significantly bigger than the existing one.

One of the agenda items in Bangalore was to check out some traditional retail grocer / chemist outlets.

There was this store where the owner was nowhere to be seen ... looked like he'd entrusted his business to a cat which was cheerfully perched on the weighing machine grooming itself.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Prithvi : keeping Theatre alive in Mumbai

The mushrooming multiplexes have dealt a severe blow to theatre in Mumbai. Hard to comprehend how inane bollywood masala flicks score over sublime plays crafted by groups like ekjute, ank, ipta, motley. Hats off to Prithvi Theatre ( and folks like Sanjana Kapoor) which provides a stage to these groups to bring us some splendid plays ...

I'd watched the historic 1000th run of "Hai Mera Dil" by Ank, a couple years back ... Dinesh Thakur's speech at the end exhorting the sparse audience to keep watching and supporting theatre was really moving. He had tears in his eyes and i had a lump in my throat.

Last weekend Piya and I were at Prithvi to watch ipta's "Kashmakash" :

Set in the Seventies, the protagonist ( Anjan Srivastava ) is influenced by his own son, brother in law ( Avtaar Gill ) local hoodlums and politicians to transform himself into a fictitious freedom fighter to earn a monthly pension from the government. Despite initial reservations, slowly he warms up to this new avatar leading to many humorous interludes ( specially the nok-jhok with his wife played by Sulabha Arya of Kantabai of Kal Ho Na Ho fame !!! ). The story takes a twist when he realizes that he has bitten off more than what he can chew and all the conniving folks who had convinced him to accept the pension had their own hidden agendas and were now out to exploit him.

The deceptions in human relationships, the dark side of indian politics and our collective loss of regard for freedom fighters ( symbolic for any individual who stands up to try and make a difference ) are the underlying messages brought out very explicitly in this hard-hitting play. A must-watch for all theatre lovers ... Anjan Srivastav is pure dynamite.

While at Prithvi do grab a bite at "Prithvi Cafe" ... its one of the coolest hang-out places in town.

The must-have is "Irish Coffee" with cream topping and a dash of rum ... a good warm up before you watch a great play !!!

Bigg Boss - The second innings

This is one reality show which is truly demented and the folks who willingly participate ( for a relatively small prize money ) are even more so. Imagine spending weeks in quasi house imprisonment without books, newspapers, TV, mobile cooped up with a such a motley crew where 100% of actions and thoughts are targeted at eliminating someone every few days.

And all of this under the constant scrutiny of omnipresent cameras ( with the exception of the loos, thank god ! ) with a daily feed dished out to a nation of peeping toms.

Whoevers read "1984" will get the connection to the naming of the original show as "Big Brother" ( is watching ) of which the Bigg Boss is a rip off ( or maybe I should say a desi version ). But then if "Who wants to be a millionaire" bacame "Kaun banega crorepati" or "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?" was translated to “Kya Aap Paanchvi Paas Se Tez Hain?” why dont we have "Bade Bhaiyya" instead of "Bigg Boss" ??? Clearly, the producers did not think the term "bhaiyya" which is used almost derogatorily and collectively to refer to anyone from UP / Bihar, would evoke the necessary cool image and branding required to drive TRPs for the show ...

Having seen season one sporadically I was curious to see who were the folks volunteering to subject themselves to this humiliating daily fracas. A failed politician, few starlets, wannbe movie stars, aspiring playback singer, socialites, jat dhaba owner + part-time biker and even a stand up comic with a characteristic drawl ... all clearly out of work with nothing better to do.

They've also gone and dragged in Jane Goody who'd made those caustic rascist remarks about Indians in general and Shilpa Shetty in particular on the last season of the original "Big Brother". Ostensibly she is here to redeem herself and demonstrate how much she actually loves India and Indians. How far will the channel wallahs go to garner cheap publicity and TRPs ???

This to me is the last straw ... what used to be just a demented show ... is now downright pathetic.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Mumbai life : a different perspective

I've been buying my vegetables regularly from Gorakh for the past year ... Ever since I got to know he's from a village near Varanasi. That's our common ground and reason for bonding. Its from him that I got a new perspective about life in mumbai ...

"Saab, barah saal se mumbai me hoon. Aaya kyonki gaon ke kheti me paisa nahin banta hai. Abhi gharwaali kheti dekhti hai aur mai yahaan se kuch paise bhej deta hoon. Toh guzaara chal jaata hai."

Gorakh sells average of 1500 bucks of vegetables a day with a margin of about 10% ie 150 bucks a day and 4500 a month. He sends as much money as possible to his family back home and visits his family once a year. Is the money worth living away from his family for years ... I probe further ...

Bare subsistence ( if the monsoon is good ) is what his village farm allows which is just not enough to pay back the loans piled on by his family over the years. Thats what keeps him in Mumbai ... an effort to repay loans taken from the local moneylenders at ridiculous rates of interest. Its a vicious circle as the interest on the loans exceed the principal originally borrowed.

Brings to mind the cases of farmer suicides across rural India. Gorakh's biggest fear is that he will be evicted out of Mumbai when the local political parties call for periodic eviction of "North Indians".

Life in Mumbai to Gorakh is a ray of hope ... a reason to live.

Friday, August 15, 2008

New breed of coffee shops

Coffee shops like these [ café coffee day aka CCD, barrista, mocha etc ] have mushroomed all over indian cities over the last 5-6 years.

These are the new hang-out joints for the cool, contemporary college crowd. A far cry from the coffee-house on college street, kolkata opposite presidency college where we used to hang out between classes.

Its really a world apart - the ambience, conversation ...

The adda of the college street coffee house was intellectual [ or 'aatel' the cynics would say ] where folks contemplated the state of indian economy [ those were the pre-liberalization / pre-manmohan singh days when VP Singh and Chandrashekhar ruled the roost ], analzed the last movie screened in derozio hall or debated the latest moves being brewed (pun not intended) by IC & SFA recruits in preparation for elections ... Conversation in a CCD today revolves around who has the latest model of nokia cellphone, the love life of kareena kapoor or who last got chucked out of "splitsvilla" the latest reality show on MTV. Not being judgemental, guess its just a sign of priorities and tastes of a new generation.

The change is not in the coffee shops per se but the new breed sipping "latte" within.

Gujju thali lunch at Rajdhani

Independence day means freedom from counting calories !!!

So we headed out to Rajdhani @ Nirmal Lifestyles in mulund our favourite gujju thali place. We dare to lunch here only once in about six months. The food is sumptuous but loaded with ghee and they are always eager to pour more on your rotis and parathas.

Gujjus like Bongs also have a major sweet tooth maybe even more so ... Bongs end meals with mishti but gujjus apparently even start with sweets. We got a "malpoa" topped with cream to start our meal and then a ghee drenched "moong halwa" as dessert.

After such heavy duty eating I was planning to go to crossword and lounge around and check out some new authors but piya dragged me into a shopper's stop monsoon sale. I'm not sure how i'm supposed to add value to buying skirts for our nieces [specially when the few I liked were immediately rejected without explanation ] but hanging in there gamely ... Giving moral support I guess.

I see a few other guys around with similar predicament looking around with a vacant glazed gaze while their girlfriends/wives scour the store with a rare focus in their eyes and body language to grab the best bargains !

Maybe independence days should also mean freedom from shopping !!!

Independence Day !

The LIC ad on the header of today's edition of Mumbai Times reads "azaadi kamyabi ki" ... Nice chance placement coz the lead article features Abhinav Bindra just below the ad ... No better example of "kamyabi" in today's context ...

Also says "azaadi har ek ki" ...

Yes madam President you are "free" to fondle the cheeks of our ace shooter and wallow in reflected glory ... You are also "free" to actually do something to promote sports ... AB did what he was free to do ... Question is will you ?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

First Gold at Last - Abhinav Bindra !!!

I heard the news on FM radio while driving to work on monday morning - Abhinav Bindra wins gold in the 10m air-rifle category at the olympics.

All conversations in mumbai [as i'm sure in the rest of india] these days seem to start with a discussion on this topic ... I overheard the security guards in my office talk about this, so were the petrol pump attendants yesterday and the kid's in my apartment complex - while they played cricket !!! The pride in everyone is obvious and maybe this is the tipping point ...

After all it is incredulous that it took us 112 years to win an individual gold. Government apathy to sports infrastructure is not unique to India. And the talk about Indians not being genetically endowed athletically is such a lame excuse.

One interesting bit of trivia I picked up during a discussion with a chinese colleague today - China's first individual gold in the 1984 los angeles olympics was also in shooting ! If only we could follow this up with the kind of success China has had ever since - wishful thinking !

With this gold we seem to have forgotten another first - the fact that we've not been able to even qualify for hockey this time.

I was watching the spain - new zealand match today ... Spain won 1-0 with a last minute goal.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hilsa in Mumbai

"Bengalis love fish" is a cliche which has become a community identity for us bongs, much like the "Marwaris make good businessmen" or "Brits have stiff upper lips". There should be a couple of riders here though ... First its specifically "river fish" which does it for us bongs and most us would not touch "sea fish" with a barge pole. Second if there is one specific fish which the bong reveres more than any other, and would even sacrifice his evening adda to go and buy ... its the Hilsa ( which ironically is basically a sea fish and enters the rivers to breed during the monsoons ).

The true bong Hilsa flavour comes out when the fish has spent just enough time in the river to get rid of the salt water flavour but not enough to lose all the fat swimming upstream. Kolaghat, on the banks of Ganges is the best place to catch Hisla exactly for this reason.

Finding "river fish" and specifically hilsa is not easy in Mumbai. Go to any established fishmarket - Dadar, Chembur, Powaii, Andheri and what you'll see is a sea of "sea fish" sellers :-) all garrulous marathi women with their stocks of pomfret, surmai, bombil, bangda, jhinga etc. The "river fish" ie. rui, katla, pabda, tangra, telapia, parshe etc is usually sold by one or two sellers only clearly demonstrating the skew in demand. Interestingly, the fish-mongers selling river fish are always male !!! These are the guys who also sell Hilsa and during the Hilsa season one has to constantly check with them for availability. There are two types of Hilsa available in Mumbai - the premium ones are sourced from Kolkata ( these are the Hilsa caught at Kolaghat or sometimes even from Bangladesh - river Padma ) and the rest from Gujarat.

Its difficult to distinguish the two while buying, and the fishemongers always claim they are selling you the best catch from Kolaghat ... it only when you cook the fish at home that the difference in texture and flavour makes it apparent that you may have been duped.

Recently I've started buying fish from Spinach with good results. Its a new supermarket chain in Mumbai, they also sell fish and actually specialize in the river water variety which is good news for us bongs. The guys who man the fish counters are also invariably bengali !!! They do charge a slight premium but then the quality is assured and they are very transparent about the source of their fish. In the past I've bought chital, tangra, pabda and hilsa from their 7 Bungalows, Andheri West and Mulund outlets with good results. The other benefit is that you dont have to wade thru the muddy waters of the traditional fish markets. Unfortunately their Andheri East outlet in Sher-E-Punjab is strictly vegetarian.

Today we went out to buy some hilsa and I took a couple of snaps of the 7 Bungalows, Andheri Spinach outlet.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Date and Walnut Cake

Mumbai rains continue to keep us indoors so we decided to do some experimental baking this saturday. The "Date and Walnut" cake from Birdys is a big favourite so thats what we tried to recreate ... in the end it turned out quite good. Here is a slice :

The recipe we used :

1 1/4 cups sifted cake flour, 1 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 200g butter, 1 cup sugar, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoons vanilla, Dates and Walnuts.

Preheat the oven to 240 degrees Centigrade. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Melt the butter in a large bowl and beat until fluffy and light in color. Add the sugar and continue to mix until fluffy and light. Wait till it comes down to room temperature.Beat the eggs in a separate bowl till fluffy. Add the eggs into the sugar & butter mix, little at a time mixing well in between. Add the vanilla.

Add the flour/salt/baking powder into the mix 1 tablespoon at a time and ensure the mixture is completely blended after each addition. Keep beating till the mix is completely homogeneous.

Pour a third of the batter at a time into a baking pan and throw in some Dates and Walnut in between each layer. Bake in the preheated oven at 175 Degree Centigrade for about 45 minutes. The top of the cake should be nice and brown when done.

Enjoy the cake warm with a cup of coffee !!!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Singapore Changi Airport

The Singapore Changi would be a good benchmark for the Mumbai International airport in its end-state !!!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Mumbai International Airport Revamp

Mumbai int airport used to be a godforesaken, paint-peeled, brick-exposed, badly-lit, almost un-airconditioned semicircular two-storied building [ departure on the top / arrivals below ] ... Unless you were travelling biz class and got access to the lounges it was difficult to even buy a sandwich or a coke while waiting for your flight. If your flight arrived late you could be thankful if you got a cab to the city and then if the cabbie did not fleece you or worse.

The aerobridges worked once in a while and you got your luggage back after a flight if you were lucky or Amitabh Bachchan [ though he just got the bags minus the designer stuff inside ] - do read the big man's blog on bigadda.

Well guess what - times they're a changing ... Today morning I got a glimpse of the facelift @ mumbai airport. Swanky snack joints, coffee shops, hey even a bar. The aircon worked, the loos were clean - with functional flushing and glitzy duty-free shops.

The airport is the FMOT [ first moment of truth for the uninitiated ] for any foreign traveller so we owe it to ourselves to give them a soft landing (pun not intended). What the govt airport agency couldn't do in decades is being accomplished in a few months. GVK is doing a super job though there is some way yet to go - but I liked the sneak preview so check out the pictures attached below :

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Pastries at intercontinental

Piya and i love the happy hours at the intercontinental in mumbai. The pastries are yummy and come at 50% discount from 6 to 9 pm !

Featured here are the rum raisin cheesecake and chocolate brownie - simply delicious !