Sunday, October 12, 2014

Calvin's CLoud

The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. 
Never fear what will become of you. 
Depend on no one. 
Only the Moment You Reject all Help are you Freed.     

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Final Hug

My grand aunt passed away at the grand age of 83 early morning yesterday. She was suffering from cardiac related issues over the last two months. With a 90% block and no chance of a surgery at her age, we were told she is a walking time-bomb. The end came peacefully. She passed away in her sleep around 4.00 am due to cardiac arrest.

While on the road to recovery, her daughter fell terribly ill with a viral attack and was critically hospitalised for a week. I was worried that she would not make it and worse still, was anxious for my grand aunt. They were both stuck to each other like glue having lived in the same house for many years. Both survived and came home a few days ago, much to everyone's relief. 

Yesterday was mom's birthday and we had planned to visit Thiruvannamalai, one of the most holiest shrines in south India. The phone rang at 4.45 am and I had no idea who could be calling at such an ungodly hour. I heard the home care girl, a 19 yr old Priscilla weeping and let me know that my grand had passed away. God willed us to serve them that day instead of visiting Him. Such is His graciousness. 

When the end is destined, nothing can stop it. The nurse told me my Grand aunt who usually spends 5 minutes by the window everyday looking at the temple in the apartment complex, spend more than 30 minutes staring at the shrine with a lost look the day before. She dressed earlier than usual, had all her medications on time without a fuss. Her daughter was so fatigued from her medication, she decided to rest instead of lighting the lamp or drawing the kolam, both which are considered auspicious in every Indian household. To add to this, she allowed my grand aunt to eat whatever food she wanted in her last week inspite of adhering her to a strict diet for two months. My grand aunt also spoke to so many of her relatives late into the evening. She also spent a lot of time laughing and joking with her daughter. Both had survived critical ailments and in that moment of relief and happiness, she got a big warm hug from her daughter. The latter decided to lie down next to her, incase her mom wanted something during the night. At 3.00 am, my grand-aunt's pulse was normal. My cousin heard my aunt moaning, but thought nothing of it, since she was in deep sleep. Around 4.00 am, when she put her arm on my aunt, she screamed out. My aunt's body temperature had become stone cold. Our guess was my aunt was moaning because of the cardiac pain. She looked peaceful, almost relieved. 

By 6.00 am, everyone was informed. By 3.30pm, her final journey had begun amidst chants of the Divine to ensure her a safe journey to the other world. 

None of us could believe it. 

She had a zest for life, loved shopping and had a sharp memory. No guest can ever leave her house on an empty stomach. I have enjoyed fabulous luncheons and dinners many- a- times. Her collection of sarees and sense of fashion, was both amusing and enviable across all ages. Infact, I was planning to gift her one for the navratri season, but changed my mind later, since her attire had changed after her treatment. Her immense mental strength saw her through her critical days in the ICU. When we were prepared for the worst, she sat up and told the doctor she was fit to be discharged! It was her sheer will power that held her together until her daughter was discharged, back home. To everyone, it seemed as though my cousin was being slowly prepared for the eventual. She was taken through the whole process step-by-step. More importantly, inspite of my aunt's heart condition, she was never bed-ridden. Every little blessing counts in such tragic circumstances.

The apartment has now become deathly quiet. 

The life of the dead is now placed in the memory of the living.
-Marcus Tullius Cicero

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Calvin's CLoud

For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.
 - Audrey Hepburn

Dinner at Little Italy with Bestie

My best friend and I had not met a long time and we made plans to try and catch-up for dinner. After much planning, we finally settled on a restaurant closer to home, since we both had our respective evening classes, where she was teaching classical music while I was pursuing classical guitar classes. Having finished our respective roles as teacher and student, we were ready for dinner and catching up. 

Surprisingly, our immediate vote was for Little Italy  at Besant Nagar which was a short distance from our respective locations. I was not too sure if this was a great choice after my poor experience at their Nungambakam branch. My friend had already dined there and she assured me that it was quite nice.

I got there on my rusty bike in time. The ambience was nice and inviting, so was their courtesy. While I was waiting for my friend to join me, I flipped though their menu getting thoroughly confused and hungry as well. Finally, she made it and announced she was trying to cut back on weighty issues, so choices were easier. For appetisers, we started with the Zuppa di Broccoli (Broccoli soup), which was served chunky. I was a  little surprised it was no creamy as is the usual consistency, nevertheless enjoyed its freshness. 

For starters, we had the Funghi Alla Trapaneze, which was a plate of lovely glistening mushrooms tossed in olive, garlic and lemon dressing served with warm bread. It was absolutely lovely and perfect for the evening. I am not  a huge mushroom fan, but this one had me completely bowled over. 

For the mains, we split a Al Pesto Genovese, with a choice of penne pasta in my favourite pesto sauce, served warm. I fell in love with the pesto sauce at Wawa, while putting my sandwich together. It was down right delicious. We both like our pasta cooked evenly, so this was just perfect for us. The only downer was the dessert was decapitated and we settled for fresh juice to sweeten our palate.

Overall it was a great dining experience, but the portions were small in comparison to their prices, approx around INR 1500 inclusive of taxes. Their Feedback app was also quite funny. For age groups, it had images of an old man, old woman, young boy and young girl. I thought it was really biased. What about the most happening crowd that fall within the working group? I did make a mention of it to the floor manager including my feedback. My friend was quite amused, while the bewildered floor manager looked on.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mouthwatering Street Food at Ajnabee

I was thrilled when I chanced upon the newly opened chaat shop, Ajnabee at Aryapuram, which is a walking distance from my residence. During my college days, I used to be a regular at their Fountain Plaza shop, which was famous, primarily for its Bhelpuri and followed by other chaat items. Over time, with work and other distractions, I could not make it to my favourite haunt anymore. I always had fond memories of the place and only wished they would open another place closer to home. So many many years later, my wish came true.

When they opened at Aryapuram, I put it on my must-visit and eat list. The chaat house is right next to my cousin's place. That was my best excuse. I hopped over to her place, spent sometime, made a fuzz about cooking dinner for me and went over to Ajnabee for a lovely Bhelpuri and Pani puri plate. 

When you bite into the panipuri, the lovely puffed shape of the puri and its crispness stands out. You notice that they are home made and super fresh. You have 5 puris with the mint and tamarind water mix and the last puri is served dry. It was out of this world. I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Finally, I decided to tuck in a plate of Bhelpuri. How can you think of walking away from Ajnabee's signature dish. Each element stood out proudly. The ompudi or bhujia had a lovely crackle to it as did the shape of the puffed rice. It was an surreal experience. I was in heaven. I chatted with the owner merrily who was happy to have such an excited customer, clicking away pictures to post on her blog.

I need to avoid this house of temptation for the next nine days because Navratri starts the day after!

Calvin's CLoud

A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don't have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed.

- Nelson Mandela

A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)

Maybe I should learn to trust my instincts. I had a sneaky feeling that the walk would be more like a crawl. Nevertheless, I decided to take a chance. The cinema hall was packed with anticipation. If you had watched Unknown and Taken, you will understand what I am talking about. His interview published in The Hindu on the movie, only magnified my curiosity. 

Based on the book by Lawrence Block with the same title, it is the story about former NYPD cop and recovering alcoholic, now Private Investigator Matthew Scudder who is hired to trace the killers of a drug dealer's wife.  At the library, he finds an unlikely bond with TJ, a young boy from the shelter who spends time in the library to escape the harshness. The young boy is well read and an excellent artist, initially dark images are sketched and through course of time begins to idolize Matthew. The latter introduces him as his associate and gets him a pair of shoes, jacket and a cell phone. You get the drift right?

The movie was painfully slow. The final scenes showed promise, but did not live up to it. When he finally makes his way back to the apartment bruised and battered, he finds TJ sleeping on his couch and the caricature of a Hero. The End.

What we thought was meant to be a racy thriller ended up as a soppy love story.  SNiff.
The only saving grace was Neeson's performance, delighted the audience with his deep voice and sarcastic humour lighting up the dry gory movie. 

Finding Fanny (2014)

With much apprehension, I booked my Saturday afternoon movie for Finding Fanny. The teasers and movie promos were a little over the top, intended to rub in the pun in the title. My soft corner for Naseerudin Shah and Dimple did me in - I had watched their performances in Being Cyrus, directed by Homi Adjania. 

Set in the backdrop of the sleepy village of Pocolim, the story revolves around five quirky characters brought together in their quest for finding Ferdie's love, Fanny. I suppose, the obvious plot was the characters to find themselves through the journey. Ferdie (Naseer) the postman finds a musty moth bitten letter slipped through the door. To his utter dismay, he discovers it was a proposal he had written to Stephanie Fernandes, 46 years ago, which was never delivered. He howls in pain. The young virgin widow, Angie (Deepika) convinces him to go on a road trip to find Fanny. She ropes in Savio (Arjun), her ex-flame who has returned from Bombay to fix Don Pedro's (Pankaj Kapoor) car for the trip. Rosie (Dimple) with her prosthetic butt dons the role of Angie's mother-in-law and doubles up as The Lady of Pocolim. Rosie, her cat along with the lecherous artist join the search. Along the way each character discovers different shades of love. 

The cinema photography was excellent, with each frame more beautiful than the other. The movie itself was predictable and bit of a drag. If the characters had some theatre-like workshop to orient themselves for the movie, it showed visibly. Dimple and Pankaj were a class apart. Deepika Padukone really needs to pay attention to her accent and diction. She never really had a great diction to start with. Most of her movies also carried an artificial trying-too-hard-to-be-an-actor  written all over her. The fact that she is physically well endowed, much prettier than Katrina and Priyanka works in her favour. Her clothes were too fashionable to belong to someone from a sleepy hamlet of Pocolim. Homi obviously wanted to use her frame for the luscious trp's is my guess. Arjun Kapoor looks great, but again needs to work on his lines. Laced with dry humour and innuendos, the movie finally wraps up after 90 minutes. Brownie points for Homie for attempting something brave and new. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Day of Immersion and Dinner at Sampoorna Haven, Besant Nagar

On the third day of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival, the idols are immersed in the ocean, river or well, whichever is feasible. I was uncomfortable with the idea of praying to the Ganesh idol and throwing Him into the ocean, so I called my trusted help to do the honors. She came by noon to help me clean the house and after one long tiring day, we went over to the beach in the evening. The weather was beautiful but ridiculously crowded and roads flooded with people because of the Velankanni church celebrations. We decided to brave the situation and I managed to squeeze my bike into a parking lot. Armed with our petite clay idol, we walked over to the shoreline. 
While I stood by watching, my help prayed to Him and we bid him adieu. It felt complete. We decided to hang about for a while, but it had started to drizzle. Instead of heading home for dinner, I planned to treat my help to a lovely dinner at the newly opened Sampoorna Haven restaurant. 

Obviously I was excited. I was looking forward to a memorable Sunday evening dinner and head home for a well deserved slumber. We were ushered to our table by the window and that was where it ended. All we ordered was the tomato-basil soup, Arabic mezze platter, and a Spicy Garlic Fried Rice. We had to wait for over 30 minutes to get the soup. The floor manager avoided our table and made no eye contact either. We were hopping mad and wanted to walk out of the place. Right on cue, the soup arrived. The soup was good, but the bread sticks were like a lump of clay. So we ditched it after a bite or two.
The mezze platter should have served along with the soup or shortly after, but it took its one time to make it to the table. The presentation was eye-catchy, it was the taste that shattered my imagination. The babganoush, the tzatsiki and hommous were far from the real version, they reeked of garlic and tasted nothing like what it was supposed to be. The so called pita breads, deep fried and oily made the platter unappealing. This was a death sentence to someone who enjoys and understands Mediterranean cuisine. I strongly recommend removing this platter of the menu or either you learn the recipes well before you publish or serve them! 

We had to send out a couple of reminders before the final menu item was served. It was spicy, nevertheless tasted great. My help enjoyed it while I went home and downed a dose of gelusil. We did not leave a tip given their lousy service and authenticity of their dish. The value for money gets a negative. I certainly would not go back again for another peek at their menu.

Celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi

Ganesh Chaturthi was a lovely affair to remember this year. 

I had not planned on celebrating initially, but my mom's help called and offered to buy a lovely petite Ganesh idol and flowers and the famous Durva grass for Him. She came over a day prior and off we went shopping at the Thiruvanmiyur market place. This was my first time and it was a chaotic choice. It seemed the entire city had descended there for the joyous celebration. We bought fruits and veggies, all Rs 10 a packet. The entire shopping experience was wrapped up in under INR 350, while I would have spent more than twice the amount in other swanky places like Pazhamudir Cholai. I decided henceforth to visit the market on weekends and stock up for the following week.

The previous night, I spent hours scouring through recipes and dreamt about the big day through the wee hours of the morning. The day had arrived. I had asked my help to get home a little earlier than noon since the main worship had to be completed by 1:00 AM. The menu included sundal, thengai payasam, fried modakam, vadai, lemon rice, fritters and of course rice and other side accompaniments. 

To add to the charm, one of my nib-paintings of Ganesha, which was lying idle at the dining area, found its rightful place at the festivity. He became the centrepiece around which the specials of the day were organised.

The payasam made with fresh grated coconut was a show stealer. It was a new recipe and the success of the dish made it grander. 

Technology has shrunk the world and we pretty much as world travellers in that sense - you can connect to any place, anyone and any time. My mom joined the celebrations over video and chanted the mantras, while my nephew added the music. It was a lovely family affair. My nephew loves all the drama and has his own ritual to perform in the pooja room. So while I did the rituals here, he ran to the prayer room to get his prayer bell and began chanting. It was such fun celebrating the occasion with the little one.

In the evening I went to the Ganesh temple to offer prayers and later to my cousin's house to take her mother's blessings. 

All in all, it was a blast!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Calvin's CLoud

Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that crushed it.

Mark Twain

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Lunch at Burgundy

I was invited by a colleague for lunch before his last working day to celebrate his career move to Dubai. Lunch was at the famed Burgundy's which I had heard of, a million times, but never made it there. The place is supposed to be packed to the hilt on weekends for its wine. I was excited and was looking forward to the luncheon with the group. Finally, I thought I could get my hands on their menu.

For starters, vegetarians had a potato cutlet, a very dry bhel puri and not so fresh pani-puri. I could not understand how one can go wrong with the most simplest and tastiest chat, the bhelpuri. It was dry and had asbolutely no spice to it. My heart sank. The tomato-basil soup was alright. No complaints there. Thankfully.

We started with the salads. The fried brinjals were fantastic as were the okra in curd, followed by well marinated vegetables and fruits. I loved their cheese bake which was delicious. The manchurian in gravy was a knock out as were the roasted spicy cauliflower. The noodles was  a goner. Not sure what the chef forgot.

I just had a piece of bread and cottage cheese and quickly moved to desserts. The dessert section was a huge let down. It was dry and the custard was way to eggy for some of us. We instead settled for strawberry ice-cream, cos vanilla with chocolate sauce was tucked away where we could not see. We had to ask for it to be served! 

We were let down and shocked by the way they had organized the buffet, not to mention the average fare. Price was a no brainer - not much value for money.

So much for the excitement. I was glad this was going to be my first and last trip there.

Calvin's CLoud

Its lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them,  and discuss whether they were made or only just happened.

- Mark Twain

Terry Fox Run, Chennai Aug 24 2014

I participated in the Terry Fox, Marathon of Hope run last week, on Aug 24. It was also my brother's birthday. I never knew who Terry Fox was, but when I started reading about him prior to the walk, it moved me deeply. Akash Dube who passed away two years ago due to leukemia started the Chennai Chapter after learning about this great Olympiad who ran till his last breath and changed the way we looked at life.

Similar to my Sowcarpet Food Walk, I met many like-minded bunch of youngsters who were all upbeat about the run and were taking different modes of transport to reach the venue. I did not go with anyone nor did I know anyone in the crowd. I din't care. All I cared about was the objective at hand and my inspiration, Terry Fox, as I jogged the distance and more. If he could run with prosthetics and bone cancer chewing him up, I needed to put in the maximum effort to keep running to the finish until I could do no more - I had to keep the flame of hope alive.

We all had to get our hands marked with a special ink and start the run. It was euphoric. You could walk, run, cycle and it was a free charity event. More than 10,000-15,000 people participated. What a glowing tribute!

FOr me, it was also personal at some level. I had lost two of my uncles to cancer and my neighbour, a lovely couple died within a few years of each other to cancer. It is a devastating disease and terribly painful, 100 times more than what you and I can imagine. My emotional connect made me stronger and I ran almost the entire distance - almost but not entirely. 

I reached the finish, picked up my certificate and jogged back to the Exit and walked it almost half-way home. While the entire run was mapped for 6 kms, I essentially completed almost 8-9 kms. It was my way of honouring Terry Fox and Akash Dube. 

Keep Going.

Celebrating Madras (present day CHennai)

While the date is considered controversial, it is popularly quoted that Chennai was founded on Aug 22 1639. The erstwhile East India Company (Francis Day, Beri Thimmappa and Andrew Cogan) transacted a piece of land, with the local rulers. It is where Fort St.George stands today as a testament to history. (Source: Wiki)

The concept of Madras Day was put together by Vincent D'Souza (of Adyar/Mylapore TImes fame), Sashi Nair (renowed journalist) and S.Muthiah (the famous historian) to celebrate the city's journey through time. It eventually became a week long celebration turning into Madras Week

I participated in the Sowcarpet Food Walk organized as part of the Food Walk events. It was a sultry day and on a whim, I stepped into the bus and took off to the venue. I had heard so much about Sowcarpet and the adjoining Flower Bazaar, so it was curiosity more than anything else that motivated me to take this trip. Once I alighted, I asked passers-by for directions and was pleasantly surprised when one of them offered to guide me since the gentleman was headed for the same event. By the time we reached the venue, the group had already started exploring the famous joints, run by generations and savoured by the local community.

At the famous Mehta Bros, we tasted a lip smacking Vada Paav, a famous street food in Maharashtra. We also tried their mirchi-bhaaji (fried spicy fritter), which is guaranteed to make your ears smoke! The price was slightly on the higher side, but worth the trip.

Next haunt was at Kakada Ramprasad for their hot delicious thin jalebis and the aloo-tikki chat (potato cutlet with spices and other add-ons) which simply knocked it out of the park. It was INR 100 together, expensive again, but tasty. 

They don't allow you to photograph whilst making the recipe, so food bloggers, take note. However, the humid weather and the chaos added to the confusion. The orders were getting piled up and the staff was overwhelmed. Everyone made a dash for their order, screamed above the rest and the staff screamed back when the order was ready! 

By this time, I was feeling full and decided I could not take anymore. But Anmol Lassiwala changed my mind one last time. Dinesh Soni, a former wrestler from Patiala started this business to beat the Chennai heat. This is an absolute must-try on your foodie list. He was great to talk to and even complimented me on my silky tresses. I tried the kesar lassi which was divine. He serves them in huge glasses which is like a dinner full-course meal. But dont get scared, he offers a smaller glass for a different price. 

I could not walk another step after this. I was officially done. I did not want any other food distraction messing with my lassi taste on my palate. I walked back to the bus station with happy memories.

However, next time around it is bound to get twice as crazy and the organizers should be better organized to handle that volume of response. It will certainly make for a better experience.