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Saturday, 27 November 2010

Tamarind Made Me Miss Malgudi

Food has never been an important aspect of my life. Since my childhood, I have been eating whatever was being served on my plate. Things have drastically changed after I met my partner a few years back. I am a forced foodie now. Funny but true that my partner is a huge foodie and is very particular about everything related to food, starting from the taste, look, colour of the food to the size and cut of the vegetables. No, I am not exaggerating. Hence, we have been known to try out important food outlets of any city that we visit. Recently we have visited the Tamarind on the Sarat Bose Road, Kolkata.
The Tamarind is on the first floor of a road side building that has excellent location and a convenient parking space just in front of the building. Our driver was happy to find a place in front of the entrance door. The moment we entered, a strong smell of disinfectant liquid used to mop the floor, made me uncomfortable. However, it was just the stairs and there was another door to enter the main eating area. Hence, I hoped the smell won’t be there while we eat. I was, thankfully, right. The ambience was nice with a few waiters waiting for us, as there were no customers yet. It was 7.30 pm and we had gone for a lazy, early dinner. The seating arrangement was comfortable spaced out and a few theme Nick Nacks adorned the shelves.
Our order consisted of starters of Tomato Rasam, Lemon Rasam and some Paneer Tikka (yes, not a typical South Indian dish, but you get it there.) Once we placed the orders for starters, two tumblers, full of butter milk, were served to us. I sipped once and it was really nice. :)
Our starters have come after a short wait and since we had already decided on the main course, we ordered our individual preferences of Coriander Rice, Ambat (dal with spinach leaves), Motta Roast (Egg preparation), Appam (kind of a pan cake) and Avial (mixed vegetables stewed in coconut milk). The Tomato Rasam was really wonderful and yummy but my Lemon Rasam disappointed me. It was extremely tangy, to the extent that your tongue would shrink and twist out of the citrus taste. I couldn’t continue sipping. However, the Paneer Tikka was nice, soft and yummy! The presentation of the food was nice. I didn’t know what to expect when the main course arrives.
Well, we didn’t have to wait long. We asked the waiter to serve our choices a little portion of each on our plates and started having it. My partner was silently having his Appam and Avial. After finishing my prayer, I wondered why is he silent! He said, “This is the worst Avial I have ever had. They must have used desiccated coconut or some ready made mix to make it.” There we go again! I thought to myself. I had my first spoon of Coriander Rice and I didn’t know why they are calling it Coriander Rice as there was no fragrance of coriander in it, except a few dried, unidentifiable pieces of some green leaves. The only thing I could eat and give some grade was the Ambat or the Spinach Dal. My partner had given the final verdict, “It’s a fake.” (FYI, my partner is a Tamil Brahmin :) Boing!!!) I give it a 3.5 out of 10, 10 being the best score. My point here is, if you are doing a business, you have got to be honest and passionate about it. The grand result will show. People should not opt for short cuts, as the result of short cuts would always be short lived.
My this experience in Tamarind made me fondly recall the food I had in Malgudi. Tamarind couldn’t really impress us much.
Malgudi is a chain of South Indian restaurants operated by the Shyam Group and the restaurants are well appreciated with its outlets in Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. The one I had been to, is in Hyderabad. When I was working in Hyderabad, this used to be one of my favourite places to eat. Malgudi has a state specific menu that served food specific to that particular State of Southern India. The first striking point is the look of the restaurant. It looks like the Malgudi railway station of Malgudi. (For those who didn’t know, Malgudi is a fictitious town in India created by my favourite writer R.K. Narayan in his novels and short stories.) Malgudi made me feel special, as the waiters and cooks went out of their way to accommodate my orders according to my taste and requirements. The visit to Tamarind really made me miss Malgudi. Oh it was such a wonderful experience! I think I should write a complete blog on Malgudi once I visit it again. It’s been quite some time now since I have visited it last.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Blue Print for Pharmacy

This is not really a blog. This is a curiosity I have been carrying with me ever since I have started living in Kolkata. I may sound stupid, but I really couldn’t find the answer to my this query and I am here to see if anyone could help me. Now my question to you is, could you please tell me, why many pharmacies are called Blue Prints? For example, a pharmacy named Good Health should have the name as Good Health Pharmacy or Good Health Chemist or Drugstore. Why do they name it as Good Health Blue Print? I have tried googling for the answer but couldn’t really find a solid reply to my question. If anyone knows the answer, please tell me. This itch is killing me.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

College Street, Kolkata

Long before coming to Kolkata, I have heard and read about the famous Book Bazaar (Boi Bazaar or Boi Para in Bengali) and the Indian Coffee House on College Street of Kolkata. Predictably enough, after getting transferred to Kolkata, Boi Bazaar and the Indian Coffee House became two of the must dos in my list of to dos in Kolkata. Being a person who is crazy about books, I knew I will be going to Boi Bazaar and since the Indian Coffee house is in the same area where Boi Bazaar is, I wouldn’t give it a miss. I was a lone soul for most part of my initial days in Kolkata. Hence, Coffee House was not really happening due to the absence of a like minded friend. Opportunity knocked and I went there with a friend of mine recently. I am sharing my first hand experience of the College Street and the Indian Coffee House of Kolkata here.
There couldn’t be a more appropriate name than College Street for this street in North Kolkata, as it is surrounded by many well known colleges and educational institutions of all time. The famous Presidency College, Sanskrit College, the Scottish Church College, the Bethune College, the Calcutta Medical College, the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, Vidyasagar College, Hindu School, Scottish Church School, Bethune School, Holy Child School and the University of  Calcutta, all are situated on both sides of this street. Me and my friend  went straight to the street where Indian Coffee House was ruling for decades. We really needed some fuel to explore the book bazaar of Kolkata. Asking the driver to park the car in a convenient location, we got down from the car and my first reaction was, “This road is, oh so Kolkata!” My statement was supported by a roaring red tram that passed by while a hand pulled rickshaw awaited for it to pass. I felt some connection! 
 The entrance to the Indian Coffee House is deceptively low key. Once you climb up the red spit filled staircase to reach the first floor, you would see a roaring two floors of a cafeteria that has people discussing different things and eating different snacks at the same time. The building is old and the ambience is of a warm humid cafeteria. Well, yeah, I am being frank here. I wanted to sit on the top floor of the cafeteria where I can get a good view of the entire cafeteria. So we both went upstairs and have chosen a table for two and made ourselves comfortable. I thought to myself, well, may be I am sitting in one of those chairs where few of the famous writers sat! Suddenly, realisation struck and I saw the plastic chair I was sitting on. I told myself, “Nah, plastic chairs were not being used during those days.” Felt a tiny winy bit down that I didn’t sit on one of those old chairs available on the first level of the cafĂ©. Anyhow, I started taking photographs of different angles and frames while we both waited for the waiter to come and take order. It felt as if the waiters were going to take ages to come and take orders. I told my friend, “May be they purposely give time to you so that you can indulge in the favourite hobby of Kolkatans of indulging in adda! (gossip/discussion)”
Well, finally the waiter came and took our snack and coffee orders and introduced us to another round of endless wait. I am not sure if it was because it was a holiday or something else, they were really slow. Anyway, since I had a wonderful companion with me, I enjoyed the wait with nice chit chats and some photo shots. After having our fill, we headed to the book market. I have always been very fond of books. I love the smell of it, I love the sight of it,  I love the feel of it, I love to read for hours, in short, I love everything about books. Hence I was thrilled to see the endless numbers of book shops dotting the sides of the pavement. The best part of the market is that the shopkeepers are very eager to show you what you want and they are knowledgeable. There’s more, if you are finding a book and that particular shopkeeper doesn’t have it, he will find and get it for you from another shop, so, you don’t have to pound the pavement searching for your book.
You must be wondering what did I buy, right? Well, here comes the wonderful part. The books are sold here at a lower price than the printed price. I have never bargained on book price ever. But I was surprised to see that you don’t even have to think about it, as the price is slashed at the start itself. I bought a new 2010 edition of Photoshop CS5 Bible, a handbook for learning Adobe Photoshop. Excellent book with 1042 pages. Loving the book every single day. Boi Bazaar also buys and sells old, used, second hand books at a discount of 50 percent or more. A great place to find some rare books as well.
I found this College street to be a one stop shop for the students, since there are shops that sell all kinds of stationary products a student might need for his desk. Starting from clipboards, magnetic boards to writing copies and variety of folders, you can get everything you want in your academia. I bought 10 folders, a magnetic board, colourful marker pens and a CD holder for my study. So, if you are into books and great coffee, go visit College Street and Indian Coffee House. I recommend.
Click on the photographs for a larger view. For more photographs of The College Street and  Indian Coffee House, please visit my Picasa

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

This Happened in India

Today I met this nice and cute lady in her ripe years who told me an amazing story. I had to share it here on my blog. She told me not to write, I promised I won’t quote the real names. But this is an amazing story!

Few days back I had met this Tamil couple, who happens to be my relative. Since they live in Geneva , I am meeting them for the first time in my life and we gelled so well. One day over some Chinese lunch in a star hotel in Kolkata, the man, (lets call him Athim here as Athimber stands for brother-in-law in Tamil, though I call him by his name as he prefers that :)),  told me that his mother cooks very well and his parents are Bengali. Well, I couldn’t really understand why was he saying that. How can he be a Tamil guy while his parents are Bengali? Well, my curiosity remained unanswered as everyone was talking about food and food alone and me being the youngest of the group, had to maintain courtesy. However, the itch remained inside.
I had to visit my new relatives house for a puja (religious ceremony) and I got the opportunity to meet my Athim’s elder sister, let me call her Akka (Akka means elder sister in Tamil) there in their house. She has landed in the morning for this puja. We got along the moment we were introduced and in the course of conversation, Akka mentioned that though originally she is a Bengali, her parents are Tamil. Well, of course I have had enough of this suspense already. So, this time, seeing that she is such a lovely, friendly lady, I asked her, how is that possible? How can Athim be a Tamil and his parents are Bengali and she is a Bengali originally and her parents are Tamil? I just had to know it. Here is the story that blew my mind off!
Akka told me that when her parents were young they were friends with a Tamil couple. They were such good friends that they wanted to stay together forever as friends. Hence, they started living together. This must have been decades ago. The Tamil couple and the Bengali couple hence started staying together in the same house and had children of their own. The friendship never changed. The children that is my Akka, Athim, their respective siblings, all have grown together in the same house as one single family. Now in their 60s and 70s, these siblings are still very much there for each other regardless of geographic boundaries. I just couldn’t believe it.  
Obviously, my question was not answered yet. How can she have Tamil parents if she is of Bengali origin and vice versa for Athim? She told me another fascinating story of love. When Athim was born, his original Tamil parents sighed and said, “No, not another boy again!” So, the Bengali couple said, “Never mind, give us your child, he will be ours.” The Tamil couple agreed. However, when another girl child was born in the Bengali family, the Bengali family returned the favour to the Tamil family and they lived happily ever after.
Isn’t it an amazing story? Akka told me, the mother of hers and Athim’s still live together. Now they are in their 90s and they have bitter fights with each other everyday, make up with each other everyday because they can’t live without having each other around. I found this story to be really amazing and mind blowing! How people can be so broad-minded and unconventional! How did the cruel society allow such an existence! I am sure people must have made dirty stories about them. But they never bothered. I wonder how they could manage so nicely over the years and the love they share is simply amazing! Akka was the one who had come to Kolkata to choose the bride for her brother (my Athim) and managed everything and nobody objected anything. Athim’s other sibling consists of a very famous female singer of our times now. I cannot mention her name here, but the whole of India knows her. I am so happy to be a part of such a wonderful broadminded family. God bless them!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

On Moving On

It’s been few days now, I have been feeling “Oh so miserable!” But I guess it is not helping me. Hence, I am back to my blog to vent out my thoughts that is babbling in my head (writing helps me think clear). The reason of my this state of mind is because a very very close and the best friend of mine had left this place for good and I am missing him so terribly. I have been crying non-stop for three days. People at my home know that I am missing this friend and they are being very understanding. If I was in there place, I would have told to myself, “oh gimme a break!” or must have shouted saying “will you let it go already?!”. But I continued crying even after my people tried their best to make me understand the reality, - the reason why he had to go, why I shouldn’t cry, how I am not losing anything since he will always remain a friend and so on. But I am not buying any of it. I need him here with me, by my side, to fight with him, argue with him, go shopping with him, to meet other friends with him and in one word, to live. I feel so empty inside! I feel as if I have nothing in my life to look forward to! It feels as if I had lost someone in the family. I just couldn’t stop crying! I have tried to see the rationality of the whole thing and tried to divert my mind. I tried watching movies, listening to songs, going to the parlour, doing gardening and whatever is possible to keep me away from his thoughts. But everywhere his thoughts popped up! While watching movies, he was the best friend of the actor (sometimes, he was the hero!), while listening to songs, the song was sung for him, while coming back from the parlour, I wanted him to comment on my new hair do, while gardening, I wanted to show him my new plants….oh crap! He had become a part of my everyday life!
Today is the fourth day of his absence and I talked to myself the whole of last night. Tried to make myself understand that I cannot continue like this. I have to get back on track as I have responsibilities to carry on, projects to finish, deadlines to meet and a home to run. I am neglecting all those and sulking to no end. A college friend of mine advised me on facebook that I should move on, because I was NOT his priority and that’s why he had left to attend to his set priorities. Whoa! That struck hard on my head! I guess she was right! He became my priority but I was not his! I have got so used to having him around that I started believing that he will always be there with me by my side. I was wrong!
Now, despite missing him so terribly, I am seeing the practicality of this entire event. The fact is that, he had left to do his to dos. I have mine. I must do those. Most importantly, I have promises to myself that I must respect and keep. I have to move on. I know we will remain best friends forever and I really hope that even when we meet after 100 years the friendship we have, remains the same! Because I think I will always be needing this friend of mine.
Ironically, I do not believe that long distance friendship can be the same as real life friendship. But I really want to be proved wrong this time. I do need physical presence of the person when I want to be with him/her. If it has to work despite the distance, I need complete keeping in touch with each other on a regular (read daily) basis. I guess he knows me enough to realise this fact. We are keeping in touch, but somewhere in my heart I feel that very soon he will get busy with his work, home, life, wife and I will just silently take the exit route. May be even without realising that everything has changed. It hurts, but it will be good for me if I accept the reality soon. I don’t want another episode of heart break and crying. I thank him for everything today (except that he had left me alone here). I love my friend and will always do.


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