Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Thalli-ho!

To fulfill my craving for robust Gujju veg food, Amit and I decided to go to Rajdhani, the new branch of the Opera House place in Ghatkopar. The first time we were thrown by the size of the Gujju mob outside who braved the heat and the rain to eat authentic Gujju food that they could, yes, eat at home as well. This time there was no crowd, and so we were happily set to sample their Kathiawadi cuisine. Amit was knife-keen, given that he’s from Kathiawad. But sorry, no specials, only the thali.

I've nothing against thalis, except that they are too fast-paced for me at times. But this one seemed ok, beginning with Surti Patiss and Khandvi. The meal went along at its usual clip, and slowly, very slowly, the surreality began to creep in. For one, we noticed that the waiters were using some strictly-coded, Stock-Exchange-type hand signals to communicate with one another. So the manager’s fingers twiddling magically as he chatted with a patron meant ‘Finger-washing needed here!’ If the captain (a tall, nice-looking Kathiawadi with earrings and a spaced-out manner) snapped his fingers in the air and held up three fingers, it meant ‘table three, rotlis!’ It was all very complex and entertaining, especially because I think it was meant to be discrete, but fell short by a couple of kilometres!

Then, as we chomped through the rotlis, mug ni daal, chaas, kadhi and ringna nu shaak (fantastically robust brinjal bhaji), there was a weird banging noise and people yelled loudly and discordantly. Whatthehell!! Were they coming for us finally? We turned in a panic and were surprised to see normal, smiling faces.

After this happened twice, we finally figured out what was going on. See, there was this gong, positioned cleverly at the narrow doorway, and planted firmly next to it was the solid manager. As you tried to leave, he’d tell you, “Hit the gong!’ So you struck the gong, and as soon as you did that, all the waiters – each and every stressed-out, harried, thali-serving, partitioned steel vessel-bearing fellow – would let out a loud ‘AAVJO!’ Nice way to keep up employee morale and self-esteem; and to interrupt any stray thoughts or talk that lunchers might dare to have.

After that, we were merely chewing between gong-watching. To please us, a family of gujjus left, laughing merrily and cheerfully and sounding the gong many times as they left; yelling out ‘AAVJO!’ in reply to the waiters’ continuous, raucous bellows. A five-member mallu family was next to leave, and I swear I saw the first guy try to sidle out. He made it past the Gong Meister, but the next guy got caught. He gave the gong an insignificant little tap, and scooted away. (Next to the whole shebang was a large sticker that said, ‘Mazaa aaya? Thali bajao!’) It was all too bizarre.

I hate places that take a simple, nice, enjoyable thing like having a meal and make it into an exercise in showy dementedness. More hip places – like a coffee shop in Delhi, I think – have employees break into dance down the aisles. Why? Are we toddlers who should be kept amused as we feed? Do we need gimmicks to camouflage any part of the food experience? Or is this how consultants earn their fat bucks? Is Dilbert – as I have long suspected – the truest mirror to the mess our civilization is in? I can just see evil HR consultant Ratbert thinking, “Okay, so how do I make a waiter’s life a little more difficult today?”

Did we have to sound the gong? No, thankfully, our excited daughter did that for us. The manager hoisted her up and she struck one, and somebody yelled out a tepid 'Aavjo!'. She was truly taken by the madness of the whole thing, though, and was grinning ear-to-ear.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Blame it on the rain...

Such as it is, the monsoon has begun taking its toll on me. My fragile resolve to eat sensibly and shed some excess baggage has been shattered. Something about the rains makes me long for chaats (as in the dilli ones - aloo tikkis and papdi chaats, and the squishy, wintry sweet potato chaat you get outside Desmond's house in CP). Longing, lingering, lolloping thoughts of chat-pata sinful veggie food - the gujju kind, the marathi kind, and the debauched northie kind. And oh, the A-1 samosas at GK in Sion, with their madly tingly chhole. Strangely, for a confirmed carnivore like me, the thoughts are all about veggie stuff...

So I bought a packet of Kurkure, and ate it, hating myself. If things go on like this, I might be reduced to the Monaco-biscuits-and-tomato-ketch combo of yore...

What do the rains make you long for? (And it doesn't have to be just food!)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Oddballs, seedballs and Monet

Reading about BMC making people sign a petition for a toilet in the face of criticism from the Heritage Committee. So much bally cheek that is! This is the same corporation which doesn't maintain the gardens, loos, or municipal pools that it already has... The same article mentions a loo two minutes away which is in a dilapidated state. Why isn't that being renovated with some of the 50 lakh rupees being spent on this new one (by, not to miss, a 'kindly' builder)? Why must everything we do be so narrow in vision and focus, and so exclusivist somehow? Why is it either the loo or unspoilt heritage? Why, for once, can it not be both - so that one is not sacrificed for the other? Why are we perennially at war with ourselves? Shouldn't the city - with its precious monuments, mudflats, salt pans and its fragile green cover - come before interests like those of builders, babus and other fatcats?
Deep breath.
Ok, also found this blog thru a link that Hansa had sent. It's about Guerilla Gardening - the only way for us to go in this city, I think ! GG is where - if you're green and you care for the city - you use clever, fairly secret things like seed balls (aka seed bombs!) to convert vacant lots into gardens! Ha! Sucks to you, State!
And also on this site, a peek into Monet's beautiful garden - it's like so much ambrosia for the eyes!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Spinning, spinning!

n's realised that if she shakes her head back-n-forth and back-n-forth, almost like she's spinning, she sees multiple images of surrounding objects. on the day before, as i was wiping her hair, inevitably shaking her head, she looked up at me and said, "all aniammas are coming!" then she shook her head in front of the teddy and said, "all teddies are coming!"
now life is full of the wonders of multi-vision (is that what i should call it?)...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Girlz and the Good...

When I was young and giddy, I read Linda Goodman. No, I didn't so much read her books as I inhaled them, walking around in a psychedelic cloud of weird, astro-erotica, well-cushioned in mellow marketting... I usually read up Scorpio-Taurus and Scorpio-Aries and all those more exciting ones, and felt this delicious frisson (shows what a loser love-life I had, dunnit?). Finally, out of boredom one day I read Scorpio-Gemini and shuddered. It sounded scary. Well, why wouldn't it? My mom's Gemini. Avoid Gemini men, I sternly instructed myself; Linda Aunty says they are too different. Then I grew up, grew out of Linda, and much later, met Amit; full-blown Gemini, with his birthday a mere two days away from my mom's. Resolutions never work, and here we are.

Suddenly, after all these years and so many lessons in life later, I thought of the uber-trashy Love Signs yesterday. Why, you ask. Well, we're making a Big Buy, the first time we're getting into a loan situation, and I am all a-twitter. To say that I am risk-averse is to merely skim the tippiest tip of the iceberg. I am not cautious, mind you, I'm just superstitious and terrified of money matters. And Amit isn't just my diametric opposite; he's not just more confident in the process than me. He's positively blithe. He has faith in people, that they won't gyp him; that if we do enough ground-work, we can't be gypped. See, that's where we differ. I know the universe is out there, waiting with an anvil to drop on my head as I pass under a conveniently-located cliff. No matter what we do, I know we're going to be robbed blind, and - shudder - I know we don't have what it takes to stop Them.

So after nearly two months of obsessive, mind-numbing research, worrying and fretting (these last two on my part alone) and fighting (again, mine was the main voice), we finally did the deed yesterday. We came home, after the whole soul-sapping exercise, me feeling like a spent, limp dishrag, and Amit looking his cheery self.

It struck me then that he's this smiling, blithe spirit who hops from cloud-to-cloud, positive that their silver linings are at least a foot wide. I'm this dark, sulking spirit who lurks under the earth's crust, thinking bitter thoughts with a furrowed brow, and examining stray silver linings for the grey clouds attached.

The image made me smile. Till I realized that it has a touch of La Goodman to it. Clearly, you can take the girl away from the Goodman, but you can't take the Goodman out of her. And this on the day I discover that Surabhi has tagged me as a Thinking Blogger. I could have timed it better, no?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Magic - Soviet Style!

One of our first posts was on Russian picture books for children. Amit and I both read lots of Russian books growing up; and their images and words are still vibrantly alive in our minds...
My favourite book as a child was called The Rainbow Flower and it's vivid images and story stayed with me for ever - though I'd forgotten its name. Recently, I found it in a raddi shop to my utter delight. And now we've discovered that it's online too! I cannot believe that someone's had the love, the time and the sense of dedication to actually scan and put in the entire story accompanied by the book's beautiful drawings.
The story is simple. Zhenya, a 'good', if absent-minded girl, goes out to buy bread rings. She loses them (notice the dog nibbling at them) but is given a magic rainbow flower by an old woman. The flower can fulfill wishes, but each time it does, you lose a petal. Zhenya's wishes range from the desperate (getting her mom's broken vase fixed) to the slightly foolhardy (getting all the toys of the world - the pic shows lovely, cascading toys being sent back by a horrified Zhenya on the rooftop). But her last wish is the most useful and it gets her that precious commodity, a friend. The illustrations range from the dream-like to the very real. More than anything else, I loved Zhenya's character because she's not the most robust of fiction's kids. She's dreamy, clumsy, a bit unpopular, and a bit greedy. Zhenya was refreshing because I didn't have to aspire to be her; in parts, I was her already! Read the story and see more pics here.
There's more here too.