Friday, January 31, 2014

Memories, the Duffer and justice.

30th December 1982 was the day my father died. He had a heart attack, so, to that extent, his passing was unremarkable. I remember clearly what happened that night. I am sure Mother Stonethrower and Sister Stonethrower remember too. If, we are called by a Special Investigation Team, today, and questioned, the testimonies given by us three would, when read together, give you a complete picture of what happened. The passage of almost 32 years has not dimmed those memories.

Assume that we were a Sikh family in Delhi between 31st October and 3rd November 1984 and our father was killed by a rampaging mob in front of us. Assume that our home was ransacked. Assume that the shop we ran in the neighbourhood was ransacked. Assume that we had to flee and hide somewhere in mortal fear of our lives. Assume our neighbours and relatives were subjected to the very same thing. Would I, my mother and sister not remember every single detail of what happened? You damn well bet we would!

Of course, the very same position would exist in case of the Gujarat Riots and Mumbai and every other riot since then and ones that will happen in future. One is not better or worse than the other.

Now, the Duffer is being interviewed by Arnab Goswami and he is pushed into a corner and admits that members of the Congress Party were involved in the 1984 riots. I presume no one [except Arnab] asked him to make that statement, he did it himself. Why? Because, I am convinced, he is a duffer. Anyway, on cue, the Sikhs, the AAP and the BJP are now at the Congress’s throats asking for the formation of a Special Investigation Team to once again probe those terrible days. The news channels are adding fuel to the fire. The actions by the BJP and the AAP are certainly political, but, my point is, they were handed this on a platter by the Duffer, he opened the door, wide.

What intrigues me, and this is something that I have been grappling with since the fateful night of the `Interview’, is what really passed thru the minds of H K L Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar, Lalit Maken and Jagdish Tytler to do this. There really was and even today is no real animosity against the Sikhs. In 1984 Giani Zail Singh, himself a Sikh was the President. Dr. Manmohan Singh has been in the Congress for years. When writing this, I looked at articles on the 1984 riots on the internet. What you read is chilling, really really disturbing. It is said that Sajjan Kumar incited a mob with the words "Indira Gandhi is our mother and these people have killed her". I cannot vouch for its correctness, but, the conclusion that this leads me to is that the devotion and the sycophancy to the Gandhi family was the prime reason for the riots. Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler are very much around even today. Lalit Maken was assassinated and H K L Bhagat died. The Duffer comes from this stock. He has been brought up with and obviously supports this devotion and the sycophancy to the Gandhi family.

To go back to what I have written in the opening paragraphs. If a Special Investigation Team is set up, people will give evidence, the evidence will be of good if not very good quality. People do not forget. I do hope that this Special Investigation Team is set up and finishes its job soon. Forget all those empty words, `closure’ `victims’ `survivor’ and so on and so forth that our middia loves to bandy about. Justice should be done. Unless the Congress is guilty, I see no reason why the establishment of the Special Investigation Team should be objected to by the Congress. The problem is that the Duffer has really mucked up things for the Congress.  

If people have an argument that you cannot vote for the Bluffer because of what his role is in the Gujarat riots, for which they may have a point, can you really vote for the Duffer, who is a Duffer and who carries loads of this sycophantic baggage and who has lived and thrived in this atmosphere?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Dry days and some funnies

This post has some clichés and quotes. You may have read them earlier, but, I thought, what the hell. This post does not have a central theme, but, is really, a collection of random thoughts. It jumps from thought to thought.

I did watch the interview of Rahul Gandhi by Arnab Goswami. I was shocked. Of course, Manish Tewari, Rita Bahuguna and the indefatigable Sanjay Jha who defend the indefensible believe that Rahul Gandhi is superman. For the rest of us, Rahul came across very poorly. He has finally been revealed for what he is. He is not the sharpest tool in the box by a mile, he is not cut out [pardon the pun] for politics, he is dumb, he is misinformed, etc etc is now apparent. Of course, Rahul cannot help any of these faults. But, did the Congress believe that Arnab would be cowing down to Rahul? Why expose Rahul to Arnab in the first interview? I honestly believe that the genuflecting, constantly reverential Dr Prannoy Roy should have done the interview. I can picture Roy asking in amazement, `Rahul how did you feel when your father was killed?’ `It must have been hard and times must have been terrible’, and so on and so forth. That would have been nice. We would all have been crying copious tears. Bad move by the powers in the Congress.

A joke, which is doing the rounds. `India needs to choose between a duffer, bluffer and muffler.’ So correct.

Another joke, have a look at the chart. Ignore the first few questions. Read bottom up. Hilarious.

Dean Martin the American singer and actor once said “I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day.” That is exactly how I felt when I was in Vadodara for a day.

I was to leave Vadodara by an 8 pm flight, but, as the main runway at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport was shut and the flight was delayed by 2 ½  hours. The day was spent in meetings, passionate negotiations, time outs, tea drinking and biscuit eating. After being stuck in a closed room with your senses on full alert, a drink in the evening in the convivial environs of a bar would have brought a pleasant end to the day. But no, we were in Vadodara, so no alcohol. Yes, yes, I know the stuff about more alcohol being sold in Gujarat than elsewhere and that everything is available and all that. But, I am a law abiding man. It was a dry day for me. I cannot tell you how weird it felt to simply sit around a table with guys you were duelling with and having to face a glass with a liquid that looked like, I kid you not, Gelusil, (it was a Strawberry milk shake!), to accompany my dinner! This is India! I realised what Dean Martin meant.

Yet another joke. You may have heard of that uniquely Gujarati abbreviation DBRS. It is `Daal, Bhaat, Roti, Shaak’. How about KFC? Our friends from Gujarat use this to describe `Kadhi, Faafda & Chole Puri.’  Apocryphal? Maybe. Disgusting? Yes.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The best of winter vegetables

Winter in India means great vegetables. I honestly mean that. If you are someone who shops for vegetables, you should be happy. The vegetables all look happier, greener and altogether nicer during the winter. The range of vegetables expands and by this I do not mean only the fancy `English’ vegetables, but, the `Indian’ vegetables too come into their own.

You can see wonderful peas, strangely tomato [which world over is a summer vegetable/fruit], green garlic, radish, all manner of leafy vegetables and, of course great `English’ vegetables. Exotic peppers, glorious Leek, fat luscious celery and so many more. On the matter of tomato, there were some really sweet, I mean really sweet tomato on sale in the market. These were small, about the size of a large walnut and not the usual face puckering sour cherry tomato you normally get. 

To give you an example. Winter is the time for what I consider Gujarat’s best and frankly only worthwhile dish, `Undhiyu’. For those who do not know what this is, it is a potpourri of various root vegetables [`Kand’ or Purple Yam, Potato, Yam, Sweet Potato] various beans both in their pod as well as shelled [`Tuvar’ or Cluster beans, Broad Beans, Pigeon Peas] in a green masala made with coconut, green chilli, fresh green garlic and coriander. To this you add chunks of Banana and dumplings flavoured with fresh `Methi’ or Fenugreek leaves. Most of these vegetables are available only during winter.

It is difficult to get a decent `Undhiyu’. Making `Undhiyu’ is difficult. The list of ingredients itself is daunting. Cleaning and prepping the vegetables is a task in itself. Once you have got that done you realise that the dish has at least two subcomponents that have to be made independently – the `Methi Muthiya’ or Fenugreek Dumplings and the ground coconut masala that is the key to a successful `Undhiyu’. This is daunting for most people today. Add to this, the fact that in nuclear families no one really knows how to make `Undhiyu’ and frankly `Undhiyu’ cannot be made in small quantities, so no nuclear family is going to be able to finish what is made in a single meal. Most restaurants serve slap dash efforts with ingredients missing or shortcuts employed. The best `Undhiyu’ is available from a small shop in the old part of Bombay – C P Tank. The shop is Hiralal Kashidas Bhajiawala call them reserve a kilo or two of `Undhiyu’ and have a absolutely great meal at home. Their numbers are 24223716 or 22428375. We get `Undhiyu’ from them quite a few times during the winter. It is really good and authentic.

You also get local carrots which are redder and longer and they are used to make `Gajjar Ka Halwa’. This is a dish where the results are far greater than its parts. The parts are carrot, sugar, ghee, evaporated milk and Cardamom powder for flavour. Sounds pretty plain, but let me tell you that a well made `Gajjar Ka Halwa’ is quite delicious.

Winter is also time for the classic Punjabi dish `Sarson Ka Saag’ which is made with Mustard Greens. This is another dish where the results are greater than its parts. Mustard Greens are available during winter and these are mixed with spinach and what is known as `Bhatua’ which is a sour leaf. `Sarson Ka Saag’ is supposed to be very nourishing. The best place to get `Sarson Ka Saag’ in Mumbai is The Great Punjab restaurant at Linking Road Bandra. Very nice indeed.

The Bengalis use a fresh Jaggery called `Notun Gur’ spellings may vary, to make their classic `Sandesh’ during winter. This Jaggery is tapped only during winter.   

A couple of days ago when shopping at Pali Market, Sunil, the effervescent vegetable seller whose popularity in Bandra is fairly incredible, asked me to take some Romanesco Cauliflower which he had. I was rather surprised to see this in Bandra.  Romanesco Cauliflower is fairly exotic even in the West and I was not going to turn this down. I grabbed a healthy head and took it home. Romanesco Cauliflower is a cousin of Cauliflower and Broccoli. It looks like something descended from outer space, or, something from the sea. I boiled it in salted water, shocked it in iced water and got the lovely green colour fixed. Then I cut the florets and made a salad with some Parmesan, Capers, and Olives and toasted Almonds and dressed the salad with a Vinaigrette. It was really delicious, crisp and fresh tasting. You could even make Romanesco Cauliflower with a luscious Cheese Sauce.

So, if you are so inclined, do visit the market this winter and enjoy the wonderful vegetables on offer. If not, buy the `Undhiyu’ and the next weekend the `Sarson Ka Saag’ and have the best of what our winter offers us. None of this is a large amount of money.

And, before I forget, I have not turned vegetarian.


Friday, January 10, 2014

Very glad and abysmally sad beginings

The first post of 2014. Happy New Year everybody.

The good news first. Readers will know that I believe that there is no, I repeat, no, Indian wine that is worth drinking. At best you could drink a glass, but beyond that it gets pretty undrinkable. Well, I have news for you. Moet Chandon the great Champagne House has developed two sparkling wines in India for India. They sell them under the brand name Chandon. We have been drinking bottles and bottles of the White Chandon, or, correctly, Chandon Brut, and, it is damn good. It costs Rs 1200/- per bottle for the white. This is the MRP. At Shah Wines you get a bottle at Rs 1000/- I have not tried the Pink Chandon or Chandon Brut Rose which is Rs 200/- more expensive, but I would assume it is also good.  

This is by far the best wine we have in India. Please do buy it, super chill it, get rid of kids and other distractions, sit down with your better half and drink this stuff. I promise you it is excellent, world class.

Now the bad news. I must confess that no one is to blame but me.

We were invited for lunch to Pizza Metro Pizza. I was reluctant to go as I cannot bear the thought of spending 2 hours for lunch. Also, a factor to be considered was being a Pizza restaurant I was sure there would be lots of noisy children, their cackling mothers and the obligatory Ayahs/maids. This is not my idea of fun. However, I was weak, I was persuaded, I was miserable.

Pizza Metro Pizza is in the same location as Club IX, the onetime competitor to Toto’s Garage. It was at the wrong end of Pali Hill right next to Barbeque Nation. The decor was odd though pleasant enough. I did not know if I was in Naples or in Mexico. Pizza Metro Pizza calls itself an authentic Neapolitan restaurant. Pizza originated in Naples. The speciality of Pizza Metro Pizza is that they offer you a one meter long pizza. This means that you get four 12 inch pizzas. Our host was most excited with this prospect [there were 4 of us so we could each order one flavour]. I was sceptical on how 4 people could each eat a 12 inch pizza but I decided to keep my mouth shut. Also, I thought how utterly gimmicky this was. By changing 4 round pizzas in one large rectangular one, how would it be any better or any different? But then, I am accused of being a cynical bastard!

We got our menus and soon the obligatory Chilli flakes, Chilli Oil and Oregano turned up. We ordered 4 pizzas. The Napoli had Anchovies, Olives, Capers and Basil and was loaded with a lot of Tomato sauce. The Indianapoli [Indian Napoli – get it?] which had Mozzarella, Onion, Olive, Mushroom and Green Chilli, and, once again, lots of Tomato sauce. Then we got two white pizza’s, which are actually a very good idea as these are served without Tomato sauce but often have a cheese base or even a White Sauce base. First up was the Club 9 [Homage to the erstwhile Club IX] which our host insisted we have. This was a white pizza with Mozzarella, Fried Potato and would you believe, Okra or Bhindi. I was aghast but, once again I kept my mouth shut. The last pizza was the Quattro Formaggi with Mozzarella, Scarmoza, Ricotta and Parmesan.

The two red pizzas i.e. the Napoli and Indianapoli were absolutely horrible. There was just too much tomato sauce on them, this may be a customer preference in India, we need `wet’ food. The result was that the pie base was simply uncooked. The base was soggy, limp and `kaccha’. The less said about the very very thick crusts the better. Uneatable. The crusts we left behind on our plates could have been used as door stoppers.

Left is the Indianapoli and right is the Napoli

The two white pizzas i.e. Club 9 and Quattro Formaggi were better. Since there was no Tomato sauce the bases were cooked thru. But the problem was the flavourless cheese in the Quattro Formaggi. Mozzarella, Scarmoza and Ricotta are similar tasting, they are bland and the Parmesan was either missing or too scant to register. The ricotta sat on top of each slice like a blob of unpleasant foam Very uninspiring and frankly a waste of stomach space. A gorgonzola or similar cheese would have gone a long way in lifting this pizza from its bland boringness. The Club 9 with its Okra or Bhindi was simply weird. The Okra or Bhindi  was crisp fried and added no taste nor visual appeal. All in all poor.

Top is the Club 9 and bottom is the Quatro Formaggi

Mind you this place is not cheap. Each pizza costs about Rs 700 - 900 plus taxes plus service charge so all in all you are looking at a pizza that costs approx Rs 1000/-. What we had ordered was in effect 4 pizzas, so the bill was suitably whopping. And the rubbish you get for that money!

As we were eating, the restaurant filled up. Mummies, some yummy many not, `baccha’ parties and the obligatory Ayahs/maids. I was totally disgusted. I had a horrible afternoon and a horrible lunch.

Need I say more?