Monday, December 31, 2007

That Time of Year

It's that time of year again and for once, I'm not going to mimble-wimble or fiddle-faddle my way through this post. Of course not, especially not since it's been such a decisive year, what with important dreams being put on hold yet again, taxing relationships and maddening work, and my finally making the break from an industry I intensely disliked. And I must admit, that the break is perhaps the best decision that I've made in the last three years.

You see, I love that I've got back in the groove of my life as I used to know it. Getting enough rest, reading, watching movies, writing... calling friends when I said I would. I've finally addressed the one great complaint of my life — Goa. I've consolidated some relationships and agonised and stepped away from others. I've drowned summery, buttery peace and wintery, slanting solitude. It all doesn't seem very different from any other year but in quietness, I've known that it is. Finally, I've known and accepted that this break cannot last much longer but I do not think that I will ever be able to be gainfully employed without needing to take a break for a few months, every few years.

I am back this morning from an enlightening (in far more ways than one) trip to Banglore, armed to face the New Year with a number of new books (yes, yes, I did it again — and my mother's ready to kill me again!) and enough movies to keep me busy till 2009. If only my break would last that long. But I will suffice to leave you with this utterly gorgeous poem and wish you a happy New Year, my dears. I do hope the year is as liberating and edifying as the last six months have been.

Year’s End

Now winter downs the dying of the year,
And night is all a settlement of snow;
From the soft street the rooms of houses show
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin
And still allows some stirring down within.

I’ve known the wind by water banks to shake
The late leaves down, which frozen where they fell
And held in ice as dancers in a spell
Fluttered all winter long into a lake;
Graved on the dark in gestures of descent,
They seemed their own most perfect monument.

There was perfection in the death of ferns
Which laid their fragile cheeks against the stone
A million years. Great mammoths overthrown
Composedly have made their long sojourns,
Like palaces of patience, in the gray
And changeless lands of ice. And at Pompeii

The little dog lay curled and did not rise
But slept the deeper as the ashes rose
And found the people incomplete, and froze
The random hands, the loose unready eyes
Of men expecting yet another sun
To do the shapely thing they had not done.

These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time. Barrages of applause
Come muffled from a buried radio.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.

-- Richard Wilbur

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Leader of the Free World and some Billy Joel

According to The Onion, when finally acknowledging the existence of carbon dioxide, Bush has this to say:
"Carbon dioxide, a molecule which contains one atom of carbon bonded with two atoms of oxygen, is a naturally occurring colorless gas exhaled by humans and metabolized, in turn, by plants," Bush told a stunned White House press corps. "As a leading industrialized nation, we can no longer afford to ignore the growing consensus of so many experts whose job it is to study our atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is real."
The rest of this great article is here and you must check out the War on Criticism. I just love these guys!!


A request I couldn't ignore — not when a song asks as nicely as this one does. As someone's who's recently quit the IT industry, I found this hugely hilarious. Great script and a fantastic soundtrack! Also, all the people involved (from what I can tell) are in the IT industry — just makes it so much more fun, don't you know.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mumbai Unplug: Batti Bandh

A random acquaintance sent this along a while ago and I've been waiting impatiently for December to post about it! You see, Mumbai's finally going to be unplugged. Although I really wish they'd used Bombay!

In the organisers' words:

Batti Bandh is an entirely voluntary event taking place on the 15th of December between 7:30 & 8:30 p.m. This event is aimed at requesting all of Mumbai to stand up for a cause that is greater than all of us. All you need to do is switch off lights and appliances in your home, shop, office, school, college or anywhere you are for 1 hour to take a stand against global warming. Just 1 hour.
Inspired by the Earth Hour initiative in Sydney, the Batti Bandh initiative is run by Keith Menon, Neil Quraishy, Rustom Warden, Shiladitya Chakraborty, and some of their friends. And from where I left the website a few months ago, they've come a long way.

Currently, Batti Bandh is not only supported by a number of government organisations (including the BMC, BEST, and MSEB), NGOs (including Greenpeace and Helpage India), various corporates (including Philips, Vodafone, and the Mumbai Hoarding Association!!), and media organisations, it is also supported by the UN and the WWF.

Admirably, the good people at Mumbai Unplug have managed to involve the students of Sophia College (my alma mater!), Bhavan's College, SIES Nerul, SIES Matunga/Sion, KC College, and HR College with various activities like human chains and campaigning outside college premises with eco-message placards. Even the Oberoi Hotel, now the Hilton Towers, will switch off their facade lights for the event. You can read about all the support Batti Bandh's garnered here and here.

Check out the entire website actually, there's information available not only about the event but also about global warming and what you can do to combat it. In addition, you can find about the people who have driven this fantastic idea, and how to get involved with it. Very helpfully, the website tells you what you can do for that one hour with no lights on. :-)

It might seem like a silly and inconsequential thing to do for an hour but it's important that we each make this stand. For all the nay-sayers who might say how this cannot really help, it cannot possibly hurt to try, you know. It's easy to say that one hour might not do anything in the bigger scheme of things but it's really about taking the first step. Earlier, where I was only marginally concerned about my bit for global warming, I'm now militant about plastic bags and things like unplugging all appliances and phone chargers that aren't in use. They may be small things but they all contribute. You can't always solve a problem entirely at the first go. Sometimes, it takes a lot of small steps.

Especially true of a place like Bombay. As much as I love my city, I know that it can sometimes be very apathetic. A number of citizen initiatives have enjoyed a great deal of support initially but have fizzled out just a little further down the road. This once, many different parts and people of Bombay will come together to make a difference. If on the 15th of January 2008, even an infinitesimal percentage of these people remember why they pledged their support to Batti Bandh and continue to do so in their own ways, Mumbai Unplug will have been an unqualified success.

Right then people, spread the word, blog about it, tell your friends and family — do whatever you can to support Batti Bandh. And most importantly, switch of your lights on Saturday between from 7:30 p.m to 8:30 p.m and help Bombay unplug. Finally, as part of Batti Bandh, there is going to be a concert in Bandra, at Carter Road, where the ex-reviewer will be performing. This isn't just my bias but he really is a pretty great singer. Check the website for more details on other events.

*Image courtesy the version of the Mumbai Unplug website I first saw.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Eating Poetry

I don't read as much poetry as I would like to. To my excuse-making mind, it is the unfortunate fallout of not being in an academic space any more. I completed my Masters in English nearly five years ago and it's been at least that long since I've had proper access to poetry. You see, most good libraries — actually, make that all — are well across the city and too far for regular use. And should I, by some fortuitous circumstance, come across a good collection of poetry at Landmark, I know without looking at the tag that the book is beyond my meagre means. Thus, I am abysmally ill-informed about recent poets and their poetry.

So while on this break of mine, I set about attempting to rectify my ignorance. I imposed on a fellow blogger's kindness and asked for the addresses of the best houses of poetry. The said blogger was very patient and promptly sent back an e-mail full of directions. Ever since, I have diligently jumped from rooftops, discovering entirely new halls of beauty. But yesterday, randomly picking a new route across unknown alleys, as I am wont to do, I came across a poem I knew. A poem that has never lost a constant meaning in my life — not for the last seven years at least.

It was a crackling winter afternoon in Hyderabad, when the sun had bleached everything ashen: a day when I felt ready to break, overwhelmed in the still agony of a beautiful melancholy. I remember that time: that was a rickety year. I was away from home in an almost alien environment and culture, a first, real relationship was crumbling, and friendships were shaky. And how did one begin to negotiate, or even interact with, the unbearable lightness, the intellectual turbulence, that came with devouring the sort and the amount of writing that I was exposed to then?

That afternoon, as I walked past the mail tray on my way up to my hostel room, there lay in it a letter for me. Even in a time of e-mail, there were still a few people with whom I exchanged that special pleasure of handwritten letters. This particular one was from a professor that I was quite close to through my Bachelors. She'd received my letter a few weeks ago, she wrote, but being preoccupied with exams, she hadn't had a chance to reply. In fact, her letter was written on an examination answer booklet: she had written to me while invigilating an exam.

She wrote me the loveliest letter: full of a faith that I did not have in myself. She told me what I knew but could not believe, that this, too, would pass. She also reminded me of the reasons I'd come to Hyderabad for, of the things I wanted from my Masters, and where I'd hoped they would take me... In the very last paragraph, she wrote that she was enclosing a poem for me. She hoped that I'd be able to identify with it and know that there was equilibrium in my trembling.

Copied out by hand, this poem is amongst the most precious, steadying gifts I've ever received.

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

-- Theodore Roethke


One last thing, yes? One of the things that was so special about poetry, and indeed literature in a classroom, was the very different sense of discovery at being introduced to the writing — as opposed to discovering it myself. I've spent many days in a white/yellow classroom listening to, and often watching, the rhythms and layers of a poem surprise me from over the shoulder of an oddly-placed word on a grey, photocopied page or in a small office at the back of the Department of English at the University of Hyderabad. Seeing my pleasure in a poem mirrored in a favourite professor's eyes and their pride in me — certainly one of the more profound rewards of my Masters.

Friday, December 07, 2007


It's finally done. An entire journey chronicled.

This is the last of the Goa posts. I can't quite believe that I've managed to finish the tale, especially after my last attempt with a chronicle. Nor can I quite believe that you've actually read so patiently through all these posts, listening to ravings, rantings, and some observations. But now that it's come to this, I'd like to finish with this story, the product of a perhaps too much fine, fine feni drunk watching sparrows on a mellow afternoon at Brittos.

You see, sometimes (very, VERY rarely) being high brings out a bit (only a VERY LITTLE BIT, I will have you know!!) of the "cutesy-chick" in me. Hence, I am given to laughing dementedly and some other stuff that's best reserved for over a vodka. Whenever it is that you and I meet, hmm? Well, on this particular occasion at Brittos, while trying to get the sparrows and my hand to stay still for many, many MB of photographs, I couldn't stop saying "Birdy Num-Num"... followed by a highly embarrassing giggle. And not for the love of anything at all could I remember where — or when — I'd heard the phrase. But irritatingly stuck it was in my head anyway.

Some more feni later, I was convinced that Birdy Num-Num was a song I'd heard in the far reaches of the distant past, I gave the bloody words a tune, don't you know. I sang it all the way back to the hotel room and until I finally gave into the high and promptly fell asleep, much to the mirth of the ex-reviewer. Unfortunately, I came back to Bombay only to realise that the phrase wasn't my hitherto unsuspected but sublimely brilliant musical talent shining through.

Tch, tch, and tch but the photo is cute anyway!

Birdy Num-Num

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Dil Chahta Hai

While it may seem that my time in Goa was spent either being a beach bum or exploring Panjim, it should be known that it wasn't. You see, the minute I found out that Charpora Fort at Vagator Beach was where they'd filmed Dil Chahata Hai, it was on the non-negotiable list of things to do. No, no, I don't have any great love for the film, don't you know. But the place looked so incredibly lovely in the film, not to mention inviting, representing all that I’d ever thought Goa would be: being still, connecting with myself and friends... about newness and susegaad.

And so, in the pursuit of the closed-for-the-off-season Lila Café for a much recommended breakfast, we found ourselves indolently following the green and blue back roads of the Baga river down to Anjuna and Vagator. I don't think that we intended to ride as far as we did, but accompanied by the sparkling, twinkling Baga river, following these roads became very special and much fun. You see, they're where I finally learned to ride the Activa without falling apart like unmoulded jelly. They're also where the ex-reviewer began to take a fledging interest in photography and for once, allowed me to take the lead, without heckling me at all!

We arrived in Anjuna first, and I must be honest, I didn’t like the vibe of the area much — although it may also just have been my eagerness to get to Vagator. Over a beer and some beef, I cajoled my way into Vagator and twenty minutes later, we were at the smaller Orzant beach. But seeing that it was too crowded with people and their buses, we went down to the main Vagator beach. It wasn’t much better there because there were at least a million people milling around too little beach.

In the hurry to escape the crush, I completely forgot about the wonderful Shiva face an unknown artist sculpted out of the rocks on Vagator. Check out the missed photo-op
here. Sigh...

A short distance later, we sat down at a place called Willy's Shack, only to walk right out because the man didn’t serve Goan food. Without much of a choice, we settled on a restaurant called Tintin’s right opposite the road. It was still opening for the season and turned out to be one of the better food decisions we've made in Goa.

Along with what were most certainly the best beef chops in creation, Tintin's had the saddest dog ever imaginable hanging around. The little mutt kept looking at the ex-reviewer and I miserably throughout our meal! He must finally have made away with a decent portion of my chop but there was just nothing you could do to chase him away. No matter what, he'd just keep coming back and giving us that hungry, mewly look from under under his heavy, sorry brows and we'd be lost.

After firmly refusing to share my beef curry and languidly finishing my King's in the mild afternoon light, to Chapora Fort it was. Having looked at it from the beach and having watched Dil Chahta Hain, you know that the fort is perched atop a cliff and can be approached directly from the beach. The guidebook is kind enough to warn you that this is a route only for the seriously fit. Right then, we were off to an access point that's further uphill. It's still a decently vertical climb and by the time I got into the fort, I just needed some water, of which there was none, and some sitting... and staring.
The Ex-Reviewer at Chapora
Chapora is gorgeous — and peaceful — in its green, gold, and red colours that are so beautifully encased in blue. Instead of the hordes infesting the beach below, small groups of people dot the ruins, sitting around, sharing the sea. There's not much noise — only you, the sun, the sea, and this great hunch-backed lizard of a hillock protruding into the sea. You can climb a good distance down the lizard, almost to the sea but I contented myself with the broken ramparts. It's an interesting experience, visually, to stare out endless, open ocean on one side and a waving golden meadow nestled admist ancient ruins on the other.

From the northern ramparts, you can see across a small creek to Morjim Beach (the photo below), part of the stretch of the non-touristy, northern-most beaches. The view is terrifying in its beauty and scope. I cringe while writing this but there is nothing more magnificent than the sea. And watching it at various places in Goa, I've realised just how much I've missed it these past three years. I've missed all those nights spent at my window watching the lights from Madh Island (or from the bays down to Bandra) dance tantalisingly on the ominously dark water. There is something about standing on a cliff, watching the sea swell and break, the vista stretching as far as your imagination, that reinforces its uncontrollability and untamed nature... that reinforces how small we seem in comparison and how incredible it is that we can actually do the sea real harm.

Chapora Fort II

Remember how I used carry on about being the only 27 year-old who’d not been to Goa in 23 years? How all my memories of Goa were a four year-old's? Well, all of these said memories revolve around the Taj Beach Resort at Fort Aguada. We’d go in a large group of my parents’ friends and their families, all of us waking early for boisterous walks on what I now know is Sinquerim Beach. Those were mornings spent fighting over shells and walking the ocean's edge to come back to a sumptuous buffet breakfast. We'd spend the rest of the day at the resort, venturing only to the beach in the early evening or at sunset. We must have made a few trips the Sinquerim Lighthouse because I've always recognised easily it from other people's pictures, but I don't think we explored any more than that.

Unfortunately, I don't have very clear memories of the Fort, despite living at a hotel built into it. I cannot remember if we ever climbed up the completely intact northern rampart or went down to the southern-most, but ruined, boundary of the fort. I can only remember seeing a huge building outlined in the distance while walking on the beach. My memories now are coloured with the ancient red-black beauty of the northern parts of Fort Aguada and of the views it offers. It is, I think, worth the time to stand facing the fort and watch the waves beat ceaselessly against the resolute rampart.

Fort Aguada IV

In retrospect, I think my reaction to Utorda was based on a childhood memory of Aguada: quiet, almost entirely deserted, and strewn with fish and shells. Today, expectedly, Aguada is more touristy and commercial, infinitely more than the Charpora Fort. It’s also too crowded because of all the water sports and the fact that you can take cars up to the southern end. I tell you, there are just far too many cretins in this world that want to drag their Scorpios up a path, not even a road, meant at best for two cycles riding abreast. But I suppose the view is worth it, no?

Fort Aguada II

More photos on Flickr if you'd like to see them!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Panjim Papers

Among the first things done towards the fulfilment of the Goa trip was buying the Outlook Traveller Goa Guide. You see, there was enough "advice" about the beaches but no one knew a bloody thing about anything else, especially Panjim. This was when I was planning just a few days in the North, including a day in Panjim and Madgoan each, and a few days in the South of Goa. But after merely flipping through the book, it turned out that there was too much to do in the North, and so we decided to stay up there.

And that's how I came to spend a decent portion of my days in Panjim. Before I get to anything else, let me tell you that when discovering Goa, stick to the Outlook guide. Despite its erroneous maps and slightly vague road directions, it's a very well-researched and well-written book with some excellent photos — as opposed to the completely ludicrous Times of India Goa guide. It was also a lot of fun trying to find the places that are supposed to be in one corner of the map but are really some way off! And apart from the places-to-see recommendations, I also discovered a number of interesting dining options through the guide.

It's an interesting thing about the towns of Goa, or at least the ones I saw. Unlike Bombay, Bangalore or Hyderabad, the center of activity is usually not more than a couple of kilometers from the town limits. For example, once you've crossed the Mandovi Bridge and driven into Panjim, the river front and its associated landmarks, restaurants, and precincts are either just there or a very short drive away. It's the same with both Mapusa and Madgaon.

Panjim Riverfront

To say that Panjim's really glorious is stating the obvious. The city is enchanting, with its Portuguese architectural heritage and one-way roads, all of which lead into Church Square, the seeming center of town. The river front is like the main road of Panjim and you'll find most of the sights down one left or the other off it. It's a lovely, green-shaded road that is best explored at leisure or you'll miss gorgeous buildings like the the green-yellow-white Secretariat (which is currently under restoration) and the beautifully built and maintained promenade with its parks and restaurants and the Kala Academy.

We turned back only at the sign post for Miramar, the Juhu Beach of Panjim, and randomly followed one of the lanes leading into Church Square. Along the way, little markets grow into blue buildings with contrasting green trees and traffic islands with designer artefacts. You'll also find that the stories you've heard of Goans (in Goa especially) with a strong Portuguese identity aren't the figment of someone's exaggeration. There were a number of stores with signs in Portuguese and NOT in English. The only reason I knew that one of those stores was a fabric store was because the Portuguese word for textile, which I cannot remember right now, is easily recognisable in English.

One of the main sights in Panjim is Our Lady of Immaculate Conception in Church Square — so named after this church. It's a pretty church with an exquisite altar indeed. But its magnificence was eclipsed completely by the ex-reviewer's Jesus number.

See that little blue pulpit?

Our man decided that he needed to express his atheism for posterity in the land of his roots. So up he climbed to the pulpit and spread his arms wide, like Christ the Reedemer, for the benefit of my camera! He also proceeded to bless an imaginary congregation! Amused as I was, I've also rarely been as scared as I was taking those photos. In a known city, you know what is permissible and not. For all I knew, in Panjim, we could well have gotten lynched for a stunt like that.

Just to the right of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception is this incredible little place called George's Bar and Restaurant. It's obviously a local favourite because most of the patrons were locals. George's is where I discovered the joys of the perch, the butter fish, and the Goan sausage pulav — they've got to serve the best Goan sausage ever! I must admit that I did not like the feni much but with no choice — since they don't serve King's — it will do. The service is also excellent — ask for a guy called Santosh.

When you stand on the steps of the church with your back to it, you'll see two left turns, one far and the other nearer. The far left takes you up the gentle slopes of Altinho, pronounced Aal-teenyu according to the guidebook. Altinho seemed to me the Altamount Road of Panjim, consisting mainly of mansions and winding, airy roads lined with trees that have been around since Adam. The area looks like old money, complete with the Bishop's Palace (it really is a palace!) and dramatic views of the water ways surrounding the city.

In a strange city, I've often found that going down one lane through another, being utterly lost, takes me where I want to be. As it was with our way into Fontinhas, the Latin heritage quarter. Let me say this now before I repeat myself endlessly — I love, love, love Fontinhas. For one absolutely wonderful moment, I thought I was back in Jew Town in Kerala. But as the shutter fell and I explored the area further, the Goan flavour of Fontinhas was unmistakable. I strongly recommend that you walk around the area for hours, getting to know its dilapidated yellow, red, blue, green, dark pink houses with wonderful blue ceramic name plates.

Fontainhas, Panjim

Fontinhas done and it was nearly sunset. While waiting for it to be dinnertime, we killed time taking a cruise on the Mandovi. I thought I'd rant about my terribly bad experience but I'll suffice it to warn you that you should avoid the ones on the river front. We didn't have the time to explore more peaceful options (if any) but I wish we'd stayed away from the Santa Monica sundown cruises. Also, it might also be a good idea to go on a morning cruise since one would actually be able to see something then!

We'd decided we'd end the day with a meal at the Hotel Venite, a place that the guidebook describes as having shut down the residential area to use the rooms to expand the bar! But don't you know, the bloody thing wasn't on the harebrained Panjim map. We found it by sheer serendipity while looking for a way back to Church Square. It was the magnificent seashell and blue mosaic doorway that first drew my eye and the friendly, cheery waiter in the balcony, who directed us back and helped ensure that I wanted to come back.

I can't tell you how glad I am that we did. The Hotel Venite was possibly amongst the best restaurant experiences I've ever had. Once you cross the seashell threshold, a warm warli mural covers walls that enclose a brown-red and cream staircase leading up to the sitting area. What I had presumed were merely decorative balconies were actually booths with a really small table and two stools each, lit by a madly swinging cane lantern — look at the far end of the photo below. I have some excellent night shots of that evening despite not having a tripod. In fact, if that evening has taught me something, it's that I should always, but always, carry my tripod, because at the Hotel Venite, I might need it during the day as well.

Venite II

It's been well over a month since I've been back and I still do not have the words to describe the sensory assault of a wonderful day followed by a cool, still night, encased in warm, liquid yellow light, mingled with fantastic feni, good food, and excellent service. If you finish up with rum caramel bananas, then life ceases to be elsewhere indeed. I hope this photo shows you what I mean, though.

Venite III

Finally, should you be a North Goa person, I'd strongly recommend not missing out on Panjim. It's a Goa you won't see in a shack, restaurant, or club at the beach: there's an everyday-ness about Panjim that puts you at your ease almost at once. There is also a sense of sudden surprise that lurks in every corner, which will make you want to ride and walk around all day. That's what makes it so interesting and such fun, I think.

Friday, November 16, 2007

On the Road...

... in Goa is where you'll come across these incredibly funny hoardings. When the the ex-boss told me about a few advertising local musical talent last year, I refused to believe him until he showed me camera phone evidence. This year, I found them too — all over the place. I found this hoarding on my way into Baga from Porvorim but I finally ended up taking this shot on the way to Anjuna.

The Voice of Goa 2007 contest features Henry K "Iglesias" from Benaulim, "Shakira" Soares from Saligao, and Joaquim "Morrisson" (the Lizard King must be rolling in his grave!) from Mandrem in the finals. For good measure (apparently), the organizers have also thrown in a performance by Hard Kaur. Ah, to be back for this show. On the whole, it's a decent-ish campaign but the Henry K hoarding is nothing short of a stroke of the utmost genius!

This photo below is just a little off Calangute Beach. It was only my second morning in Goa and I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about settling down to feni just yet. What I was enthusiastic about was trying to ride the Honda Activa. I wheedled my way into turning left off the beach parking lot and riding down the lane that led to this sign. You've got try this — say Maddo-Waddo really fast a few times and you'll find that it has a lovely rhythm that's bloody addictive... or so I thought. I don't suppose that it bears mentioning that Mr. Boatcar's name just made the frame!

The photos aren't as well-shot as I would have liked but I must admit that it's a little difficult to take good pictures when you're balancing yourself, a camera, and a bottle of King's on the backseat of an Activa. Ah well, you win some but for the ones you don't, there's always some King's.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Me-bop by the Sea!

If there's one thing I've learned from my Goa trip, it's this: never put off a trip too long, because when you finally make it, there'll be too many non-negotiable things to do. So, after much agonising and deliberation (and some heartbreak), we decided to stay North for this trip. We would just have to be content with a day spent in Colva-Utorda. And so, after wending our way through luxuriant rice fields and drying harvests, we spent a wonderful few hours at the Colva home of the ex-reviewer's family friends, N and S.

Since we arrived just a wee bit after lunchtime, we were, very graciously and warmly, ushered down to a meal. The food at the Gonsalves table was exquisite in the way only great home food can be — non-greasy, perfectly seasoned and cooked without tasting like restaurant food. There was some absolutely fantastic fish, plain curry, a meat preparation, and rice. N would have had three more dishes on that table if we hadn't been so full. I must also say, I've rarely felt as welcome in someone's home, especially as N took me on a guided tour of their home and a part of the ex-reviewer's childhood.

The only way to finish that meal was with chocolate rum pancakes that the ex-reviewer hadn't stopped ranting about for over a year. Off to Benaulim Beach then, to Pedro's Beach Cafe. But we needn't have bothered. Sure, there was a lot of rum in the pancakes, but the chocolate was watery and almost non-existent, the banana hard and bland. So, by the time we stopped wasting our time with the unspeakably bad service (45 mins to serve pancakes!!), I was in a very bad mood indeed. With rain sweeping in from the beach, putting paid to my Utorda plans, I was positively furious.

Not being very keen to ride 50-odd kilometers on a wet NH-17, we set off northward with me muttering about the pancakes under my breath. And to irritate me a little more, by the time we got about 10 kilometers up, the bloody rain had stopped and the roads were drying up. Can you bloody imagine! At this point, the ex-reviewer wasn't sure if he was amused or irritated at this magnificent display of puerility. But serendipitously, just a little before Zuari Bridge we came across a sign proclaiming "Kenilworth Beach Resort and Spa, Utorda Beach. 3 kms"

Perhaps all was not lost yet. If it were, I'd have lost out on this.

The Sentinels

I wish the light had been better because the photo would then have told the truth of it. You see, I'm told that the water couldn't possibly have been greeny-turquoise. That we don't have very many beaches like that in India and that Utorda's not one of them. That I was being fanciful. But I can tell you, with at least a degree of certainty, that that the colour was really close. Thing is, I don't like most of my photos from Utorda a quarter so well — mainly for a couple of reasons. First, because of the fallen and the impending rain, I didn't have even acceptable light to work with. Second, I was too busy jumping around the beach to bother with taking photos.

If anything will convince you of the merits of the south of Goa over the north, it is Utorda. The elder sibling tells me that Palolem and Butterfly Beach in the South are as exquisite... next trip... but I've never yet set eyes on a beach and wanted to dive into the water at once. Utorda's far beyond beautiful and too far beyond my feeble words to attempt a description. But somewhere in those white, unbroken sands and that inlet of warm water a little way up the beach, with minute fish speeding past, I was entirely lost. Off came the sandals, out came the camera, and madly danced the penguin on Utorda Beach!

Utorda has a lot more character than beaches like Baga and Calangute because there's nothing else there but the Kenilworth Beach Resort and two shacks. A deep, loopy stillness whistles about you instead of beach chairs, massage men, and water sport peddlers annoying the living f%$k out of you. Makes for a lovely change, don't you know, to see so many shells on the beach. It was also a strangely reassuring experience to collect shells as I did on the sands on Candolim as a four year old. What sealed Utorda as "favourite beach" though was this, my prize find. In these two years of photography, this is my second favourite composition.

Between your feet

Another of Utorda's attractions is that most gorgeous restaurant/shack, Zeebop by the Sea. The guidebook says it is "arguably the best shack in Goa", and while I'm not sure if it qualifies for restaurant or shack, I had a wonderful time there. I'm told they have full bathroom facilities and space to leave your stuff so that you can spend the whole day there. They also have an incredible array of fresh seafood available, from which we sampled the superb seafood cocktail. The charming staff, especially the man who seemed to be in-charge, Baiju, were enthusiastic enough to bring out trays of lobsters and prawns for our selecting pleasure!

Because it began raining again, we didn't spend as much time at Zeebop as we would have liked to, but it was quite enough to let me fall completely and utterly in love with the place. I don't know exactly why I feel so strongly, given the unseemly brevity (I fervently believe!) of our visit. Perhaps, there was something that intermingles and sparkles about great food, good feni, Utorda Beach, and the name Zeebop by the Sea. Perhaps there was something about the silence and wind. I'm just glad I had the chance to experience it.


Finally, here's wishing you a very happy Diwali and a marvellous year ahead. As always, I hope you are surrounded by family, your loved ones, and loads of mithai. I hope this festive season is safe and prosperous for you and yours. I've had an amazing past few months and I really hope that the New Year ahead continues to bring halcyon days like these for both you and I. Saal Mubaarak, people! :-)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Notes from a Goan Table

In all the years that I was a Goa virgin, I never heard a Goa story without the teller going into paroxysms of gastronomic glee. Have you? I don't think I've heard a Goa story without the tiger prawn, the lobster (or crab), and the baby kingfish assuming center stage for at least three-quarters of the tale. And each of them comes into its own only at specific establishments, usually in Baga-Calangute-Candolim. In fact, I think that's one of the primary reasons why I chose the touristy North Goa stretch over the deserted sands of South Goa.

Not my usual hyperbole, don't you know, to say that Goa is amongst the greatest gastronomic adventures possible. It goes without saying that I ate only food unavailable or difficult to get in Bombay. Only prawn and fish curry, Goa sausages, masala-fried and recheado-tossed seafood, sorpotel and vindaloo and sannas, crab xacuti, and all manner of chilli fried meat. I'm sure I'm leaving something out! Certainly, there was the occasional seafood or prawn cocktail and even a butter-garlic calamari, but we've walked out of restaurants not serving Goan food — only after a beer, though!

Of Lobsters and King Prawns

I consider myself respectably fishetarian but I don't think I've ever even heard of as many different varieties of fish in Bombay: perch, butter fish, sea bass, red snapper, and rock fish. Even though I've eaten mostly kingfish in Bombay for the past few years, I haven't had the pleasure of kingfish as fresh and succulent as I did in Goa. And where shall I begin about the squid? You don't get calamari as juicy and firm in Bombay - it's one in a million chance if you do.I have but one regret about the seafood and it is the lack of crumb-fried mussels. The elder sibling and the ex-reviewer won't stop raving about mussels but don't you know, mussel season begins only mid-November. It became something of a quest finally, the hunt for bloody crumb-fried mussels. God knows, I tried everywhere — from Baga to Calangute to Vagator to Panjim to Utorda.

And let's not forget the chorizo. That most wonderful, worthy, and spicy sausage. I ate it fried, boiled, in curry, in pao, in pulav, and chilli fried. Since that was not enough, we trekked to the Mapusa Friday Market to buy a few hundred to bring back home. While I was at the market, I also bought the only things that can ease being away from Goa — Goan masalas. The ache eases, truly it does, when you've made crumb-fried prawns and kingfish marinated in recheado masala. A wee bit of San Andre Port wine along with the food and the constriction inside begins to lessen... really!

My first proper meal in Goa was at a little bar and restaurant on the second floor of a house 30 meters from Baga Beach. The ex-reviewer's prize culinary find, it's called Alex's and is run by a rumbling, quiet man named Alex and his wife, who is the most incredible cook. We started with masala-fried calamari and some seriously great cashew feni. A failed request for crumb-fried mussels later, a plate of two large crumb-fried mackerels wound up on our table. Finished that up with chocolate-banana pancakes and I couldn't have been happier.

Alex's is certainly one of my favourite places in Baga, not just because of the food but because of the wonderfully relaxed atmosphere: the TV blaring, Alex's mad little son running all over the place, funny British people, and a huge old dog that looked like a stuffed sausage. For our last meal in Goa, Alex scoured three fish markets to buy crabs for us. He didn't find them but he did buy clams, which his wife cooked into the best clam coconut curry I've ever tasted.

The holy trinity of food at Baga-Calangute is easily Souza Lobo, Brittos, and Infantaria. While great local fare is par for the course in Goa, these are somewhat overrated places. They each have a couple of outstanding things on the menu but otherwise, like the ex-reviewer observes, good loos make the trinity.

For example, the elder sibling nearly froths at the mouth about Brittos, but apart from the baked crabs, sannas, the desserts, and the sublimely brilliant palm feni, I wasn't particularly impressed at all. As was the case with Souza Lobo. The roast tongue with Russian salad was brilliant — the quality of the meat was just superb. But I didn't think so well of the Goa sausage chilli fry or the other food. In addition, I didn't like Calangute beach much and that just added to my general impression.

Infantaria though is my very favourite of the three. I was decently disappointed by the famed Infantaria breakfast because it's not as large as the menu claims and hence isn't value for money. Avoid the feni — too harsh and bitter. But they have best strawberry and blueberry doughnuts ever. The Kahlua Mousse Cake and the Chocolate Walnut Date Tart, and the Crab Xacuti which at 85 bucks is some real value for money. But honestly, a major reason why I loved Infantaria was the *awesome* service that we enjoyed. Should you stop there, ask for John and Michael. They're quite friendly and happy to stop for a chat or invite the ex-reviewer to sing.

There are also a couple of other places that I recommend. One is on the Candolim Road and is called Lloyd's, after the guy who runs it. His mama does all the cooking and the food is excellent, if a little expensive. The potato chops looked delicious but were over by the time we ordered. The fish cutlets are definitely a must-try. The feni's not too good, but he does serve King's. The other place is called Mirabai's Goan Village — featured in the photo below. I wasn't very keen on the place because of a misunderstanding and some overreaction on my part but I'm glad the ex-reviewer convinced me otherwise. The fish was incredibly fresh and well-cooked and the feni smooth and light. Coupled with the lovely ambience, friendly staff, and loquacious owner, I had a really good time there.

Mirabai's Goan Village

I don't think that I'd be doing the Goan experience justice if I didn't mention the alcohol. Especially since a decent effort was expended in the noble pursuit of finding the best local palm or cashew feni. We devoted ourselves to it with such single-minded purpose that we did not suffer a single drop of anything else (but King's) to pass our lips in all that time. Feni is the loveliest high — easy, lazy, and mellow like a summer's day. Pour it over ice, add some sugar (syrup, preferably), sip it gently, and watch the languor unfold. Ah yes, the final verdict on the feni? The best palm feni hands down is at Brittos while the best cashew is available at Alex's.

To end this post, I have just one word of advice. North Goa, long being a tourist haven, has restaurants all over, some of which are run by the most unlikely suspects. As far as possible, stay out of shacks and restaurants not run by Goans. Both the service and food are likely to be quite bad. Also, there's one recurrent thought — for the life of me, I cannot fathom what a vegetarian would eat in Goa. I don't recall seeing any vegetarian Goan food on any of the menus I studied, either on or off the beaches. The ex-reviewer's more worried about the poor teetotallers but I, being driven by my stomach, am terrified for the vegetarians.


I've gone through over 500 photos from Goa and would you believe it, I cannot find more than these two photos of the food!! There's only one more and it's a remains-of-the-plate sort of one. There are assorted cats, dogs, hoardings, and hazy beaches, but no food. I suppose I was too busy to take photos, no? :-)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Time Turtles

If you asked for a time line of my sojourn in Goa, I fear I may not be able to furnish one. You see, as I found out, that one great Goa cliche is really quite true — time really doesn't seem to have much meaning here. It only turtles along and wraps you in gelatinous languor. I cannot tell you which day precisely was spent tramping about Colva or which day in Panjim. Nor can I say which days were spent watching the sea or simply staring at it, sometimes idly, sometimes glassy-eyed.

Beer at Brittos

What with it being my first trip, I was labouring under both my own expectations and too many recommendations. So after some deliberation, we decided upon North Goa with a day in South Goa thrown in. A miserable bus journey later I arrived in Baga — in the middle of the Eid weekend. It's true, you know, what they say about Goa in season. There really were far too many people already down in Baga and most of those from bloody Bombay! Of course, things settled once the throng left on Monday (but still!): we got lazy, discovering Baga, Candolim, and Vagator in the silence of the early season.

Goa's the most beautiful country — lush and green and truly, quite like Kerala. Both so abundantly flaunt the blessing of the South-west monsoon in their waving palm trees and mid-harvest fields. The Baga, the Zuari, and other rivers meander across Goa with elephantine grace as do so many rivers across Kerala. Both states also carry the unmistakable stamp of familiarity with the Portuguese. This is especially true of Panjim with its brightly painted buildings in Fontainhas, the Latin quarter, so greatly reminiscent of Jew Town in Fort Kochi.

Fontainhas, Panjim

Along the Zuari River

Another intriguing similarity — you can't go five kilometers in either Goa or Kerala without some symbol or house of religion!

Goa's also amazing food and alcohol country. It's at least a mildly disorienting experience to be in a decently fancy eatery and find that Smirnoff's only 45 bucks to the large. And you know that we're doing something right as a country if we're producing a liquor as fine as palm feni and a beer as mellow and easy as King's. It's such a pity that neither are available in Bombay. I'd like to rant about the food because God knows Goan food deserves the paeans, but then I won't have a next post. But I will say this: as it is usually is with hearsay, I was disappointed with some of the restaurants so long hallowed.

Live in sight of the sea for most of your life and you may begin to take it for granted. I, on the other hand, have learned its true value in the last three years. And so, I rediscovered the sea in Goa. There is such a pure and beautiful joy in sitting in the deepening twilight, reading or writing or talking or being silent, letting the sound of the waves wash over you. In the North Goa stretch, Candolim is the best beach for those evenings. Candolim is also where I walked the sands of my childhood: where memory nibbled in small tendrils of nostalgia. Some roads were familiar and some vistas beloved.

Fort Aguada

The elder sibling warned me that because of the length of my stay, I might just end up being disillusioned about Goa much sooner than I need be. And perhaps, I was. In season, I don't think there is much of a difference between Baga-Calangute and Juhu Beach. Unthinkably irritating, don't you know, being kept just too far off the beach. Also, since I don't see a point in partying in Goa, I take at least some manner of exception to the loud, intrusive Bollywood and other "music" and the speeding cars along a road wide enough for two bikes!

Over that week, I came to realise that I like some of the big things, like the restaurants, but otherwise Goa is in the quieter and smaller things. In the little "bar and rest" that no one notices. In the genial, rumbling patrao who checks three fish markets to get your crabs. In the homes of people who don't know you from Adam but welcome you warmly at their tables just the same. In the stark, deserted beaches that bring you back in touch with your penguin roots. In the run-down bungalow down a green lane in Colva selling sausage-pao for 10 bucks. In the old, friendly and pushy aunty who sells chorizo at the Mapusa Friday Market but owns a flat in Napean Sea Road, Bombay.

Chorizo at the Mapusa Friday Market

Finally, I'm glad I went with the ex-reviewer. I doubt that I would have seen so much of Goa otherwise - a fact the elder sibling corroborates. Or had such a completely indulgent vacation. He watched me thumb through the guidebook only to finally gleefully let the susegaad win me over. He stopped obligingly on rattling and busy bridges for photographs. He laughed when the feni made me mad in my toes and very, very drunk. He also stole my camera every now and then only to make me the unwilling and tortured subject of too much wasted camera battery. And yes, those will never see the light of day!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sigh... I'm back.

Goa and Kings

Baga at Sunset

Getting onto that bus to Bombay was amongst the most depressing things I've ever done. The elder sibling assures me that despite going to Goa five times a year, the depression never fails to come a'calling. Staring at my screen instead of a Goan sunset, feni in my glass, and crumb-fried prawns on my plate feels so incredibly wrong... Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Mensis Mirabilis

I have an odd mix of accomplishments to list here today and it seems impossible to not smile about either one.

Today is one year since I quit smoking. After ten years. I quit in a fit of pride; didn't like being told the stick was stronger than me, don't you know. The first few weeks were a little miserable, what with people all over the country trying to tempt me back. But you know that you've really and truly quit when in the biting, early-morning January Delhi cold, you can detachedly hold a cigarette and watch it burn down to the filter and NOT WANT to take a drag. I think I'll always miss the "after a great meal" smoke and the solitary, contemplative smoke but for the biggest part, I'm just glad I quit.

Secondly, I can now stop saying "I am the only 27 year-old in Bombay who can say that it's been 23 years since I last went to Goa." Yup, yup. Am finally in Goa. Under a blazing hot sun. Soaking up the susegad. Eating like it's my last week on Earth. Drinking alcohol in lieu of water. Exploring the smaller stuff. Falling back in love with my life. Rediscovering my photographic eye. Finally having my Dil Chahata Hai moment.

More when I'm back. There will be, I am sure, since I'm with the ex-reviewer. Like a good child, I am being harassed into writing, complete with drafting and polishing, every day. :-)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

In Search of Ramazan

The November of 2001. For the first time, Ramazan up close, and personal.

It began slowly, with S fasting during exams and going off to pray in the middle of evening tea. A little later came the small dabbas that S's mother sent back to the hostel. Three of us would huddle around a light blue box, drowning in the rich and varied tastes of her home, jostling each other's fingers for favourite bits. Still later was the feast that the entire family brought to campus in time for Iftar. Baskets of egg samosas and assorted kababs, each dabba within filled with some of the most incredible food I've ever had the pleasure of.

And yet, nothing could have prepared me for the delights of the Old City. This particular jaunt was a few nights from going home for the winter. Well past midnight by the time we got past the purana pul but with the screaming waiters outside each little shop, the lights, the traffic, you'd be convinced otherwise. Even the sleepy textile shops that usually shut by 7:30 p.m. were still loudly displaying their garish wares. Come to think of it, it's the only time I've ever seen Hyderabad on the go!

That night, from the chaos of Charminar came one of the most brilliant gastronomic experiences of my life.

Haleem. That most delightful of the riches of Ramazan. I've never eaten something like it and I don't think I will either. No idea what I'm frothing at mouth about? Well, it's broken wheat, meat (usually mutton), some dal, spices, and whole lot of ghee, slow-cooked the entire day in a bhatti, ready in time for Iftar. The resultant gooey, gelatinous, porridge-like mouthfuls, topped with fried onion and a wedge of lime, are amongst the closest one can get to culinary nirvana... ever. Nayab at Pathargatti, Miskin and Shadaab in the Old City proper - there are absolutely no better places for haleem. I know - I tried them all!

From the rosy hues of memory, haleem stands strongest and most beloved. But in fairness, there was some other fantastic food too. The nahari and warm sheermal at Miskin, behind Medina Hotel, is the best I've ever had. Miskin also serves a delicious paya. A novel and perhaps surprising experience, because I saw trotters in the paya for the first time. Actually hanging out of the ladle in the handi. Certainly, I was laughed at - amid choking laughter and polite sniggers, I was asked "Why else would it be called paya then?" How would I know?! In Bombay, it's just the greasy soup, thank you very much!

It's been six years since I was last in Hyderabad for Ramazan. Six years since the taste of paradise upon my lips. Six years, I assure you, is a long, long time. So after reading the last issue of Time Out Mumbai and its piece on the feasts of Ramazan, Bombay style, AND where to get haleem in this city, I plan to set out adventuring in Mahim and Mohammed Ali Road. Tonight.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Buried in Books

There is definitely, certainly, and incontrovertibly no such thing as being too broke for books.

In my position right now though, you'd think there was. I haven't worked for nearly three months now. I got paid till about two and a half ago. I spend a part of my time figuring out how to make this break last. For the other, I count my pennies and try not to spend them. Especially since I want to travel a fair bit and I want to meet friends elsewhere. So, I now do what I haven't in 3 years I take buses, I eat cheap, and I drink cheap. I'm doing my best, see. But as usual, the best laid plans of this woman often go awry when any kind of book store is in sight. Especially when the book store's Landmark and their annual sale is on.

It's pathetic, really, my lack of self-restraint. I don't even bother resisting. Right till the door I'm worrying about how I just can't afford another book. What's more, my mum is going to throw me out of the house because we have truly and officially run out of space for books one of us needs to move out now! But the minute I step in, it all goes to hell. Suddenly there are all these lovely, interesting books all of which I must read and own. Suddenly the financial problems, of a few small countries, which were dancing on my head a moment ago are all gone. You know what makes it worse? That bloody restraint is one the meanings of my name?!

And while I may have dug an unnecessary hole into my pocket, some of these books have to be seen to be believed. I picked up the illustrated film script of Neil Gaiman's MirrorMask at a mere 150. The original price of this gorgeously produced and exquisitely crafted coffee-table-sized book, I must gloat, is 1513! I bought an absolutely wonderful book on music Back to the Miracle Factory: Rock etc. 1990's for a mere 99! And it gets only better. For between 149 and 199, I picked up I'm a Born Liar: A Fellini Lexicon, a Diana Wynne Jones, the children's edition of MirrorMask, and I Hated, Hated, Hated this Movie.

If it had ended there, I wouldn't have felt quite as guilty as I do now. You see, in other impoverishing incidents, that almost silly book store, Crossword, has also had its annual sale. Unfortunately, I found nothing very exciting save for the brilliantly produced and gorgeous Phoenix Poetry series at throwaway prices. And so, the selected works of Ovid, Donne, Byron, Coleridge, Tennyson, and Baudelaire have made their way into my home and my mother's ire.

Ah well. Excuse me while I meander back to bed and read my guilt away.

P.S. On the off chance you thought I was back to my normal derelict ways, allow me to correct that happy mistake. It's been close to a month of hacking like an old crone, watching the world through the haze of my steamer, and dealing with a bad, tender tummy. I'm much better now, thanks very much. :-)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Poetry and Bookstores

I encountered Carol Ann Duffy during the first year of my Masters when a professor read out selections from The World's Wife. Unfortunately, I've not had a chance to get very much better acquainted with her since then because all her books at the British Library are almost always out and I'm yet to come across her at a bookstore in Bombay. To boot, the ever-dependable Internet has too few of the same poems all over the place.

The real, if hidden, moral of the story is that if one of you feels generous enough to want to send me any of her work, please don't hesitate to ask for my address. :-)

So here's an utterly gorgeous poem I came across here. There's another one posted there as well but I liked this one better. Also, you'll find a pretty comprehensive profile of Duffy here.


I like pouring your tea, lifting
the heavy pot, and tipping it up,
so the fragrant liquid streams in your china cup.

Or when you’re away, or at work,
I like to think of your cupped hands as you sip,
as you sip, of the faint half-smile of your lips.

I like the questions – sugar? – milk? –
and the answers I don’t know by heart, yet,
for I see your soul in your eyes, and I forget.

Jasmine, Gunpowder, Assam, Earl Grey, Ceylon,
I love tea’s names. Which tea would you like? I say
but it’s any tea for you, please, any time of day,

as the women harvest the slopes
for the sweetest leaves, on Mount Wu-Yi,
and I am your lover, smitten, straining your tea.


I've always thought there are few places as incredible and intriguing as a book store and that there are too few of that variety in Bombay. On a recent trip around Europe, Plain Jane and K spent a few evenings in Paris during the course of which they explored Shakespeare and Company. The both of them generously thought first of me while they were there. Even more generously, they brought back a wonderful print of a lovely painting of it for me.

An iconic English book store in Paris, Shakespeare and Co has flourished under Slyvia Beach and George Whitman and is quite an important place. For example, did you know that it was Beach who first published Ulysses? From all of K's photos and the ones on the Net, it seems like the most delicious hodge-podge of a place. It's dark, crowded with books in a seeming mess, and looks intriguingly inviting. The best part is that in exchange for working two hours a day in the book store, reading a book day, and making your own bed, you can stay in the upper part of the store as long as you like. And as far as I can tell, while I'm unemployed, I'm definitely in the wrong city!

P.S The Wikipedia article led me to Jeremy Mercer's top 10 book stores. All ten sound really, really delectable, I tell you! Sigh...

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Monsoon of Mangoes

Longing is a terrible, terrible thing. A longing that can be satisfied only ten months later is enough to drive a sane woman mad in her fingers. On a rainy evening, by not wanting pizza, it began like this.

On the way to and from some pretty brilliant Goan curries is a little market. It spreads in a clumsy diagonal cross that seems to spill from a round main square into small squiggly lanes. It's a fascinating place because in the evenings, under naked bulbs shaded by waterproof paper plates sit more than one fruit and vegetable seller. The wonky circles of light from under the shiny plate always make the produce look so appealing. Add small beads of rain and there's a beautiful shot.

Knowing that I was going to get out of the cold, out of the rain, and go home to a warm and incredibly delicious meal made me want dessert. And in that moment, the only thing that seemed enticing and desirable, far above even a bar of Galaxy chocolate, was a fruit that wasn't even there — a mango. And with that one thought, I was utterly lost... and still am!

You see, mangoes are nearly a religion in my home, especially with my mother and I. As far as we see it, the only conceivable riches of summer are carton upon carton of mangoes, dozen after dozen of lush aphus and juicy pairee. Each season starts with the usual discussions of how odiously expensive they are, what unconscionable thieves the mango sellers are, and how it will still be a while until we can have the first lot home.

Among my earliest childhood memories is sneaking into the kitchen well past my bedtime to raid the mangoes. It is an achievement beyond most five year-olds, I'll have you know, to be able to identify a single ripe mango from a great, ugly carton of them by smell alone. That in the darkness I could leave the mess of ripped skin and seed in one corner, clean my hands on a towel, leave it lying around, and waltz back to bed qualifies me for prodigy-hood. In fact, it's the only story my mum still tells about me — with pride too!

Many seasons later in Hyderabad, I discovered benishaan, himayat, and rasaal on the crowded streets of Mehdipatnam while scrambling for the 216/217 that took me back to campus. Back in dingy hostel rooms, crowded around the mango-cutter designate, I learned something of the useless arrogance of Alphonso. I learned the new shapes, colours, and textures of an old beloved and fell in love all over again.

Indeed, something about the taste and texture and even the colour of a mango infallibly evokes a sense of well-being. The intermingling fragrance of the fruit and the hay in the carton always speaks of summer holidays and childhood. There is also something so guiltless about a mango. Yes, yes, I know it's got the calories of the world and it makes you break out. But the guilt attached to a chocolate rum mousse cannot begin to compare to the lightness, the simplicity of one, two, or even five mangoes — at a single sitting!

Sigh... only for the mangoes, I tell you. Summer, anyone?

Thursday, August 30, 2007


The ex-reviewer sent across an interesting article about Joshua Bell's anonymous busking experiment with the Washington Post. Set up at a metro station in Washington D.C during rush hour, the point was to answer one fundamental question: "In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?"

Bell is regarded as one of America's, and perhaps amongst the world's, foremost classical violinists. He uses one of the most well-known violins ever made, one that he paid an unbelievable, staggering near 4 million USD for. I came across this incident a couple of months ago while randomly reading about busking. To be honest, I didn't pay it much attention but once you're done with the article, you can't help but see some of the significance of this experiment.

"Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he's really bad? What if he's really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn't you? What's the moral mathematics of the moment?"

In the article, the music director of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin, when hypothetically asked about the outcome of such an experiment, said it would be a hit in Europe, that a crowd would gather around. I can't help but wonder what sort of reaction Bell, or indeed anyone creating any manner of beauty, would have gotten in India where street performers aren't exactly in abundant supply. Especially not street performers doing Bach and Schubert — not really a part of the average national cultural experience. Does the experience of beauty transcend nation and culture? I wonder what it would have been like for him in Bombay, perhaps at the super busy Churchgate or Andheri stations at rush hour?

The full article is here and at the very end is a Q&A with the author, which is as interesting as the main article. Though the article contains streaming video, you might, like me, not be able to view it.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Summer in the City

Now that I am spending muggy monsoon nights clacking away at the keyboard, I miss the summer evenings. Winter evenings would be perfect but summer will do. The rains are welcome for the first week when the city cools down. After that, I’m screaming murder at every big car who thinks s/he doesn’t need to give a rat's arse about drenching pedestrians or people on bikes. That's it! Bring back the sweltering, migraine-inducing heat! But the horrendous heat apart, this summer was special because it brought rides through Aarey Milk Colony. So for those of you who don't know what Aarey is, this is what Wikipedia has to say.

As you will observe, that is a miracle in the city of Bombay. But to meander back to the story, I live in Versova and used to work in Powai, the commute to which is a first-class bitch. So I began travelling with the ex-reviewer. It seemed a relatively less painful—less traffic-infested with no useless fighting through public transport—way of getting to work. Scant days later, we'd already quite fallen into a predictable little rhythm of him not waiting to get to work to annoy me.

Aarey is not only the most peaceful way of getting to traffic-forsaken Powai from the Western suburbs, it is by far the most beautiful. Until late March, the trees are a subdued shade of light green. You can see they're slumbering, trying to ignore the persistent cold. But in April and through most of May, the gentle green undergrowth becomes a burgeoning verdure that diminishes the simmering resentment at being on my way into work. Each day brought leisurely breezes and roads covered in the graceful remains of yellow flowers.

You know how people talk about sound being switched off in certain places, when everything becomes mute? Well, it's not quite the same trite, muting experience but the moment you cross the Malad toll gate into Aarey, someone seems to muffle out the sound. The roar of the Western Express highway seems silenced by the waving grass and the astounding greenery, complete with trees with funny ears.

More often that not, the reviewer and I would stop en route for breakfast. In the shade of the picnic spot where almost every child in Bombay has been brought on a school picnic is a little canteen that sells below average samosas and some very weird snacks. I have spent many mornings here, renewing my acquaintance with coffee and pineapple Energee.

There have also been mornings of repast provided so thoughtfully by the reviewer. Halfway up the road to the Powai toll gate is a small left that might be presumed to go nowhere interesting or indeed, nowhere at all. About a hundred feet up this road, at the foot of a large tree is a moss-covered stone bench over a clogged culvert. One mild morning, the reviewer stopped because he wanted to eat. He then pulled out the leftovers of a wine bottle and roast beef sandwiches from his saddle-bag. I tell you, it's a nice, nice way to start the day!

On the precious few days that the reviewer and I managed to get out of the office while it was still early evening, there were evenings of exploratory, rambling drives and bickering peacefully. There is such a pure pleasure in selecting an unknown left or right and finding myself on a winding green-brown road that led down two years at the University of Hyderabad. And by summer's end, the entire forest burst into flame to welcome the monsoon. The yellow flowers were soon replaced by motley shades of red.

Now I don’t know if it’s A’s departure from Bombay and a lack of practice, a camera that wasn’t mine, or indifferent lighting, but of 92 shutter releases, I did not like a single one. I'll leave you with a couple of A's shots instead. They're a more than fair idea of what I saw!


Elephant Bush

Friday, August 17, 2007

From where one stands?

A couple of nights past, over the din of an aimless conversation, the ex-boss asked me,

"Where is E Vestigio going now? As in, it just seems to be meandering... no particular focus, no direction. What are you doing with it?"

Funny thing how even once I got over the discomforting disquiet of that unexpected incisiveness, these long procrastinated questions were still staring straight at me. Sigh. An answer would just have to be found now.

I started E Vestigio with this in mind:

"A writer -- and, I believe, generally all persons -- must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art."

--Jorge Luis Borges
From "Twenty Conversations with Borges, Including a Selection of Poems: Interviews by Roberto Alifano.

By that maxim, I should have been writing each day of the past year! But entirely unbidden, the weirder the year became, the more closely E Vestigio mirrored the change in me... the longer it took to find the right words to write.

Erratic is a quiet way to describe this past year and yet, it's not that I haven't written. An entire notebook stands testament to the things I saw, read, thought, etc. But somehow, the commute from experience to expression became so much more arduous. Posts languished, like a lover hurriedly and disinterestedly pushed away. Perhaps this'd be one of those blogs that lie huddled... like in an elephant graveyard, decomposing slowly and painfully. Quite honestly, if wasn't for Geets, Nocturne, Parth, and the ex-reviewer, the stench would have risen from these black pages much faster and possibly, a long time ago too.

Now though, events are not quite as erratic and certainly of my choice. You see, I am currently gainfully unemployed. There are no more crazy clients, brainsick bosses, and horrendous hours. Instead, there has been one month of sleeping and eating well. One month of loads of films, of books, of biryani, of random surfing, of exploring a Wikipedia article to it's fullest... of letting life ebb and wash over everything.

And yet, I've hardly managed to get anywhere with posting. I wonder sometimes if I have anything interesting to say - especially to myself.... If there is anything left in my writing... if I have not forgotten how. If the reactions to a "recent" post, both on and off the blog, were anything to go by, I just might have! :-)

There are a number of possibilities, of course. Perhaps like the elder sibling suggests, I may not currently have anything to say. Alternatively, it could just a question of practice... of trying harder. Or even perhaps, I could allow the stillness to meander and follow its own course.

A little while ago, I wrote to someone who's known me since I was 16. I don't know if I could call him a friend but he's seen me go through more than one bit of madness. He's also read some my earliest god-awful attempts at piecing words together and oddly enough, encouraged the effort.

I described the entire situation to him. I explained the ennui, the restlessness, the lack of confidence. I speculated about causes, about possible ways to get my groove back, about stopping altogether. He sent back a one liner in response to my belaboured tome:

Wandering is not always a bad thing.

Suddenly a long forgotten e-mail from a long broken friendship dipped in and out of my mind:

"All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost."

--J.R.R Tolkein, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I.

Perhaps there is hope yet.

Friday, August 10, 2007

French Film Evenings

I'm just done attending the The 5th Annual French Film Festival at the Fun Republic multiplex. Conducted from the 3rd to the 9th of August by the French Embassy and the Alliance Française, the ex-reviewer and I were there everyday from the 5th. Only one film was screened everyday with free seating on a first-come-first-served basis.

Surprisingly, there are more takers for French cinema in this city than I would have bargained for. I stood in serpentine lines for over an hour each day, believe it or not, despite getting there at 18:30 for a 20:00 film. Judgemental as it may sound, I think the lines were due in no small measure to the films being free.

I could rant on about it but frankly, I'm not sure it's worth the debate an opinion like that will spark off — especially if one of my recent posts is anything to go by. Most of you know the kind of stragglers I mean, and that's enough said. :-)

I don't think the entire festival was managed well at all. Everyday was an exhausting experience. You first waited forever for passes. Then you went up and waited just to be let into the lobby of the multiplex, and that's just bloody ridiculous! Simply because we didn't pay for the passes doesn't mean they should treat us any less than paying customers. I highly doubt that Fun Republic was screening the films free, don't you agree? Someone, somewhere was paying for the screening. So why should they treat us thus?

But I meander; to the films, then. These are listed in the order in which we saw them.

Les Mauvais Joueurs (The Gamblers)
A fast-paced movie set in a side of Paris you won't see in mainstream romantic films. This is a Paris infested with illegal immigrants and petty crime. Yuen (Teng Fei Xiang), the Chinese rebel without a clue, is an immigrant who does his best to annoy his French "sponsors". Vahé (Pascal Elbé), a thug in love with Yuen's sister, tries to keep Yuen out of trouble with the others. The tension culminates in Yuen losing control and shooting the owner of a sweatshop. The rest of the film plays out neatly, tying up all the possible and sometimes predictable loose ends.

I personally didn't think that the movie was saying anything new or particularly profound about the exploitation in sweat shops, angst-ridden youth, or the seamy underbelly of a large city. It's a story often told in American films, about New York, Chicago, or Boston. But with it's engaging music, quick pace, and decent performances from most of the cast, I enjoyed watching it all the same.

La Petite Jersusalem (Little Jerusalem)
Set in a Jewish community in a suburb of Paris, La Petite Jerusalem tells the tale of three (stereo?)types of orthodox Jewish women in a single household. There's Laura (Fanny Valette), a student of philosophy, grappling with her Jewish identity and love for a Muslim Algerian colleague. Mathilde (Elsa Zylberstein), her sister, is the frum wife, following the Torah to the letter only to find her marriage in a mess because of her interpretation of it. And finally, their mother (Sonia Tahar), is the over-anxious Jewish mother, carrying on about possession and the evil eye on her daughter. Finally though, the film is about the personal journeys of both the sisters towards peace, reconciliation, and acceptance.

La Petite Jerusalem won the SACD Screen writing Award at the Cannes Film Festival and I cannot understand why! The dialogues are nothing great but that could also be because they got lost in translation somewhere. Additionally, another annoying aspect of the screenplay is that the discussions in Laura's philosophy classroom lack depth and meaning. Personally, I don't think Valette is particularly convincing as the young Jewish girl, tortured and torn by her beliefs and her upbringing. Mathilde is more real in her relationships with her mother, sister, and husband. Also, I quite liked the the effective use of grey tones for the grubby neighbourhood the family lives in and the somber mood of the film. The music is also decently effective, if unsurprising, in its discordant piano and the stark acoustic sounds.

You'll find an interesting interview with director Karin Albou and the interviewer's take here.

Le Petit Lieutenant (The Young Lieutenant)
Definitely one of the films I enjoyed most. Le Petit Lieutenant follows the lives of the members of a crime unit in Paris. A rookie police lieutenant, Antoine Derouère (Jalil Lespert), moves to Paris for a more exciting career than he would have had in his native Le Havre. Here he is part of Commandant Caroline Vaudieu's team (Nathalie Baye). Vandieu is a recovering alcoholic who takes an initially ambiguous but finally motherly interest in Antoine. Things go horribly wrong during the investigations of a murder when Antoine’s enthusiasm leads to tragedy.

Each of the characters is superbly acted and even as the film reaches a predictable denouement, you cannot help but feel very impressed with the way it was handled. As more than one review will point out, Le Petit Lieutenant revolves around the personalities of the people in Vandieu's team and their equations with each other instead of the intricacies of the investigation. This, I think, is what makes this a really good film and sets it apart from the usual murder investigation film.

Amongst the most striking things about this film was the complete lack of music. The film ends with Baye on the beach in Nice, looking directly at the camera, the surf crashing behind her. The waves continue to break over the rolling credits and are the only memorable sound in a film otherwise filled only with ambient sound.

Changement d'Adresse (Change of Address)
My very favourite in the festival, this beautiful film follows David (Emmanuel Mouret - also the director) a wonderfully charming, sweetly inept French horn player who is accosted by Anne (Frédérique Bel) while reading an ad for a roommate. David soon finds himself living with Anne. They become good friends, seeing each other through various romantic problems and occasionally sharing more than a living space.

David's love interest is his student, Julia, played by Fanny Valette, while Anne is in love with a man whose name she does not know but who is a customer at her copy shop. David does everything he can to attract Julia's attention and affection, even taking her away on a romantic getaway to the seaside. The surreal and farcical sequence of rapidly changing emotions and events that follow unfolds like a mime - only with dialogues.

The acting from most of the cast is superb and the film reaches a funny but sad climax. I particularly liked Mouret and Bel in their hilarious, innocent, and offbeat way of handling everything a seemingly bizarre life throws at them. Dany Brilliant is quite good in his role as David's smooth-talking and confident nemesis. However, there is something about Valette that I cannot quite connect with. I am, however, willing to admit that she's really good as the reserved and cold young woman because she left me cold altogether.

Bled Number One (Back Home)
Honestly, I am not quite sure if I understood this film. The story is told of Kamel (Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche - also the director), Louisa (Meryem Serbah), and Algeria. Kamel's been deported from France and Louisa's walked out on a husband who won't let her sing. The film portrays the effects of their alienation from and oppression in Algerian society

However, a number of the finer nuances, elucidated here, escaped me altogether. I also got the sense that Kamel and Louisa seem to find a manner of friendship, of solace, in each other. This equation remains unexplored in many ways. Perhaps Ameur-Zaïmeche intended for them to be and remain alienated and uprooted but I think the film just might have worked better for an exploration of their equation.

The music is particularly discordant and jarring because suddenly in the middle of events, the scene cuts to a solitary guitar player perched on a hillside with a basic electric sound set up. Out of nowhere he launches into, as the ex-reviewer pointed out, a musical rendition of William Blake’s The Little Vagabond. Kamel merely flits in and out of the scene. Just as suddenly, the film ends with the same man playing a solo. Indeed, I don’t think I understood the film and I am not sure I liked it.


I missed Le Couperet (The Axe) and Je ne suis pas là pour être aimé (Not Here To Be Loved). They both seem quite interesting, especially Not Here To Be Loved. You can find a review for each here and here.