Thursday, August 29, 2013

His Holiness Sant Sri Asharamji Bapu - A mere mortal.

I have been uninspired of late. Not much was happening. Yes the Rupee Dollar exchange rate has been soaring (or plummeting, depending on how you look at it), the stock market has been crashing, scams continue with the newest being the NSEL one, but all that was boring. We have seen all that, to use the language of our `Yuva Neta’ Rahul Gandhi, we have seen all that `boss’. 

Then, it was Divine Intervention. I was struck by the light. I became a follower of His Holiness Sant Sri Asharamji Bapu. He gave me inspiration, he [or should it be He] showed me the way, He brought vim and vigor back to my life, a fresh perspective. And for that I am ever grateful. Let me tell you how this happened.

For all those of my readers who are unenlightened or who live under stones, I suggest you read and visit his official website. It is fantastic. For those of you who cannot be bothered reading the official website, permit me to give you just a few snippets of His life. Param Pujya Sant Shri Asharamji, endearingly called 'Bapu', is a Self-Realized Saint from India. Pujya Bapuji preaches the existence of One Supreme Conscious in every human being; be it Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh or anyone else. They say God is inscrutable. The actions of Bapuji seem inscrutable too.

Sounds really nice does it not. When reading this, I remembered reading the website of the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha. That says that “Bhagwan Swaminarayan took birth to reinstate the four values of dharma, satya, ahimsa, and brahmacharya. He displayed a commitment to these values from an early age. Whether young or old, Ghanshyam was a role model for all those with whom He came into contact. It was clear Ghanshyam possessed qualities that surpassed human characteristics.” 

Both are fascinating stories. I leave you to draw your own conclusions. Now let us switch to the present.

There was a 16 year old girl, whose parents were blind followers of a Godman. So much so that the parents devotion caught the attention of the Godman. The parents and the girl were regular visitors to the Godman’s ashrams. One day this girl started to vomit. The staff at the Ashram promptly reached the conclusion that the girl had been possessed by, guess who, the Devil, of course. The Devil had to be exorcised. So what do they do? They ask the Godman to take charge. He promptly puts the girl in a room, takes his clothes off and starts to exorcise the devil from the girl. Folks, this is not a plot from a third grade XXX rated pornographic film. Nor is this some sort of pervert fantasy that I have written nor is it a Ram Gopal Verma or Ramsay Brothers film. No, this is what is alleged to have been done by our friend His Holiness Sant Sri Asharamji Bapu. Read the whole report here. Oh, and just by the way, this is 2013 not some Roman era mumbo jumbo.

So, now what do the parents and the girl do? They lodged a complaint alleging rape or molestation by His Holiness Sant Sri Asharamji Bapu. Once this news hit our `middia’ I have become an unashamed follower of His Holiness Sant Sri Asharamji Bapu. 

I assume the story is true. I have made no personal investigation. My conclusions and biases are based only on news reports.

I am fascinated because it is clear as daylight to me that His Holiness Sant Sri Asharamji Bapu is as mortal and human as any of us. Clearly he has no Divine powers, even his attempt at exorcism seemed to have come to naught. Poor chap is now accused of rape. What has every person threatened with some jail time done? Be it Sanjay Dutt or Salman Khan or Alistair Periera all of them used every legal remedy, every connection however tenuous, every mode even slightly foul, to stay away or out of jail. What is His Holiness Sant Sri Asharamji Bapu doing? Exactly the same thing, and why not? It is his `job’ to stay out of jail, just as much as it is the `job’ of the police to put him in jail, Why is what he is doing in any way wrong? It is just that those in charge of enforcing the law have no guts, gumption, political will or what have you to actually enforce the law. Should His Holiness Sant Sri Asharamji Bapu be criticised for evading arrest? Why should he subject himself to arrest, regardless of what he has done? I repeat, His Holiness Sant Sri Asharamji Bapu is doing an excellent `job’ at staying out of jail. It is indeed sad that the law enforcement guys are a whole bunch of impotents. Or am I needlessly insulting impotents?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A summer in London - Musings by HRH the Queen of Kutch

Dear readers. This is written by HRH the Queen.

Summertime, And the livin' is easy

Surely, it’s a fallacy when people say familiarity breeds contempt. It cannot be so. How often have you gone back to your favourite book and found it can still surprise and delight you. Similarly with your favourite movie. Or that walk down to the vegetable market where an unexpected treasure awaits. Or that sudden insightful comment by your spouse that reminds you why you still delight in her company even after all these years. Sometimes all it takes is looking at the familiar with a new perspective. Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of Sunshine....

Readers of this blog will know that London is by a country mile our most favourite city in the world. We have been there more times in the last 10 odd years than I can count and have always come back loving the city just a little bit more. We try and avoid the busy tourist season from June to September and are most often in London through spring, autumn and a few times even the dead of winter. The cold doesn’t daunt us and we have walked through more London streets than I daresay most Londoners have. This year though, for reasons too silly to get into here, we decided to go to London in the peak of summer. July!

Yes, we would be hitting the peak of the tourist season. Yes, half of Mumbai and almost all of Delhi would be at Selfridges and Marks & Spencer. Yes, we would have to brave the crowds if we walked through Oxford Street. But hey, we had decided we were going and off we went...

We landed in London at 7pm and drove into the city under a bright summer evening sky. After quickly checking in and unpacking just the essentials, we headed out to the local pub for a pint or two before a late dinner. That evening at the pub set the tone for the next ten days in London. It was after 8.30 in the evening, the sun was still out playing peek-a-boo with a struggling moon and the pub was FULL with people. But the people were not In the pub, they were all standing outside. Over a hundred people standing on the pavement outside the pub enjoying the rare summer day. Inside the pub was almost empty with people strolling in just to top up their drinks. What a contrast to the rest of the year when everybody is crowded inside and everybody heads home much earlier. Another thing that struck me was the burst of colour. No greys, blacks or blues. Everyone was in bright summer colours and the atmosphere was celebratory.

A few pints down we strolled off to a famous Italian restaurant a few blocks away and were immediately recommended a bottle of Rose to accompany our food. ‘Perfect for the summer’ our server pronounced!

The next nine days flew by in a happy burst of sunshine. This London was different from the London of Autumn and Spring.

More people smiled more often. People seemed to greet each other more. Everyone wore bright clothes not just in the day, but even in the evenings. The parks were full of sun-worshippers and innumerable games of catch, baseball, cricket and football. Several of the parks had free concerts and games through the day and a carnival like atmosphere seemed to seep through the entire city. The small Grosvenor Square right behind where we were staying had a small stage with some lovely jazz every evening we were there and the rest of the square was transformed by board games, table tennis, snakes and ladders and other such fun activities. People took advantage of the lovely weather and flocked here during their lunch hour or in large groups after work.

Every Sunday in July, Regent Street is closed to traffic. The street becomes a long entertainment hub. Areas for children, music, bars, circus acts, jugglers and all sorts of performing artists. We went for a `dekkho'. Great fun. Wonderful atmosphere.  

What could be more delightful for kids? Painting, drawing on the street

Do this in Mumbai. A public bar. Gheun Tak Ghorpade!!

For the first time in London I didn’t need an umbrella, a sweater or a jacket at all. Frock and sandal weather for 10 days in London is a fairly big deal, even the Londoners agreed.

As the temperatures hit 30 degrees C, panic swept the nation. As it crept up to 31 and then 32, health alerts were flashed across the country and people were warned to stay hydrated and not venture out in the streets between 11am and 3pm. This was the warmest long sunny spell in over 8 years. Coming from a land where 32 degrees is a mildly pleasant day this paranoia amused me a bit at first till I realised most homes and offices were not built to cope with the heat. They had no cooling systems, not even fans, and more often than not, no cross ventilation! Large parts of old London are built to retain the heat through the long and damp winter and are just not equipped to handle extreme heat.

All department stores had fans for sale as soon as you entered the store. A burst of breeze from table fans of all nature and ilk blasted in our face at the entrance of all stores and many people were buying them for their homes and offices. A white good they would use for the next few days and then store away for heaven knows how many years.

Besides the fans, every shop and store had HUGE summer sales on and the best of designer dresses and shoes were available for a bargain (if such a word can be used when you look at the rupee-pound conversion rate!) But again, the shop windows were awash with bright, happy summer colours.

The flowers were in bloom all over London and a walk through the parks was a delight. We decided to go for a 1.5 hour walk in Hyde Park every evening and it was such a pleasure. Each day we chose a different route and discovered new parts of the park we had never come across in all these years. The park was full of people. Picnic baskets like I have only seen in movies or on display at Fortnum & Mason were out in full force as were sun-bathers slathering on the sun tan lotion, kids running amok on bikes, bare-chested teenagers on skateboards and boom-boxes blaring out the latest rap song. The Serpentine was awash with people feeding the ducks, lying around on loungers, crowding the restaurants for a pitcher of Pimms or paddling along in the tiny rental boats. This was the summer you see in the movies or read about in books.

The Italian Gardens - inside Hyde Park

The Queen Victoria statue in the Kensington Gardens - inside Hyde Park

The glorious Albert Memorial

We were to go for the Rolling stones concert at Hyde Park and as from our rooms right across the road from Hyde Park, we could hear sound checks and distant strains from all the other concerts. On the day of the concert the gates opened at noon and many people made it ‘a day at the park’ as it were, with picnic blankets, many many pints of beer, suntan lotion and a few ball games. By the time The Stones came on at 8.30, there were many sunburns and many people had been in the park for over 7 hours.

I guess these 10 days of summer were such a pleasure for me was because living in Mumbai I have never really experienced seasons and the effect a bright summer’s day can have on the clothes, atmosphere, food and behaviour of people.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


This is my story about the delicious Hamburger as I have grown to appreciate it in the UK.

I do not start a post with a caveat or disclaimer. This post is unusual as it has not one, but, three disclaimers, caveats, explanations, or if you are cynical, excuses.

First, a similar sort of article was written by Vir Sanghvi in `Brunch’ a supplement with the Hindustan Times on Sundays. I have not been `inspired’ by that article. This post has been fomenting for some time now and because of a change in my work - life equilibrium, I was unable to write this earlier.

Second, the Hamburger is an American creation, symbol and institution. I have not been to America since shortly after the infamous 9/11 which happened in 2001, some 12 years ago. So my writings are based on my experiments with British Hamburgers.

Third, in India, despite the presence of McDonalds, our Hamburgers do not have a beef patty. It is either chicken, if you are lucky, or mashed vegetables. Indians by and large do have a problem with eating bovines. It is just a few restaurants that serve a beef patty. Why is this important? The reason is simple. One of the joys of eating a Hamburger is the fabulously juicy patty. The meat juices that are not absorbed by the bun as you bite into the Hamburger, soon drip onto your plate or your shirt and often run down your hands. If you have a vegetable patty forget about any juices. If it is a chicken patty, it has to be cooked thru or else you will have a case of severe food poisoning. Chicken cannot be eaten raw. Thus, an essential component of a Hamburger eating experience is simply lost.

Having got that out of the way, let us plunge on.

Josh Ozersky, in his fascinating book `The Hamburger’ claims that the origins of the modern Hamburger can be traced to a cook named Walter Anderson. Anderson is credited to having been the first person to cook the patty at a high heat on a dedicated grill ensuring that the patty was browned on the outside but remained raw and juicy in the centre. When cooking the patty, he flattened it with his spatula and by keeping the patty as flat as possible giving you a greater surface area. He replaced square sliced bread which was then the norm, with a round bun of the same size as the patty, which he split horizontally. Another innovation was grilling sliced onions alongside the patty so the juices of the cooking patty would mingle with the onions. Anderson took on a partner Edgar Waldo `Billy’ Ingram and soon White Castle was established. This became the template for quick service restaurants [QSR]. From this start you had more and more refinements till the establishment of MacDonald’s and the like.

Today Hamburgers are everywhere, however, their defining characteristic of a circular beef patty in a horizontally split circular white bun is unchanged. You know exactly what a Hamburger is when you order one, you know what it will look like and generally know what it will taste like.

In London, Hamburgers are the rage, they are absolutely hot and on top of everyone’s mind. So much so that highly regarded American Hamburger specialists are opening outposts in London to serve burgers to the Londoner. I like to classify the Hamburger into four broad categories. The lowest end of the scale is the burger sold by the QSR chain, the MacDonald’s and Burger Kings of the world.

The next two rungs of burger sellers is where all the action is. This space is occupied by what are known as `posh burgers’. There are several players in this area. Honest Burgers, Byrons, Black & Blue, Gourmet Burger Kitchen were the older ones. Then came the aptly named Burger & Lobster with it’s startling offer of serving only a very expensive burger at GBP 20, or, a reasonably priced half lobster on a bun or just grilled at GBP 20.These burgers are also what I call `clean’ burgers’. By this I mean that the contents – patty, tomato, onion, lettuce and condiments – are clearly discernible and visible. The patty is cooked medium rare by default, unless you would like it cooked differently.

Cheeseburger at Black & Blue

Burger at Burger & Lobster

The third category is what is now being referred to as the ‘dirty burger’. Meat Liquor and Patty & Bun are two newer kids on the block who serve ‘dirty burgers’. Dirty Burger and Tommis Burgers are two others in this category. Though all these are `posh burgers’ they are not `clean burgers’ but `dirty burgers’. You have a patty which is slathered with sauces and condiments. The different ingredients are not defined clearly; the burgers are served on a tray and are juicy in the extreme.

Meat Liquor

Dirty burgers served on a tray

The absolutely fabulous Chicken Wings at Patty & Bun

Burger at Patty & Bun - dirty.

As if this was not enough, the posh American guys have opened. Danny Meyer’s legendary Shake Shack from Madison Square Park opened to snaking lines at Covent Garden in London. Not to be left behind, Five Guys a posh burger restaurant established in Washington DC also opened in London, also to serpentine queues.

Hamburgers being all pervasive, also managed to exert and influence on two highly regarded French Chefs. This has resulted in the forth category of a French burger. Daniel Boulud a Frenchman transplanted to New York Frenchiefied the Hamburger. His burger is made with Sirloin, Braised Beef Short Ribs and has a slice of Foie Gras and Black Truffle. All this is in a Parmesan Bun. Boulud, naturally, has a restaurant serving this very posh burger in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel at Knightsbridge in London. Not to be outdone, Joel Robuchon, who holds 28 Michelin Stars, more than any other Chef alive, serves `Le Burger’ a beef and Foie Gras burger with Bell Peppers, which is stunning. Just typing this makes me hungry.

Burger at Bar Boulud

The Foie Gras and Caramelised Pepper burger at Atelier Joel Robuchon
The best burger I have had in India has been at the Taj Lands End bar.I had written about them in an old post. I quote what I had then written - "The Burger was actually a trio of mini burgers in a long white platter. Very clever, pleasing presentation, and, so sensible. It can be quite difficult to eat a full sized burger and quite messy too, so, by giving you three smaller burgers it made things so much simpler. Full marks to the Chef who devised this at the Lands End. The Burger itself was really good. There was no raw onion; instead, there was some beautiful caramelised onion marmalade. The French Fries that came with the Burger were fresh, hot, well seasoned and delightfully crunchy."

I do not know if they still serve them. If they do, they are good.

Mini burgers at the Taj Lands End - Sliders as the Americans say.

After typing all this, I did wonder how I should end. I really do not know. I do like Hamburgers and the posh ones are really nice. The only positive conclusion I can make is that do not make such a big deal of how bad Hamburgers are, that they make you fat and unhealthy. Do, on occasion, especially if you are in London, eat a `posh burger’. You will not regret that decision.