Saturday, December 31, 2011

Postcards from Abu Dhabi and Dubai

There's pretty little touristy stuff to do in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Hardly any historical monuments or places of history are there, but there's a sampling of culture to be had, apart from loads of shopping and good dining. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are your typically splurge, fun and chill out holidays. 

Both the Emirates have Souks; exquisite bazaars or markets in a multi-storied building with long lanes, bylines and even courtyards and several shops lined up one after another. You get all things Arabia, arts and crafts, boutiques, clothes, jewelry and plenty of dining options, at prices somewhat higher than normal, but you can bargain at many shops. At the Madinat Jumeirah Souk in Dubai, be sure to visit the sand art stall and the hand painting stall. 

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi is one of the most beautiful structures in the world. It is the largest mosque of its kind in the UAE. This is what money can buy; the most beautiful carpets of the world with designs so intricate, you just can't take your eyes off them, with the largest- and probably the most expensive- chandeliers made of  24-carat gold which were imported from Germany and designed with thousands of Swarovski crystals, its hand-crafted tiles, its 80 domes decorated with marble, the list goes on. There are guided 1-hour tours, free of cost, that start at 10 am and 11 am (I'm not sure whether there are evening tours), on all days except Fridays, I think. It's worth your time joining one of these tours and getting to know the Mosque's history and what went into making it. The Mosque is covered by ponds that, coupled with the place's beauty, lends to its serenity.

Emirates Palace Hotel is another place you must visit. It's a palace converdhated into a luxury hotel. Prior reservation at one of their restaurants or coffee shops is  required to gain entry, but at times there are exhibitions going on in there and you could visit one of them and then take a tour of the hotel on your own. It has its own exclusive beach that is open to only its house guests. But the lobby is beautiful, the steps that lead you onto the ground floor are grand- it has paintings of the Hotel on both the walls; one depicting the hotel in day time and the other in the night time- the hotel personifies luxury. 

 But apart from the above, few shopping malls and a beautiful Corniche (sea-side coastal road with pavements that permit cycling, gazebos where you can sit, lunch, and be merry with your family, friends and loved ones, beachside cafes), there's nothing else to do in Abu Dhabi. Dubai offers more entertainment, though. Of the eight days we were there, we ended going to Dubai four times. A man-made gigantic ski resort inside a mall, the Atlantis Hotel at the Palm Jumeirah where you must have a meal, and the Global Village are some other places we went to. We didn't spend much time in their massive malls, but my cousin tells me that it takes about 5 days each on an average to see the two largest malls in Dubai, The Dubai Mall and The Mall of the Emirates.

Abu Dhabi desert safari

 A trip to the UAE is incomplete without savoring the desert experience. And the best way to do this is the Desert Safari. Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi offer desert safaris through numerous tour companies. Since I was based at Abu Dhabi, I stuck to an Abu Dhabi tour operator, called Abu Dhabi Desert Safari. Since I did not do advance booking, I called them up from Abu Dhabi and emailed them a request. They sent me my confirmation over email itself, after just a few minutes, and I was set. The desert safari is a four to six hour desert adventure and they take us far outside the city limits, deep into the desert. The pick-up was arranged at about 3 pm and the car was right on time. Another pick up and a detour from the main Abu Dhabi - Dubai expressway a few minutes later, we were zipping at 130 miles per hour in the middle of nowhere to get to our destination nestled far away in some God-forsaken place deep inside the desert. I was driven in a four-wheel (4W) drive, Toyota Land Cruiser.

Once there, the safari starts. First activity: Dune bashing. Continuing in the same 4W drive, they took us up and down the high sand dunes. It feels like a roller-coaster ride and most exciting. Driven vigorously and quite roughly, the car speeds up tough gradients of sand dunes, we slide back down in high speed. Sharp turns that makes us feel as we're going to be thrown out of the car, we hold on to our seats, handles and whatever else we can get our hands on, tightly. But the drivers are very experienced and well-trained. So you're in safe hands. We slip and slide, we climb massive dunes- with all speed and gusto- that feel as we're climbing four floors, we reach the top and can't see the other end, it's as if we are in the air suddenly, wanting to fly...but no, we come crashing down. It is an exhilarating ride that lasts for about 35 minutes and keeps you wanting for more.

Dune bashing over, we head off to a camel farm and get up, close and personal with all the camels there. One of the gentlest of all creatures, they calmly stand next to us while we touch them, hold them and pose for pictures. There's also a camel ride arranged for us as well as desert biking and sand surfing; glide down the high sand dunes on surf boards, like you do surf boarding on the beach at the sea. After spending some time watching the desert sun go down, we chill out at a desert camp for an evening of drinks, barbecue, dinner, frivolity and we watch a belly dancer dancing. A very Arabian experience!

Abu Dhabi and Dubai: First impressions

That a desert is barren and offers vast landscapes of nothingness is ironic. Because what the Sheikhs of the Middle East have made out of the United Arab Emirates is nothing short of a marvel. And it still appears work in progress; there's still a lot more coming, global economy health permitting. Ofcourse, the jewel in their crown still remains Dubai- the most advanced, modern and inviting of all the seven Emirates that together constitute the United Arab Emirates (UAE)- but signs of development, progress and modern society can be seen beyond the borders of Dubai. Early in December 2011, I had the good fortune of paying a visit to Abu Dhabi, at my cousin Huffrish's home. Lovely destinations, they turned out to be.

We went via Dubai because getting an Abu Dhabi visa is painful. We were asked to fly only by Etihad- Abu Dhabi's national airline- to qualify for a visa, else we have to tell our hosts there to procure a Visa (after answering a dozen questions I am told) or I book something called a 'hotel visa'. I book a hotel there, get them to do my Visa, have them courier me it and then cancel my hotel booking. Now why would I want to do all of that when I don't even intend to stay at a hotel, and also especially if Etihad tickets are amongst the most expensive for a Mumbai - Abu Dhabi round trip? I found this practice to be quite silly. I had even booked my Jet Airways Abu Dhabi tickets only to find out about this stupid Visa rule later; I had to cancel them and rebook the Dubai tickets. Dubai visas are easier to get; you fly by an airline of your choice and you can also go to Abu Dhabi on the same Visa, but only by road. Abu Dhabi visa- I am told- does not allow us entry into Dubai; you need a separate Dubai visa for the entry into Dubai.

On the other hand, Dubai immigration process is also painfully slow. Be prepared for long and slow winding queues at the eye scanner and passport control sections at the Dubai airport; an otherwise magnificent structure. My host who was stuck in a massive traffic jam just outside the Dubai city limits (when I was at the end of a queue) managed to come to the airport that's quite a distance away and I had only waded through half the queue I was in, by then! Otherwise, Dubai airport is vast, buzzing with a fantastic shopping experience. Singapore and Hong Kong airports are still my favourites, though. But the Dubai airport is very well connected; there's a metro station, buses and taxis are available aplenty.

The city looks very modern and advanced. The usual glimpses of several intertwining flyovers, that you get to see just as your plane is about to land, continues as  you get out of the airport, especially if you are sticking to the highway that goes to Abu Dhabi. But the numerous tall buildings of luxury apartments hide a very sordid past of the 2010 Dubai crisis; the occupancy rates of most of these residential apartments is very low, many expatriates left when they lost their jobs, they left their cars at the airport because they couldn't pay the mortgage. Many flats are still lying vacant and real estate prices have dropped. Jobs have moved to Abu Dhabi where real estate prices have gone up in the last year. The real money now lies with Abu Dhabi; when the Dubai crisis unraveled, Abu Dhabi pumped money into Dubai and bought over its Metro and Burj Dubai; the world's largest building that was eventually renamed as Burj Khaleefa; in honour of UAE President Khalifa Bin Zayed  Al Nahyan.

Still, the roads everywhere in UAE are excellent; even better than those in the US. I have never seen a 12-lane massive expressway before, even though it's for a relative short distance that starts from the Dubai city leading to its outskirts. But UAE's roads, especially the highways, are wide, very well-maintained. Traffic discipline is a must and conveniently enforced upon. Licenses are stuck on car's windshields and they carry a magnetic chip so that they can be read by machines and cameras installed at strategic places. All licenses must be topped up with money and must be renewed once a year. Automatic and man-less toll plazas capture your license and car number as you pass through them and your balance gets deducted automatically. No waiting in painfully long queues to hand over money at toll nakas, like in India; in UAE you drive through them 100 miles per hour! If you overspeed, numerous cameras placed at strategic locations catch you. They flash at you, so you know it's you who has oversped. Your money gets deducted from your license card as fines, no questions asked. And since the camera has proof, you can't argue. This isn't new if you live in a developed economy; for us Indians who see traffic violations by the minute here in India, it's refreshing.

The Arabs take great pride in their national dress, the Khandura. Loads of them walking around you can see, in malls, in restaurants, on the roads, young and old alike, everywhere. And their ladies in burqas, as well. They're conservative, yet modern. Most don't cover their heads and underneath their burqas, they wear make-up, gloss and shine like fashonitas and wear high heels. Money talks in the UAE and the Arabs in their Khanduras drive Mercedes, BMWs, Toyotas and their Hondas. The language is Arabic; all shops have their names displayed in English as well as Arabic. Most taxi drivers in Abu Dhabi are pathans and Pakistani Muslims who are most cordial with you, whether you are from India, Pakistan or anywhere else in the world. People from all cultures, races, religions and backgrounds can be seen living in perfect harmony. Tradition mixed with modernity; that's UAE for you.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Review - Rafa: My Story by Rafael Nadal with John Carlin

During the French Open 2010, former world No.1 Rafael Nadal was walking down the streets of Paris flanked by Carlos Costa- his agent and former tennis player- on one side and Toni Nadal- his coach (and uncle)- on the other. Nadal was walking in the middle of the two. Suddenly, Toni stops and says “we can’t have this”. He thought it might seem that Rafa is a special person and the others his escorts, so he changed the order and made Nadal walk at the end.

From singling out Rafael during his growing years whilst coaching young kids at the local tennis club at Manacor, a small town on the Spanish island of Mallorca- using rough language, shouting and yelling more at Rafa than all the other kids, making him stay behind after practice sessions to pick up all the balls and sweep the courts- to being the ‘toughest coach in the world’, this was all part of Toni’s devious strategy over the years to toughen up Rafael to play through all sort of pain, under all sorts of conditions, to throw the bathroom tub when the opponent throws kitchen sink at him; to endure: the one quality that has made Rafael Nadal one of the toughest players to beat on the tennis tour. Toni’s relentless methods and his relationship with Rafael Nadal takes centre stage in Nadal’s autobiography called Rafa: My Story by Rafael Nadal with John Carlin.  

The book is written in collaboration with John Carlin- a Barcelona-based senior international writer for one of the large Spanish newspapers, El Pais. Every chapter of Rafa contains two parts; one as seen through Nadal’s eyes and one seen through Carlin’s. The book recounts Nadal’s life through the lens of two of the most important matches he’s ever played; Wimbledon 2008 men’s singles final where he beat the then-ranked No.1 Roger Federer is a thrilling five-set final and U.S. Open 2010 men’s singles final which he also won for the first time becoming just the seventh man in the Open era to win all four grand slam titles in a career.

Sports autobiographies can only be as intense as much the subject- on whom the book is based upon- opens up. That’s precisely why Andre Agassi’s classic Open remains one of the best stories ever told. But much of Agassi’s life seen through Open takes its roots from his troubled upbringing and the kind of struggles he’s had to face growing up in the harsh desert of Las Vegas to morph into one of tennis’s most colourful characters. Rafael Nadal’s- former world No.1 and presently ranked second in men’s tennis- childhood has been very pleasant and protective, on the other hand, with little spice occasionally thrown in. Yet, through his autobiography, he gives us precious insights and tells us numerous stories whilst growing up, his feelings, aspirations, insecurities and copiously takes us through various events- year after year- that’s made him to be the sort of killing machine on the tennis courts that we have known.

The book takes a non-linear narrative; it goes back and forth in flashbacks and gives it a sense of a thriller, much like Jon Wertheim’s well-written and insightful take on the same 2008 men’s singles Wimbledon final between Nadal and Federer (Stokes of Genius), though clearly not in the same league. But unlike Stokes of Genius that gives us a glimpse of Nadal, Federer and Wimbledon in equal measures, Rafa takes us through his childhood days in great detail. He may be a feared rival on the tennis court, but he is scared of darkness and dogs. His mentor and also former No.1 Carlos Moya has to lock up his dog when Nadal comes home, visiting. And don’t forget to turn off the fireplace before you go to sleep, he’ll call home and tell his mother about three to four times if he’s out with friends or partying, always afraid of a calamity that he fears may befall on his family.

Growing up in a joint family set up, he lived in a five floor building with his grandparents, parents, his father’s three brothers and a sister their spouses and their families. Surely, a long-time coach of a top tennis player would be raking in a handsome fee you’d think, but Rafa tells us that all of Toni’s earnings come only from Rafael's own dad’s business where Toni is an equal and dormant partner; Rafael doesn't pay him a penny. The family's one message to him has always been: ‘be humble, keep your feet firmly on your ground and never disrespect anyone.’ But being around his loved ones at all times also gave him the sense of continuity so important, according to Joan Forcados, his physical trainer, to Nadal’s success, such as Toni being around for 20 years and others in entourage with him for well over 10 years.

This continuity got a setback when Nadal’s parents separated in 2009; a rare glimpse of what went through his mind and the eventual darkness he slipped into, that also led him to lose his only match at the French Open ever; an event that he has otherwise won six times. “Through all these years of constant travel and eve more frenzied claims on my time as my fame had grown, Manacor and our neighboring seaside resort of Porto Cristo was a bubble of peace and sanity, a private world where I could isolate myself from the celebrity madness and be entirely myself again. Fishing, golf, friends, the old routine of family lunches and dinners – all that had changed. My father had moved out of our Porto Cristo home, and now when we sat down to eat or watch TV, he wasn’t there. Where there had been laughter and jokes, a heavy silence hung. Paradise had become paradise lost.” But Nadal would soon bounce back in 2010, winning three of the last four grand slams of the calendar year to complete his career slam.

Rafa does get a bit flat towards the latter half when his minute to minute decision making during his key matches gets a bit too much. Instead, a critical analysis of his opponents- much like Agassi in Open- would have been more interesting. Like how he felt when Djokovic was impersonating everyone around, especially Nadal the most. But we couldn’t expect that from Nadal who’s ever so diplomatic and well-mannered could we? It’s also possibly why he has written so less about the trauma he faced after his parent’s separation, focusing largely on the positive side for most part of the book.

The minor complaints aside, Rafa is a good read. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Love2HateU is rock on

We love to hate celebrities, berate them, calling them names, criticize them sitting on our couch munching away popcorn as they keep mouthing away some of the lousiest dialogues we've ever heard...or so we think. But what if they pop out of your TV screen, magically appear before you, put a gun on your head and say "Huh! so you were saying...?" That's pretty much the premise of Star World's latest television show called 'Love2HateU'. The show is presented by model-turned-actor Arjun Rampal and it makes celebrities come face to face with their haters.

I just watched the first show and came away pretty impressed. Each one-hour episode will have two celebrities facing their haters. The hater is a common man that the producers of the show seem to scout for, bring them to a place on the pretext of taking some interview on why s/he hates the celebrity so much. Basically, to make him or her get comfortable with the criticism. The celebrity is nearby and watching all this action from some hidden cameras. Once the hater is done talking, the celebrity walks out and meets the hater and takes him surprise. Then, both of them have a chat moderated by show presenter Arjun Rampal, sort out their 'differences', all the whole hoping that the hate-o-meter comes down!

The concept is original on Indian television and the show seems to be well directed. Rampal was the first celebrity to meet his hater, followed by director Madhur Bhandarkar. I liked Rampal's encounter more than Bhandarkar's. The former was light, breezy and the camaradie between Rampal and his hater, Farhan, a stand-up comedian and writer was entertaining. Farhan's criticism of Rampal was caustic- calling him furniture and expressionless- and I wouldn't be surprised if Rampal would have wanted to punch him. Rampal defended his mannerisms, especially Farhan's contest that he should not have won the national award for the movie 'Rock On'. Rampal made Farhan to stand-up comedy on the sets (The Comedy Store, Lower Parel, Mumbai; because Farhan is a stand-up comedian) and crack his usual bunch of Arjun Rampal jokes. That was silly in a funny way. Rampal followed up the act with his own, berating Farhan's favourite bashing subject: Arjun Rampal! That was better.

Love2HateU is a refreshing change from all the soppy soaps in the name of entertainment that we get to see on TV these days. The choice of celebrities will play a vital role to the show's success. Interesting celebrities can keep the show alive and the banter kicking. Next week is author Chetan Bhagat and producer / director Farah Khan, but I am already looking forward to Farah Khan's episode.

Le Pain Quotidien

Yesterday was my second visit to Le Pain Quotidien (LPQ), a bakery-cum-patisserie at Coloba, near the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Hotel. It is a French style cafe with a good seating arrangement and leisurely ambiance that kind of reminds you of the various sidewalk cafes in Europe. Only that this is not a sidewalk cafe, it's a proper indoor cafe. As soon as you enter the place, you cannot miss the display of desserts on your left. I think it's a nice ploy by the management to suck you in as soon as enter the place; you don't feel like going out again till you've had something.

I am told the breakfast spread is the best at LPQ and that's the one must-have meal here. But the first time I went there, it was evening and I had purposely timed it in such a way that I could have something substantial. Though on a Sunday evening that it was, having an empty stomach is not easy because Sunday is Dhansakh day and my mum's dhansakh- or anyone's for that matter- can be quite filling and heavy. Dhansakh is a thick brown masala dal, chicken or mutton cooked in it, served with brown rice. The dish is quite heavy, so if you have it even at lunch, you can feel quite full till late evening. But in a good way though.

Even so, I tried to time my visit in such a way that we could make the most. My friend Ayeshea is a foodie, so being in her company, especially at places and times like these, is always a pleasure. We had Ham & Chedder Tartine (Rs425) and Roast Chicken Mozzarell (Rs350) as the main course. Then, we followed it up with assam tea (Rs125) for me and Hot Chocolate (Rs175) and finally rounded it up with desserts (chocolate cheesecake; Rs110). I liked the Ham Tartine more than the chicken one, as the latter was a bit dry, but both the tartines were very tasty. I repeated both these Tartines yesterday too when I was there over lunch with mom. The choco cheese cake was very heavy if had after a meal, so I avoided that yesterday. Instead I had the Apple Crumble (Rs195) which was delicious. The Crumble was of the perfect temperature and texture and it melted as soon as you put your fork in it. Served with ice-cream, it's one of LPQ's best desserts.

Overall, the ambiance is easy going. There is sitting arrangement at an upper level too, but both the times I sat on the ground floor. There are individual tables of two to four, a bar table height sitting for two as well as a long oval table- called the community table- that could sit about 10 people at one shot, but is most often used by several different sets of people, to give it a community feel. The place is infested by foreigners, partly I guess, because of its location as you don't see more foreigners at one place in Mumbai than in or around Coloba and the Gateway of India and also partly I think because of the menu and its ambiance.

Yesterday we bought home 2 croissant breads that we had over breakfast today (Sunday) morning and another dessert, Soft Centred chocolate cake (Rs195). My mom also had their homemade Lemonade (Rs125) which was one of the best lemonades I've had. The only other lemonade that I really like to have is served at the Colah's, an ancient Parsi cafe in Navsari, in the State of Gujarat, that serves it in bottles that also appear to be as age-old as the place itself, with a very unique cap, quite unlike anything you see these days. The bottle, the drink, the place; everything smacks of nostalgia in the days of Pepsi and Coke. I wish I could have more of Colah's. But if you're in Mumbai, I suggest you visit LPQ quickly. A meal for two could come at about Rs1,300 and it's totally worth it.

Picture #1: LPQ's bread display
Picture #2: The community table that is very traditional to LPQ
Pictury courtesy:

Sunday, October 30, 2011


The serenity of a church is unmistakable and one of the foremost reasons why I'd like to visit a church. Last weekend I was at Mount Mary's at Bandra, one of the few churches I visit regularly, but one of my favourites. I like being in or around Bandra; I've spent two of the most important years of my life here when I did my management as my college was in Bandra (E). Every now and then, we used to hop in a rickshaw, cross the Bandra creek flyover, over to Mehboob studios and then climb the hills of Mount Mary to reach our destination. First the church, then the round circuitous Mother Mary steps on the opposite where you can get a fantastic view of the Arabian sea and Bandra sea face, home of the rich and famous. Afterwards, we used to go to the sea face and sit and have long chats, gossip, bitch and all of that.

And sometimes, on the way up to Mount Mary's, we used to hit the Hearsch Bakery at Bandra (W). I haven't been there in over 10 years now, but when we used to go there so frequently, it used to serve- what I would call it back then- the world's best chicken burger. It was certaintly one of the largest I had ever seen with loads of wafers at an unbeatable price of Rs20 (around the year 1999). I don't know what is its price now, but now that I am reminded of it, I am itching to go back there. For old time's sakes.  :)

But let's stick to churches for now. St. Micheal's Church was the other church I used to go to, again during my Bandra college days. Every Wednesday, it hosts the Novena prayers. You got a wish, you go and attend Novena Prayers for some seven to nine Wednesdays, continuously and your wish gets answered. I used to believe in all this earlier- who doesn't when you are in school or college- but over time I grew out of it, thankfully. But that doesn't mean I am not religious and that I don't believe in the All Mighty. The difference is I no longer bargain, like God I will come to you 10 times and you grant me my wish in return. This is something that- believe it or not- I learnt from a pastor at St. Micheal's Church when one of them was giving sermons on one of the Wednesdays I was there. Wednesdays are very crowded at St.Micheal's; rows and rows of streetside vendors set shop right from Mahim station area, all the way to the Church, selling candles, religious artifacts and all sorts of assortments. A half-hour prayer session led by a priest followed by paying respects to a few other places within and outside the Church area and then I head for the bus-stop for ride back home. I stopped going to the Novena prayers because the journey towards the Church and back home became too much for me as my work pressure went up. Once in a while I go there, though.

My favourite times to be in a church a few days leading up Christmas when Christmas choirs are practicing their carols. The other Church I like visiting is the St. peter's church in Panchgani. It's a magnificent structure from the outside, though it's quite a small church from inside. You can't miss it as you come out of Panchgani town, on your way to Mahableshwar. As you walk past by the Kimmin's school and the Panchgani Club little ahead, the road takes a sharp right and on its left you could see the gates of St. Peter's Church that lead you to the Church up a small hillock. Except for Sundays I think where there are masses, the Church is practically deserted on most of the days.

Picture courtesy: Wikipedia

Saturday, September 24, 2011

How to get UID

I got my UID (Unique Identification number) earlier today. Though we have many banks in our locality, presently only Central Bank of India is offering this facility. But I hear other banks in other localities are also acting up as enrollment centres. Check please.

For those of you who don't know what UID is, this is a unique identification number being given out by the Government of India to each Indian citizen. It sort of legalises your existence and gives you a bonafide certificate because it not only accounts for your permanent residence, but also takes in your fingerprints, picture and your eye image. Here's a simple guide on how to get your UID:

  • Check with your local bank branch whether UID is being offered or not. 
  • To the best of my knowledge, only public sector banks have been allowed to set up UID registration desks (enrollment centres) inside their branches; i do not know about the status of private sector banks
  • If the enrollment centre happens to be a bank, you may or may not be the account holder of the bank. If you are the account holder already of the bank that doubles up as an enrollment centre, you don't need to submit your photograph
  • Get UID forms from the bank, fill them and submit the same with supporting documents
  • You need a PAN card and a residence proof such as electricity bills, telephone bills, passport, ration card and so on. Any one of the eligible residence proof need be submitted. 
  • Take 2 copies each of all the forms and supporting documents; the UID enrollment form, PAN card and your residence proof. Reason being, your bank branch (enrollment centre) will keep one set of all the documents with itself and the other set of documents will go to the government.
  • Once you go to the enrollment centre, you will need to get them verified first. At the Central Bank of India, there are two separate counters for this purpose. Once the verification is done, stand in the UID enrollment queue, which is a separate queue as I said. 
  • Nobody told us that verification is required, as a result of which, a lot of time gets wasted if you scramble to do it all at the last minute.
  • Once your turn comes in the UID enrollment queue, they will take down your details, take your photograph (I don't know why people smile for such pictures; they aren't going up on facebook, are they?) and finger prints.
  • You will get a receipt. Save this receipt and you can check your UID status online, later.

Tip: UID enrollment takes place Mondays to Saturdays. It's better to go on a weekday as there is much less rush and the UID officer is generally seen whiling away his time. Saturdays being a holiday for many, generally sees a lot of rush and much longer queues. Saturdays are also half-days for banks; rest of the days are full days.
If there is a long queue, sometimes UID enrollment per person takes a lot of time as systems may not work as efficiently. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Things I wish are banned from Indian TV

Before Indian Television goes deep down in the dog's ass and comes out as poop (since it has already gone to dogs, in a matter of speaking), here's my list of five things I wish are banned from TV.

Fewer and shorter ad breaks
yeah yeah we need ads to sustain television and the print media and all that jazz, but must we have a 10-minute ad break in between movies, every 12 minutes? There have been times when I have surfed up to 10 channels and each of those channels had advertisements played, no kidding. A 3-hr movie takes four and half hours to wrap up. There's a reason why we see international film awards like Oscars and Golden Globe Live on TV (they're big prime time shows abroad) but till date I do not remember seeing an Indian movie television award show Live. Why? It's all those ad breaks, stupid. Whilst ad breaks make commercial sense, too many- and longer- ad breaks break our rhythm and make tv less enjoyable.

Slow motions
A few years back during the Bombay Parsi Panchayat trustee elections that were held across Parsi colonies and baugs across Mumbai, I got an SMS joke. Some of these colonies had special queues for senior citizens. The joke went something like this: "If a majority of bawajis are senior citizens, we need special queues for the youngsters and not for seniors". Similarly, if 70% of a TV serial episode is in slow motion, its sanctity goes down. Slow motions are perhaps crucial for a few prominent shots or scenes. Presently, if slow motions were to go alltogether, a half hour tv serial episode could get done in 10 minutes. But here's the most bizarre thing about slo-mo: people's entry on award show stages (delay telecast) shown in slow motion!!!

Leave social issues to governments and NGOs
Let's face it. TV is business, lead actors get paid a bomb and a lot of public adulation. Nobody works for charity. This is television, not some NGO. So while it's okay to make TV serials to create awareness or highlight some social plight, a cursory glance though most of our serials tell us that happiness is in short supply in India. Nukkad, Yeh Jo Hain Zindagi Sriman Srimati, Hum Paanch, Indradhanush and many more such gems are sorely missed. Its a charade to make dozens of modern day crappy TV that showcase only sadness and all sorts of atrocities on women and then run disclaimers claiming they don't mean disrepect to any citizen or some moral lesson of the day at the end of each episode. We don't need your sympathies, we need good tv.

Volume control the news debates
News debates are getting louder by the day. Take a look at this debate on Times Now on the day when Dhoni was accused by some people to play to the gallery, during the second India - England test. While everyone wants to be heard, debates are more cacophony and less intellectually stimulating these days. Politicians want to be heard and they won't stop talking till they are heard. Many other civilians on tv suffer from the same malady. At times, 5 people talk at the same time, while Arnab Goswami, Rajdeep Sardesai & Co try to bring some order. Can't they just mute the loudmouths when it gets too much? Surely, newsroom technology is much advanced these days. If the guy doesn't shut up, press the button.

Emotional verdicts on talent competition
Nobody likes to lose. And judging by many talented candidates on these shows, there is no shortage of talent in India. But the one thing that TV producers need to coach the participants is that losing is natural. Whilst we all strive to win, there is no need to get so shocked and  awed if you don't go through. And soft ball judges who feel guilty pronouncing loss results should better stay away from becoming judges. Give me Simon Cowell, Peers Morgan or our Farah Khan anyday. Atleast they are honest; if you are not fit for the competition, you're told off in clear words "Do not waste yours- and our- time."

Do Radio taxis turn down short distances?

Mumbai Mirror newspaper did a good story recently about how radio taxis in Mumbai turn down short-distance passengers and usually mostly entertain long distance ones. I had a similar experience myself last week. On 5 August, I had to travel out of Mumbai and I had to catch a 7 am train from CST station. My house is about 4-5 kms away. On 4 August, about 9 am (only a little less than 24 hrs away) I called Meru cabs. They put me on hold for about 2 minutes, came back and refused the cab saying "there are no cabs available for that time slot in your area".

So I hung up and decided to call them again, this time pretending that I have to go to the airport (very long distance). They again put me on hold, came back and told me that the cab is available. I asked then "are you sure that the cab is available?" They said (not in exactly the same words) "Yes sir the cab is available, we wouldn't tell you otherwise if it's not available". So once they confirmed my order, I said that I wish to change my order and now aim to go to CST. Stunned for couple of seconds, they said they will now put me hold again and check the availability. My protests fell on deaf ears as they came back to me after a few minutes and said that the cab is not available. When I asked them why the cab was available for airport and not for CST, they gave me a flimsy excuse which was something like there was another pickup order waiting for the same cab in the morning at / near the airport so that cab needed to be there. I protested that the customer gets to decide the destination, not the cab. But it did not yield any result, and finally I hung up after registering my protest.

Then, I called up Mega Cabs. Again, I first asked for CST. I was quickly refused in a similar manner. Then, I called up again for the (fake) airport pickup and they agreed. The moment they said the cab is available to go to the airport, I told them I changed my mind and now wished to go to CST station. They put me on hold, came back after a few minutes and said the cab is not available. Then, as if it is a big consolation, the call centre employee told me to call back on 5 August about 90 minutes before our departure to check the availability of the cab. I do not understand, if I have to go to the airport, they accepted my bookings. But for CST, I have to call up at the last minute?

When radio taxis were launched in Mumbai a few years ago, they came as a breather from our usual black and yellow cabs. Radio taxis offered a promising future; clean and modern cars, well-mannered drivers, air-conditioned cabs, electronic meters that do not cheat and the freedom to go anywhere we want. Unfortunately, as the Mumbai Mirror story showcases and our own experiences, radio taxis have deteriorated and they too now refuse short distances. Atleast as per our experiences. The Mumbai Road Transport Office (RTO) should take cognizance of this deteriorating service and pull up these taxis. Mega cabs regularly send me SMSs advertising the so-called high quality of their service and the so-called convenience they offer to people who "party late at night and need a safe cab to reach home". Alas, it's a mirage.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Harry Potter finale is the grandest ever

Ten years, seven books, eight movies and a mindbogglingly finale close to the Harry Potter franchise. And what better way to close the chapter in 3-D. To ensure we get confirmed seats, we booked the 9.30 am show at Imax, Wadala. I don't remember going to a cinema hall that early in the day, ever. The action starts soon enough; first a recap of the last scene of the first part, Voldemort's access to the Elder Wand, followed by a grim look at Hogwarts patrolled by the Dementors who seem to be standing right next to your seat if seen through those 3-D goggles. It's surreal; you know in less than three hours it's all going to come to an end, no more anticipating the release of J.K.Rowling's books, no more reading the morning papers with pictures of children with the happiest faces as if they've won the treasure hunt after braving 5-mile long serpentine (thankfully not the Nagini types) queues in cold weather of foreign shores, with their latest Harry Potter books- sometimes personally signed by the author Ms Rowling- no more scouting on You Tube for a trailer of an upcoming Harry Potter movie and as far as I am concerned, no more anticipating to borrow the book from my nieces and waiting desperately to run off to Panchgani on a holiday armed with the particular Harry Potter book of the movie that is just about to release.

That's what I used to do; I never read the books well in advance, as soon as they hit the stands, fresh from the press for the first time ever, definitely not finishing the books in those crazy two to three hours that kids these days do with Harry Potter books. Even soirees last longer than that. My strategy was to pick up a book whose movie was about to release. Read that book a good two or three months before its movie version was to release, have the book fresh in my mind and then go to watch the movie without the knowledge of what has happened in subsequent versions. That way, I thought I could enjoy and appreciate the movies better.

The first part of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was much tamer than the grand finale, but the setting was perfect. Part-II moves fast, cuts out all the unnecessary riff-raff, the director cleverly assumes you're on the plot and read the book, and sticks to the bare essentials. The ending is changed a bit, but the ride is as thrilling as you'd ever imagine. Several moments stands out, especially the sensational break-in and the daring escape from the Gringotts Bank, the fortification of Hogwarts Castle by Professor McGonagall and team and Snape's touching encounter with Harry Potter. I also felt the 3-D experience to be more pronounced here than in Avataar but that's maybe because I am a Harry Potter fan and I never really much cared for Avataar. The Dementors- if seen through the 3-D goggles- will seem to be standing right next to you. Lord Voldemort lights up the screen every time he appears ; brilliant Ralf Fiennes will ensure his performance will go down as one of the most feared villains of cinematic history. Rowling's insistence on having only British actors work in Harry Potter franchise has paid off. To me- and countless Harry Potter fans- this will be one of the most memorable chapters of our lives, to have lived through the Harry Potter days, books, movies, spells and Hogwarts. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Visiting Lake District

Apart from the must-sees and must-dos in England, Lake District is right up there. This is a mountainous region in North West England. We decided to spend two nights here in a small town called Windermere. We caught the early morning Virgin train from London Euston station at about 9.30 (prior reservations were done online) and after a three and half journey that includes one to two change-overs (depending on your train timings), we reached Windermere. Virgin trains are fast but that apart,  British railway is a lot like Indian Railways. Unreserved passengers occupy reserved seats, though they are polite and vacate them when the rightful occupants arrive. Yet the trains have many standees and people squat at the entry / exit points. The good part though was that some compartments have a cafe; you pick up food items from the shelves, tea/coffee/ available, pay for them at the counter and have them at your seat. Whilst going we were fortunate to have such cafe in our compartment. But whilst coming, I had to jump about four compartments in search for the nearest cafe, only to find a large group of youngsters squatted on the floor of the fifth, and I got dissuaded to go any further and returned hungry to my seat. Anyways, that is another story.

We arrived at Lake District at about 2 pm. Most of the Bed & Breakfast (B&B) / Inns / hotels in the Lake District have their check-in times at 2 pm, so we were shown our room at The Ravensworth. Lovely little Inn and very centrally located. Though we had asked for a room on the ground floor, the upper floor rooms have a better view. The hotel was very clean, its owners (Nick and Cheryl) were very helpful and courteous and will go out of their way to help and guide their patrons.

Lake District is dotted by beautiful scenery dotted with many lakes and small towns or villages and country side. We stayed at Windermere because that is the hub of Lake District and is also connected by the rest of England by  rail. The best part ofLake District (as with the rest of England) is that there are plenty of B&Bs / Inns everywhere. All you really need in the Lake District is a clean place to stay; there are ample of cafes and restaurants to suit your taste palette. Infact it seemed to me that Lake District has more B&Bs, hotels and restaurants than its own residents. But then, tourism is the main occupation of Lake District followed perhaps by professionals like doctors, lawyers, etc.

After checking in, we took a walk to Windermere town and had lunch at a cafe called The Lighthouse Cafe. Then, we too a boat ride on Bowness lake. Bowness is the lakeside town next to Windermere and is easily accessible by bus. That's another good thing in lake District. You can take a day's ticket of about 7 Pounds and take as many bus rides as you wish in a single day, that will take you around Windermere, Bowness and Grassmere, another beautiful town and Ambleside. If you go to lake district, you've got to take a boat ride. You can even walk to Bowness from Windermere.

The next day we took a day's tour by a tour company called Mountain Goat, supposed to be the best tour company in Lake District. They were good, but unfortunately the weather wasn't. What were supposed to be breathtaking views was marred by heavy fog that took us over the entire day. There was a half hour train ride part of the tour that we took which was quite enjoyable. The next day, we took the daily bus ticket and went to Grassmere by its public bus and spent the day there walking around the village. In the evening, we took the train back home and came to London.

Picture #1: Bowness lake on Windermere
Picture#2: Bowness town
Picture#3: The Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway

Friday, July 8, 2011

London - First impressions

For some weird reason I can't quite comprehend, I believe that your introduction to Europe should happen through England, specifically London. In other words, if you want to tour Europe, then start with London. Then, other cities or countries may follow. Maybe because London and England has so much history and culture and the place is so old.

Heathrow Airport sucks! Terminal 4's (Jet Airways) arrival lounge is unimpressive and belies the fact that England is a developed country. Hopefully, they'll renovate soon. And since my last visit to Singapore my expectations from international airports (what a vast difference) had reached the moon, they were just as quickly brought back to the ground. Few counters at the immigration to cater to one of the world's busiest airports meant that after a 10-hour journey, we had to spend more about 20 (or perhaps a bit more) minutes in the queue, waiting. The baggage claim area looks like a seedy large, never-ending godown. I was just glad to get my baggage and be out of there.

But the good part of the airport is that you get a direct underground train to go to various parts of the city, pay phones are free to use if you wish to call a cab, there are radio taxis available nearby who can come to pick you up if you need them and the Help desk is very helpful and polite.

Everything is very old in London. The city, its roads, its Underground railway, buildings, houses, everything is aged. But there's a lot of nostalgia about it, you don't complain. Unlike America where everything is and looks new, England and London looks old. I like old.

London will remind you of Mumbai in some ways; the good Mumbai, that is. Lots and lots of old heritage buildings; London city looks like an extended Ballard Estate; old buildings, beautifully carved roofs, windows on the topmost floors coming out of the roofs, gargoyles on many of them, and so on). Most of the streets are narrow, just like Mumbai, but amazingly the traffic keeps moving. Even parts of Manhattan, New York (NY)have only two lanes, but they have cleverly converted many of those roads as one-way because of the criss-cross nature of its streets, so the traffic in NY moves much faster. Nothing like that in London.but still the traffic moves. There are several traffic jams at peak hours, they're famous, Londoners are used to them but still hate them just like Mumbaikars, but traffic moves. That's the good part.

Some other India-UK similarities are strikes (the Underground was on a strike the day Wimbledon Tennis Championships began) and weekly maintenance of railway tracks. But that's also because London's Underground is the oldest in the world they say. Train delays happen and on the outstation train that we took to Lake District, unreserved passengers occupy reserved seats apart from crowding the gangways and squatting the entry/exit points and squatting on the floor.

Despite all this, public transport rocks! London has the Underground rail (Tube), Overground railway (fast and slow trains) and bus services that can take you every nook and corner of the city and much of its distant suburbs. The train map sounds confusing at first, so spend some time in understanding it. You might have to change trains sometimes, but that's okay.

Some Tube stations do not have escalators. So think carefully if you wish to take the Tube from the Heathrow with all your luggage or have old people in tow, like I had. Taxis are very expensive (40 Pounds from Heathrow to Wimbledon where I stayed), but once in a while, it's worth it.

Once settled, try and figure out what kind of a pass / ticket you need. The good part is that a single pass or ticket is valid across buses and trains. Lots of choices (daily / weekly / monthly pass, one-way or return ticket) are on offer and you can buy them using cash or card. It looks complicated at first but once you have figured out what you want, it's the best way to travel around London.

Food is available in plenty, though restaurants can be expensive and most of them close by 10 to 10.30 pm. So if you have a late evening show, say at the Broadway or a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, make arrangements beforehand. But if you have access to a microwave at your place, then lots of department stores like Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury and Marks and Spencer (it gets pricier in that order) have tons of ready food packets (Indian / Chinese / Continental ) that you can pick up,  stock up till about two days, microwave heat and eat. Vegetarians can easily survive. No, I am not a vegetarian, please. I am just saying.

My fondness for the British accent has gone down a bit. The older generation speaks more clearly, but the younger generation's accent takes a little time to get adjusted to. It ain't as simple to comprehend as it was in those old age British comedies. The generation gap is very visible between how the young and the old talk, in England. 

But people are friendly. If you ask them directions, they will help you. They always offer seats to old people, especially in the Underground, whether you are white, black or brown. Awesome! 

Finally, London is not necessarily a once in a lifetime visit. Almost all London attractions demand atleast 3 hours. Some nearby places like Bath and Windsor Castle deserve an entire day each. Either have enough days on hand, or be prepared for multiple London trips. I think that's great news, don't you think?

Picture#1: The Big Ben and the British Parliament
Picture#2: London city eye view from atop St. Paul's Cathedral
Picture#3: Hampton Court Palace
Picture#4: River flowing next to Hampton Court Palace

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Is Personal Finance stale?

This is a rant; as a blogger for over three years now, I think I have a right to rant occasionally. There is not shortage of myths; this much I can tell you for sure. As a journalist covering personal finance, especially mutual funds, for the past 10 years, I should know. Ofcourse, new developments do not take place in the PF space everyday, especially in any one given beat, say, MFs that I cover. Often, people- especially fellow journalists (and this is where it kills me that the myth exists in ur own community rather than outside)- misunderstand or rather blatantly assume that things get repeated in the PF space. The same-old tale of asset allocation, invest in equities for long run, why you should invest in MFs and so on are repeated like 10 times in a year, they feel. Hence, a PF journalist leads a cushy life at work; if you don't have an idea, just pick an old story and recyle and voila, there's a 'new' story, they say.

Without going into a length tirade, here's what I think:

  • Competition in the media space is as severe as it can get. On top of it, every publication worth its salt wants to get into PF, committing resources to hire talent and infrastructure and obviously need PF writers to perform to their best to stay ahead of the competition. If that is the aim, recycling is a bad idea. Any responsible editor would see through a recycled story and stop it from going to press.
  • Because of changing market scenario and dynamics, there isn't really a shortage of story ideas. There isn't a dearth of topics because the entire world is changing. Changing regulations, new and more complex products are the new order. A good PF writer is paid to spot these trends and there's enough to write
  • Last, but not the least, financial illiteracy is a huge nuisance. Just because I wrote seven years back advising retail investors to invest in equity funds for the long run, that doesn't mean every tom, dick and harry have since started to do the same. You've got to drill first principles into the reader's mind, even then you will find it won't be enough. By that time, several other things may have happened. This merits passing on the same message if you will, but with a new twist like new data, fresh arguments and so on. And if fellow journalists are so financially illiterate (so many do not even bother to track their provident fund, for instance) how can I expect my readers to head my advice? 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Best Way to go to Poona

Trips to Poona are always looked forward to. And ever since the Mumbai-Poona expressway was thrown open to public, an endless supply of seats on the buses and taxis are hawked 24/7 at Dadar. But my favourite way to go to Poona has always been- and will always be- by train. Nothing compares to the excitement of the age-old (but still looks fresh) drill: to reach the station in time, locating your train standing pretty on one of the numerous platform, then locating your compartment, checking your name on the reservation chart (even though you know you're dead sure it's there because naturally you have reserved tickets and that too in your hand), and then finally  entering it amidst countless stares from co-passengers who are already smugly seated inside as if to say "hah, we beat you to it!".   

Earlier I used to take the Indrayani Express that leaves Mumbai VT at 5.45 am. That was a time when waking up at 4.30 am at home was acceptable. Today, with my work life taking up all my time and a good eight-hour sleep a rarity, I don't feel like waking up so early. And in any case, I have never been a morning person. I am more than okay to sleep late, but it's a pain to get up so early. Besides, the time I reach my home in Poona, take a bath, have something to eat and get fresh, it's already post lunch time and I feel half my day has gone to waste. But mind you, going to Poona during sunrise also has it charm, especially as you enter Khandala and Lonavala, the twin hill stations on the way. 

In the past few years though, I've been smitten by Deccan Queen, the superfast Mumbai-Poona train. It leaves Mumbai VT at just about the right time; 5.10 pm. I can comfortably finish work, say on a Friday evening and leave a bit early. Like all Mumbai-Poona train,this one is punctual too. No unreserved passengers even in the II class compartments, unlike packed sardine compartments in Western Railway trains, except perhaps Deccan Express and the other slow trains on the corridor. Also, for some reason that I can't really explain and might sound illogical, the crowd here seems more civilised. 

No sooner than the Deccan Queen breezes past Dadar where it does not stop, the catering staff enters your compartment with supply of tea, coffee and water. Soon, he comes to takes your order. Deccan Queen is supposed to have one of the last surviving non AC dining cars; a pantry car compartment that comes along with a small sit-out restaurant with tables and chairs for passengers to enjoy their cup of tea and eatables. I have never been there but it is quite a novel experience I am told. Cheese toast sandwich, plain cheese sandwich, omelette, chicken sandwich, vej cutlet and some 1-2 other items I don't remember, are on the menu. After Karjat station, kanda-bhajia is also served, piping hot and then towards the end of the journey; Parsi Dairy Farm kulfi, though this time the kulfi wasn't on the menu, I wonder why.  

At about 6.35 pm, the train arrives at Karjat, its first halt, where every train going to Poona is fitted with two engines at the rear to give it an extra push to go up the ghat section. This climb is particularly enjoyable during the monsoon- and from a second-class compartment minus those tinted glasses of the AC ones- where many waterfalls temporarily formed by flowing rain water can be seen in mountains through which the train passes. Sometimes, the drops of the gushing water can touch you. Both Karjat and Lonavala stations belong to another era; unpopulated and gives you an old-age British feel that is not touched by modernisation. Karjat is famous for its Vadas, but I don't much care for them. However, you do feel like getting off and breathing the air around the stations atleast, even for a few minutes while the twin rear engines are joined and detached, respectively. Because once the train reaches Poona and you step out of the station, it's the same hustle-bustle city life and you're brought back to reality. 

picture courtesy: The Indian Express

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Appetizing Koh (By Kittichai)

Mumbai's latest Thai cuisine restaurant, Koh by Kittichai (the signature restaurant by world-famous Thai chef Ian Kittichai) is bound to offer serious competition to the city's best Thai restaurant, Thai Pavilion of the Taj President. Situated on the ground level of the Inter-continental hotel at Marine Drive, Koh is pricey and is considered a modern Thai cuisine restaurant with dishes whose names I haven't ever heard and couldn't possibly remember. Menu is served on an iPod, much like most chic restaurants in town these days. There is a home page and then different pages for appetizers, drinks, main course, desserts; you go to each of them with a finger touch and then scroll up and down using your fingers.

The food is awesome and good quality. Between the three of us, we ordered Kittichai hand-pressed fish cakes, speared chicken, cashew chicken, Thai green curry and rice and the sinfully wonderful chocolate lava cake; we had a sumptuous lunch. It's pricey, but the food was very palatable, nicely prepared, and the quantity was good. By the time we came to Thai curry rice, we were reasonable full, so one portion was enough. Though when I needed some extra rice to finish off the remaining curry, the attendant was kind enough to offer some extra rice (not an additional portion) on the house. Their chocolate pork ribs is something of a specialty here and is quite well renowned, but with such expensive restaurants, I wouldn't like to experiment.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

'The King's Speech' is good, not great

Caught up with 'The King's Speech' recently, about a couple of weeks back, at the multiplex is Vashi, a quaint but very distant suburb of Mumbai. South Mumbai may be a great place to live, but I think if you want to go to best of malls or the cheapest of multiplex to enjoy as many movies as possible with a tidy budget, suburbs are the place to be. A ticket of Black Swan in Inox, Nariman Point  set me back by Rs350, but 'The King's Speech' in Big Cinemas, Palm Beach Galleria Road, Vashi, cost me just Rs100. Five of us watched it for a cumulative sum of Rs500. For years, townies ruled the roost, now I think the suburbanites are having the last laugh for affordable entertainment, while we townies pay through our nose! And Big Cimenas, Vashi, was very decent. Seats were comfortable, the cafeteria was decent and we had attendants coming in and taking food orders. Come to think, Palm Beach road didn't remind me that I was in Mumbai; it sort of reminded me of the outskirts of Pune.

Coming back to the movie, I thought the movie was good. Though I read somewhere that the British authorities have distanced themselves from many events that take place in the movie (despite this movie's makers claiming it's a true story). Colin Firth is a good actor and he turns up another fine performance; a worthy Oscar winner for his role. You could sense his struggle to get words out as he stammers his way through his lines as a reluctant speaker; the fear, the struggle, the helplessness, the sense of shame, all emotions aptly conveyed. It was nice to see so many Harry Potter movie actors in the movie, leading with Helena Bonham Carter who aptly played the role of the King's wife.

That said, I do not approve of the movie having bagged the Oscar for the Best Motion Picture. That honour belonged to 'Inception', in my opinion. The King's Speech was a feel-good, tear-jerker, that would appeal to most of us. But Inception was on a different level altogether. That its director, Christopher Nolan wasn't even nominated in the Best Director category was the darkest spot of this year's Academy awards and gives you a glimpse of the ways of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The President Is Coming

Caught a very funny play yesterday. It's called 'The President is Coming'. Apparently, it was adopted into a movie too- that got critical acclaim- but I did not catch the movie. Though I am glad I watched the play. It was conducted in the experimental theater at the National Centre for Performing Arts (Ncpa). This is one of the five theatres in the NCPA complex; the others that I have gone to are the Tata Theatre (where many large-scale production houses showcase their plays; entrance from the main Nariman Point road) and the grand Jamshed Bhabha theatre (entrance from the sea-touching promenade side of the complex) where usually the Orchestras are conducted.

The Experimental theatre has a very distinct setting to it. Instead of a usual theatre setting where the sitting is in the front of the stage, the experimental theatre has sitting in the front, at the sides and there is a balcony (you enter the main hall through the entrance much like everybody and then climb the steps right after you get in, to go up on the balcony which looks like a clutch of two rows of seats on a large platform, hoisted above. Very aptly, it is called the Experimental Theatre; infact choosing seats online (if you haven't gone there already like was the case with me) could be tricky. I played safe and chose the medium-priced tickets. It was my first at the Experimental Theater. Our alloted seats turned out to be at the left side of the stage, though I recommend the front rows facing the stage.

The play started sharp at 8 pm, though it could have been five to 10 minutes here and there, but I did not notice. The play is set in 2006 when then-US president George Bush visited India and wanted to meet "the new India". It's about a group of six young boys and girls who compete with each other- reality show Big Boss style- to win the coveted chance (given by the US embassy) to be the one to meet and shake hands with the President. As the competition begins, the gloves come off slowly but gradually, as the contestants try various tricks in the book to outsmart one another and gain the upper hand in the competition. The play runs for little less than 2 hours with an interval thrown in. The show is directed by Q Theatre Productions (Q stands for Quasar Thakore Padamsee; one of the four- or was it three- founders of the production house). Well-written script, good direction, brilliant performances and tongue-in-cheek humour that will keep you applauding and asking for more. Going to the Ncpa is always a pleasant experience, especially if the play turns out to be great.

Don't miss it.

(picture credit: Q Theatre Productions' monthly e-newsletter blog '')

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Tie the Perfect Knot

Last Sunday, I wore a tie after a gap of about five years. The last when I wore a tie was I took a break from my journalism career and tried my hand in a bank. Amongst all the discomforts that I endured whilst there (though I admit I gained a lot from working there too, so no regrets, really!), having to wear a tie everyday was almost up there on the list. Having to shave everyday was not far behind. From the freedom to wear jeans and T-shirt to getting away without shaving for more than two days (I usually shave on alternate days), imagine the culture shock I must have endured when I was asked to wear a tie, daily. My uncle that time had taught me to tie- what we Indians call- the samosa knot. I quickly bought some six to seven ties from Westside to go; all different colours and patterns to go with my various trousers and shirts. Reluctantly, though, but over a period I think I adjusted well to ties and did not mind. But come evening- and even during lunch- I longed to take it off, I remember. My colleagues had warned me against even so much as loosening my tie during lunch should our boss catch us; a severe reprimand would follow. So tie it was, from 9 in the morning till as long as we were in office. I used to rush to office, be there at 8.45 am, put my bag underneath my desk, take out my tie, rush to the bathroom, wear it and be at my desk sharp before 9 am. Many people prefer to not to take off the knot complete,and hang the tie with the loose knot and wear it subsequently. I don't like that; I prefer to take it off completely and then tie it afresh the next time. My uncle says that a perfect samosa knot is one that comes off in one action- and smoothly- and does not get entangled.

So when the occasion came to wear a tie came last Sunday, I dreaded. Luckily, the internet came to my rescue. These days, there is nothing that the internet cannot help you with. The solution? Youtube, what else! There are ample of videos out there to help you wear a tie. There are different knots. Youtube videos are also embedded on private websites that show you to tie just about any knot there is to be tied. I discovered that the samosa knot (the knot, when finished, looks like a small samosa)- the most complete tie-knot- is called the Windsor Knot in English. This is the knot I used to tie when I was working in that bank, but obviously because of its complexity and the fact that I do not wear ties even on formal occasion (a nice formal shirt and contrast colored pair of trousers is more than enough for me), I had long forgotten. I usually feel stuffy in a tie, though they also make one look very smart. But you need to wear a jacket over it, else just a tie doesn't much look good. And since I am not much of a jacket person, I never felt the need to wear a tie............until last Sunday.

My cousin's son engagement was held and as per tradition, the groom's family gifts formal clothes to close family members. Accordingly, my cousin gifted me a suit and so a tie had to worn with it. A Windsor Knot (I've graduated from samosa to Windsor already) is amongst the most-advanced tie knots, so at first it is a bit daunting and looks complicated. But I found this video quite useful as it gives instructions, slowly, and a good demonstration. Here it goes...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Order books on

This one deserves a mention, so here it goes. If you are in India and wish to order books and DVDs online, I can recommend you a fantastic online store. It's called Flipkart and it's website is This is India's answer to the popular US-based online store Amazon. About two months back, I ordered a book that wasn't available at popular book shops in Mumbai, including my favourite Strand. Amazon had it, but as usual their shipping charges are a killer for shipments outside USA. Then, one of my office colleagues recommended me Flipkart and I placed the order. I made my payment through internet banking (really fast and one of the most convenient ways to pay bills of a large variety) and within minutes- or seconds perhaps I don't exactly remember- I got a confirmation. The book was at a very reasonable price.

Two things that I love about Flipkart:

  1. Shipping of orders worth more than Rs100 is free. This works out much better than Amazon where in many cases, shipping is almost 1/3rd the cost of the item itself. 
  2. Customer support is top class. You can either call them up to inquire about your order (in case of late deliveries or anything else) or you can write to them. They pick up your phone and they reply to your emails and are very prompt in getting back. I also write to them occasionally to check about a merchandise that is currently not on sale on the website, and they respond promptly. 

Strong Spirited Esther Vergeer

Mint's story on Esther Vergeer, the #1 ranked wheelchair women's tennis player. The girl is on an amazing winning spree; 401 consecutive match wins and counting, 146 singles titles in addition to 126 doubles titles. This is her story and also about wheelchair tennis

Sunday, January 16, 2011

'Weak' security

There is something not quite right in the way the Amby Valley resort, Lonavala, seems to have reacted in the recent arrest of one of their own security guards for allegedly raping one of the hotel guests. The unfortunate incident took place in December 2010. The story published in Sunday Mid-Day ends on the following note:

When contacted, Gulam Zeeshan, spokesperson for Aamby Valley, said, "I am aware of the arrest of Chaudhary. He is a poor and weak man. He cannot overpower a woman. The police is victimizing him."

Weak man who cannot overpower a woman? Really? That's who a so-called luxurious and expensive resort appoints as their security? From the looks of it, the police seems to have nailed the culprit, but even if, for a minute, we assume that the police is wrong, who employs such a "weak" security guard who "cannot overpower a woman"? Ofcourse, that is hardly a qualification for strength, but surely hotels are expected to have capable security who can prevent unfortunate incidents. If a security guard cannot overpower a woman, how is he going to protect a hotel full of guests, especially one that charges a princely sum. To hear of hotels appointing such "weak" guards in these troubled times is spooky; we have not forgotten 26/11.

Meher Mahino, Ava Mahino and Adar Mahino: The holy trinity of Zoroastrian calender

Zoroastrians- or better knows as Parsis and Iranis of India- have a separate calendar. We look at the English calendar of course, but we al...