Sunday, May 18, 2014

Unscrambling Scrabble!

After a long time, we played Scrabble today.... And almost in an instant I was transported back to my school days. Me and my sister would look forward to getting home, having lunch fast and getting on to a game of Scrabble with Papa and our neighbours downstairs....

What fun it used to be.... The endless controversies over which words were acceptable and which weren't. And then we had to resort to our good old dictionary as a referee....the scramble to get to the triple word and double word score blocks and then the endless debates over whether the multiplier blocks could be reused and the agonising wait to get rid of the X's, the Q's and the Z's.
And then the endless double-scorers that my sister used to make, which invariably made her win.... She was "crowned" as the "Maradona of Scrabble" by all of us!
And as we got busier with studies, life drifted away from Scrabble.... But then when Neeti and I got back to it, I realised that life was so much like Scrabble... You just need to unscramble it!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Hope Springs Eternal.....

There is nothing more appealing to the human heart than the flame of hope.
President Obama's campaign was centered around the audacity of hope, a spirit that permeated throughout America that "Yes, we can!". And that spirit resonated in President Obama's resounding victory in 2008.
In India, we had been steadily and exponentially losing the hope that brings a spring in our steps ever since 2004. It has been 10 years, but, still I have not been able to get over the fact that Prime Minister Vajpayeeji lost the mandate to govern India despite the great work that the NDA had done from 1999 to 2004. The tenure of Vajpayeeji was associated with pathbreaking strides made in development of the nation - the national highways project, power sector reforms and untangling the mess in telecom. There was a general feeling of well-being across all classes in Vajpayeeji's tenure.
Stunned as we were with the UPA victory in 2004, we went along with hope. The momentum of the Vajpayee era kept the nation going for sometime. But the rot set in. The Left and other coalition partners were blamed for the UPA's inability to do anything progressive. I as a common man bought that argument.
Then came the signing of the nuclear deal with the United States. That was when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spiritedly stood up against his critics and saw the deal through, even though it was at the risk of guillotining his political future. I saw hope in Dr. Singh's conviction and backed him fully, when the 2009 elections were announced. 
I had hoped that, Dr. Singh, who was the architect of modern India's resurgence in 1991, during Prime Minister Narasimha Rao's regime, would usher in the good times again. (Incidentally, I would rate Mr. Rao as India's best Prime Minister ever, followed by Vajpayeeji and Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastriji)
With the Left sidelined in the 2009 electoral verdict and no millstone around his neck, Dr. Singh was expected to steer the nation into a higher gear. But sadly, we drifted, aimlessly, into notorious economic doldrums. And that's when I asked myself, is this the guy who laid the blueprint of modern India in 1991? 
We lost hope, as a nation, we drifted and that gloom was all pervasive. There was pain all around - household budgets shot up, business stagnated and there was utter chaos. And here was the Prime Minister who was a statesman abroad but at home, he was a mute spectator to the shameful shenanigans that the UPA government became so used to. It was ironic that we had a renowned economist Prime Minister who helped formulate President Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel's economic strategies to navigate the United States and the European Union out of the mess they were in, yet here, in India, we lost a decade, valuable 10 years in which we could have shifted to a "new normal" of a growth trajectory. 
Then catastrophe struck us. Even a school kid would realise that seeds of economic decay lie in the culture of doles, yet the UPA government, under the 'able' stewardship of an economist thought it was the bribe that could get them electoral success for eternity, as they said, "the poor cannot eat roads", so why build roads? 
But as the Chinese say "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime". Under Dr. Singh, we lost an opportunity to feed our masses for a generation, with the right kind of economic opportunity that the nation lost out on.
Our Prime Minister seemed aloof, ignorant, insensitive and oblivious of the nation's pain. That was shameful. We as a country were orphaned, we were pushed around, we were taken for granted.
It was only much later that I realised that Dr. Singh was an accidental Prime Minister. But was it really an accident? And it turned out, Dr. Singh was a mukhauta or a mask, that Vajpayeeji was accused of being a few years back.

Can Dr. Singh escape the blame for being a mukhauta
Certainly not, for as the Arabs say, "A person who does not speak out against the wrong is a mute devil". I would stop short of calling the gentlemanly Dr. Singh a devil, but he had to own up and I wonder if history would be kind to him at all.
In this vacuum came in Mr. Modi with a common-sensical agenda for shifting into the higher gears. He reminded us that the audacity of hope will always be in fashion. His agenda kindled the dying flame in our countrymen, which is evident in the increased footprint of the NDA in the verdict of the 2014 elections. 

And the hope he had shown us has got him elected into the high office of this blessed nation. I wish Modiji and his team lots of luck and with grace of God and the nation's perseverance, we would more than make up for the lost decade.
Incidentally, this is my first blog on a political topic in the last two years. I must confess, I too had lost hope.
But, then as the human spirit is wont to, hope does spring eternal...

Breakfast in Town...

A Saturday morning meeting at Ballard Estate made me quite grumpy, but as they say every cloud has a silver lining, I too found my silver lining pretty soon....
It was long since I met my friends in town. And since town has a number of cubby-hole eateries with unique cuisines, there couldn't be anything better than heading to town for a breakfast with friends....
So it was... My friend suggested Panshikar Ahaar at Girgaum for a Maharashtrian breakfast. I was there at 9AM, we ordered Thalipeeth and Kothimbir Vadi.... The Thalipeeth was a lot like our very own dal-wali roti, and that went very well with soft, white butter. The Kothimbir Vadi was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside....

Usually, I approach tea, out of home, with a lot of fear and trepidation. My cup of tea has to be just right, just perfect. If it isn't, it really screws my day.... So when my friend suggested a cup of tea at Café De La Paix, down the road from Panshikar, I was naturally apprehensive...

The Café had just opened when we reached. De La Paix is a quintessential Irani café is pretty much struggling to survive, when all around there is a clamour for the expensive real estate.

The tea was a real revelation - a strong mint tea just the way I like it, was prepared by the octogenarian owner's son, Gustad. The Cafe, I got to know had a lot of history behind it. My friend told me that the café was inspired by the famous 1862 opened Café De La Paix located at Place de l'Opéra in Paris and designed by architect Charles Garnier. 
The story goes that when the owner, Mr. Irani, opened this Girgaum café in 1932, the landlord of his building had just been to Paris and had been greatly impressed by the Café De La Paix there. So he requested him to give this name to the Irani café he was opening. The rest is history.

As i headed for my meeting at Ballard Estate, I wondered whether these gems of Mumbai's heritage would survive or would they be relegated into books of history... The city should make an effort to ensure these gems survive, much like the way the Hutongs of Beijing and the Shikumens of Shanghai have been revived....

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

When The Cat's Away, Mice Will Play...

The good times really came on a few weeks back, when Neeti went out of town for a conference. It was a Saturday and I was in a mood to binge.
Not in a mood to have breakfast at home, I headed to Theobrama's at Powai. I was hoping I would have a better experience as compared to the disaster we had at Theo's the last time around in January this year.
This time around, I ordered Eggs Florentine, which were served to me in 10 minutes flat - halved muffins, grilled to crispiness with a generous amount of steamed spinach spread on it with some sweet corn kernels. This was topped with poached eggs, to make my Eggs Florentine, which came alongwith with crispy hash browns!
I sprinkled loads of coarsely ground pepper and took my first morsel. It was magical.....
The hash browns were crispy and yum, but not too oily unlike the last time.

I was done with my Eggs Florentine in no time and then it was time for a beverage. I got tempted and ordered an Irish Coffee, or Caife Gaelach, which I had been having at Prithvi Cafe in Juhu till now. The Caife Gaelach here was delicious and flavourful...
Overall, this was a great breakfast outing.... I was truly living it up, and as they say, when the cat's away, the mice (in this case, the mouse) will play!!!! 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

One Year On....

It was exactly a year back, this day we travelled to China.
It did feel quite odd when people whom told of our vacation found the choice of China a bit funny. People travel to Europe, to the Gulf, to the South East, but why China, was the common refrain. We used to hear people advise us on food - we were advised to carry MTR packets. The usual stereotypes were at work - language problems, odd food - snake and insects and what not, and, yes, lots of bicycles..... 
But we are glad we got an opportunity to visit China and meet our family there. This was an incredible opportunity to dispel whatever stereotypes we had in our minds. The experiences we had in China were incredible and amazing. It was interesting to see, first hand, the transition that the billion-plus people are in the throes of.
While in Beijing and Shanghai we blended in, into the crowd, and enjoyed the sights and sounds of an incredible blend of tradition and ultra-modernity, we were spellbound by the natural wonders at Zhangjiajie. Here we were the first Yindus that a few locals had seen.
Contrary to the suggestions we got, the trip was a culinary delight. We enjoyed and devoured local fare, downed endless green teas and our MTR packets remained unconsumed. Neeti too enjoyed local fare and that was a  real surprise for me too! Surely, our addiction to oolong, green and white tea began after this sojourn.
The people we met on our travel there were no different from us Indians - fun-loving and forward-looking. They seemed to be close-knit, moved around in family groups, were boisterous and enjoyed eating out! 
Indeed Chinese women have incredible and flawless skin, something that I kept appreciating throughout the trip, much to Neeti's chagrin! And their kids, little babies were a massive overdose of cuteness! What I found a bit amusing was that the baby dresses had "strategically" located holes for cleaning their bums after they were done with their potty!
And Ni-Hao and Xie-Xie made an entry into our everyday vocabulary and that made a near amusing incident when we thanked the immigration officer with a Xie-Xie on our return into Mumbai, and she was bewildered!
The sounds of Kevin Kendle that we heard on our way there and later on our way back will always ring in my mind when I think of the trip.
It is indeed a sum total of all such experiences that shape one's life! And I would look forward to visiting China again (what we had seen was barely a tip of the iceberg), along with lots of other amazing places that are on my bucket-list! As someone very wisely said: "Take vacations, go as many places as you. You can always make money, you can't always make memories!"

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