Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Our one experiment with Jet Airways

This is a difficult post to write. I am unsure as to how readers will construe it.

Before I start, permit me to use the phrase that all Jains use at the end of ParyushanMichaami Dukdam – please forgive me. I am not an expert on the airline industry or on marketing. I am a washed up lawyer.

This post raises several issues, on several fronts, all inconsequential in the larger scheme of things,

Nevertheless, here goes.

We fly international often, always in business class. All on our own money, not debited or charged to a company account or a client. We have had our share of bad experiences. BA lost our bags, I mean totally lost. We got compensation. 4 months later the bags turned up. Yes, we kept the compensation. Emirates has missed loading our bags onto our flight. The bags turned up at the hotel on a later flight. We have missed flight connections on account of delays. Nothing unusual or out of the ordinary. Everyone has had an experience with an airline.

We have never ever flown Jet Airways internationally. British Airways [BA] was our carrier of choice for many years, for several reasons. BA was excellent, efficient and the Pursers, Stewards, Stewardesses [cabin attendants] were top class. If the plane was to crash, I have no hesitation in saying that they would save me. They knew everything and had seen everything. BA was a force to be reckoned with. They had excellent flight connections from London, the aircraft were good, the crew, though reserved, did their jobs perfectly and efficiently. Everything was good though dull solid and reliable.

Then came the big brash moneybags – Emirates. We flew Emirates once and were totally gobsmacked. For less money than BA you got so much more. The fantastic aircraft the Airbus A 380 – which really brings romance back to flying – was deployed across the Dubai London sector. They gave you cars to fetch you from home and drop you to the airport and then take you from your destination airport to your destination hotel, both ways. All this was included in the price of the ticket and the service was absolutely reliable. The staggering lounges in Mumbai, Dubai and London. The totally over the top ability to use your mobile on board – send Whatsapps, SMS and emails - while 38,000 feet up. The bar on board! The simple pleasure of walking to the back of the airplane, ordering a drink around a real bar and drinking is really exquisite.

Then Emirates started competing with BA. Emirates has an inbuilt handicap when compared to BA, and, this is that when flying to London you made a stop in Dubai. This is a distinct disadvantage as you spent more time and had to change planes. As a result, BA still held that edge over Emirates. Emirates had to offer something more than BA to entice a passenger. Initially, that something was the super service and add ons with a lower price. Once the passengers grew Emirates started to charge almost as much as BA. So the price advantage was gone. You now simply got more for your buck i.e you got a brilliant product to negate the disadvantage of the Dubai stop. This was disturbing. Our little bubble of pleasure and hedonism was pricked. Now it would cost us the same as BA to have the same pleasures, albeit you still got a bigger bang from your buck flying Emirates rather than BA.

Up steps our long standing, long suffering (from my tongue lashings), travel agent Milind. He offers us a fantastic fare to London, Rs 1,00,000/- lakh less than Emirates and probably Rs 1,20,000 less than BA on business class to London on Jet Airways [for two persons]. That is a lot of money. I was hesitant, HRH the Queen of Kutch was not. Book the tickets she said, you are fool, she said, you don’t have any value for money!! Her rants reminded of the Tennyson poem – The Charge of the Light Brigade

Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred

So here we are, inside a Jet flight to London Heathrow.

Before boarding, I checked the aircraft registration number VT- JEH. You should read about how to do this from the earlier post on Calcutta. The aircraft was 8 years old. That is old. I must say the cabin was adequate. The seats comfortable, the entertainment system acceptable but that was about it.

Alas, at the end of the day, after so many years of flying to London, Jet Airways seems like a start-up, amateurish, a joke, something that no one in their right minds can take seriously. Honestly. I felt like I was in a Mumbai restaurant. I was surrounded by Gujjus, Jains and Khandelwals all vegetarian. 95% of the passengers were browns like you and me.

The food, good grief! Very tasty, but do you want a Hot and Sour Soup and Kori Gassi on a flight to London? Seriously! It may have warmed the cockles of my Mango [Manglorean and Goan] heart to have Kori Gassi but so much masala in a closed environment for 9 hours? The other options were grilled Prawns, but Prawns on a flight are like MRF Tyres, and for the vegetarians there was Subz Kofta. Chenna Payesh for dessert. All a bit stomach turning for me.

Anyway we both ordered the Kori Gassi and a plate of Cheese. To drink we asked for a glass of Champagne and then I switched to a Gin and Tonic.

The Champagne was served in what a good South Indian family would call – tumblers. I was aghast. In my mind I did not know if I was drinking a beer or a whiskey or Champagne, something of a Heston Blumenthal moment, you know confuse the mind and the palate! Nareshbhai, Champagne is served in a flute, never in a Highball Glass. But then you own the airline, I am just a fare paying passenger.

Champagne or Whiskey Soda? Who knows

The food served was even more interesting. HRH the Queen of Kutch was served her Kori Gassi alongside her rice, and, was served a luscious green chilli. I got a bowl of Kori Gassi and no green chilli. Yes, before you ask, we were on the same flight sitting next to each other. Have a look at the photos. I promise you they are not altered. Why should the food served to two persons be so different when both have ordered exactly the same dish?

My tray - Left to right - Raita, top Tadka Daal, bottom Kori Gassi and a plate of papad, rice and French Beans in tomato sauce. 

No Green Chilli for me.

HRH the Queens plate. The Chilli and the Kori Gassi served on the plate. 

I kid you not. The photographs are untouched and real. Unfortunately I do not have a photo of HRH the Queens whole plate. You will have to take my word for this.

My Gin and Tonic had very little Gin, so like Oliver Twist, I apologetically asked that my Gin and Tonic be boosted with a splash of Gin. Why was I not given a can of Tonic and a miniature of Gin I do not know. Why was I not asked if I wanted a Beefeater or a Bombay Sapphire I do not know. Some gin was simply poured into a glass in a galley.

If that was not bad enough, my Cheese platter arrived. I was simply shattered. Have a look at the limp dried out celery stalk and leave, the pathetic broken Walnut and lopped off grape. However, I should be lucky that I got a packet of crackers with my cheese. HRH the Queen of Kutch was not so lucky. She had no crackers. Finally when the Hostess arrived she asked for some crackers.

My plate with dried Celery, dead nuts and a packet of Crackers

No Crackers for HRH

This is what a cheese plate should look like. This is served at the legendary Ritz in London

The whole experience in flying Jet has been so utterly disappointing. They must know that you cannot compete on price and hope to stay alive. TATA Motors realised this when they could not sell the Nano. There was no way someone will buy a product so intrinsically inferior just because it is cheap. Jet has been an `Indian’ experience in so many ways. Overstaffed - both as far as ground staff are concerned and flying crew - all rushing around doing very little. Jet is clearly catering to an Indian market with the peculiarities and demands that Indians have, while competing on price. I am sure many of the passengers were flying Jet because they are on some sort of mileage programme. All the domestic Jet miles add up, and of you can stay loyal, add to the miles you get in India by flying Jet miles on a Bombay London flight. These miles are useful when travelling on a holiday with family. What I mean is that with passengers flying Jet to get miles, once again you have passengers using Jet for reasons other than the product quality. What happens when those reasons are no important or relevant anymore? You have no compelling reason to use the product and the product itself has no intrinsic quality, except, price. As I wrote, think Tata Nano.

Indians are rich, Indians can spend and Indians like to spend. Why is Emirates, with its vastly superior product at a higher price carrying more Indians than any other airline despite its disadvantage of stopping in Dubai? Think about it. You have to give quality. Think Jaguar, Land Rover.

I am simply shocked at what I have experienced on this Jet flight. It is not bad by a mile. You get what you pay for generally speaking, the product does what it says on the tin. But, in the larger scheme of things, who are Jet competing with? The solid BA with all their plus points or the brash and brilliant money is no problem Emirates? Remember there are several other Gulf based carriers all flying the very lucrative Bombay London – Qatar, Etihad. They too have a vastly superior product than Jet.

How long will Jet survive on this business model or proposition? I am not very hopeful.

Have we become too picky? Was it just a problem with an inefficient and nutty crew? Is this how Jet operates as a norm? I don’t yet know the answer.

Should you fly Jet? In all fairness, yes. You will have a pleasant experience. Yes.

Is it the best, will it wow you, will you want to fly again and again, will it get the romance of flying back? Absolutely not.

So bloody sad.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Bombay High Court collapse

If you are student of the law, and you remember what was taught, I am sure you will know what “Lex Non Potest Peccare” means. Quite simply it means – “The King Can Do No Wrong”. This is an old legal maxim that established the principle in countries that are constitutional monarchies. The sovereign (or the King) is the authority which created the courts. Thus, the courts had no power to compel the sovereign to be bound by the courts, as the courts were created by the sovereign for the protection of his or her subjects.

In India, without being facetious in the least, this principle applies to or is assumed by or is thrust upon or bestowed on all manner of people. Our politicians are a case in point. Across the board, they do no wrong. It is only a few complete dolts, like Suresh Kalmadi, who actually got caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Our politicians make all kinds of outrageous statements and face no consequences. They are kings. They can do no wrong.

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, has mandated [if you read the first paragraph] and appealed [if you read the last paragraph] that all buildings over the age of 30 have to undergo a structural audit which is to be done by a qualified Structural Engineer registered with Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. The construction of Bombay High Court Building, as its official website informs me, was completed in 1878, which would make the building 137 years old. Indian culture and civilisation is far older but that is not the point. 137 years is more than 30 years.

Last week, there was, as the nursery rhyme goes - an all fall down. A portion of the ceiling of the second floor collapsed onto the second floor which houses the library. You can read a confusing report here.  I understand that the area where Senior Counsel Veerendra & Virag Tulzapurkar sit is the portion affected. If it were a working day, all Counsel seated there would have been in grave danger.

No one was hurt as this happened at 10.30 pm when all self-respecting lawyers are at home. The morning newspapers carried photographs of the collapse. The following mornings newspapers carried reports, of what I can only imagine, frowning Lordships surveying the collapse. Let us be practical, let us be realists, the building is 137 years old, it can collapse. No one died or was injured, thankfully. The newspapers report that the ceiling of the second floor [which is the floor of the third floor] was weakened by (i) water seepage from a toilet on the third floor and (ii) by a 1000 kg [1 tonne] Burma Teak cupboard on the third floor. I wonder if the toilet on the third floor was part of the original building or merely added on, probably illegally, in the years that followed.   

I am disturbed. I am not disturbed by the collapse, but I am disturbed by the fact that their Lordships have not done anything post collapse, except, I presume, frowned.

I am sure you know that on every occasion there is a fire in a building, or a collapse, or as has happened just a few days ago the very tragic fire in the restaurant at Kurla, our `Hafta’ taking men in Khaki, i.e. the police rush about arresting the owners, members of the managing committee and so on. This is a charade that is regularly played out. In fact, quite often, some of those affected by the fire or collapse will petition a court to get an order directing the `Hafta’ taking men in Khaki to arrest someone.

Why does no one arrest the owner of the Bombay High Court? I am unsure if the owner is the Chief Justice, the Municipal Commissioner, or the Collector of Mumbai, or the Governor or the President of India. The Bombay Bar Association premises are where the collapse originated. Should not the President of the Bombay Bar Association be arrested? Is not the owner responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the building? Is the owner not supposed to have the structural audit done? As far as I am aware the High Court building is in South Bombay which is under the domain of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai.

Should not the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai file charges of default against the owner if the building? If the owner is not the Chief Justice should not the Chief Justice file an action against the owner? Why was no structural audit done? Is that not mandated? Why do newspaper reports suggest that repairs will be done after the structural audit is done.     

This is where the legal maxim seems to apply. “Lex Non Potest Peccare” – “The King Can Do No Wrong”.

I started writing with a maxim. I end with a few clichés.

Justice is blind.

The Law is an Ass.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Calcutta - The food

It is often said that Bengali food is the most refined among all Indian cuisines. I tried to research the meaning of the term `refined food’ in the context used. However, my research led nowhere. The only answers were on refined food – as in refined sugar, refined wheat [Maida] and so on.

Anyway, Bengali Hindu food is one of the more sophisticated cuisines in India. Unfortunately finding good Bengali food outside Bengal is difficult, especially in Mumbai. You have the obligatory Oh Calcutta and small number of shacks/garages/holes in the wall in the Bengali diaspora areas – Lokhandwalla and Navi Mumbai – that serve you Bengali food.

Bengali food is quite different. They extensively use pastes – Mustard, Poppy Seed, and Onion – in the food. The spicing is mild and Panch Phoran – a combination of 5 spices, Fenugreek [Methi] Cumin, Fennel, Nigella Seed and Mustard – is quite unique. Fish is eaten universally. Kashundi, a piquant Mustard sauce sometimes boosted with either green chilly or raw mango is a universal accompaniment.

Bengali Muslim food is also a large cuisine, which assumed prominence because of the long standing Muslim Governors in Bengal. Dhaka, now in Bangladesh, was on the trade route leading to a Muslim influence. In later years, Tippu Sultan and Wajid Ali Shah the Nawab of Avadh were exiled to Calcutta. With them there the influence of Muslim food grew. Like Awadhi cuisine, Bengali Muslim food also uses very aromatic ingredients like Kewra and Attar.

Calcutta has also had the benefit of the immigrant Chinese, the Jews and of course the British. The Chinese food of Tangra is well known. A lot of the Chinese from Calcutta set up Chinese restaurants all over India. But then, we get so much Chinese food in Mumbai that Calcutta Chinese held no joy for us.

The British influence has left its mark on the food too. Restaurants like Mocambo and Peter Cat are prime examples serving this Anglo Indian food. However, we were not very enthused eating either Chinese or Anglo Indian. The Anglo Indian food seemed like what we would regard as Club food in Mumbai. Some sort of baked dish - fish, prawns or chicken - coated with a White sauce or Béchamel, Cheese added and the whole thing baked. This is served with boiled peas, carrot, French Beans and possibly Chips or Mashed Potato. Rissoles or cutlets are popular too as are British Raj style Devilled Crab abd Roast Chicken. Not really appealing, at least to us.

So, what we thought is that we would stick to Bengali food, both Hindu and Muslim, during our stay.

Before going further, two points. First, Indian food, as a rule looks horrid in photographs. Looking at a photograph no one in his right mind should eat any Indian food. I know you are not supposed to say this, much less write this, but, Indian food looks like shit. No pun intended. Also, most food looks similar, though can taste very different. Second, do not be alarmed by the oil you see. I simply let the dish sit for a minute and then simply pour out the oil into a separate bowl.

The first night we were assured by the Hotel that though they do not have a speciality Bengali restaurant, they do serve very good Bengali food in the Coffee Shop. So that was it for dinner. The staff recommended the Fish Paturi which is a fillet of fish, seasoned with Mustard Paste, wrapped in a Banana Leaf and steamed. This was quite nice. With this was recommended the famous Hilsa, fried. A Hilsa is something any Bengali goes dewy eyed and orgasmic about. We got two slices of terribly overcooked, dry bony fish. Rubbish. Waste of money. Indians cannot cook fish with any degree of subtlety. Last up was what we were looking forward to – Kosha Mangsho. This is a dish we love, this is a dish which Ruby Banerjee gave us a fantastic recipe, this is a dish even if I say so myself, HRH the Queen loves making and makes very well. Kosha Mangsho is a thick mutton curry with deeply caramelised onion being the base. The Kosha Mangsho served was very good. It had the same consistency and texture of the one we make; however, the difference was in the spicing. Here the predominant spice was Cumin or Jeera. Ruby Banerjee’s recipe uses powdered Cardamom, Clove and Cinnamon. This was good stuff. However, taken as a whole, the meal was sub-par. And, certainly not worth the money.    

Fish Paturi


The overcooked dry Hilsa

Kosha Mangsho

We had to have the world famous Kathi Rolls from Calcutta. Nizams in the New Market area was the `invertor’ of these Kathi Rolls. A Kathi Roll comprises of a Paratha that is shallow fried on a Tava or griddle. A beaten egg or two is added such that the egg coats one side of the Paratha. Marinated meat – chicken or mutton – is separately grilled on charcoal, removed from the skewer and stir fried on the Tava or griddle with sliced onion, chilli and `secret’ sauces. Lime or vinegar is added along with some Chaat Masala. This is then placed on the Paratha and the Paratha rolled resulting in a delicious hot portable roll. The word `Kathi’ comes from the fact that originally the meat was threaded onto metal skewers but with passage of time the metal skewers were replaced with wooden ones. Hence the word Kathi. From the several options we ordered a Single Egg Double Mutton. The Rolls were delicious. I could have easily had two, but I restrained myself. Flaky Paratha, juicy spicy tangy mutton inside intensely flavoured. Wonderful stuff. Fully recommended.

Invertors of the Roll

Choices choices

More choices

The Roll

We had made reservations at Oh Calcutta. This is widely regarded as being one of the top two or three Bengali restaurants in Calcutta. It was a dry day, hence after wetting our whistles in our hotel room with store bought alcohol, we set out on a very convenient Uber. The restaurant is in a Mall, and like other Oh Calcutta’s done in white walls, wood furniture and sepia photographs.

Before the Uber we had a good old Ambassador Taxi. Note the fan angled exclusively to keep HRH the Queen of Kutch cool and ventilated

To start we had Fish Paturi again. This was better than we got at the Hotel on the first day. HRH The Queen likes the Daab Chingri which is prawns cooked in a light Coconut gravy and, served in a Coconut shell. This was disappointing, and bland. Please, before you intervene, bland is not the opposite of not spicy! This was bland. I know Daab Chingri is non-spicy. Sad. The last dish was the excellent Kancha Lanka Kosha. This was thick mutton curry flavoured with Coriander and Green Chilly. This was good. In balance a good meal.

Each green chilli touched, caressed and wrapped by hand. How much labour. How utterly unhygienic.

Fish Paturi

Kancha Lanka Kosha

Daab Chingri

The Luchi

By far the best food we had in Calcutta was at the Muslim Bengali place Arsalan at Park Circus. As far as comparable restaurants go, this would be very similar to Delhi Durbar in Mumbai. The downstairs in non-air-conditioned while the upstairs is air conditioned. The food was really really good. If you have ever eaten at Karims in Old Delhi, then this is what Arsalan food tastes like. I have no regrets or hesitation is telling you that this is a place you must visit when in Calcutta. The Biryani we had was unlike anything we have ever had. Hot, separate grains of rice, moist without being oily, great potato, excellent meat and full of flavour. The predominant flavour is Kewra and Attar. I really like this flavour, some find it too artificial, but I like this. The 3 mutton dishes we ordered – Kasha, Ishtew and Champ were sublime. Please have a look at the difference in Champ from Amritsar and here. I remember which the Champ is, however, I cannot tell the difference looking at the photos from the Kasha and Ishtew, sorry, though, when reviewing this post HRH The Queen of Kutch declared that the first was Kasha and the second was Ishtew. So the photographs have been appropriately captioned.

I know this was the Mutton Champ at Arsalan.

The Chicken Champ at Beera Chicken House Amritsar.
Kasha Mutton

Mutton Ishtew 

The fabulous Biryani

The food in Calcutta is good, in fact quite good. It is a pity that we could not eat more meals there.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Signs - just pictures. Not much else

This post has only pictures.

No need to have a concentrated read.

All taken by us, all 100% genuine.

Yes folks - No excrcising! At Victoria Memorial.

Also at Victoria Memorial. Presumably, if you were caught exercising you would be shot!

Seriously. Just outside New Market

This nutty one is at the MCA at Bandra. How do you get to the table without walking on the grass?

The best for last. At the Airport.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Queen Victoria, Victoria Memorial & Aeroplanes

Queen Victoria was the Empress of India till her death in 1901. Calcutta was the capital of undivided India. It was thought that in memory of the Empress, a monument should be constructed. Plans were made, money collected and construction started. In the meanwhile, the capital was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi, thereby relegating Calcutta to a mere state capital. This had an effect on the construction of the monument. Focus was lost and therefore there were delays. However, in 1921 a mere 94 years ago, the magnificent Victoria Memorial was completed.

Victoria Memorial - In Sepia

This is a beautiful marble building set in the maidans that line the river.

We hopped into our cab and drove to the Victoria Memorial. We had been there a few years ago, gone into the Museum that was I recall, very run down. This time being a national holiday the museum was shut. So for a fee of Rs 10/- each [Rs. 200- for foreigners] we entered the ground surrounding the Victoria Memorial.

We were amazed. These were absolutely beautiful. Green, manicured, clean by international standards, huge and relatively empty. We had to keep pinching ourselves that we were actually in India, in Calcutta, and not in a London or Paris. It was that beautiful. Of course the searing sun and drenching debilitating humidity was a constant reminder that we were in Calcutta. I kid you not; the grounds were absolutely lovely by any standard. Have a look at the photos; you will know what I mean.

Yes, that is a squirrel

While walking around we had rather soothing Sitar music playing. The volume at which it was being played was perfect. The grounds had artfully concealed speakers, sometimes disguised as rock and at other time simply discretely placed all along the hedges. The sound was good; the sound was co-ordinated so you did not have an echo. This was good.

The Victoria Monument itself was and remains very beautiful. As I have written earlier, it is not even 100 years old but all the same it is excellent. A lot of repairs and restoration as in progress, but all in all it is magnificent.

A visit to Victoria Memorial is an absolute must when you visit Calcutta. Go early, it opens at 5 am. I don’t mean go at 5 am but go there by 9 am. It will be cooler and the hordes will not have arrived. This is an international standard monument with international standard grounds. A must see.

The legacy of Queen Victoria the Empress of India lives on with us even today. I am not making this up. Every aircraft that is registered in India gets a registration number. This is painted on the body of the aircraft conspicuously. It may be on the underside of the wings or on the top of the wings, but it is always pained at the rear of the aircraft. Every such registration number has a prefix VT followed by three alphabets. So you will have, for example, VT-IEM or VT-IDC. Do you know what VT stands for? The answer is Victoria’s Territories. Yes folks, Queen Victoria the Empress of India is alive and well.

And do you know what else you can do with this registration number? Well, if you are really interested you can run a search for the number in Google. You will be directed to several sites dedicated to this sort of information. You can get all manner of detail on the aircraft. When it was made, who were the previous owners, where it has flown to i.e. its flight history and much much more. Personally I find this fascinating. I look for the registration number of every aircraft I am flying in and run the search. Mind you, the search works for all aircraft not just VT registrations. When flying international, look for the registration number and run a search. You may then know why your plane is so shabby – it’s 10 years old – or so spankingly new – it’s just been commissioned – and so on and so forth. As I said, harmless, cheap and thoroughly useless information.

So, dear readers, I have given you two bits of critical information. All connected by Queen Victoria the Empress of India.

A place to visit when in Calcutta and how to get answers on every airplane.

What a useful blog.