Rigged and Rigmaroled

As We Journey Through the Daily Grind

Decadent, not. Decade, aye. Over.

Posted by Rani on January 3, 2011

As is often the case, if it weren’t for television, and Facebook!, it wouldn’t have quite registered that the decade is over. 10 years is a long time, during which a lot would happen to anyone, and I wondered about ‘significant milestones’ in me own little life these past 10 years. Why am I getting such a kick out of this?!? 🙂

‘01 – moved to Bangalore. Significant, because it really was the start of so many new things for me, my not-so-sheltered life notwithstanding

’02 – blank. Why?!?

’03 – got my first cell phone. The darned thing was like some extension of my hand – I actually felt it ‘completed’ me. Then I lost it. Put things into perspective, yeah.

’04 – significant promotion at work, and a month-long (5-star too!) work trip. ‘Only’ in India, but I so loved it!

Also the year of the coveted, and hard-earned, IIM tag. Ahem. Phew.

’05 – the year I became “actually” cool, and surer of myself. Of course, I always thought me cool (except in pre-‘05 retrospect), and God knows no one has thought me anything but sure – a little too sure (sigh) – of myself, but this was the year of passage, as it were. I still don’t know why.

’06 – blank, again. Gasp!

’07 – a trippy (literally) year. ‘Only’ in India still…but still! Pondy, Wayanad, Devbagh, my first Breakthrough camp, Nagarhole, Coorg, beachside Chennai and Mahabs – 7 places, over 10 months. Not bad. Not been able to repeat the run, though. Oh well. The decade has only just begun.

Also the year kid sis came over, for a week of non-stop shopping, eating out, and generally living the life.

’08 – the year of the sabbatical. Lovely, lovely, lovely. Also the year (as dad later told me, and I heartily agreed) I “grew up” (different from being just sure of myself, so different). Not that I wasn’t always older than my years…just that the break helped more personally, than I could ever imagine. And inspired the birth of this world-famous blog the next year, that only I read.

’09 – fun, madness-filled, sleep-deprived trip to Delhi, to meet old friends. Every day of not sleeping was so worth it!

’10 – I owe to FB (but, of course) the nudge that got me writing this blogpost, and on FB shall I post an album on the year that was. Don’t hold your breath – it’ll probably be a while.


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What the Well-read Person is Watching

Posted by Rani on January 3, 2011

I am not well-read. Contrary to what you may have heard (uhmm, probably from me). If I were, I wouldn’t have had to wait for Brad Pitt to become Benjamin Button to know Fitzgerald was there first (albeit differently). Oh, woe is me! There was more to Fitzy than just the great Gatsby?!?

And so, years after I declared making movies out of books was the worst thing to happen to a book, I eat humble pie. This unwell-read person owes to Hollywood more than one “ohhh, this was based on a book?” moment. Sigh.

My moment of extreme realization, as it were, really came when the first of ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ was made into a movie. What sort of literary childhood had I had that I didn’t know of THE chronicles as THE book?!? Aghast, dejected, forlorn, I wandered long and far (one end of my living room to the other), contemplating my reason for existence. I threw my ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ on to the floor. I closed the door on ‘Lolita’. ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ gathered dust. Then I snapped out of it. And proceeded to my favorite secondhand bookstore to get me a copy of the Chronicles (the book, duhh). And went on to read all seven chronicles, before the remaining movies could even be made. Hah!

And then, there’s the history bit. The ‘general knowledge’ bit. The ‘based on a true story’ ones. I watched ‘Valkyrie’. Snippets of the mal movie ‘Pazhassi Raja’. ‘A Beautiful Mind’. Closer home, people watched ‘Taare Zameen Par’ (and suddenly, everyone knew everything about dyslexia). I may not be well-read (anymore) or well-informed (never was) but I am smart. Creative dramatization is needed in a movie so fiction here is really just based, sometimes loosely only, on fact. I get it, I get it. So, I always google further to get the “real” story (or, as real as what the Internet can offer). Ooh la la. Or, I read the book, as the case may be. And then get irritated at how far the movie is off the mark from the spirit of the ‘original’.

But then it struck me, in all its creative beauty – such movies help bring to the masses (me being part of that mass) what we otherwise might not have known (enough) about.

‘Gone with the Wind’ garnered far more press for the dashing Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh than for Rhett and Scarlett. But a ‘happy’ ripple effect was new interest in the book itself, and the story of southern civilization and life before the American Civil War; the story of a civilization gone with the wind. Of course, the earlier fact-fiction point besides, a movie can never really do justice to a book nor is it always an “accurate” depiction of the book even (for instance, Ken Kesey apparently never watched the movie rendition of his ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ but still heartily disliked what he knew of it, the movie not being like how the book was). Well, albeit with my belief in such movies now stronger, I still feel that movies-based-on-books should be seen as just that – a movie, based on a BOOK. If you want the whole deal, read the book already.

But we thank you, Hollywood, for at least letting us know.

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Portmanteau-ed, with love from God’s own country

Posted by Rani on December 15, 2010

We owe to Lewis (he Carols, during Christmas mostly but sometimes otherwise too :-D) the use of the word ‘portmanteau’ in its current meaning. And wiki (the pedic kind, not the leaky one; you do know they’re not related, right?) had it on that name-meshing of celebs was quite the porty-manteauy thing to do.

This brings me to the old joke of mal names, where the doting parents wanting to ensure the family names would pass into the annals of history, and devoid of better ideas would think long and hard and portmanteau a name the kid would hate forever.

You see, behind every seemingly haha name (I’m talkin’ ‘bout you, Biji) is an art at play. You think it’s just a matter of picking syllables off of each parent’s name, and joining ‘em together till death do them part. But, that’s exactly what a portmanteau does. And it’s important exactly which syllable gets chosen, and in what order. Ensuring gender equality, it was not always daddy’s sub-name that got precedence in Junior’s. And ensuring both partners in the marriage remained happy, the syllables would be swapped for the next kid (yeah Jibi, that’s how you got your name).

So the next time you brunch, watching Brangelina with their twins on TV, waiting for your FedEx-ed package, which you paid for using your Amex – think of it. We mals have pulled you in. We were just one generation ahead of the game. Oh man, how cool are WE?!?

(well, I suppose Lewis, when he wasn’t Caroling, was ahead of even us mals. I do wonder if the looking glass had told him anything…)

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Posted by Rani on December 22, 2009

As any food reviewer worth her steak will tell you – never review once the food’s gone cold. Not literally so, but about the memory. Nevertheless….. 

This lounge-ish restobar (adjacent to Manipal Center, Dickenson Road) apparently marries science with gastronomy (think nitrogen cooling), making for a rather interesting menu read (but also rending it faaaar too expensive). The inaugral ‘palate cleanser’ also made for an interesting start. 

Palates cleansed, we started with a veg platter of mashed chickpeas on tortilla-esque chips, lettuce wraps, some veg fritter….sigh. With our expectations now set a little low, and yet not quite unhappy (c’mon – lettuce wraps! how exotic!), we moved on to the main course, which garnered some brownie points for the waiter’s genuine reassurance that we could re-order at no extra cost if we didn’t like what was served (pre-emptive damage control?). And my friend had to – the risotto was much unliked, and the replacement penne was better albeit with a tad too much bite still. My seafood fusilli was incredibly fine and delicate, but….something too fishy. 

What almost completely redeemed my evening though, was the “oh you must order” dessert platter, with three different kinds of dessert surrounded by a most interesting coil of wire-like strands. Apparently that was sugar, supercooled on some fancy surface in some fancy way. Ooh la la. 

Just Desserts, with Strings Attached

The bill almost killed me, and yet this is the kind of place one needs to visit at least once. Almost. 

pinch factor: excruciatingly ouch…. almost 3k for just food? (swoon) 

service, ambience et al: very nice. makes the pinch a whole lot more bearable.

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The Cook who Cooks (for you)

Posted by Rani on December 18, 2009

Nothing beats having someone handle the cooking for you. I feel lucky and truly blessed that I finally have a cook – the cooking sessions after work were getting too much to handle!

And oddly, I didn’t feel more relaxed. Over a month, I realized a few do’s and dont’s when it comes to that new found happy addition in your life (ahem):

1. Basic supplies can be bought in bulk (of the 1-person kind) – cooking oil, condiments, masalas, rice, atta (for chappattis), riceflour etc, semolina etc, and a reasonable quantity of onions, tomatoes, potatoes, and garlic.

2. You’re safer off not buying veggies in bulk – it breaks your heart to see any go bad (since most Indian cooking needs the veggies listed in point 1, bulk-ish buying is often warranted there – but not for the rest!). The ideal is purchasing everyday, if you have a store close on by. This is especially true for curry leaves, and chillies. And  coriander leaves never last even a day, and no, I don’t trust Tupperware ‘air sealed containers’ to take care of that for me. If there’s no friendly neighborhood store, buy every three days.

3. YOU do the veg shopping. Trustworthy as they may be, the help is not going to care if the tomatoes aren’t firm. Even if you don’t care, at least do the shopping at the start, till things get into a routine.

4. Give them a menu, so they know exactly what is expected. Be very clear on how much, especially if they come in every day. You don’t want a weekload of sambar in your fridge! And now, don’t tell them how to make the dishes. Let them be, not just to give them space but also for you to not have to still end up in the kitchen. Duhhh. Nevertheless, it may be a good idea to check in on them once in a way, at least initially.

5. At least in the first month, it helped for me to list each day’s menu. I didn’t plan except on a daily basis (and that’s gotta be done the previous night, btw) but I did keep the list so I could revisit it any time.

6. If you’re working, its best to have them come in before you leave for work. That leaves my evenings free, and all the cooking gets done in the morning itself. I’m not a fan of having them in the house when I’m not there, but to each their own. Keep in mind that if you’re going to be away when the cook is in, it might be good to hand-hold the transition for the first one week at the least.

7. Have enough utensils! The basics might cover one saucepan, one or two frying pans, at least one pressure cooker, a cutting board, rolling pin and board, dish-specific tools (like an idli rack), and then the usual suspects — spoons, knives, ladles etc.

Remember – wooden spoons for teflon-coated dishes (my favorite kind). Also have tongs, and pot holders or mittens for the poor cook’s fingers. Them paper bits hardly work.

8. Any cook will subtly (or not) tell you how to buy a better saucepan, a new mixer, a new oven…the works. Handle subtly, and with due respect. You don’t want too much salt in your food, just to spite you (!!). But act with prudence – buy or change only what you know is really necessary.

Just like with any other change, even of the good kind, a little planning and a little thinking go a long way.

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Delhi belly, the kind you’d like

Posted by Rani on December 17, 2009

Constant pressure of “why no new posts” demanded I get off my block and finally write…on one of my favorite topics: Food (that’s all I could go on – all I’ve done of late has been to eat out a lot, cook some, and generally dwell in gastroheaven).

A recent trip to Delhi struck a real chord in my intestines..errm, yeah..with the Rockman’s B Island – loved that place. Situated in Ambience Mall (Gurgaon), its a loooong restobar. We headed straight to the loudest part. Since its USP of “brewed right in front of you” beer obviously didn’t appeal to me, I still had to give it to them for decor – brewing tanks right in front of you, and large casks with high seats for dining and seating. Nice. And 80’s pop, albeit remixed, but who’s complaining when you can sing along with most of them?

The menu had some delights – duck, pork, chicken (booooring), quail (!!)…. but ordered just some German franks and made did with that. This was on the promise we’d get some “real (cheaper) food” which never happened. Oh the quail that never was! But 10,000 brownie points to my waiter, who knew what I wanted even before I said much. Or else, I may have just ordered the chicken (shudder).

Next on would be 4s in Def Col (South Delhi). Quiet, unassuming, and with good(ish) food, this place doesn’t quite match up to Bangalore’s Pecos or even Windsor’s, but me still likey likey. A favorite haunt of my Delhi-based friends, the sentimental value added to its charm. Plus the reaaaally low rates (they always get everything at 50% discount!), what a steal!

And of course, 4 days and no homestyle food ensured the fabulous beef fry, chicken curry, and light-n’-fluffy parottas were gulped down in record time (albeit off designer plates). Coming to you courtesy northie cooks (!!) under a Mallu manager @ hole-in-the-wall Ammu’s behind Sahara Mall (Gurgaon).

Rodeo at Connaught Place didn’t appeal much, in spite of their really happy ‘happy hours’ (what is it with Delhi and encouraging such blatant buying? tsk tsk). Apparently Rodeo’s was the place to be a couple of years back. Not so much anymore (who finds cowboy hats appealing anyway?), but after shopping for a while up and down Janpath, all you want to do is sit. And eat. Nachos. Pasta. Mushrooms. Yumm.

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Global Tree Cafe (F&B)

Posted by Rani on July 29, 2009

With a previous failed attempt to eat at the “sunny, lovely restaurant of Bacchus off St.Mark’s Road” courtesy their only-buffet meals, I made reservations with a rather over-zealous restaurant manager, with some amount of trepidation. Some of it was warranted, for we had to extend our reservation by an hour, and still ended there 20 minutes late owing to terrible terrible traffic.

As with all buffets, the first rule of thumb is to be there as soon it starts. Having missed the bus on that one, we still made the most of our meal. The place is pretty, and bright, and skillfully done. Closer inspection shows optimal use of inexpensive deco items, but so so tastefully done. You’d never notice the difference, unless you’re me, trying to be smart.

The seating was cramped. They put two tables together for a group of 8, and technically each table is a (small) 4-seater. Two small ones together meant the ones sitting in the middle were cramped no end, and the r-manager got rather defensive when the feedback was (nicely) given, when leaving. Oh well.

Meals @ 360 is the theme, and not in the traditional buffet layout. The food is not laid out for you to choose from, but is given to each table in courses. The waiters seemed efficient, friendly, and quite obliging to grant personal wishes. They brought the entire set of starters in succession, and while the veggie items didnt score too high, as didn’t the chicken wings, we were quite taken in by the fish patties, chicken skewers, keema balls, and beef . We didn’t bother with the few soups available, but did check a few salads out. Nothing amazingly eye-catching or lip-smacking there, though I thought the shredded chicken with boiled beans was quite alright.

Service, while good mostly, tended to lag in spots but they largely made up for it by being nice. But that may not go down well with a fussier group, especially since it wasn’t cheap exactly, and aspires to be a “fine-dining place”.

The meal comes with a buy-one-then-get-the-rest-free drinks option, though that is limited to just beer, wine, and cocktails. I thought it unfair to not include juices and mocktails to that option. Eitherways, you’re only allowed repeats and can’t change your choice once made. Their being nice was in allowing two changes within the group. But 1 – we asked them real nice and 2 – we didn’t push our luck too far, and asked for those two even only because the original was hated.

Before we knew it, it was 3pm, and the guys would’ve enjoyed more time sipping their margharitas and LIITs (girlie ones, yes, but you weren’t allowed any other, remember?). Last orders given and “no, you can’t order for 4 rounds now”  a little grudgingly honored (and I must say, TGI Friday really scores there, they have such a loyal following only because of their flexible last order rules), we ordered the main courses.

The main course consists of your typical continental options (albeit sans a real steak), with a sprinkling of Indian thrown in for good measure. The place claims to have a Pan-Asian angle too, but that seemed to pass us by.

The portions looked small when they arrived but in retrospect, which started as soon as the meal was over, we decided that’s a brilliant idea to minimize waste. Plus, you can order multiple rounds. It’s a buffet, after all. The restaurant began to empty only post 3:45pm, and to give them credit, they didnt hurry us…much.

It’s a pity they don’t have the a la carte option, even on weekdays. But the buffet leaves little to complain about.

Pinch Factor –  food: not even a nip, the food is worth the cost

drinks: a little too ouch, I guess

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Cafe Terra

Posted by Rani on July 16, 2009

Situated on the Koramangala 80 ft road right above Band Box dry cleaners, this is one of those minimalistic spaces converted to a restaurant and is apparently located at the erstwhile Belgian Chocolates something.

Other smallish areas done better come to mind, but no complaints for the place is air-conditioned (though I daresay I may have preferred patio dining, the first floor and very noisy traffic notwithstanding!) and a window-wall ensures plenty of bright, happy sunshine streaming in. The comic book collection was definitely appealing, though none were in their “designated” spaces, and an unexpected collection of Indian political cartoons was a bonus.

We got a bowl of popcorn “on the house”, and there the generosity ends. No, that’s not right. There the freebies end, cheapos that we are. No such thing as a free lunch, and this place definitely lives up to that maxim, and how. We ordered a drink each, of the lemonade or mocktail kind (no watering hole, this), and without fail, each of our drinks was terrible. Synthetic, horribly overpriced considering the settings, and not cold enough. But there’s something about a sunny place that makes you overlook these minor (ahem) details and we plodded on through the menu and decided on a plate of momos. Excellent choice, that. Yumm, perfectly spiced, and unlike their momo couterparts in similar sized joints, extremely fine and delicate.

The main dishes (available only for lunch) got neutral to good reviews. One friend swore by the chicken alfredo [here] (albeit made with penne, not fettuccini) though I found some spice (I couldn’t place what, oregano perhaps) a tad overpowering. The other friend’s dish of chicken catalan was very red, and very lots, with too little rice (and I cant seem to find a related recipe online). But she liked. My Sri Lankan curry and rice blew us all away in terms of how much they gave. Its easily a meal-for-two dish. The next point that blew us away was how big the veggies were cut, and that didnt make me any too happy, since they were a little undone too.

The curry reminded me too much of something I might’ve cooked – it was too home-made, and not in the comfort food way. Having said that, I still thought the gravy was something excellent. There were vague suspicions of something-slightly-burnt in the curry, which prompted my friend to say that another web review [here] he had read was along similar lines. But definitely not enough to complain about (much).

The place hurries you not a bit, so obviously we stayed on for coffee. We all loved the banana crepe and waffles, though the “maple syrup” was suspiciously like honey. I thought the coffee was fine too.

Pinch factor: considering the basic settings, a little much ouch

Food for 3: rs.840

I want to give their breakfast a shot, the idea of a lazy breakfast is too appealing to resist, and they seem to have some interesting options. And yes, breakfast is an all-day affair here.

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Take 5

Posted by Rani on July 15, 2009

Too loud music at TGI Fridays prompted an impromptu visit to the friendly, neighbourhood “dinner with jazz” joint. Not that impromptu really, considering I had called to make reservations only to be told it opened only by 19:00, a contradiction to the Times review I had read. The phone-answerer was none too helpful (and deliberately dense, I suspected), and a quick hanging up ensured my mood remained upbeat.

The place is getting dark..too dark to see…oh wait, that’s a song. Dark, which made me suspect the food, since the rule of thumb is supposed to be that the louder the music and the dimmer the lights, the worse the food. That thumb was lying, I’ve eaten at great places where I ended up picking food off my neighbour’s plate ‘cuz it was too dark to tell the difference.

Albeit dark, I liked the place. And while no live band was on, the soft jazz in the background added to the mood. Cut to two hours later when they suddenly started playing much louder music. And no jazz that, but since it was ’80s pop we could handle it. Seating, while good looking, was surprisingly uncomfortable — either too low seats, or too benchy. Can’t comment on the offside where more standard dining seats were available [we didn’t sit there], but isn’t a lounge area supposed to encourage lounging?

I had my signature virgin colada, the mocktail version of the pina colada. And I liked. But I thought the drinks were terribly overpriced though at that point, we had just come out of TGI Friday, so….relative, isn’t it? ..we thought it cheap.

The chilli beef appetizer was popular with my friends, and while I thought it was pretty good, I felt the pieces were too chunky. A few hours and more friends later, we ordered dinner, which disappointed me thoroughly, especially at the rates we were paying. Everything looked so good and a friend had highly recommended the food here, so my salivatory expectation was high, to say the least. The beef steak in pepper sauce had a mean sauce and mashed potatoes, but they seemed to have overcooked the meat thereby rendering it too tender, ’twas a tad burnt (!!), and a little fibrous to boot. I think the chicken steak proved better, at least my friends seemed to like. My fish soup looked rich and creamy, and so it was, but I cannot figure how a creamy soup could be so sour.

Take 5 doesn’t get my vote on food, though it seemed a nice-ish place to hang out, the funny seating notwithstanding. A round with a live band might be a lot more interesting.

Pinch Factor: ouch

Food for 3: rs .1000

Liquids for 4, including my mocktails: rs.2600

Nevertheless, an overall 6/10 rating. It was pretty!

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The Conventionality of Unconventionalism

Posted by Rani on July 10, 2009

The “oh (s)he’s so unconventional” tag is broadly applied to people in one or more of the following categories:
a. those with multiple piercings, beyond the “conventional” ear lobes
b. those with tattoos
c. those in off-the-beaten-track careers, like a DJ or a wildlife conservationist (ahem)
d. those who listen to rock, particularly of the death metal kind
e. those who dress “different”, whatever that means

There is this tendency to label you, as it were, on primarily external and obvious “symptoms”. And the average unconventional, oxymoronic as that may be, also tends to feel the need to conform to the stereotypes of the Unconventional. But the very act of conforming makes you conventional, albeit with different standards.

I believe if you want to be unconventional, you can’t. Its not an aspirational goal. You either are or not. And a true unconventional cannot be defined, thereby defying categorization and labelling.

I find such people fascinating, you can never understand them or analyse. And its not because they try either, they simply are. Too often, its seen as a “bad thing” or “different” but the entire concept of the uniqueness of human nature stands violated if it were otherwise. The flower children were not unconventional, they were simply anti-establishment and different from the norm of the day, but within the circle of love, one was largely like the other, thereby contradicting the unconventional tag, and hence also contradicting the “too different is bad” line of thought.

As with many things, the (un)conventionality depends on which side of the fence you look from. Aah. Another variable in the complexity of human equations.

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