Saturday, May 12, 2012


The breakfast on Deccan Queen is something that has been talked and written about so much that it almost is a truism to say anything about it. For Puneiets the train has been like a lifeline that runs from Pune to Mumbai at 7 am and Mumbai to pune  at 5 pm again. The train has been running for over 30 years now and carries people who work in the either of the cities and work in the other. Needless to say the breakfast is quite an affair here..

As the train pulls fresh aroma of chicken cutlets, various omelettes and cheese fills up the compartments. Everything is made fresh in the pantry car and is over by the time train reaches Mumbai at 10.45? am.

Although me and Sachin are not “regulars” on this train, neither are we one of those enthusiastic train travellers nor does the Mumbai –Pune travel entice us in any which way. But since we had a flight to catch from Mumbai in the afternoon and as usual our love for food got us on the train rather than a bus which runs every half an hour for Mumbai.

As we settle down with our luggage (me n sachin travel really heavy and we don’t know how..) and get our seats, a friendly but a rather quick guy takes our order. More than usually I end up ordering (read bite) more than I can chew (pun intended). Our order arrives in a nicely folded white paper bag with paper plates inside. We have ordered for two plates of chicken cutlets, a cheese sandwich and a cheese toast. Cutlets are crisp outside and very soft inside. They are flavoured with mint and mildly spiced, one bite of these and I confess to Sachin that I’ve not had these good cutlets in a while. Once again I come to believe in my philosophy of simple pleasures of life! The cheese toast is actually not toasted but fried! And fried to delight!! It is a combination of white slice of bread and some sour cheese coated with flour and deep fried till crispy on the edges. I finish  one cutlet and wrap up the other for the road.

It is  delightful conversations between the waiters and the “regulars” that take place on board. Within no time we’ve crossed Panvel and are closing in to Dadar. Its time, to say adios to an experience full of good food and people.

Mayhem on Havelock

It was  2 pm me and Sachin (my husband) were at one of the shacks devouring a red grouper  wrapped in banana leaf and grilled. Usually we end up very hungry and starving after our scuba dives and the food is an absolute completeness then! So both of us with our divers’appetites really didn’t care about the frenzy (quite an unusual one for a island) on the street. One our tummies were satiated we moved towards our resort about a kilometre away. On our way we saw a group of foreign nationals staying in our resort running towards the hillock. We stopped by a grocery store with a television set where everything was being shut, to find out about the earthquake that had hit Malaysia of 8.9 ritcher scale! And a Tsunami warning was declared for the entire Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Southern coast of mainland India.

“Oh my god”, I said, “Sachin what are going to do now!?” Sachin was definitely calmer than I were, he told me to run towards the resort and pack a small bag with bare essentials, some food and our wallets. He went to hire a two wheeler for us to go on the other side of the mountain which had a motorable road at a height! I was thanking my stars for having him right next to me. His training (in the army) allows him to keep his cool and work towards the situation much better than I can think of! As I reached the resort two of the girls we made friends here on the island Darya from Germany and Nicola from England joined me in my room. They had packed a bag already and were moving towards the hill. I convinced them to join us; Darya bought the plan immediately and left to get another scooter. As me and Nicola were waiting for the other two to return I started making call back home in Pune to tell them about the situation. To be honest I was more worried about our three year old daughter Saee, whom we had left with the family to go on this vacation for the two of us. It stuck me like a lightening that no matter what me and Sachin have to be there for Saee. That one moment, I realised what it is to be a parent. Everything else in your life takes a backseat when the catastrophe is around the corner and you want to come out of it, not for yourself but for your child first.

The resort was empty, everybody was walking towards the hill. Nicola and I were getting desperate waiting for our riders. Vinnie, the owner of the resort came to us to ask us to vacate immediately. I was trying to explain him the situation and Nicola cried, “Here they are!!”

We got on our scooters, Darya was not very comfortable riding it on a curvy, steep road. So I took over with Nicola behind me and Darya behind Sachin. It took us fifteen minutes to reach on a higher ground and decided to stop on a flat Platform. By this time Sachin was making all the tactical decisions for the three of us. We settled down under a tree. We were actually on west side of the mountain and the tsunami warning was on the eastern coast, so practically we were at the safest place on the island. Sachin constantly kept in touch with the resort owner as he had a radio set with direct connect with weather dept of government. It was already two hours, all of us were getting restless. The only bottle of mosquito repellent which Nicola was carrying was over. I had a packet of biscuits and some water. Darya and Nicola had skipped their lunch because of the whole chaos; they finished of the whole packet. It was getting dark, the last light was becoming almost invisible. I was constantly getting calls from the family and friends. We were assuring and reassuring everyone of our well-being. Ironically it was Darya’s father from Hamburg, Germany who gave her a call and told about the warning being called off and the alert still on. We still wanted to make sure and confirmed the same from friends in Pune. As we rode back into the civilisation, we saw people getting down from the hillock. It was already 8 pm, quite late by the standards of an island. The resort Cafe had no cooked food as everyone was just getting back. The cook decided to fry some potato chips for everyone and we toasted to life, friendship and camaraderie.


I was introduced to scuba diving by Sachin, my husband who started diving with Indian Navy as a part of his combat diving training, ten years ago. Four years later when we met each other in 2006, he was already an avid recreational diver totally engulfed by the mysteries of the ocean. He introduced me to the abundance, diversity and vibrance of the ocean. After we got married in 2007, the first trip we took was to Goa; to dive and eat! Oh yes fortunately for both of us we are foodies and would unabashedly go on food excursions to different places. So coming back to diving, the Goa trip wasn’t as good as I had imagined as far as the diving is concerned. It was a rather dampener with ill fitting equipment, wet suit and combination of an average instructor and not so clear diving site. But I decided to keep my faith in diving as well as Sachin and we told ourselves we will do it once again.

So on the fifth wedding anniversary we decided to take a break from the monotony of work ,  ‘homemaking’ and looking after our three year old daughter Saee (“looking after part is vice versa); and booked us a month long diving vacation in the Havelock island east of Port blair in Andaman and Nicobar Islands of  India.

No one but you can tell what calls you to scuba diving. If you seek adventure you’ll find plenty, if you are looking for discovery, welcome to inner space. Most people will find it a cliché but the fact remains that we know the surface of the moon better than the depths of ocean. To me it is the serenity and peace that one experiences under water. It is a unique way to find solitude and sometimes even feel empty inside while you’re under water.

Of course I did not experience this the very first moment I got inside the water. Initially it felt a bit awkward with heavy gear and inhaling through my mouth! As I progressed inside the water, the feeling of lightness came along as easily as fishes to water. I started getting along with a new medium and a whole new world under water.  One of the major problems I faced while my first dive was equalisation, apart from getting adjusted to the gear and breathing under water.  To maintain the air volume as one descends, you need to add air to the space to keep up with the volume reduction, this concept is called equalisation. To equalise the air space in sinuses and ears one blows holding the nose tight, wriggle the jaw while ascending and press the forehead tightly. At first not being use to the medium it took a longer time for me to equalise thus resulting into ear pain. But as I got along in water it became easier with the second and third dive.

The joy of swimming along with the fishes, the flora and corals are inviting enough to take a plunge and be there. Till now I’ve seen and learnt to indentify barracudas who swim in large group, yellow, red and white snappers which make ocean so colourful, slugs and sea cucumbers which are to me friends of our own Garfield The cat, they lie down lazily on the ocean bed, jelly fishes, eels (ancestors of snakes probably), star fish and so on...

My exploration has just begun and I wish to continue it with Sachin as life and diving buddy...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rockstar review..

The fact that the film opens in Prague and our rockstar is influenced by Jim Morrison, who read and revered Kafka, who lived in Prague, is a coincidence or Imtiaz Ali's anecdote is really a puzzle to me. But i'd like to believe the latter, as you watch this Jaat Boy from Pitampura, Delhi evolve into a rockstar, it is simply a cinematic treat. We might not have had our own Rockstar yet, but we've definitely got a Rockstar movie and who knows the rockstar might just follow..
The film has a soul but is caged in the narrative which flaws at many places. Rockstar is guided by its music and lyrics the way it should happen for any musical. Indian film industry which is mainly guided by the parellel music industry, it is heartening to see that the true notion of a musical is captured by letting it actually carry forward the story. It is actually at Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia Imtiaz Ali's Rockstar Janardan finds himself and his musical side is revealed after serious humiliations and setbacks. In a way Janardan is an outcast of society he is grown up in and is a complete rebel and waste to conservative Jaat family. The transformation of Janardan through a sufi track kun faaya kun an amazinly fluid woven poetry, where and Ranbeer's poise takeover completely.
As I said earlier, the narrative of the film also meanders several times, jumping back and forth across time and space, making it seem incoherent at times. In a way it also reflects Jordan’s mind frame, so unsettled  over constantly loving and losing Heer that even he doesn’t know how he will react next.
Rahman’s music is what makes this film a winner throughout, complemented by Anil Mehta’s superb cinematography. The way his camera records Delhi, Kashmir, Prague and Verona, each place inexplicably connected to the other, enhances the music even more.
It is interesting and amusing at the same time to see the whole bunch of young actors pay tribute to Shammi Kapoor..doin a Chand sa roshan chehra on Dal Lake.
And equally heart warming to see both the Kapoors share the screen space. The senior Kapoor fills the screen with charisma in a brief role as a revered Ustaad that takes a liking to Jordan’s inherent talent. In one of the sequences two Kapoors jam with guitar and shehnai, the pensive mood both of them are in and the music once again swirls a magic wand on the screen.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Salad with a soul

There are many reasons why I call Caesar salad one of my all time favourite meals (yes  I, consider Caesar salad a meal in itself) a salad with a soul and a very pure one at that!  Paired with a good wine like Sangiovese it can turn a very casual lunch with friends or family into an exotic one. While choosing a sangiovese grape wine you can go through an array of Italian wines (it is the most widely grown grape variety in Italy) and decide on your favourite. Am still going through the process of deciding my favourite!  Contrary to the populay belief that the salad has been named after Julius Caesar, this popular dish was originally created in 1924 by Italian chef Caesar Cardini at his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico and was prepared and served right at the table.
Some well-known restaurants have a live tossing and whipping  for the salad on their salad counters. For those who’ve not experienced “the salad show”, you don’t know what you’ve missed. It is an opportunity for a chef to show off his stuff, mixing and whisking to the delight of the patrons.
Generally, a Caesar salad contains romaine lettuce and croutons dressed with parmesan cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, egg, Worcestershire sauce, and black pepper. Now it has multiple variations including different kinds of lettuce, grilled chicken, meat, shellfish, fish, anchovies, bacon, etc.  Out of all the Caesars (pun intended) I’ve had, the best was at the Big Chill cafe´ at khan market. This version goes with iceberg lettuce as opposed to romaine, has a delectable dressing with a hint of fresh lemon juice and coddled eggs, croutons have a slight hint of butter and garlic ( they stole my heart) and chunks of chicken or bacon as per your choice.  What I totally fell for was generous shavings for parmesan on the top.
All you need to know while getting together your salad at home is the dressing, once that is in place you can experiment and be adventurous about the ingredients. Remember a good cook has to think out of the box and many a times give up on tradition.  
So here goes my version of the dressing:
·         One cup of mayo ( I prefer low fat one with eggs)
·         One and half cup of hung curd (again the low fat variety)
·         One cup of olive oil (virgin)
·         Mustard (the original recipe demands dijon, I use anything at hand J )
·         Few cloves of garlic (hear my Indian cooking instincts take over and I go a little over board)

Whip up all this together and you can even store in a bottle.

So get your salad bowls and spoon out and give this soulful salad a try!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My years with Ray's cinema..

Sometimes I wonder if Fydoor Dostoevsky had met Satyajit Ray, what could have happened on the celluloid is simply unimaginable. Simply for the reason that their creations were reverberating with humanism, universality, and of deceptive simplicity with deep underlying complexity.
Today I feel like reminiscing his uncontrollable presence in my formative years of under-grad and post grad. 
Years ago, as a college going student in Pune, I got to associate myself with National Films Archive of India which had periodic screenings of great films from India and abroad. This place definitely left the aficionados craving for more, and film festivals became the rage of those years. The classics from masters enthralled the young and the old alike and many like me got an opportunity to see some of the best films ever made.
It is said that when we have very high expectations, we are likely to feel let down eventually, but Ray enthrals you and leaves an imprint of his frames on your heart. The first of the Appu trilogy had made Ray an overnight celebrity; obviously I was waiting
to see it and reached almost an hour before the show at Film and Televison Insititute of India (where they were screening the film at their Wisdom Tree film festival).
Years later, I feel the same excitement when I think of that small hall in FTII that evening where I met Appu, Durga and his life through the lens of Ray. I had heard many times over of the sheer beauty of those shots where Appu and Durga wade through the grass uphill to see the train running past their village. What is it that makes this one scene so special and memorable is something that I can't grasp yet – probably the first interaction of Appu and Durga with the "modern" world or the sheer curiosity of human mind reflected with beautiful human emotions, my interpretations go on till today.  And it is, perhaps, the beauty of it: that the scene is etched in one's memory forever. But after watching the film, the scene that etches my heart is when it is Appu's first day at school and Durga is eager to awake him. And one skips a heartbeat where Appu looks through the torn patch of his quilt at his sister.
After this tormented journey of self through the film, I decided to watch Shatranj ke Khiladi – Ray's symbolism of two local aristocrats of Lucknow, who remain oblivius their real lives which are in a mess and follow their passions; similar to the rulers of Awadh of eighteenth century who beacome vritually impotent in quarding their kingdoms from the British rule.
 When one talks of Satyajit Ray, one is not talking of a person – Ray was a phenomenon, an institution, and a rare one at that.
One of his contemporaries, the legendary Japanese filmmaker, Akiro Kurosawa, had once said: "Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon"!
I am happy that I managed to see the sun and moon in a different light and shadow through Ray's cinema.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Soupy tales

The word restaurant was first used in France in the 16th century, to describe a highly concentrated, inexpensive soup, sold by street vendors. My fond association with soups go back to the winters of early nineties, when me and baba would eat mullgawtany soup ( a famous concoction of lamb and lentils, which traveled from khyberpass to North-India) directly from a bowl. A velvety texture and aroma of nutmeg would soothe both our tummy and senses.
Soup is a comfort in any season: It is refreshing chilled in summer, as well as hot on nippy days. Some especially versatile soups are enjoyable served warm one day and cold the next. Just be sure to serve cold soups thoroughly chilled and hot soups steaming. We’re talking seriously sustaining comfort food here, which stands on its own—though some freshly baked bread would be a welcome accompaniment!
But temperature is just one dimension of this practically universal culinary format that provides cooks all over the globe with innumerable opportunities for creative improvisation. Soups are not only an exceptionally expressive medium but also laudable for their nutritional standing—chock-full of vitamins, minerals, and often protein and fiber, too
Consider all of your leftovers—raw and cooked vegetables and fruits, stocks, juices, sauces, and cooked grains, beans and pasta—as potential soup ingredients. For instance, combine leftover steamed, roasted or stir-fried vegetables, some noodles or rice, and vegetable stock for an especially quick meal. Blend ripe banana, peach, strawberries or melon, yogurt or coconut milk, and fruit juice, and you’ll have a delectable fruit soup.
One of the most common soup flaws, I find, is a “flat” taste due to improper seasoning. Salt is a flavor enhancer and may correct the situation. Taste and add it at several points while the soup simmers and then make a final adjustment at the end of cooking. A small amount of citrus juice, dry wine or vinegar can also bring out and balance a soup’s overall flavor.
Finally, a garnish furnishes a special finishing touch to a soup. Croutons provide a contrast in texture to a smooth puree, and a dollop of yogurt or sour cream does the same for a chunky soup.
Edible flower blossoms and leaves and fruit slices contribute beauty and visual interest as well as a bit of flavor. Minced fresh herbs or a sprinkle of a pungent spice add a piquant accent to each serving. Now, get out a heavy-bottomed pot, fire up your range and give soup a try!