Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bye bye 08!

Usually, just a few days before a new year begins, I attempt to hold on to the last few days that are left of the old one. It's my weird theory that if I yearn for the year to continue just a little longer, that it will. That if I close my eyes tight and wish a little harder, that the old year won't go away as fast as it seems to.

But not this year.

I'm counting down to when the new year will begin so that I can leave 2008 behind.

It hasn't been all bad. I would be cynical if I said it was. I did leave to college in the U.S. and that was great. Living in a foreign country as a student and learning so much in class and out of it was fabulous. I discovered the joys of journalism and the conviction that this is the career path I want to choose. The sense of professional stability was new to the dreamer that I am. And it felt great. It felt right.

But in retrospect, there was too much bad that overshadowed the good.

I said goodbye to my happiest year in college and some of the best freinds I made. Although I spent only a year with them , they really were the people I wondered how I ever lived my life without, before meeting them.

I lost my grandfather. I miss him so much, everyday. I love you Baba.

2008 was chaotic at best. On the last day of this confusing year, here's wishing everyone a peaceful and happy new year 2009!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Rajasthan and Rome now at home

Hubba Hubba! This phrase can be used in two ways in relation to what will be the topic of this blog. That is, either in the conventional sense which is the process of the heart being sent into flutter, usually after seeing a particularly gorgeous member of the opposite sex or as the Kannada word to describe a celebration. However, while there's a good chance that the heart is likely to be set aflutter with what I am about to describe, the reason is not a boy or girl. But there is no doubt that nonetheless, it all comes together as a fantastic celebration. the dining experience called Rajdhani.

UB City opened its doors to the public earlier this year and hasn't stopped surprising Bangalore. One of its highlights I recently discovered was the Indian open-air retaurant, Rajdhani, Ek Khaandani Paprampara. True to every word, Rajdhani is the kind of place you should visit on an empty stomach. Turst me, you'll need the space.

*Dholi taaro dhol baje dhol baje dhol baje dhol o dhum dhum baaje dhol!

Rajdhani is a non-stop gourmandizing indulgence with a wide range of foods making a steady beeline for the steel thali in front of you. Don't be fooled by the tiny portion of each sabzi - they're actually the perfect size which ensure that you're full without being stuffed, while still getting a chance to try all of them.

*Dheel de de re de de re bhaiyya, is patang ko dheel de!

My only complaint may be that it was an all-vegetarian menu. But that's juts the sworn carnivore in me speaking. Besides, I understand the necessity to keep it that way. Meat may distract from the rest of the colorful, delectable food served here.

I won't spoil the magic for you by giving you all the details. At Rs. 200+, it warrants a definite visit. Take your tastebuds on a ride called the Rajdhani.
**Yeh hai India meri jaan!

You could stop here. But why would you? Avarice as a vice is so overrated. Go back the following day like I did (yes, "following", with no break in between) and head to Toscano, just next to Rajdhani. Refreshingly, it's not a place for pretentious food in miniscule portions coupled with prices that could induce cardiac arrest. Quite the contrary, it serves delicious Italian food, in well-sized portions with whom the prices are in sound accordance. The menu is limited, inclined toward the vegetarian connosieur. But nothing a little perusing can't take care of. I recommend the pizza Toscano.

Soft lighting, wooden floors and comfortable chairs of mock-wrought iron made for comfortable outdoort seating on a cool December evening in the city. Hushed conversation and a dainty gloden candle in the center of the table had me believe that I wasn't far from Italy. Service was efficient and so friendly. Our waiter smiled the entire evening. Call me a sucker, but that made such a difference.

This is the Risotto Al Funghi I ate. Creamy cheese blended with rice, served with plump mushrooms and green beans with slivers of cheese on the side. As the placemats at the restaurant read, Buon Appetito!

*Lyrics from songs which appear in the Indian blockbuster, Hum dil de chuke sanam, whose story is based in the Indian state of Rajasthan.

** Lyrics from an old Hindi movie (which I improvised) which translate to, "This is India, my love."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Mmm mmm good at F&B!

Second time round to F&B and I love it even more.

The restaurant on St.Mark's Road is anyone's guess of what it could be classified as. Is it a cafe or an elegant dining room in someone's tastefully decorated home? It's beauty proabably lies in its lack of definition, the lines being blurred between restaurant and rest haunt, much like the friendly outdoors that blend effortlessly with the bright interiors, the union made possible by large glass windows which are the only thing standing between the two. The transparent panes are great for a view of the green plants that sit pretty just outside too.

The food is the real focus. Who knew that the Indian offerings would be as good as their Pan Asian fare? I tried these noodles with peanuts the last time and they were delicious till the last bite. This time I tried the chilli cheese naan with laal maas and prawn biryani. So filling, so good!

The naan was fluffy and delicately spiced. The laal maas was spicier but the biryani toned down it's effect. Wash it all down with a tall glass of chilled cranberry juice and it's hard to make the evening much better. That's if you're not counting the great company, of course.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

It promises to be one heck of a party at Pennsylvania Avenue

Caroline Kennedy is likely to occupy the New York Senate seat that Hillary Clinton once occupied while Mrs. C could soon join President-elect Obama at the White House. This is proving to be possibly the most interesting time yet in U.S. political history...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Excuse me, I hate to point out you're missing a brain

My friend was at a cyber cafe a few days ago when he heard some guys dissing the media industry. He's a journalist too, as many of my friends are. It's ironic, but journalists tend to be an insular lot. Getting back to the point, he didn't take kindly to the derogatory remarks. Few do, especially when it's the fraternity they belong to in question. But it's a democratic society, and people have the right to freely express their opinion. So he had decided to leave the unintentional eavesdropping at that. Incidentally, the guys who made the remarks were aspirants of a national exam which applicants take to join governmental service.

A few moments later, the guys made the mistake of saying that a particular national daily was the final word in the country's journalism and that there was no hope for the newer, emerging models of journalism.

Journalists, have their faults, just like everyone else. The industry is flawed too, much like all others.

But that was it. My friend decided to let the journalist in him do the talking. He walked up to them and said it was a shame that they planned on joining national service when they couldn't even think for themselves. He was referring to their affinity for the particular national daily over all else only because it's the prescribed reading material during the time that they prepare to write this highly competitve test. He asked them how they intended to make decisions for the country when they couldn't decide what they liked to read for themselves. They were merely following the instructions of an archaic panel whom they wished to please and had no real opinion, or at least not one that they were comfortable to express openly.

I'm so proud of you, not for disrupting the peace in the cyber cafe, but for making a valid point that needed to be heard. Sure journalists have their faults and the industry is flawed. Heck, it's dying too, according to many. But it's moments like these make me proud to be one, to belong to the industry and reassure me that it's not possible that several others like me could have all made the same gross mistake.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A train ride away from a plane ride

Class is out for the semester and the winter intersession begins soon. What does that mean for the stragglers on campus before they head off for the holidays? That the B line train has fewer people on it that I've ever seen before. That means it's a pleasure to ride. Train rides without your nose forced up against the glass and a trip back home round the corner. I like the way the last bit of this year before the beginning of the new year is shaping up.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bringing the World to the United States

I'm all done with my final project, "Bringing the World to the United States." for my multimedia journalism class (Fall '08 semester). It consists of a SoundSlide, interactive map and a blog. Please check it out here: I look forward to your feedback. 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

An evening at the movies

A big goofy grin. That's what you have on your face when you walk out of Slumdog Millionaire. Brilliant all the way to the last frame.

Danny Boyle's latest film featuring debutant Dev Patel is so good! There's just no other way to put it. When a friend mentioned a while ago that I should watch it, I didn't think much of it. How could a movie with a title like that be? Sounded too morbid. I was so wrong.

Based on the book Q&A by Vikas Swarup, Slumdog Millionaire is the story of call center tea boy who lands himself a place on the primetime Indian Television Show, Kaun Banega Crorepati, based on Who wants to be a Millionaire?

How can an ordinary chaiwala from a mobile phone company call center in Mumbai know anything about the world, least of all enough to win hom 20 million Indian rupees? The kind of money that his lot will never see in a lifetime, putting him in the same category as more than 80 percent of the working Indian population.

Slumdog Millionaire is true to all that it shows of India. My only criticism may be that nothing of "other" India had been shown. The "modern," "advanced," "new face," of India. It may have helped in showing to the world that India is more than chawls and outdoor bathrooms. But if the movie is showing at sold out shows across the city and country despite a limited release, a sixth sense says that they probably know about that part anyway.

It's a different experience watching an independent Indian movie with an American audience. Unlike Indian movies starring six-figure super stars, this one had faces no one had seen before but grew to like quite quickly. And the audience was almost all-American. In fact, I may have been the only exception.

The movie also refreshes reasons why you love India, as ironic as it may seem in context of the material. How do expanses of poverty, helplessness and sheer filth remind you of loyalty? Because it makes you reliaze you love India, warts and all. With its traffic jams. With its dysfunctional system of power. With its volatile tempers and unpredicatble days. We love India. For it's fun-factor. For it's strength. For it's spirit. We love you India.

A.R. Rahman's soundtrack is brilliant. The kind that sends a tingle down your spine, similar to the feelings of patriotism that his rendition of Vande Mataram invokes. The camerwork is flawless - fast paced and well edited, throwing you right in the middle of the action. Danny Boyle has made a meticulous movie that surpasses expectation. Two thumbs up to Dev Patel.

Go watch Slumdog Millionaire for its enthralling story. Go watch Slumdog Millionaire to support independent cinema. Go watch Slumdog Millionaire to join in the celebration called India. Or just go watch it for the sheer love of movie watching. It's worth more than the price of the ticket and the popcorn.

Jai Hind!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Being an international student just got more interesting

Like I mentioned in an earlier post, I've stopped blaming myself if I'm unable to finish a book, more for dipping interest-levels rather than a lack of time. I read a poignant lesson for an undergrad class once which said that a book can only be enjoyed if the reader is in the right time in his life to fuuly appreciate it. It's so true.

For a class, I recently had to read "The Price of Admission," By Daniel Golden, who is a former chief of bureau for the Wall Street Journal. Brilliant matter which dealt with the truth behind admission prcedures of American colleges. Really fascinating stuff. But I found the tone too forceful. Like someone was breathing down my throat and insisting that I accept what they were saying. I would have probably done that anyway, but the pressure kind of put me off. Between you and me and the very public nature of this space, I will say that I did not finish the book. But what little I read of it was a serious eye-opener.

The United States has largely been a self-centered nation. Being the sole world superpower, it can afford to be predominantly interested only with itself and have other countries pursue it rather than the other way around. Many would disagree with what I've just said but a closer look will prove that I'm not engaging in idle chatter.

The American educational system for example is proabably one of its most insular components of public life. Despite attracting students from all over the world, American students who graduate from local high schools get the maximum advantage out of the system as compared to an outsider. If they attend the school in the state in which they are residents, they get a massive reduction in tuition. That's just the beginning of the incentives.

On many levels, it makes perfect sense. Why shouldn't the local system work as much to the advantage of local students as possible? It's probably harder for some of us to understand when we come from countries that try to make admission to college as difficult as possible for local students. In fact in those cases, it may actually help if you are a foreign applicant!

Golden's book explained the following, which is comforting for an international student to read while at an Amercian University:

  • Some colleges deliberately attract students that they don't really want just so they can reject them and thus boost their own exclusivity factor. The more rejections, the more selective they appear on college ratings.
  • Some colleges drop the lowest six percent of SAT scores they recieve. This hikes their average by about 40 points. A considerable increase. They have some lame euphemism for the practice behind which they hide.
  • Many universties give preference to applicants of alumni and faculty. There's a special category for "legacies, " which in simple words is when daddy big bucks makes a huge donation to the school. Admission committees will overlook slightly poorer grades/test scores and other compelling factors at the expense of "unhooked" students - those that don't have any of these factors working for them.
  • Some universities decide to be slighlty cheekier by ignoring the English scores of international students on competitive tests but consider their math scores which tend to be higher than those of American students.

Wondering which universities may be guilty of these sins? Think of every major Ivy league, prestigious, super-selective school in the United States. Practically all of them except for CalTech which is virtually blemish-free.

Just when we thought we were so far away from "donations" and the quota system. Americans have a polite term for the latter too. It's called "affirmative action," and thankfully it's controversial in this country too.

It was encouraging to come across the information and know that when international students are denied any kind of financial aid most of the time or are rejected from big schools when they have all the right tools, they shouldn't take it personally. There's a greater vendetta at play. If only they knew...

Instead of lamenting how things could have turned out, international students should revel in coming from a foreign culture and having a fresh perspective. It's a major advantage sometimes. Like one of my professors once said to the international students in my program, "You view the glass as half empty. I view it as half full." That was in the middle of a pep talk he was giving us about not wallowing in the disadvantages we have in comparison to American students. That makes sense. I'll view the glass half full.

I'm an international student and loving every minute of it!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Killing buildings

The recent Mumbai blasts were pathetic, a shame. The escalating death toll depressed everyone further reminding them how the terrorists had won again.

If the loss of human life wasn't enough, add the beautiful buildings that were damaged as well. The Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai is one of the most exquisite structures in the city. To watch it burn helplessly, physically and live, thick black smoke billowing out of its majestic domes and minarets, was painful. The building that is a museum of sorts, with rich woodwork on its interiors, and which has stood proud and tall for decades, was being forced to petty ashes by idiots who couldn't begin to understand the artichtectural asset that was being destroyed.

Victoria Terminus, which was recently rechristened a domestic name, is the symbol for aspiration. Only a few would understand its symbolism when it appears in Hindi movies, reiterating the eternal rags to riches desire that many who come to Mumbai harbour. The ones who land in the city with nothing but a suitcase full of dreams, hoping that magical Mumbai, the Indian land of unlimited opportunities, will make them all come true.

Leopald's Cafe which was immortalized by Gregory David Roberts' story of Shantharam. The popular haunt of many foreign travellers, a major reason for which it was a target.

I hope you're not raising your eyebrows at the attention I choose to pay to bricks and cement. But the identity of a city, though predominantly associated with its people, has an important relationship with its landmark and often irreplaceable structures.

When the restoration/renovation efforts are complete, guests will continue to check into one of the most luxurious water-front hotel in the world. Railways will continue to ply the ancient tracks of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. And Leopald's Cafe has already reopened, resuming with serving the famous liquor and delicious food it is famous for. But Mumbai has already changed into a city where people feel less safe, with its people and buildings under threat.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid

A good book after a long time feels like a relaxing neck rub or soaking your feet in warm water and mineral salts. It's that sense of 'Aah", of sheer relief, in knowing that all is not lost. That the value if good writing has not yet been consumed by the digital world.

I just finished reading "Moth Smoke" by Mohsin Hamid and loved every word. The journalist and lawyer from Princeton and Harvard is a great storyteller who narrates how the protagonist's life goes downhill, caught in an ugly spin of an extramarital affair and a heroin addiction, while constructing a remarkably relevant allegory to the Mughal empire and its notables of siblings Aurangazeb and Dara. I loved his use of words and language and the bizarre descriptions and comparisons that he tries to pass off as normal. Fascinating writer whose first novel gives you a teasing insight into his convulted mind. Some of it was quite morbid, I had to shake myself to reality a couple of times to avoid etting depressed. But that's the strength of a good writer I guess - one who can transport you to the world that he creates between pages, allowing you to forget reality, if only momentarily.

Stranded in a foreign land during one of the busiest holidays in America didn't bother me too much because I had the book for company and was actually silently celebrating the delay because it meant I got more time with the book.

It also became increasingly clearer that my inability to finish a book sometimes has more to do with its lacklustre plot rather than my sloth-like tendencies or my snail-paced reading. Sometimes. Sometimes it really just is my sloth-like tendencies and snail-paced reading.

"Moth Smoke" is definitely a recommended read.