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Thursday, 21 July 2011

Clubbing in the City

Don’t know if there is age for everything and if you do something unusual it might seem odd to the public,so much so that they might raise objection, might even go into their judgement mode awarding you with an odd dunce cap because the rule is that discos and loud music is for youngsters, temples or walking by the sea-shore is for oldies and for middle-age there is coffee shop, gossip and theatre.

But all my life I have followed no pattern whatsoever and have done whatever the opportunities have provided me at that time and I have never felt like a bull in the crockery shop in any of these instance and of course, not worn the dunce cap either because of my ability to fit into every group and change my colors matching the company.

Therefore last late evening when my nephew asked if I would like to go with his group of cousins and friends for a drink to a club, I found nothing odd about that.

As we entered the Trilogy Club at SeaPrincess after dinner, it was alive with loud music, so loud that I almost turned 180 degree to return back, but the d├ęcor inside the club distracted me and I wanted to experience the ambience.

There were too many bouncers dressed in black inside the club, who guided every body with their laser-torch, they were highly alert, stood at their specific post with their eyes surfing the crowd and later I discovered their usefulness when the crowd got rowdy and somewhere, somebody was playing with a gun and he had to be quietly escorted out of the club. The matter was resolved so silently that those busy with dancing didn't notice the fuss.

There were a group of people at the bar enjoying their drink, and there was a separate area for smoking. We walked upstairs to the dance floor. Everybody who entered the dance floor walked in with their shaky butt. I took a high bar stool and perched myself on it to watch the people dance. The music was loud and instrumental but not the type that I am used to hearing. The type of music that I used to like was those of BoneyM and TinaTurner and more recently MariahCarrie but this 'Baysurri' music was beyond my understanding. The instrumental music was screeching from the juke box, slow at first and then to higher crescendo mixed with the rhythm of drums. The thousand bulbs twinkled with the music in orderly manner creating the chain of dancing lights.

My nephew got me Margarita that had an icing of salt-dust at the rim of the cup. I normally don’t drink but one sip of Margarita was quite refreshing. I watched people dance, some of them lost to the music, swirling their body, shaking from top to bottom, as if struck with an electrical shock, others imitated the MichealJackson/Mithun/SalmanKhan dance steps while some just shook one part of the body, just their arms like trafficPoliceman, or the pose of dancing Cobra, but most of them were in Nirvana under the influence of music, stuck to their own group of friends occupying only a small area of the crowded dance floor. I sat there feeling the vibration of the loud music on my finger tips as my hands clutched around my handbag and some time later, I was tapping my feet too. Most of the young girls were dressed in halters and short skirts while boys in loose jeans that kept slipping from their waist, at every pause in the music there were hugging session, boys-girls, girls-girls, boys-boys.....and a sip from their drink.

I was still sipping Margarita, when my nephew brought another drink, Jaeger bomb, in a tiny glass. I was hoping I don’t get too tipsy or else people might have to carry me home but the drinks were so very delicious that I had to use a strong will power to stop myself from drinking too much.

The rule in Mumbai says that all parties must end by 1:30am and thus, much to my relief it was time to go home.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

You are Invited For a Tea Ceremony

If you come and spend a day with me, we will chat a lot, you can talk, I will listen, if you like a game of scrabble, we could do that too and in-between our usual activities we will have tea ceremony.

What say you, will that do?

Well, you may ask me what is this tea ceremony and how do I know about this? So let me begin to tell you that I just attended a talk by noted tea connoisseur ‘Radhika Batra’ who educated me on how to soothe my senses by refreshing and aromatic tea ceremony.

Did I tell you that I am regular at Nature Basket and I seem to be shopping for all my groceries from this store that includes sauces n cheese n those exotic stuff. So, this month my shopping coincided with this talk-show on tea ceremony and I walked into the wine section of this store, where normally all that food talk takes place.

The table was laden with fancy teacups and tea-kettles, different types of tea jars and bottles of spices like rosemary leaves, thyme and cloves, lime and cinnamons.

Now normally when people visit me, I just give them a Indian cutting chai, a black variety cooked on the gas with milk and sugar and the conversation is never about tea, I mean what can we discuss about ordinary tea making? We have been having our cup of tea from childhood with no extra fuss except to crib sometimes about the quantity of milk or sugar..

Every country has its own traditions and customs in serving tea  Like for example:
The samovar, a symbol of tradition, is used to brew tea in Russia. At the base of the samovar, a charcoal fire burns, and a metal pipe runs up inside the container to heat the water. Tea leaves are infused in a concentrated form in a small teapot that rests on top of the samovar. Water dispensed from the copper vessel is mixed with the strong tea to create a hearty drink that is often served with sugar cubes that are held in the mouth while drinking. In Iran and Turkey, the Russian samovar is used for special occasions and holidays.
But this time I have decided to make some fuss over you if you visit me. I will have a tea ceremony with you and that means we will have the ritual of tea five times a day, yes! You heard me right, it’s a tea ceremony remember?

Early morning we can have ‘Longjing Chinese Green’ tea. All we need is hot water and patience. Just one teaspoon of green tea with hot water, and we keep it for brewing for five minutes and it’s done. This tea I always order in the Chinese restaurant after meals; it washes down the grease form the food. But when you visit me, we shall have this green tea to start the day.

Now you may ask me what is this Longjing tea? This is one of the purest and most popular green tea mainly from the mountain lakes of Hangzhou in China. These pan fried leaves give out a pale yellow liqueur and as you sip it, you get a slightly sweet cherry blossom aroma.

At noon we shall have mid-morning blue, a Darjeeling Black tea. We shall brew one spoon of black tea with lemon and cloves. If you like thyme or rosemary flavors, we could do that too. Black tea is best brewed in a kettle instead of on stove. Since these are plantation fresh, the same leaves can be brewed twice. I could even flavor this black tea with tulsi and ginger or cardamom and cinnamon.

After lunch around 2 pm, we could have mid-eastern infusion, a ‘Barush Flower’ tea.. This will not contain any real tea leaves but it will be made from the potpourri of flowers and herbs. I love this tea because of the sweet aroma of different flowers. Hhmmmn..deep breath..Nirvana! This middle-eastern flower blend is bedecked with colorful flecks of dried flower petals of Rose, Chyrusanthanam, Marigold, jasmine.

During evening we could have oolong Shanghai style, the champagne of tea. We could swirl this with cinnamon sticks or Vanilla pods to get that fragrant whiff. You will love the toasty sweetness.

And late evening we could have the fruity lovers’ tea, which is simply from mixture of fresh and dried fruits.

Imagine the VIP treatment you will get if you visit me on the days when I am in that mood of hosting a tea ceremony…you can enjoy the tea all day but just let me win each game of scrabble, one after the other, without getting annoyed each time you lose….hehehehe….want to come?

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Enter Mumbai at your own risk- This is a twilight zone

It had been a long and tiring day and I was returning home by AC bus. It was raining heavily outside, but I was comfortable by the window seat. Having skipped my lunch, I was thinking of ordering delicious dinner from KFC as soon as I reached home. The thought of dinner delighted me; I shut my eyes and listened to the music plugged to my ears. Periodically I opened my eyes to look at the woman sitting opposite me. I started to admire the henna tattooed on her hands as she finger-chatted on her Blackberry; I was tempted to remove a picture of her decorated doodled hands curled around the mobile, it made beautiful composition, but was not sure if I could. What if she was annoyed? What if she snatched my camera? I put away my thought back into my sleeve and continued to enjoy the conversation and the music on FM radio.

Suddenly I was distracted by the conversation on radio. The speaker off-handed mentioned that there had been a blast somewhere in Mumbai and said not to panic, it could be just a rumor but he would report as soon as he got some more information. I was not sure if I had heard him right because the very next moment the music continued to play. I look around in the bus to see if anybody else was listening to the radio. The woman opposite me was continuously talking on the phone. I put off the radio and went online on my BB. There was much activity on twitter and they all were talking about serial bomb blasts. I let out a soft scream “Oh my God!, there had been a Bomb Blast” The woman opposite me heard me and started a conversation with me. She informed me that she too had received a call from her family and that there have been three blasts in the gap of ten minutes, “Dadar kabootarkhana, Opera house Panchratanna and JaveriBhazar” the three most crowded areas of Mumbai.

She made few more calls to her family members and to her children asking them to stay indoors and that she was on her way. It had stopped raining but there was too much traffic jam. I started receiving messages and SMSs from my family and friends inquiring about my safety and asking me to call them back when I reached home.

I reached home, safe and secure, ordered dinner and sat down to watch the news on TV.

That’s when the pain sets in.

Helpless Mumbaikars stranded on the roads, with no clue of what they had wronged. The news spoke of the bomb blasts at the crowded areas, about injured people being rushed off to hospitals, some limbs chopped into pieces flown into different directions, and angry people on the streets. The whole stretch of road was bloody. The bomb blast was triggered by a timer and nobody had seen it implanted there? On crowded streets of Mumbai, nobody had noticed the bomb being implanted on a scooter at Javeri Bazar, on the top of the bus-stop at Opera house or under the tiles on the road at Dadar. People went on with their business unaware of the danger being built up and terrorist were successful in their destructive and inhuman act.

Over the years, say many analysts, the state's authority has been eroded as a nexus of greedy politicians; a thriving underworld, unscrupulous property developers and a discredited police force seem to have been ruling the roost, undermining institutions. The most commonly peddled narrative is that by attacking its much touted financial and entertainment capital, you deal a body blow to India and get global media attention. Source
 From TV news to FB discussions to Twitterati, all had the same voice -tones of anger and disgust of not doing enough to make Mumbai a safer place, or being subjected to repeated attacks  and cry for help to find some solutions.

I was really touched by Mumbaikar’s unity last night, people were offering their house to stay to those stranded on road, offering lifts in their empty cars, tweeting away to offer their help, while the telephone lines were jammed there was lots of activity at twitterati.

Within 30 minutes of the explosions, twiteratti began circulating a Google spreadsheet with important numbers and information. As time went by people who wished to help, (be it by providing transport or a place to stay, by making calls/finding out information on behalf of people or by providing blood) began adding their names and contact details to the list. The hashtags #here2help and #needhelp began trending in India, with other twitter users trying to match requests for help with offers to help in various areas. Others trawled the #here2help tweet stream and updated the Google spreadsheet. Source

While the officials tried to figure out who is behind these blasts, the life goes on, and today is the another day, its raining heavily again, people are back to work commuting in crowded trains, although they are not sure this time if they will return home safely at the end of the day, life move on. School going children are interviewed randomly and into the camera they scream “We are not afraid, we are not afraid at all….” although the fear rings in undertones behind every smiling face.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Unplanned Sunday Afternoon

This Sunday was not the day what I had planned to do. I had not planned to go out with the family to soak in the sunshine and visit the nature behind man-made blot. It just happened.

I was sitting with my cousin late night, chatting away, when one of her friend suggested that he take her out for a picnic to Lonavala, ‘Aamby valley’, he said and my antenna shot up to 20 feet, now I have wanted to see this town since a long time but somehow, it has never worked out therefore I decided to tag along if ever such picnic was to take place.

“Can I come along Didi, please?” I said and she smiled gently not confirming if we were to take this trip.

“We will decide in the morning, go to sleep now.” she said

I got up much early than my usual time. 6am is not the time I would opt to wake up on any day, and especially not on Sunday, but then this was not to be an ordinary day.

By 8am, the house was bustling with energy, more than 25 people showed up. We huddled into four cars and started our journey towards Lonavala.

Rainy season is the best time to make a trip to this place which is at the altitude of 620 m above sea level .The hills sing a melodious tune with waterfalls churning out through layers of rocks. Different shades of greens add sparkle to the landscape.

Our first stop was to Naryani Dham which is nestled in the valley. This temple with sparkling ivory white marble had carving even on the roof. The idols of Gods were decked with finest jewelry and brocade clothes that reflected rainbow hues when the lights of the chandeliers and spot lights were focused on them. The spotless and shiny walls had beautifully carved windows in marble. On the ceiling were the paintings of Krishna in his large chariot. Some beautiful designed motifs of colored stones, glass and mirrors decorated the entire upper walls. The building was still under construction, the railing of craved marble was being installed for support. I struggled to walk up the stairs and the volunteer stretched his hand to offer me the support and informed me that there was a separate lift to go up too. It was a cloudy day, as we emerged from the temple, we saw children enjoying the garden equipments and we were tempted too to enjoy a swing or two. We walked down the path which had water fountains along the way till we reached a bigger building which had 60 rooms with attached bathrooms for weary travelers. There were some cottages too behind the temple for people who would like to enjoy the nature for more than one day.   

After a short visit to this Dham we drove through the winding roads, into the deep narrow lanes which opened up into the vast plains and high up on the hill was the Shiva temple.My cousin is the devotee of Lord Shiva and I could see the glow in her eyes as we approached this temple. This was a carved stone structure, well maintained, which had a large black Shiv-ling dominating the centre of the dark room.  There was a  three-forked trishul and dumroo on one side of the black stone Ling. A beautifully carved metal pot hung from the ceiling which had the tiny aperture to the base of the pot. When the devotee poured water into the pot, it dripped drop by drop on the Ling bathing it. They offered rice and vermillion and sprinkled some flower petals on it. Then they sat down with eyes close seeking blessing. A pundit sat there guiding the devotees to the proper way to pray and offereing prasad to every devotee.

Next was our program to go to Aamby valley. We had only 8 passes to go to restricted Aamby valley, where one can go only by invitation, so while the rest of the group headed home, only eight of us drove through Bhushi dam and Tiger’s leap to the other side of the hills to reach the Aamby Valley.

Aamby valley is the man-made town in the midst of the hills. The architecture and design is worth the visit. The place is well maintained with manicured gardens and proper roads. This is the lonely town, where streets are empty, the privileged few who drove down the streets were crazy, perched on the roof-top or protruding half the body out of the window in the speeding car. At the lake, where we went for the boat ride, there was a loud music where the youngsters danced while waiting for a boat ride. The gardens and side-walks were continuously preened by local gardeners.

This is the town where greenery is restored in its virgin form, with the waters running through its soul, birds chirping freely and flowers have freedom to bloom

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

In Transit at Frankfurt

When making long distance travel, the biggest hurdle is when there is overnight stay between the flights. Staying with a family is unnecessarily inconveniencing them and even though they are family, it is not my style to trouble them for pick-up from airport just for one night. Checking into the expensive hotels is the added expenditure, which is quite a waste if you do not enjoy the privilege of touring the place and the third option of spending the long night at the airport is draining off your energy with sleepless nights. Waiting in transit is no fun at all. I have tried all three and have not been happy with any of those options.

But, only once I remember, some few years ago, during my transit at Frankfurt, from Tenerife to Mumbai, it was a pleasant stay. There are thousands of hotels in Frankfurt and some at very reasonable rates, but when I am travelling alone, I am always scared to go to an unknown place in a strange city and that is why when my travel agent suggested that I stay with a family for a night with just € 60, I grabbed this opportunity.

I paid € 60 to my travel agent in Tenerife and I was told that the man in charge would come to pick me up from the airport. I arrived at Frankfurt airport at 5pm, not knowing whom to expect. One gentleman in late 60’s approached me and introduced himself as Mr. Advani. Most of my luggage was offloaded directly to Mumbai from Tenerife, so I had only a small hand-carry which he helped me carry to his car.

He drove me through the city, pointing out to important monuments on the street on route to his house. After an hour’s drive we reached his house where his wife gave me a warm welcome. They had a small apartment 3BHK and there were three more men in the room who were there to spend a night. Mrs. Advani offered me a cup of tea and asked me if I wanted to go for a drive with her to the supermarket. I went along, not wanting to sit with strangers in the room. On the way to the supermarket, I learnt that they had grown up children who had moved out and they were bored till they found this hospitality business of accommodating the transit passengers. Everyday, they had visitors from different parts of the world whom her hubby had to pick and drop them back to the airport and the woman cooked the meals for their guests. She also had a garment store in town which was not doing so well.

By the time, we returned from the supermarket, we were friends. I went to the kitchen with her and together we cooked meals. (not that she asked my help, but I cannot sit idle if somebody is busy) Unfortunately, she had no helper at home, so besides helping her with cooking, I also helped her wash dishes and set the table. She was quick and efficient and within one hour, the dinning table was set with proper meals of Dhal, Rice, one vegetable, salad and snacks. The men were deep in conversation, sharing jokes and anecdotes, and when we entered the room, they included us into their conversation. They had Indian channels on TV but nobody was watching that.

The time passed quickly for us and also for that old couple who would have been lonely otherwise, but they were happy to hear our rant and it made them feel alive having found an audience to share their stories. They didn’t miss their family or their children who had moved out to the sunnier sides, they were happy that they were doing something worthwhile for themselves; they were offering a safe haven to the lone travelers. It was only for one night for us, but for them tomorrow would be another day with different set of transit passengers.

Since I was the only women in the group, she offered me a private room, which I could lock from inside while the other men shared the next room. Early next morning, after a hot cup of tea, Mr. Advani dropped me back to the airport just one hour before my departure time.

It was the most memorable and safe one-night stay in transit at Frankfurt.

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