Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Kabhi Sooraj, Kabhi Baadal

Having visited London many times and having stayed there for extended periods,I am quite familiar with the ficklish English weather. But the weather in New York for the last few days surprised me quite a bit.It has been sunshine and rain and cold wind and a bit sunshine and again plenty of rains. Must be the effect of Wilma.

I accompanied L to her office and made sure where I was to go to meet her at lunch time.On the way back I took some interesting pictures at Madison Square and returned home without losing my way.There were numerous phone calls coming in from Mumbai and that took away some of my time.I then worked on my emails and did some blogging before it was time to keep my date with L in her office near Union Square. I reached there about 1pm and went up to the 6th floor office .I realised then how high her popularity rating is. When she introduced me to many of her colleagues ,I could see the love and affection they all have for her. She also introduced me to her VP who was incidentally listening to her latest podcast when I stepped into his office!

We decided to go to 'Tamarind" for a light lunch. An uppity place,close to L's office. Courteous and propmpt service,good Indian food,but the tariff a bit steep. I liked the ambience and the taste of the food reminded me of home. We ordered a bhel which we shared and then had paranthas stuffed with vegetables followed by herbal tea.



It was time for L to catch up with work and I slowly walked back on a slightly different route,now that I had mastered the bearings between home and L's office. Again,I took some pictures of Empire State Building and a few other interesting happenings on the road. Came home and literally crashed as I hadn't slept sufficiently the previous night .I was woken up by L's call.She had arrived home perhaps uneasy and unable to stay any longer at office with her dad alone at home. We had some nice masala tea to lift up our spirits which were somewhat put off by the incessant rain. Anyway,we decided to move out and took care to sufficiently protect ourselves from the rains and the cold wind.

We then went to a mall selling only containers.From pins to elephants,literally.From the smallest container to keep one's medicines to large containers for the home and office. I wondered how many years it would take for such concepts to come to India. Surely,it will but will take many many years. After buying some small containers,we set off for Bath and Mat another mall specialising in everything for the bathroom.Having done our purchases itr was time to head for the Mexican restaurant,'Rocking Horse'. We reached there a bit wet though what with umbrellas collapsing on the way.



It was time to order some fruit margaritas which both of us enjoyed while waiting for
H to join us.He was there soon and with tortillas and salsa to nibble at, the drinks went well. The restaurant was full and understandably so. We got a nice table to sit and have our dinner. H&L ordered burrito and guacamole wraps which were very enjoyable. The portions were quite large and as has been happening in the last few days, we had to ask for doggybags to take the extra stuff home. Either we are poor eaters or the Americans are very big eaters.

On some further introspection,I realised that the latter is true. They eat one helluva lot.And that makes them fat,very fat. I was shocked to see the number of obese children,men and women on the streets. Obesity is a big issue and America must address it for the wellbeing and longlife of its citizens. Another day in New York was coming to an end. Tomorrow we shop and shop till we drop and then go to Broadway in the evening to watch a play. That will be the subject of my next posting.

Ciao!

Second Day In New York

Yesterday was my second day in New York.Being a Sunday, the morning activities started at a slow pace.The previous night's party at 'Babu' appeared to still have its impact on us and it took some time before all of us could shrug off the inertia and get cracking.
L and I decided to go for a long walk to get into shape.H preferred to sleep for some more time.L&H had called a few dear friends home in the evening for drinks and for meeting 'Appa'.L wanted to make some purchases from the vegetable market at Chelsea and we therefore decided to kill two birds with one stone. Unlike Saturday,Sunday was sunny though a strong and cold wind continued to blow.We passed by the Madison Square garden and did some shopping at the vegetable market at Chelsea. Later we came to the Whole Foods shopping mall and admired the wide variety of vegetables,fruits,milk products and even Indian cooked food set up for sale.We bought some bread,jam,and fruits and decided to return home.




Around lunch time we walked to Columbus circle and visited the Time Warner Building.


A very imposing building of modern architecture.We had lunch at Whole Foods
there and visited the Samsung showroom where they were giving demos of their latest tv and mobile products.After that,we went to Central Park.A huge lung space in the heart of the city having a length of about 8 miles.I was surprised to find horse drawn carriages and cycle rickshaws ready to take the tourists through a guided tour of the park.We engaged a Turkey rickshaw driver and all the three of us got into it and had a quick ride through a part of Central park.



All of us were quite tired after lunch and the rickshaw ride and we decided to call it a day and took the subway back home.L had to make preparations for the evening cocktails and H had some office work to complete.I decided to take a siesta.

Around 8.30 pm the friends started coming and we had a hilarious time.Being close friends of L and H,there was lot of camaderie and bonhomie and light hearted banter.Everyone wanted to drink sparkling wine and with some delectable snacks that L had prepared,the party went on till rather late in the night.




My second day in NY was getting over and the countdown had started which gave me a bit of a sinking feeling.Too short a trip,I thought.At the same time, I felt lucky that I was able to spend some quality time with H and L.There are two more days and I will make the most of it.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Rain,Hampton Chutney,Apple and Babu



Yesterday was a fantastic day. I had reached New York overnight from London,received by Lulu at JFK and went straight to their home in Manhattan and had a good Southy dinner.I slept at 3.30 am, after a long chatting seesion with harsha and lulu but was up and about in 2 hours. I looked at my emails,did some blogging and waited for l to get up to go for a long walk. It was raining though. She took me through her beaten paths- central park,office,veg market,bank,barns and noble,restaurants,et al.We even had gannajuice on a wayside American gannawalla's shop(thoroughly sanitised,no cat's urine) and came back well exercised.

And then after some super Madrasi Kaapi prepared by h and offered in that ubiquitious eversilver tumbler and dabara we decided to set out for some chota sight seeing to be followed by brunch.It was drizzling all the way with a strong and cold wind blowing all the time. Starbucks was the first stop. After being shown some interesting places in Chelsea and a few landmarks in Manhattan,we headed for the dosa place-'Hampton Chutney'. A pop and mom restaurant,run by a couple who visited India many years ago,got influenced by a Vedic guru and learnt the art of Indian cooking. Absoloutely heavenly dosas and uttapams and gorgeous masala with out of the world chutneys. And mango lassi. It was very very very filling. Most of the patrons were white Americans enjoying every bit of the fare that was being offered. Unprentious place,good ambience,Indian spiritual music in the background,courteous staff and good food. Value for the greenbuck!

We then had to do some real walking to burn the calories. We went to the Apple showroom.



Incredible. Massive. Hundreds of people being guided to make the buying decision. Demos,product displays,lectures,q and a sessions-you name it and they have it. They are clearly focussed. They want you to understand their product,and then get so happy so that you buy it. Brilliant marketing by Steve Jobs and his team. No doubt their ipods,ipod nanos,G4 powerbook,latest thinner version of imac,remote controls ,ipod with video are all selling like hot cakes; just flying off the shelf! Their showroom is gorgeous with ample space,modern architecture,and having thick glass as steps for the staircase leading to the firstfloor .What did I buy? That would have been a good question.I already have the ipod and ipowerbook G4. I cannot keep pace with technological obsolescence. I frankly cannot afford to replace my gizmos so fast. With Apple, when products are selling fast, they replce them with newer models.Chutzpah arising out of supreme confidence. What else.It was a totally a gratifying experience.

We then took the subway and went to the old WTC ground zero location.



I was particularly interested to see the place where thousands of innocent lives were lost in the September eleven tragedy.L was tired,we had done justice to our brunch binge and we decided to go home for a siesta. Later in the evening,we planned a dinner at Babu.And it was still raining. Owned by L and H's friends, Anil and Paayal, from Kolkata,it is a Bengali restaurant offering original Bangla ranna.



We had plenty to eat-luchis,cutlets,aaloodum,baigandai vegetable,lovely Bengali pickles and raita and ofcourse rice and masoordal. The nvs had a blast of a time with their chingdis and mutton preparations. I was very very surprised that Anil could produce chingdi in new york. There was lot of wine and whisky flowing and good company of h's brother and his wife,l's colleague kelly from sf and h's uncle.There was rasa malai,sandesh and paayas in the end.A rich finale.

I slept like a log and got up this morning fresh as a lotus and getting ready for another funday in New York.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

QUE SERA SERA

Whatever will be, will be. Nothing can be truer than this .When I left Mumbai last Sunday night for Europe and UK,I planned to meet L on Friday in London and return to Mumbai on Saturday. On Tuesday morning L called to say that her meeting in London and Mumbai have been postponed. Her trip was called off. Was it possible for me to fly over to NY for a few days atleast? I said that I would try, Because it meant changing my return bookings and making a new booking for L-NY-L.

Though with great difficulty,I managed the former,the fresh ticketing looked impossible till this morning with all flights going full .While returning from Munich to London on Thursday evening,the guy sitting next to me on the flight was one Saqib Ahmed who works for Sabre who provide total software systems to most of the airline companies.During our conversation,he came to know about my plight and offered to help.He said that he would speak to a friend of his Ali Khan, who runs a travel agency in London and that he would be able to put me on some flight to NY on Friday. At 10.30 this morning,I contacted Ali Khan and in fifteen minutes after several phone calls that we exchanged he confirmed to me that the booking was indeeed done and that I could collect my ticket from his London office.

My guest in Sheffield was shocked because their travel agent had informed them a few minutes back that there was no way of putting me on a flight to New York till Sunday. I finished my work at Sheffield,took an intercity to London,,cabbed it to St.John's Wood,picked up the e ticket and headed for Heathrow and I reached the airport by 5pm for my 8pm flight.The six and half hour flight was smooth.I slept a bit and read Shantaram for a while by which time the plane had landed at Heathrow.L was there to receive me and take me to her Manhattan apartment.She had prepared drumsticks sambhar bhath for dinner which was delicious.Nothing like home food and that too after 6 days.

We just don't know what destiny holds for us. Only on Monday I was so sure of returnig to Mumbai by the weekend. And here I am in New York,totally unprepared for this visit,but enthusiastically looking forward to have a wonderful time during the next four days. Jo hona hai so hoiga.

Whoever could have imagined that an acquaintance on a flight would go out of his way to help someone whom he had not known from Adam's.When I called him up to thank him for his extraordinary gesture,Saqib was with his family at Heathrow heading for Jeddah.He replied,"I am very happy that I have helped you".And immediately after finishing his Jeddah visit he goes to Pakistan on behalf of Sabre to help the victims of the devastating earthquake.

God's ways are inscrutable!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

In Deutschland

Guten Morgen!

I landed in Frankfurt on Monday morning and have been on the move ever since.I go to places about which people have not heard of.Like e.g.Albstadt,Koenigsee and Buchenberg.But that is where my customers are! Each one of them is a beautiful village.A is at an altitude of about 750 meteres and has a population of 50,000 and when I reached there on Monday afternoon the temperature was 0 celsius turning to minus 2 or 3 later in the night.

The cute little bars,the cobblestone pathway,the fresh air and the ambience in these small villages always invigorate me.The people in Germany are very warm and in Bavaria where I was today afternoon they are especially so.

I spent about 2 hours in a place close to N├╝rnberg where our group company has bought over a sick German company.It is a 150 year old but efficient plant with 125 acres of fantastic property.

Tomorrow I will be visiting Buchenberg about 30 km from Passau.The Bavarians enjoy life.The Bavarian beer is very popular.It is black in colour and has a pretty high alcohol content.In the restaurants,one can see a lot of merrymaking-singing,dancing and of course drinking.I have been regularly visitng these places for the last eight years and my contacts speak to me only in German.It forces you to learn the language.And I have no problem with food because the restaurants that I patronise know exactly what I want.The same driver has been picking me up at Konigsee and dropping me at Ilemenau station for the last seven years!

Tomorrow evening I will be travelling to Munich and from there to London. L wants me to make a quick visit to NY.I will decide tomorrow. I would love to visit NY and be shown around by L all those bars,restaurants and other places of interest about which she has so enthusiastically blogged.

And the newly elected Chancellor Angela Merkel's barbielike dolls are getting sold in Germany in huge numbers. Looks as if our Doodhwala Lalu has set the trend.

Auf Widersehn!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

FLOWER POWER


South is famous for flowers. Particularly the women must adorn their heads with the most fragrant flowers. And it is the late afternoon which is the chosen time for this indulgence. The guys will not allow themselves to be left behind. The devout among them will buy flowers for their favourite deities and offer it during prayers either at home or in the temple.The not so devout will buy it for their sweethearts.In the South, it is sacrilege if you haven't bought flowers for your better half when you return home from work. And if you have, your day or shall we say night is made. God save you if you haven't.

And among flowers,Jasmine,called Mallipoo holds a unique place. Its fragrancce is heady. It has a slightly offwhite colour and comes both as rounded petals(goondu malli) as well as the flat ones. Born and brought up in Kolkata, I had no great fascination for Mallipoo till s introduced it to me just after we got married.I am always fascinated by the heaps of mallipoo and kanakambaram flowers which the women in the South deck their hair with. Irrespective of caste,colour or creed and whether rich or poor,Madurai mallippoo is a must must.

The other day we were visiting a Gujerati friend during Navarathri.He introduced us to his wife as Jasmine.I said,Yasmin? "No'",he replied a bit offended. Her name is Jasmine. And then it struck me that I should post on my blog a short writeup on Mallipoo which i have been contemplating for some time and particularly after my recent return from my Sasurbaadi at Madurai.

Wellness is the flavour of the day.And aroma therapy is a great soother and benefits the body and mind.The growers of mallipoo at Madurai and nearabouts have soaked up some aroma magic.Globalisation has also sucked them in its powerful pull.Madurai malli has gone French and also 'Down Under".From 3 processing units there are 15 now; all converting flower into paste and liquid called 'concrete' and 'absolute' respectively. The demand driver is the perfume industry.At 550$ per kg in the export market and higher than the domestic market price,there is a sudden shortage of Mallipoo and the women in the South are not amused.

In a 20billion $ industry, jasmine and rose hold about 1000 million dollars i.e approx 5%. It is also like the metals market quite volatile. If it rains,the prices crash.The prices are at their peak around 6 am. As the day progresses,the prices keep dropping alongwith the fragrance.The shelf life is only 24 hours.If you have kept it in the fridge,it is fine.But then when you take it out,the fragrance evaporates.The Mallipoo is dead shortly thereafter.

And for those of you who are fond of statistics,there are about 2000 farmers growing Mallipoo on nearly 5000 acres,at a yield of 300kgs per month.Mostly in and around Madurai.Mallipoo prices somtimes touch a high of Rs 120/kg.The farmers are raking in the moolah.Let them make mallipoos when the sun shines!

Bonjour Madame/Mademoisselle.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

"HUNG!" aur HUNGAMA


Lalu Prasad Yadav is very much in demand. And equally are his dolls. That has become big business.While returning from Chennai last week,I saw the latest issue of 'The Week' on the flight.The cover page carries a picture of the Lalu doll holding a lantern(his election symbol),being held by strings a la kath putli.The picture suggested a 'hung' assembly in the forthcoming Bihar elections.And if Lalu proves his sceptics wrong and leads his RJD to victory,I will not be surprised if a similar photo appears on the cover page of 'TIMES'.

Lalu dolls are a craze in Patna where they are manufactured.They sell like hot cakes.And there are many varieties to choose from.The last count was 14.And prices range from Rs 80 to Rs 390.The maverick politician comes in different shapes and sizes.He himself is very much amused.And is excited that so many people will be touching and feeling him.Including his fan Hema Malini.Lalu with a buffalo,Lalu flagging off a train,Lalu with a lantern and Lalu seated.That is the most popular and goes for Rs 144.And then there is the low budget Lalu too! For Rs 110.

What makes Lalu tick? Even Pervez Musharaff was taken in to his rustic charm.And there is a joke of Bill Clinton and Lalu closeted in a room for 4 days and people in the White House wondering what was happening.Finally a dishevelled Bill emerges speaking in Bhojpuri.The fodder scam,the pesticides scam,the milk scam and the scam scam does not seem to have dented his image at the grassroots level.The famished lot in Bihar still look up to him as the Messiah.His opponents think otherwise.Without the support of Sonia, they say,he would have gone for a sixer long back.Thanks to Buta Singh,he is now trying to undo last election's verdict. Will he succeed?

It is anybody's guess.At best,he will win triumphantly.At worst,the assembly will be hung and thereafter there will be hungama.His wife Rabri is very much in politics and he is proving that dynasty rule will run in his family too.Introducing his son,Tej Pratap to a large audience recently he said,"khara ho aur pranam karo janata janardhan ko".That was a good start for Tej who is known more for his cricketing prowess than anything else.And of course Lalu's disproportionate assets of cows,cash,gold,nscs,non agricultural land and cars are hitting the headlines all the time.Lalu is least bit bothered.He shrugs it off with a smug smile.
And the latest to join his long list of admirers is Ukranian born Tanya who is cast in a Bhojpuri film 'Phirangi Dulhaniya'.She says she is excited that she will be meeting Lalu as she has heard more of him than the Indian PM.Tanya has even learnt Bhojpuri and has dubbed her own dialogues.She is getting a lot of offers from Bollywood.But the economics graduate from Kiev does not like the 'exposure' that Bollywood movies demand.Though,she might like to do something like 'Lagaan'.She thinks that Lalu is a fascinating character and has promised to tell us more about our Doodhwala after she meets him.

So,J.Jayalalitha and the Big B,are passe.That is what the sales of the Barbielike Lalu dolls indicate.His dolls are at the zenith of their popularity.The dollmakers and marketeers are laughing all the way to the bank.And Lalu Prasad Yadav may laugh his way to the Bihar Assembly.