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Friday, April 24, 2015

Fantastic Meals and Where You Can Find them (In Calicut, ie)

The days leading to marriage, I have painfully realized, can leave you with very little time at hand. A couple of my friends know that this article was originally intended to be a much larger piece -a glimpse of the past and present of Calicut. After about 20 days and more than 3000 words, I quietly accepted failure and decided to move on. So, what you are reading now is a much shorter version, covering just the most prominent aspect of Calicut - its food.

Now, if you know Calicut well, you know that you are spoiled for choice. There are too many good restaurants, and too many good dishes in each of them. Each place has its own band of loyal supporters ready to strike down any argument against their patronage. I can easily imagine someone coming up to me and questioning every word I've written below. Therefore, let me say this: What you read is purely my perspective, with slight regard for public opinion. I have avoided places that serve food that is too generic, too pricey or too pretentious. Hence, you will not find the likes of  Mezban, Hyson, Taj and Garlic routes here. I am also not paying much attention to ambience. Otherwise, Sea queen and Beach hotel would surely be on this list. What you have here instead, are restaurants fully loyal to Malabari and Kerala cuisine, some of them open minded enough to try fusion. 

1. Paragon

If you have one single meal in Calicut, this is the place you should visit. Although almost everything they make is good, where Paragon reigns supreme is in fish curries and fries. I suggest buying non veg meals and a fish fry as side dish. Avoli Tawa fry should be the first choice; ask for small fish of the day if you are ordering a second dish. Dates pickle is usually served only with Biriyani, but the staff will be happy to let you try if you ask for it.
They also have the practice of introducing exotic dishes regularly, although Thai chicken will mostly taste like Thalassery chicken here. Which is not such a bad thing after all, if you know Thalassery.
Paragon has its own interesting history. You can read more here.

Suggested meal: Lunch (before 2 pm)
Dishes to try : Non veg Meals (thali), Avoli Tawa fry, Chicken Biriyani, Appam, Dates pickle
Directions here 

2. Sarbathkada

It is hard to imagine an establishment that's more unenterprising and unassuming than Bhaskarettan's Sarbathkada. There are no seats or even a shade to escape the sun. The menu is quite short and has remained mostly unchanged since inception. To top everything, it doesn't even have a name! It's like someone put a bench by the road and started selling drinks. Except that it started almost 30 years back and serves a sarbath (corruption of sherbet) every minute for 8-9 hours. That must tell you how good they are. 
Bhaskarettan's is right opposite Paragon, and is recommended for a drink after lunch. It can get heavy, mind you. 

Suggested meal: Drink
Dishes to try : Milk Sarbath, Soda Sarbath
Directions here

3. Zains

I had to convince myself to put Zains on this list. Personally, I have not found them to be worth the hype they generate. However, I do know of many loyalists whose judgment I trust. I believe some of the love for Zains is actually disguised admiration for its owner, Zainu thatha, a women entrepreneur who has been running the restaurant single handedly for several decades now. If Malabar chicken biriyani can be split into two types - Thalassery and Tirur- named after places to the north and south of Calicut- Zains biriyani will probably fall into the latter, while Paragon comfortably sits in the former.
A word of caution - Fish biriyani and milk shakes are probably not their best efforts.

Suggested meal: Lunch/Dinner
Dishes to try : Chicken Biriyani, Kadukka(mussels) fry, Fish fry
Directions here

4. Rahmath

Rahmath hotel, till very recently was like that stubborn old man who simply refused to see the world change around him. Good thing that, because age-old muslim food traditions got preserved. A few years back, the place underwent renovation - seats were added and ample parking space was bought. The owners were smart enough to keep the food untouched. Which continues to make Rahmath the best place in Calicut for beef.

Suggested meal: Early Dinner
Dishes to try : Beef biriyani, Porotta and Beef
Directions here

5. Sagar

There was a time when Sagar served the best chicken and fish biriyani in Calicut. We even used to have healthy arguments over which Sagar - there are two branches- served the best fish biriyani, or if they were actually the same. This was about 10 years ago, before Paragon's rapid surge in quality and popularity.
Sagar didnt quite stand up to its rival, but sadly we didn't even see it try much. Biriyani is still quite good, but I want you to try Porotta and Meen mulakittath (chilli fish curry) with some black tea.

Suggested meal: Extra Late lunch/ Evening snack
Dishes to try : Porotta with fish,fish biriyani
Directions here 

6. Topform

To the perennial question of who serves the best biriyani in Calicut, Top form is still the answer for many. For several years, this place stood in the middle of everywhere, ie - SM street, and in the shadows of Paragon and Sagar. After they took over Plaza hotel in Mavoor Road, they seem to have finally come on their own. I recommend a late lunch of Porotta and Beef roast/fry, with copious amounts of black tea. Almost the only place that serves prawn biriyani, although purists would hate the idea.

Suggested meal: Extra Late lunch/ Evening snack
Dishes to try : Porotta, beef roast, beef fry, black tea
Directions here

7. Bombay hotel

Remember what I said about going to Paragon if you only have one meal in Calicut? Well, if you can squeeze in another meal, I'd like you to visit this place. If you have already had lunch, head down to Bombay for evening snacks. There are way too many of them for me to list down here - try as many as you can, with black tea. I recommend trying the sweet ones along with Mussels/ fish fry for spice.

Suggested meal: Snacks
Dishes to try : Pazham nira, Unnakkaya, Samoosa, Mussels fry, black tea.
Directions here

8. Jinan

One of the failings of this list is that it does not make any mention of street food in Calicut. There are several unnamed tuck shops on the road side, serving excellent breakfast and non veg meals. Only last november, one such place on the Kannur road opened my mind towards river fish - something I stayed away from till then. I will perhaps do more asking around and list such joints. For now, you have Jinan.
Jinan hardly qualifies as street food, but it comes pretty close. Try Kaada (quail) fry at midnight.

Suggested meal: Midnight snacks
Dishes to try : Puttu with Kaada fry
Directions here

9. Amma

Amma mess offers very little in terms of ambience and menu. They serve only lunch, for 3 hours a day. You are forced to wait it out during peak hours, and then have a meal sitting on a bench in a thatched hut with questionable air circulation. But they do get a few things right - hassle free service and good food at reasonable prices. Amma serves the best fish fry in all of Calicut. In a city that has Paragon, that's saying a lot. Also, look out for Kanji vellam (rice broth) replacing  water for lunch. If you cannot stand the humidity, I recommend takeaways.

Suggested meal : Lunch
Dishes to try : Fish fry - Avoli
Directions here

The ones which almost made it:

Salkara and McGrill are owned by Paragon and serve good quality food, like their parent. Sea queen and Beach hotel are both beach facing and naturally give you the best ambience in the city. On the beach are several street vendors selling arikkadukka ( stuffed mussels - see image) and pickled fruits. Downtown Cafe can be visited for inadvertently starting off the Kiss of Love movement, although food is hardly anything to write home about. You might also run into a few 'freakers' or 'chunck brois' and get entertained. On the MM Ali road is an unnamed thattukada serving good dosa and Duck egg omlettes on alternate days.

Suggested meal combinations:

Heavy : Lunch at Paragon, Milk Sarbath, Evening snacks at Bombay Hotel, Dinner at Rahmath
Medium : Lunch at Zains, Evening snacks at Sagar/Topform, Dinner at Paragon
Light: Lunch at Amma, Tea at Bombay Hotel, midnight dinner at Jinan

If this interests you, I recommend you watch Ustad Hotel if you havent already. Subtitles available in English.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The unreasonable men

I write this on the eve of the India - Australia semi final match. Or, to put things into perspective, a day after the NZ -SA semi final. I write this quickly, before I'm overcome by patriotism - should India qualify.

Yesterday, I saw something I thought I'd never see in a semi final clash.
Dale Steyn was hit for 25 runs in 6 balls. The situation didn't dictate this. In fact, it said quite the opposite. The best bowler in the world, fresh, fast and furious in his opening spell. A chase threatened by rains and the Duckworth Lewis method with its over-emphasis on preserving wickets. Yet, McCullum steps out and clobbers Steyn to midwicket, long off and over his head. The last one charging down the pitch.

I must admit that we saw it coming. This has been a regular feature of NZ in the world cup. In the course of the past few weeks, they have defied every bit of cricketing wisdom. They bowled out their best bowlers in the first 30. Batsmen attacked and attacked when wickets fell around them, and then attacked again without a pause. Even with Dale Steyn or Mitchell Johnson at the other end. Even when 9 wickets were down. Madness. Recklessness. Imprudence. Exciting.

In many ways, NZ is a team unlike any we have seen before. It's a fine line between aggression and rudeness, like the Australians have shown us over and again. None better than Pakistan to tell us that recklessness quickly translates to unpredictability. If there is any team that can be compared to McCullum's men, it is the old West Indians. 

Both are aggressive, yet eminently likable teams. No sledging, no pre-match talk downs. More importantly, both are teams built around an attitude of defiance and disregard - of economics and power structures in the first case, and of collective cricketing logic in the second.

No one expects/expected NZ to have a sustained run with this strategy. It's risky, it's illogical, we say. That's part of their allure, how they don't care about what we say. "All progress depends on the unreasonable man" - GB Shaw.

I have always felt that World Cups have a larger purpose beyond reaffirming perceptions. That purpose is served if it can set the stage for a change that revitalizes the game itself. Martin Crowe almost did it in 1992 till they were stopped by some magic. Reverse swing then owned cricketing talk for a decade. 1996 saw a Sri Lankan version of Crowe's methods, and the first 15 overs were never the same again. 2015 is about how Wahab Riaz and NZ reminded us what we have been missing all this while.

It is only fair that the team with the better story should be remembered the most. On that basis alone, NZ deserve to take the cup home. Cricket has had enough of tactical maneuvers, containment and formulaic chases. Time is ripe for belligerence. Time is ripe for the new, again.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Dine and Whine-3 : Curdspotting

I hate trashing a restaurant. It’s easy to pass judgment, to ditch anything that strays from your idea of perfection. It’s tempting to revel in rhetoric and sarcasm, forgetting the effects of the bad press on the lives of many. While I do not assume that my denouncement of an eatery will throw its people out of work, I prefer to use criticism with caution. This habit of mine presents a peculiar conundrum at times. What do you do about a restaurant that disappoints you? Do you just take a hit and walk away? Well, there is the odd place that puts me off permanently; but at most places I manage to find a dish or two to my liking – sometimes after multiple visits. And once in a while, that item turns out to be so good that it justifies the whole exercise. I have a similar experience to recount today, about Kudumbam.

Needless to reiterate, my first few visits to this place were utterly disappointing. I accepted the undercooked vegetable stew, hard and unyielding Appams, and the tasteless fish fry with quite a bit of grace and tolerance. What truly disturbed me was the Crab Masala with its de-shelled and refrigerated meat that didn’t mix well with the gravy. But this review is not about these poorly conceived dishes or missing crab shells. It’s about something that’s not even advertised on the menu. The buttermilk curry (or Kachiya Moru, as we mallus call it) served with lunch thali is, in my opinion, nothing short of exquisite art. Every time I drank it out of my palm, it melted away every bit of resentment I ever felt with Kudumbam and its owners.

Its quite a simple dish at first glance – curd, water, dried red chillies, chopped green chillies, salt, red onion and oil. The preparation isn’t too complex either. Getting it ready might take just a few minutes; but getting it right, perhaps a lifetime. The curd needs to be of the right age, texture and sourness, chillies need to be mild without being neutral, and onions shouldn’t be sharp. In the perfect Kachiya Moru, every flavor stands out, and yet none prevails over its soul – the curd. It’s a curry in itself, and a versatile base for a whole hoard of Moru curries (with pretty much every vegetable you can imagine) that are the hallmark of Kerala vegetarian cuisine. The folks at Kudumbam have got it right beyond doubt – I am a regular visitor after this discovery, and it tastes great every time. It’s a travesty that the restaurant ignores the best dish in its kitchen. The next time you find yourself at Kudumbam, skip the non-veg fare and order the vegetarian meals. Relish the brown rice and banana flower upperi, but behold the kachiya moru with reverence, awe and above all, pleasure.

Personally, breaking crab shells is a gratifying experience.

Find the review at: https://www.zomato.com/couchpotato

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Dine and Whine-2 : Once upon a time in Mexicana

 Restaurant: Aqua Java, Russel Street, Kolkata (http://www.zomato.com/kolkata/aqua-java-fiesta-mexicana-russel-street)

Today evening, this restaurant enthused me and my companion with its warm hospitality and  strange sense of humor. For a place which calls itself "Fiesta Mexicana", there was no burrito or carnitas on the menu which, as we later found, is dominated by coffee. So much for the "Java" suffix. Not sufficiently open minded to walk into a Mexican restaurant and order Cappuccino, we reluctantly glanced over the menu, or whatever little of it was present. In a Mexico without Burritos, one has to live with the Quesadillas -so we thought. Of course, Guacamole and Jalapenos were out of stock, as the crew informed us.

Served with a rather depleted menu, we ordered Tortilla soup first, only to discover that it was devoid of red beans, as against what was advertised on the menu. Beans or No Beans, the soup tasted fantastic, and had the right spice to tickle my tongue and yet not burn my insides. We ended up ordering CHICKEN Chimichanga, Veg Quasedilla and Soft Flour Tortilla with Mexican rice, Tomato salsa and Sour Cream on Lettuce as sideys.

All three tasted good, with the Quesadilla having authenticity stamped all over it. Authenticity, in this regard, is purely a function of my experience at Chipotle, New York. I proceeded to lecture my friend on the richness of Mexican cuisine, and on how they prepare meat separately and then add it to the veggies to make the final dish. This reality came to bite me in a space of 5 minutes. After munching on my cheese rich Chicken Chimichanga, I discovered, to my shock that it contained no chicken. It was Onam day, a No Non Veg occasion for good God-fearing Mallus. Were the Mexicans conspiring with my mom? No wait, it can't be! The crew was informed with absolutely no delay, and we were told that the Chef missed adding the chicken. He missed the point as well, I was tempted to say. Our waiter apologized profusely, and to our amusement, served us a dessert free of charge. The chocolate sauce covered Cookies and Vanilla ice cream was a pleasant indulgence, and, in this man's experience, stands second only to the Chocolate Sizzler at Marco Polo. Sadly, I was too lost in the hot chocolate to ask for its name. A word of praise again for the Waiter.

Aqua Java had its last laugh, when we, on our way back, noticed the carefully hidden writing on the wall (literally) - "Today's Special: Mexican Burrito"

A little more attention to the menu, and this place could rock. One can't stop wondering. Add a more liquid and sourer sour cream to the wish list.

(This review won a weekly contest on Zomato.com)

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Dine and Whine-1 : The Blue Pill

Restaurant : The Blue Poppy, Salt Lake, Kolkata( http://www.zomato.com/kolkata/the-blue-poppy-salt-lake)

When the pot-bellied taxi driver drives you through the labyrinth around Park Street, taking you to Assam House, Madison Tower and Fire & Ice before finally to your destination, you somehow lose interest in surprises. Like that bollywood heroine stranded at a railway station at night, you start praying for the rest of the day to be boring. Setting out to try an unknown cuisine, this can be very bad attitude. I am glad that "The Blue Poppy" was around, to reinstate my faith in good food and pleasant surprises. 

Far from the madding crowd of the Park Street and surroundings, operating precariously and quite anonymously from the housing complex that Sikkim House is, The Blue Poppy is that little gem which sweeps you off your feet, without even trying to do so. There are no signboards outside. The ambiance is not lavish and the staff doesn't exchange pleasantries or even smile. (I was the unfortunate recipient of a powerful scorn from the receptionist as she said "No Card, Only Cash"). Yet, in many ways, this place reminded me of why people ventured to eat out in the first place - Good food, and the fastest service I've seen in recent times.

Having heard lots about Nepali, Tibetan and Bhutanese cuisines, and having missed a chance to travel to Thimpu last month, I was quite keen to try almost everything on offer. For once, I was limited only by my appetite, and not my wallet - thanks to the cheaply priced menu. I started with the Chicken Mushroom soup, and was completely blown away by the flavor of mushrooms, and was brought back to my senses by the mediocre chicken. That didn't stop me from emptying my soup bowl in minutes, or ordering 3 more dishes at once. 

First came the Chicken Phalay and then the Pan fried Veg Momos and Baby Corn fry for my veggie friend. Phalay, as the staff explained, is a sort of stuffed paratha, only less oily and entirely devoid of potato. Chicken was ground and cooked with green chilli, onions and a bit of ginger - much like the stuffing for momos. Although saving my belly for meat, I tasted the veg dishes, and pronounced them good. As the Phalay got over, my table made way for the most awaited dish of the night - Dry Chilli Pork. Quite spicy, and simple - capsicum, onion, green chilli and pork - this, as pointed out by many more experienced foodies before me, is one of the best pork dishes in Calcutta. It easily serves two - that put me in a corner, as I looked at my companion. "Eating out with a pure veggie can be a pain" - he pointed out. I smiled, and focused my attention on the pork. As the spice got the better of me, I became a typical south Indian and ordered curd and rice, reaffirming stereotypes in the process. In a space of 30min came our savior- a fellow mallu returning from his round at the Park St- who finished the Pork, and went a step further, ordering the more spicy "Spicy fish with vegetables" upon my friend's insistence. That, to my shock, tasted unbelievably good, despite me being a sucker for bland food.

Blue Poppy doesn't look like the place that gives a damn about what people say about them. Me writing a review or not will not change anything in their universe. In any case, the makers of Blue Poppy, if you can hear me - Thank You! Thank you for making great food, serving it fast and serving it cheap!

PS: Despite loving the food, I was surprised by the amount of spice - mostly green chilli- at use. Did the Buddist monks do it on purpose, to convert all to veggies? One shall never know.

(All of the reviews featured under this tag were first posted on Zomato.com)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Privately in Puri

An abridged version of the below can be read  at Jokatimes.com

A night’s travel from Calcutta stands the sleepy town of Puri, contoured by the Bay of Bengal and basking in the glory of its Vedic history. As one of the four holy places of Hinduism, it attracts many a devotees, and the occasional unobservant wanderer. In many ways, I fall under the second category.

As I set foot in Puri on a Saturday morning, I was mobbed by a bunch of auto drivers, giving me hints about what to expect for the next few days. I assume that the natives thrive mostly on tourism, and this is evident in the huge number of resorts and hotels along the coast. I had booked a cottage at the end of the beach, and reaching it involved a long ride on the marine drive. With the famed Golden beach on my left and hotels and such commercial places as “Pyassa Wines” on the right, it turned out to be a rather pleasant ride, and I came to take it several times in the next 3 days – sometimes by accident, but mostly on purpose.

The Sun Temple, Konark

After a sumptuous breakfast and a good day’s sleep in my room, I set out, in the words of a friend of mine, to stare at the Sun Temple at Konark. The Black Pagoda is a singular structure that overwhelms you in an instant. Widely regarded as a marvel of Indian architectural brilliance and recognized as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO, the temple is designed as a chariot of 24 wheels – although it is hard to imagine the original structure amidst the ruins.
There are many theories regarding the fall of this magnificent monument, including some that state that the temple was never completed in the first place, thus denying the ‘fall’ itself. Although leaving a project mid-way is not very unexpected from today’s engineers, it was rarely the case for their medieval counterparts, say historians who deny these stories. The most intriguing theory of destruction is about the Portugese invaders removing the magnetic lodestone from the temple, thus causing the structure to collapse. The magnet was supposed to be so powerful that it interfered with the compasses of approaching ships. The generally believed story is that the Bengal Sultanate under Kalapahad destroyed the temple with several others on his invasion of Orissa in the 1500s. Given the state of the idols and elephants with limbs cut off, this looks quite plausible. In any case, the monument is but a shadow of what it had been.
According to many, the temple is best watched at Sun rise and Sun set, and I conveniently chose the latter. Even for a person as unobservant as me, the benefits are clearly visible. For a temple dedicated to the Sun God, it is perhaps a touch of irony that the structure looks best at night, in moonlight. A photographer’s dream. Equipped with a 5mp mobile cam and the knowledge that I know bonkers about using it, I instantly subscribed to the Sajith P Surendran school of Photography – clicking 100s of pics of the same scene and banking on the probability that at least a couple of them will turn out to be good*. Probability, just as in the second semester of my engineering, failed me this time too.

Oriya cuisine

On the way back, I got to try the local cuisine – tiger prawns and mutton curry with rice. Now this is a very unlikely combination. Being a beach city, sea food is part of every meal at Puri, but I couldn’t first digest the omnipotence of mutton dishes at the place. Till I read about the Afghan and Mughal invasions of Orissa, who brought their cuisine and culture along. The Muslim rule failed to impact the local culture in a significant way, and after they left soon, leaving the province to local rulers. However, goat meat stayed, and found that it was embraced by the natives who built dishes around it.
I also tried a lot of street-food, half conscious about the hygiene. In the end, all of it turned out to be fine. Upon return, as fate would have it, it only took one meal from our hostel mess to restrict my movements to the proximity of washrooms for a day.

Temple of Jagannadh, Puri

I spent the rest of the night in my hotel room, and ventured out to the famed Puri Jagannadh temple next day afternoon. I am not a devout follower, although I do visit temples from time to time, primarily for the peace of mind and relaxation each visit imparts. I was to be disappointed here for various reasons, but I did meet a few interesting people. First to catch my curiosity was the German born Adrianne, who, dressed as a Hindu monk lives in the premises of the temple. I spoke to him, and although his heavy accent denied any serious conversation, the smile on his face told me that he is a happy man. As I bid goodnight to the European, my eyes met that of a young widow sitting by the pathway to the temple of Durga. I noticed the shaven head as she outstretched her hands for alms. Just as the Indian culture and religion can give peace to many a mind, they can also deny the same in many others. She cannot be more than 25.
Near the entrance are a few shops which sell stationery and photos of deities among others. To please the female members of my family, I bought many, including a rudraksha garland. Okay, that was for me alone. Priced at Rs. 35, it looked too cheap to be authentic, and I sure didn’t want to buy one made of plastic. I inspected the rudraksha seeds till I got reminded of the night when I spent 200 bucks on a ticket to ‘Cocktail’. Without further thought, I fished into my pocket. The garland lies on my table as I write, awaiting its turn.
Looking at the prices, it won’t be too far- fetched to say that inflation is unheard of in those parts. Or so I thought, till I met the pandas of the temple. I must have seen close to 100 monks in the premises. Some of them were stationed near the deities, some involved in preparing Prasad, and some others just roaming around mumbling prayers. Regardless of the diversity in occupation, they stood united in agenda – make money out of devotees. In one instant, I was being pulled into opposite directions by the pandas of Goddess Durga and Lord Shiva. I am not sure what the Gods will think about that. One particular person guarding the Narasimha deity pushed my head down on the stone and performed an elaborate prayer, asking for a donation as it ended. I took a 10rs note out, and he aptly told me that everyone gives him 200 and so should I, for good results. How much I hate direct marketing!


Till my last day in Puri, I had no clue what ‘Swargdwar’ was or where it was although the locals use it very frequently as a landmark. So, whenever I asked anyone about the route to the temple or to the bus stand, the typical response I got was “close to Swargdwar” or “take a right from Swargdwar and go straight”. Finally, my curiosity was aroused, and I decided to give the place a visit. ‘Swarg-dwar’ – the entrance to heaven; in mind, I had a temple that opened to the sea, imparting moksha to the true devotee. In the end, it turned out to be something starkly different; one that imparts moksha of a different kind. Swargdwar is a cremation ground. As I stood shocked, I saw several pyres burning, and some bodies in queue. It has turned out to be a very haunting sight. Nevertheless, what a way to romanticize death!! I doubt whether any other cemetery or graveyard has such a beautiful name.

The Golden Beach

As someone who has lived near the sea for most of his life, I am rarely impressed by beaches. Like a true snob, I constantly compare every beach I see to the one at Calicut, my hometown. Despite all this, the Golden beach at Puri delighted me instantly. Although it’s a bit of exaggeration, the sands are supposed to appear golden at sunset. I walked barefoot on the shore for about an hour, relaxed by the cool winds and knowing no boredom. I remembered what one of my dad’s friends once told me – “There are three things in this world that you can watch forever and not get bored –the sky, the sea and the elephant”. I didn’t tell him that he hasn’t heard of Megan Fox.
As I love watching the sea at night, I returned, only to find the place deserted. This didn’t stop me, and I sat down looking at the waves. About 10min later, I found myself being questioned by a bunch of policemen. My appearance wasn’t half decent, with a four-day stubble and the newly brought rudraksha garland across my neck. In addition, the Policemen spoke very little Hindi, and almost no English. After searching me for anything dubious, they retreated, warning me that mugging was common place in those parts at night. I didn’t take further risks, and returned to my room.

With no snowy mountains or green valleys, Puri is not a place for instant gratification. With a beach that rejuvenates, the Sun temple that fascinates, and the Jagannadh temple that intrigues, gradual seduction is the word. I now dream about the amazements that wait for me at Angkor Vat in Cambodia. This December.

* I was just kidding. Sajith is one of the best photographers I know, and all proof can be found here

Saturday, November 12, 2011

An open letter to the powers that be..

The below letter is addressed to my ex team-lead, who stayed with Bankam for less than 4 months and yet, made many of us laugh.
I remain a fan of the company which fed me for three years. No, that was not sarcasm.

Sir, firstly, for the whole length of this article, I'll address your highness as 'Sir', precisely for the one fact quoted by you over and again: You have over 20 years of IT experience behind you.
Which tells me, had you been active in the child making business a little earlier than you started being, your first kid would have been as old as I am. I can now hear you thanking God that you dont have a son like me.
However, that discussion is entirely out of context.
Without much delay, I'd like to narrate my experience of the last few days in office, which Arthur Conal Doyle, given a chance, would certainly describe as 'the most singular and intriguing'. Wodehouse (if he doesnt turn in his grave) would have made a million jokes out of it. Arundhati Roy would have found some reason in it to blame the UPA government.
I, very much a lesser literary man, choose to be content with this open letter.

To the clueless -I am talking about Mr.Dike Mubno's visit to India, and his walk on our production floor. ( Dike is a big guy in the bank - one of those they send for an annual inspection of the India offices)
You had sent us a mail announcing his arrival. On reading it, one of my collegues remarked before the team that at every single chance, you make a fool of yourself so well. This was followed by roars of laughter, mostly his own.
But you know very well that I dont subscribe to his theory. I am convinced that you, being a self motivated person, never wait for opportunities, you just create them.

Forgive me, Sir, once again for straying out of context.I have a penchant for these little details and often miss making a point. Perhaps, I should take a lesson in 'effective communication skills' from you.

Getting back to our story, I should say that I under-estimated the arrival of Dike Mubno.
Yes, you asked us to reach office by 9 am.
Yes, You had your report personally come down and ask me to be in office on time and in formals.(He also gave a fleeting glance at my sneakers and Jeans.)
Yes, you mentioned that we should be keeping our mobiles on silent mode throughout Mr Mubno's walk on our floor.
Yes, you made it very clear that we be surfing strictly educational material on the web, and that our desks be uncluttered, for a change.

But since you'd been saying the same thing for over 3 months, I chose to call this 'Old school thinking', and dismissed the matter without much delay.

Now, to any lesser mortal, all this might seem to be a very bad idea.They may ask- "Why does the floor-walk have to be at 9.30?Come on, Its just a walk, He can come around by 11, when everybody is in office. Why should some 2000 odd employeesbe asked to accomodate his timings, which look flexible?"But sir, knowing you and your ways, I would never make that mistake.

Then I spoke to my manager on the possible repurcussions of me reaching office late, and in attire of mypersonal choice. I also mentioned that if all rules were followed, he wouldnt be watching 'Sheila ki jawani' in office - intented partly as a joke, partly as childish blackmail. Do you know what he told me then? I am forced to quote him here:
"You are making your year-end evaluation very easy for me"

You might be tempted to ask me- "what Ya? why are you making a fuss?"
Allow me to continue, Sir.
  • When I skipped my breakfast next day and reached office at 9, I found all my team mates standing up and clapping hands.Now I am not somebody they get to see that early in the day, but the excitement was somewhat overstated.
  • I went over to my friend's desk, only to see him shout -"Look, Murali's wearing shoes today!!". (It is my strong belief in methods of non-violence that prevented me from slapping him.)
  • Inside the elevator,people were asking me if I was wearing a new shirt, or what brand it was. To deny them a chance for further conversation,I just fished inside my pockets for my mobile,feigning a call.
  • Another insult was inflicted when somebody came over and stared for a full two minutes. To save myself, I had to joke-" Today is the day you get to see me in formals!!".

Do you care Sir, for a moment that I have a reputation of my own, and that I am trying hard to appear cool in office? All these ironed shirts and polished shoes don't go well with my image.
Inspite of all this humiliation, I decided to stay on.

At this point, I would like to say that I noticed several changes in office.
In the washroom, several men were busy adjusting their shirts or doing their hair. (The last time I saw such a huge number of guys looking at themselves in the mirror was the brief period when Ms.Mahija taught 'Operating Systems' at college)
All security guards bore a smile on their face.Usually they give a smirk. I couldnt help noticing that the security ladies on our floor were the most pretty ones of the lot. Did you hand-pick them to greet Mr Mubno? He had plans to visit two floors. Given the lack of beautiful women in the security staff, would you ask the same pretty ladies to rush up the stairs while he takes the lift, and welcome him on the next floor too? You and your attention to detail, Sir! After this observation, I wasnt too surprised to see the HR girls with an extra tone of make-up, some with that glossy lipstick, others in that sexy hair-do. I also recall the sudden crowd at the gym last week. Did you actually ask some of them to shed some fat for the day? (But sir, I am not too sure if you thought about this - 'What if he doesnt like women? For all we know,he could be gay!!'.)
Last month, as you might recall, when Ms.Batie Cessant visited us, It was even more posh. a private jet to fly her down,a helicopter to take her to the 5 star hotel,( i know this coincided with the repair of the hitech city road. you didntwant her to notice that Hyderabad traffic can get messy at times, did you? ) 3 BMW SUVs with the same number-plates, just in case she was in a Dubai sheikh mood. Office buildings were painted with Berger weathercoats togive that glossy feel, yet avoid the stench of paint. On that fateful day of her visit,I found two guys standing across elevator boxes and holding them up for her. Now, yes, we dont have OTIS ones, our elevators are clearly made by some chinese black marketer, and they are very slow. I figured that she was on her way,and when her BMW crossed the gate, the man at the checkpoint would wireless the guys at the lift room,and then they would disappear just in time for her to miss them. When she walks inside, she wouldnt have to wait, and grandest of all,she wouldnt even know about the hours of planning that went behind it. She would just say -"blimey!!, what fast elevators!! I wish we had them in Europe" What an Idea Sirji!!

10 minutes into work, I knew that you had planned it so well. the air-conditioners were left at freezing temperatures.When out of my stupidity, I called the facilities guy up, he coolly told me that Ms. Cessant was used to such temperatures and would sweat in anything above 20 degrees. I tried my best to convince him that she not referring to the celsius scale, but to some obscure European one. No, he didnt listen. 200 odd engineers, and some of them excellant java coders,stood freezing in their seats that day.

Alarmingly, I found that our washrooms were renovated - yes, the gents one too. This is where it got a little crazy for me- was she expected to use our restroom? But, like you said, I will focus on the positives. We got new toilet seats.

Now I do hear you telling me that this happens everywhere. 'You have to please your seniors. Their impression matters a lot.' You might also add-'You have a lot to learn, when you are in my position, you'll know'. Now sir, I am not saying that I'll never suck up to my boss.

I'll never make a celebration of sucking up.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

IIM Calcutta Student supports suicide!!!!

Have I caught your attention ?

A few pointers:
1. Pardon me for the search engine optimised title and curse the cameraman for the poor video quality.
2. The following is a speech I made to my batch as part of our Managerial Communication course. As far as the course handout goes, it is supposed to fall under the 'persuasive' category.
3. A lot of ppl seemed to like it, which is why I am sharing it now. I pray more of you find it good.
4. I dont expect anybody to commit suicide after listening to me. In the event of such a catastrophe,
I'll surely be  a)stunned
                     b)proud and
5. If the event mentioned in (4) happens, this will act as my legal disclaimer.
6. 5 looked like a bad number, so.

Hi, good morning.

I hate saying this on Camera: Immedietely after this lecture, you should all jump into the lake outside and end your lives.

Now, I say this with the firm conviction that there is no point living. Sages have said that life is full of joys and sorrows.  One clever look at this statement proves that all pleasure we get out of life will be cancelled out by sadness at some later point. So, finally if we get nothing, what is the point in continuing to live?
Some of you may disagree with me; you might want to tell me that we all look forward to our future. From mens' perspective, when we say future, we mean
a) money
b) female company.

According to Prof. Johny Roddick of School of Middlesex, since every girl has close to 100 fans, when she falls for a guy, she brings a lot of happiness into his life, inflicting sorrow on the 99 others. By this statistic, each guy has 99 heartbreaks for each success. Now this, clearly is not a good proposition, and  certainly not something to look forward to.

As for money, I neednt tell you how money is not created, but merely transferred. For every penny you make, there is somebody who loses it. The law of averages will finally catch up with you, like it did with Harbhajan Singh and Gautam Gambhir, although in a different context. Life, as we know it, is a zero sum game. So, if you have led a happy life so far, this is the right time to end it. The risks involved in continuing are way too high. Like Sir Issac Newton said, "I call it gravity, but the truth is, earth sucks".

Why did the mallu sledge? simmbly..
We have been taught that only cowards commit suicide. Needless to tell you, this statement has a lot of historical inaccuracies. Socrates, Kurt Cobain, Adolf Hitler and fairly recently, Master Oogway of Kungfu Panda - Mind you, these were all very brave men....or animals for that matter. Suicide, in fact requires a lot of courage. Any suggestion to the contrary is a clever ploy by the multinationals who want to keep us alive and sell their products. Apple computers, Microsoft, Adult Friend Finder - to name a few.

I now see many surprised faces in the audience. Some of you are even smiling. I understand that my ideas havent really sunk in. But, let me tell you, the last time i delivered this speech, at the University of Maddington, people were a lot more accomodating. Two hours into my lecture, a fine lady jumped out of the window. Three others interpreted my words in an alternate fashion, and tried to kill me.

How long do I have to wait? sob...
I can now connect with you because I was once just like you. I remember the day when my ex girlfriend told me that I should kill myself. I sat wondering for a while, but finally came to my senses, and here I am.

My lecture cannot be complete without acknowledging the work of a modern day proponent of this theory - Mr ShantaKumaran Sreeshanth, who once tried very hard to get killed by the likes of Mathew Hayden and Andrew Symonds. The kid has some taste, I must say.

To conclude, I quote the immortal words of Metallica: Die, Die, My darling, Die.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Things people do to get into a literary club...

              Guys, my first post from IIM Calcutta. The faculty here tries their best to educate me,but my routine makes sure that I see less of them. Below is the article  I was made to write to be granted entry into Persona, the lit club of IIMC. The topic 'MBA:so far,so good' got a little too random for me.
A lot might seem out of place, but blame it on the guy who invented re-usability.
              On another note, my posts tend to get too autobiographical at times.This one begs to differ, although the first-person speech might tempt you into thinking otherwise.

Hi Persona team,

First of all, I will be an asset to your club because I have very good literary skills. Except in 4th standard, I have topped my batch in all English papers. ( I mention 4th std because I was then the victim of some dirty politics played by Janaki ma'm and Avinash, her pet.) Other than that, I am a Gold Medalist from NIT Calicut. I am also very organized, and have never faced any difficulty in meeting deadlines. I maintain a very detailed timetable for my activities, and anybody who has come to my hostel room has seen it.
Nobody has come till now, but if anybody comes, he/she will see it.
Dorks rule!!

'MBA: So Good So Far' is a very ambiguous statement. I am now going to use my creativity to tackle the topic. MBA is said to be about networking. But in the first week at Joka, my net was not working (ROFL!!).
If you have stopped laughing, let me continue. If not, you can take more time.

I like the lectures, but a lot of underachievers dont seem to like me. They make random noises every time I post a question to the Prof. Last night after the fresher party, somebody peed on my door. I have collected a sample, and will use DNA matching to find the bastard. I am not sure how I can do that, but I'll figure that out later.

I also hate Arun, who avoids me because I am not an IITian. My midterm grades will speak to him.
Nobody knows that I did bad in the IITJEE on purpose. I still hate the IITs.
One exception to all this is Lakshmi Cholamandalam who sat next to me in the 4th CFR session. Despite her embarrassing second name, I think she will be my first girlfriend; and we'll get married in 2015. I've been trying to find her ever since that lecture.


PS: I know some guys who are applying to Persona just to boost their CV. As a responsible future member of the society, I can reveal their names if you want.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

of crocodiles, fart-rooms and the like

People who watched last night's Pune Vs KingsXI IPL match evidently missed a lot on Zee Cinema.

Shashi Kapoor(SK) and Shatrugnan Sinha(SS) fight a foreigner thug each(oh wait..they are just UP bhaiyyas in blonde Wigs and a lot of cuticura) with their bhabhi strapped to a curiously designed chair. Its a marvellous piece of furniture you know, that comes with a wirefree bomb, which waits to be activated-and thus fulfill its destiny-with the touch of a button by the tech-savvy villian, Shakaal.

Bhabhi's white sari betrays her relationship status.Evidently,the people involved are avenging the death of her husband.The hall, meanwhile, is getting filled with 'zehreela gas', as Shakaal puts it.

Shakaal, as a matter of fact, is known for his standards of personal grooming. Clean shaven face, skinhead,neatly done eyebrows and all.If there was any indian male doing his eyebrows in the 80's,that was Shakaal.Waxed hands? No,Cant be sure-He wore long-sleeves that day.

While the blonde wig waale bhaiyyas engage SK and SS, Amitabh Bhachan(AB) is set to perform the most daring feat of them all- fight a crocodile in the underground pool which is specially designed for such purposes. Second by second, the croc gets humiliated as AB plays such games as 'I have my hands around your mouth and you cant open it' and 'I've caught your tail buddy, and I'm twisting it'.  All 3 of SS,SK and AB fully immersed in their activities, leave Shakaal and bhabhi in the company of each other. Now, since bhabhi with her age and uni dimensional fashion sense is clearly a turn-off, a rape can be ruled out. On top of it, Shakaal appears gay. He is caught throwing glances as SK's shirt gets wet from the fight.
Finally, all is well - the thugs black out, Croco gets killed by accident, and Shakaal gets shot, the last two in acts of rage by AB( he's called the angry young man for nothing, you see). SS and SK, the real sidekicks get a share too. They aim for Shakaal's hands and shoulders, maiming him as AB gets his look in, and produces a straight shot, which any doctor would agree, damaged the left ventricle beyond repair.

Now all 4 pray peacefully for Shakaal's impending death, while he crawls slowly and touches something metallic.
Is it a gun?
Is it a bomb?
No, its the fucking self-destruction button, you idiots!

Dust falling from the roof and an earthquake like shake tell AB(the most intelligent of the lot) that its the time in Hindi movies for the party to make a quick escape. As they run away, the Bhabhi does her part, crying out loud as boulders continue to land inches from her feet.At the door that parts sideways with the turn of a valve, they finally meet the leading ladies in gypsy costume.Both fresh from getting rid of Shakaal's cohorts through the customary 'We'll-not-show-much-skin,and-no-bodytouchings-please' brand of cabaret dance. AB and SK hug their ladies; proximity of the bhabhi prevents further display of affection.
They all fly away, with AB manning a helicopter within a few seconds of first seeing it. Below them, Shakaal's dungeon breathes its last before turning into a ball of fire.

The End.

I once prayed for the bloody Doordarshan guys to play 'Shaan' again soon, because I had my exams and was not allowed to complete it the last time. AB and SK flying a helicopter was way too cool back then.15 years back.
Before the Sylvester stallones and Angelina Jolies came home though StarMovies and corrputed me
for life.
Guess who's a fan of Shakaal!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

how Hyderabad will be missed -life on 3 wheels

As I'm all set to leave this city, it'll be a crime not remembering the very people who, over the past two years have polished my negotiation skills - the rikshaw drivers of Hyderabad.

As a tribute, I'll now be sharing my copyrighted algorithm for bargaining on the auto fare.

1. Walk up to the first guy ( they mostly park their vehicles in a queue), tell him where you wanna go.(Bowenpally, for instance) He may confuse you with questions like "Bowenpally mein kahaan?". Ignore him, and just ask for the fare. One trick I have mastered is to do it in secunderabad lingo.
So, instead of "Fare kitna hoga?"( which is so HITEC city, and the autowallahs will try and take you for a ride), use "Kitta Lete?". On a good day,they'll all be like "Oh..no..not another secunderabadi! He'll now bargain all day. Du'h.."
This advantage is monumental. You can almost feel him succumbing to you skills.

2.  Now, depending on his day, or the price of diesel, or the heat of Hyderabad, he may choose to give you a good deal or a bad one. (For eg, I have found that the fare from Kondapur to Bowenpally can range from 140 to over 250.) This is exactly where you seize the moment. Regardless of what he tells you, drop your jaw. Laugh for a second, shaking your head in utter disbelief. You can also use exclamatory comments like "150??? ek saww pachaas?? Mazaak karre ho?" Remember to be so loud that all overlooking drivers can assess the situation for a second.
nnaan oru roova thannaal athu 100 roova thanna maathiri..
Please dont overdo this. You may get slapped.

3.  Once you are done with the act, just walk away. The trick is to never negotiate with the first guy. Just reject him.

4.  Approach the next driver in line. Repeat step 1.

5.  If you peformed Steps 2 and 3 with reasonable efficiency, you now look like a no-nonsense guy to all drivers hanging around.The second guy you approach will give you a better deal.
There are always people who call your bluff, but just treat them with Step 3.

6.  You can do the above as many times as you want, depending on your energy levels.

7.  Once you decide on a fare, get in, murmuring that its a bad deal, and if it was by meter, it would've been 20 bucks less. Act like you are doing the auto-guy a favour. This way, he wont have second thoughts about asking you for more money later on.

Simple as it may sound, this is a very elaborate process, and by no measure an easy one.
A lot depends on your subtle variations. To stay ahead of the drivers all the time,you got to improvise.

I have tried this algorithm in other cities, and found it to be less effective.
For the following reasons:

Bangalore: Almost all drivers are mallus. And they have their unions.
You can go from Step 2 to Step 5 all day,and notice no change in the fare whatsoever.
They take no shit. Behind your back, you might also hear: "poda chekka.."

Kozhikode,Mumbai: Absolutely unnecessary. They go by the meter.
(Now working on a "mumbai taxi wallah" variant, which I expect to sell like mustangs)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

One Year, Ho!

guys, the sole purpose of this post is to capture the sheer excitement and relief I sport on having survived 365 days at a recession hit Bank, based in a recession hit economy, carrying out operations in a third world, recession hit country. that said, im sorry if the post seems narcissist to you. It could come out to be more narcissist than my previous narcissist posts, I say. Bear with me, or give it a skip.

On jun 23, darlings, i completed a year at BankAm. I consider that a feat.Period.

I remember getting on the train to hyderabad just a week away from my first job. Got late, as usual; and couldnt get any more than a glimpse of the ppl who had turned up at the station to see me off. There was Shibu, the eternal, legendary, extra terrestrial class bunker ( who visited jiddah just like he visited the loo) who turned world upside down by actually showing up at 9 in the morning, there was SK sir (who also brought me 'the alchemist') Rejimon from Rays, and some other ppl of my family. Some others had also vouched to come, but were not to be found. since they were NITCians in all regard, and it was early in the morning, I was not very surprised. In fact i called up some of them in case they came and I missed them on my dash to the train.
Shibu, i think i'll pay you back; I'll definitely be in Mumbai for that reunion ur doing. And will not question your paternal lineage even if u dont make it to the party. ( Actually, noone expects Shibu to come to Mumbai, or even to India in Aug; We imagine he'd book the tickets, get a divine call at the eleventh hour and actually decide to take some rest and avoid the tour)

A year later, this day, I celebrated by hollering at some Murthysomething on customercare of reliance mutual funds. With all my might, I controlled one of my deepest and strongest urges to scream " FUCK YOU! DONT GIVE ME ANOTHER FUCKING COMPLAINT NUMBER. GET IT FIXED, ASSHOLE ...", And asked him if something could be done to fix the matter. I also threatened him diplomatically to pull all my funds back, although ALL my funds would come to around one billionth of the money they take care of. However, threats work.

Later i went around to Pavillion lounge where the jun23-08 batch party was going on. After burning a rather deep hole in my wallet in under 2 hrs, i decided to call it a day and retreated. That was a nice way to commemmorate my anniversary.Certain events convince me that i have got dumber over the last one year.

My intellectual peak(ahem,ahem), I'd say was in my fourth year; when i totally, unmistakably was in control of myself and never gave so much of a damn to whatever was happening outside. Long chats with SmR; HouseMD on Unni's or Finaz's comp, downloading movies, sleeping on KK's double bed after emptying the lays's and mycans, reading philosophy or medicine, life was heaven. ( the pic above, as e'one would easily identify is the long pathway to the lab, where I went mostly at night) And once in a while SV came around with some new theory of his to fascinate us all. (Technically, i have observed, SV just detests conventional science and chooses to explore the world and its beings on his own. ) And all of a sudden, Rony got me this job which is still paying for my bills.

John and Josie left us, though, and we knew our final year and our lives after would never be the same. Nischal joined them, a few months later. I was glad i'd come down to Hyderabad, coz july3 in Calicut would have been devastating.

Coming back, Office doesnt suck these days. I was convinced a year ago that I had one-zillionth of a chance to get a bonus, now I sometimes dont care if they fire me or not. I'm not sure whats making me say that, but some part of me tells me that my back's not on the wall; I have room. And if nothing bad happens for the next 30 days, it might even get better. I have calculated the chances of 'that something bad' happening to around 4 out of 2903. Figures are exact.

Some people know how I got this job.

I am not writing this under the influence of alchohol or other compounds. This post is out of Euphoria, just like some others were out of Irritation,Frustration,pain in the ass etc.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

a Li'l of this and a Li'l of that

guys, i've been hit by a bad bad case of Writers' block. its almost 2 months old now. part of the following was done almost a month ago. Im just finishing it. Sorry if something is out of context. Too lazy to evaluate.

Sorry, the images are too small. pls click,enlarge and read the lines. I do that all the time.

* Its saturday and i'm in office. One of the most exciting things about my job, as i have found in the last 9 months or so, is working on saturdays. The darkness, the eeriness, the peace of mind (with ur manager not staring at you), Office just rocks on weekends. Also, the extra holiday i get as compensation gives me a lot of options. My whole mum Trip was sponsored by weekend working days- both in cash and days.

*Looks like the folks in office are gonna grant me a laptop.Bewildered by how a single mail from the US guys can charge these ppl up.I'd made the request myself, around a week back as per my US boss's suggestion, but none really paid any attention then.

* Office is cooler on saturdays, temperature-wise and otherwise. Im shivering on my seat. Hyderabadis sure know to air condition. And the coffee vending machine doesnt work on weekends, so hot chocolate/cappuccino are out of question.

*Okay, noone forced me to come to office today. Dont be misled beleiving otherwise, now that im mentioning it again and again.

* Indigo doesnt really deserve to be called an airline. Kingfisher is costly. probably this is wot they call catch-22. well, maybe not exactly.

* Coming back to the laptop. I think im gonna ask my Cousin sisters to bedazzle my name on it; or make a crayon pic. And im gonna do e'thing that'll atleast make my mngr think about,deciding on,having a discussion as to whether they shud take it back.
Will they really call me at 2 am to check if the logs are fine?

*CAT's almost 5 months ahead. My Vocab sucks big time. And i cant count as good as i used to do 4 yrs back. Data is just rows and columns for me. I'm still taking my chances and paying TIME.
I do that every year.

* I complete a year at BankAm this Monday.( 'Thats 365 days man!!', to quote Alistar Campell) I just love the company. The Managers are fun. All of them seem to have watched 'Wall Street' and read 'Winning'. I think they also have Bloomberg widgets on their desktop. 'Recession','US', [Boss's name] are mentioned twice in every sentence. Some ppl say 'lets Touch Base' every time they wanna say 'lets Talk'.
And they follow the 'the art of screwing juniors effectively' book step-by-step..

*Im still not looking for another job. I love this one. This post is from office.I can enjoy a bit of law-breaking at times.
this one reminds me of someone at office
and this is regular stuff at BankAm:

(quite a girly title, a disaster that i cant think of anything better. gotta reduce my visits to EM's blog.)

PS: I think I'm finally graduating from Calvin to Dilbert. Getting older. sigh!