Saturday, March 22, 2008

a holy combo - 5 in 1

yesterday was a very auspicious day.friday 22nd was fortunate that i signed a very important agreement for my company on such an occasion.

the moslems celebrated their prophet mohammed's birth anniversary. eid-e-milad-un-nabi.his death anniversary also falls on this was jamshed navroz for the zoroastrians.the first day of the fasli calendar.the jews celebrated purim,the day when esther,the hebrew princess was married to the persian king ahaseurus.the christians were solemnly observing good friday. jesus christ was crucified on this day and christians believe that blessings of humanity arose as a result of jesus's execution. two days later jesus was resurrected from the dead.and the hindus celebrated the colourful holi. a festival of bohomie and camaraderie.

and it was also the day when celestial weddings took place. lord shiva married parvati on 'panguni uttiram' day. lord rama (an avathar of lord vishnu) married sita (an avathar of mahalakshmi) in the third month of the lunar calendar.known as phalguni in the north and panguni in the south. uttiram star was on the ascendant. mahalakshmi emerged on this day when the ocean was churned(samudramanthan) in search of nectar.and also the only day in the year when lord ranganatha and ranganayaki thayar come together at the srirangam ranganatha temple.on this day sri ramanujacharya,the vaishnavite preceptor offered three compositions (gadya traya) at the feet of perumal and thayar.

the victory of good over evil,the defeat of the asuras.when hiranyakashipu became intolerable and tried to kill his son prahalada,a devotee of lord vishnu,by making him sit on his sister holika's lap who then entered a pyre. holika was covered with a woolen shawl to prevent her from getting burnt. miraculously,the shawl flew and covered prahalada and holika ws burnt to death.from that day onwards,holi is celebrated by lighting a bonfire.and following it up the next day with splashing of colours on each other's faces.the men in gujerat where lord krishna was born, are driven away by sticks on this day as was the case when lord krishna used to chase the maidens in mathura and the young girls would take sticks in their hand and go after krishna.

substantially,the theme of all these religious festivities remains the same.goodness,the victory of truth over evil and the togetherness of humanity. let us all pray on this auspicious day for peace in this planet and happiness for all mankind.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

luciano parolari - the king of rissoto

luciano parolari,who? that was my first question. then i was told that he was in mumbai and would be showcasing his culinary talents at the taj mahal hotel on 15th and 16th february. the only luciano i had heard of was the famous opera singer luciano pavoroti who died while performing on the stage some six months ago. this was a special invite and i didn't want to miss this opportunity. after all the invitation said that frank sinatra, alfred hitchcock, robert de niro and luciano pavoroti all loved his cooking.

luciano parolari is the executive chef of the "villa d'este', a hotel about 60 kms from milan. covering an area of 25 acres built in 1568 for a cardinal,it has seeen many royals and aristocrats living in it during their short holidays. in 1873, it got a face-lift and became a modern luxury hotel. the chef has a garden which was created about four years ago which provides him with fresh herbs and vegetables. there are two private villas too which are available on short-term lease. next time you think of a fancy and romantic holiday, you surely must consider villa d'este. the famous 'lake como' is nearby. luciano parolari is also an author. he has written four recipe books and has been associated with villa d'este for the last forty years.

it was,therefore,a memorable dinner that i had with my family and a few friends. famous indian chef hemant oberoi soiled his hands too in the kitchen which gave the food an eastern flavour. blogger friends would wonder what a vegetarian like me would enjoy in a dinner prepared by an italian chef. that would be an interesting thought. luciano came over to our table and realising that most of us were vegetarians suggested what we should have.which made our job easy. going through the menu card and reading the italian menu was indeed very formidable.

for appetizers we had "misto di verdure alla griglia con formaggio caprino" (grilled vegetables with goat cheese).this was followed by "risotto alla milanese con barolo e fonduta di taleggio" ( milanese rissotto with saffron,barolo wine and taleggio cheese fondue) and also "pasticcio di lasagne con verdure e mozzarella" (home-made lasagne with vegetables and mozzarella cheese). we didn't order any main course as our daughter l, herself a foodie and who has a food blog, suggested that we restrict ourselves to the appetizer and the first course. that was good thinking.the food on the table was more than filling. and for dessert we had "cupola di cioccolato amaro all'arancia e gelato al torroncino"(bitter chocolate mousse flavoured with orange and nougat ice-cream). alongwith with sparkling wine which was the right accompaniment for the heavenly food that we ate and enjoyed and the pampering by the attendants it was a royal treat. i felt as if i was dining at the villa d'este itself.

congrats to the taj management for having thought of such a combination of two famous world chefs,one italian and another indian and for having made this a special and unforgettable dining experience for us.

Monday, March 10, 2008


the first fourteen years of my life were spent in kolkata.i used to visit the kalighat temple every friday alongwith my mother.kalimaa's figure is so strongly etched in my mind that i can always recall it instantly. after we left kolkata and came over to mumbai, my visits to kolkata were few and far between for many years. however, whenever i got an opportunity i would visit the kali temple and pay my obesiance to goddess kali. recently, during my visit to kolkata i had some free time and decided to go to the kali temple.

mahadevi(great goddess) is the most complex and powerful of all goddesses. she occupies a high pedestal as the consort of shiva. she is his 'shakthi' or female energy. this is mirrored in the variety of roles she adopts. she has a different name for each of these roles. sati,parvati,durga,kali.some of these characters are mild and some fierce. both a bringer of fertility and exacter of living sacrifice. sati is a mild form of devi. she was the daughter of sage daksha and was married to shiva at her own insistence against her father's wishes. later in order to defend her husband's honour, she threw herself on her father's sacrificial fire. shiva was not invited by daksha for the fire-sacrifice and thus he insulted shiva. shiva appeared on the scene and in a fit of fury chopped off daksha's head. griefstricken at sati's death and locking her body in a tight embrace he performed the taandava dance.howling in agony, he made earth a miserable place,full of suffering. alarmed at this development and fearing for the well-being of the cosmos, lord vishnu cut off sati's body from his arms. each of the places where the fiftyone pieces of her body fell became sacred.a shakthi peetha. this is the origin of the worship of yoni,the female sexual organ by tantriks. sati is considered to be the ideal hindu wife. the practice of self-immolation called 'suttee' was started by her. later,shiva regained his senses and restored the life of his father-in-law daksha by transplanting a goat's head on the severed body. daksha continued his sacrifice and the wheel of time moved on.

kali is even more terrifying than durga; another form of shakthi. she is the black earth-mother.her rites involve sacrificial killings-humans too at one time. she is associated with devil-worship.she has black skin and a hideous tusked facce,smeared with blood,the brow bearing a third eye.she has four arms.kali developed her thirst for blood after killing the demon rakthavira.she is portrayed with her tongue hanging out and her mouth dripping blood.this signifies the motive force that gives monmentum to all activity.she is supposed to have subdued her own husband by trampling him underfoot in her dance of victory.kali means conqueror of the inexorable destroyer she is equated with time.

the kali temple was built almost 200 years ago on the banks of the river adiganga at kalighat by raja ram mohun roy.the present structure was built by shibdev roy chaudhuri,a has a bangaldar-style arched roof.over the years the lovely temple has fallen into neglect.kolkata is supposed to have derived its name from goddess kali.the river has now shifted and there is a small canal instead.this renowned shrine is one of the 51 shakthi peethas in india.the small right toe of sati is believed to have fallen on this spot. kali is one of the main deities of bengal.she is the destroyer or liberator depicted in a fearful form.she delivers happiness to her devotees.the image at kalighat is that of a goddess wearing a necklace of skulls,holding a bloody sword and standing over shiva.kali is a dark goddess.she is carved out of black stone.she stands undera silver parasol with her body glittering in gold and silver.

the temple is generally very crowded and particularly so on saturdays.the temple and its precicncts remain today almost the same as it was fifity years ago. as soon as you set your foot,you are hit by the sight of pandas,beggars, flower-sellers and sweetmeat shops.if one is not streetsmart,the pandas could take the unsuspecting piligrim for a ride.
tantrik practises are prevalent in this temple.even to this day goat sacrifices are made in the is an enchanting temple where the golden-tongued kali,the spouse of the three-eyed one, bestows everlasting happiness on her worshippers.

incidentally,a well-known bengali scientist and rationalist has confessed to having experienced a miracle when his wife and first child were saved when doctors had given up all hopes."surely,there is some supreme power somewhere to do and undo anything in this mortal world.we are to get in touch with that power through the blessings of the almighty.for me the 'nirmalya' from kalighat did that miracle.something above all sciences a human can think of".