Monday, June 22, 2009

Brunch and then some Bombay

Brunch in Bangalore is as big a deal as you want to be. The options range from the corner Darshini (read: Adiga's or Sukh Sagar) that will serve the safe (by which I mean standard-taste-always-good) Masala Dosa and Kesari Bhath fare. But every now and then when you feel like something different, there are a bunch of brunch options. Of these, Sunny's on Lavelle Road is pretty impressive.

Sunny's is an institution that began as a tiny kiosk on an offshoot of a road a few streets away. Today, it's housed in a Prestige building that looks as though it once was an old house. But it's been renovated and now boasts a swanky curb appeal, complete with a classic wooden gate at the entrance and a well-landscaped outdoors. The interiors are the highlight though, with spotless glass panes that look out onto the green space outside and which is remarkably well-concealed from busy Lavelle Road.

I loved the lights the best, that looked like ear swabs - short metallic poles with white bulbs on either end. A series of them dangled from a framework of sorts, possibly to provide a more dramatic effect than airborne ear swabs.

Once inside Sunny's, it would be unfair to say this is just another Indian restaurant. The atmosphere is different - airy, open, fresh. That's not to say that other eateries in the city are stale and claustrophobic. Just that this feels like a world by itself. Everyone was in capris and cotton shirts, sunglasses pushed back against their hair. People at nearby tables sit sipping a tall glass of beer where the foam has collected at the rim or a more colorful pina colada sort of cocktail/mocktail concoction with a lemon wedge peeking out.

And given the setting, it's easy to guess that the crowd had its fair share of Page 3 celebrities that jump out at you every Sunday morning from pages of Bangalore Times. But if you can get past the air kisses and the drawling "dahlings," you can pay more attention to the food.
I ordered a saffron cream chicken that I really liked. Mild flavors in what I would call a "smooth" dish. Mom and grandma ordered salads. I almost overlook the salad section on restaurant menus and with good reason. I've never considered vegetables, "food." These salads did little to shake my conviction. The sibling got lasagna which frankly was too tame an order for me, but she seemed to enjoy it. The highlight was dad's order of a whole fish cooked in some medley of pan Asian spices. Mighty impressive. Dessert was good too. The nice touch that all this was done on Father's Day.

In the evening, dad's friends invited us to dinner to Bombay Post of the BJN group on Airport Road. No matter how many times we go here, the novelty of dining in a restaurant with black and white paintings of old Hindi film stars and eating delicious Indian food that makes you think of being in Mumbai or Delhi, never gets stale. This time was no different except that we had to adhere to a vegetarian menu, to respect our hosts' dietary practices.

We had palak chat, which was every bit as fancy as it sounds. There was paneer and chole and naan. Somewhere along the way, there was some rice too, but we were so full at that point, that the details conveniently blur. Of course, none of this mattered when it was time to order the blueberry kulfi. Fantastic.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

"My Pet"? I fret

Homework was to write five sentences about "My pet." Five grammatically correct sentences. Those were the only reuqirements. The assignment was for a college class. "What?!" she said. "This is insane!" I had to agree.

The papers came in the next day and the teacher asked the class to redo the assignment. The level of English used was so bad that he stopped evaluating after the first four papers, he said. Poor guy.

Yes, it must be frustrating to be in a class filled with people whose level of English, or whatever the subject, is evidently below your own. It must be annoying to be forced to crawl in a class when you'd rather be racing.

But that got me thinking that if no one took the time to teach people whose educational level was substandard, how can we ever expect to make progress? We talk about education for everyone, equal opprtunities and other lofty ideas. When saying that, do we subconsciously mean teaching more to the ones that already know enough ? So the ones ahead of the race get further, creating a wider gap between the ones who are already struggling to get past the starting line?

Maybe education doesn't mean just multiple degrees and a great job. Maybe it doesn't just mean becoming class valedictorian. Maybe it means getting education to people who really need it. Maybe it means visualizing an equal world and then putting your money where your mouth is.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Quite a tongue-twister and tongue-pleaser, this meal

"Sawadika," they said in unison, bowing from the waist, with their palms pressed together in front of them. That put a big smile on my face and I knew the evening was about to be special.

We were at the newly-opened Thai restaurant, Benjarong in Banaglore. Owned by the same people as former popular bakery Hot Breads and more recently, The French Loaf, in Bangalore and Chennai. Dark pine interiors and the wafting smell of delicious Thai cooking greeted us along with very convincingly-costumed hostesses, when we stepped in. The entrance was a little complicated, with the only access being through an elevator and then we were led down a narrow passage of wooden stairs going underground. But the space opened into a comfortable dining area, complete with a private dining room. Incidentally, page 3 celebrity, Leena Singh was dining there with a bunch of friends at the time.

Soft instrumental Thai music played from speakers in the corner of the room. Dainty waitresses flitted through the room, with their hair wrapped in tight buns atop their heads and gracious smiles.

Our first introduction to the food was an unusual appetizer, that was served complimentary. A large platter of fresh lettuce leaves accompanied with tiny bowls of assortments that included chopped ginger, red chillies, tiny lemon wedges and some sauces. I'm positive there were more but these are what I remember at the moment. The waitress explained that we were supposed to fill a single lettuce leaf with the accompaniments, fold it up and eat the whole thing all together. Apparently, the different tastes would meet inside the mouth, we were told. And they sure did! Each taste was distinct despite all of them having individual strong flavors. It tasted great. A refreshing change from kim chee (chilli pickled cabbage) and pickled vegetables that are usally served at Oriental restaurants.

We ordered Bamme Phad Kai (Soft noodles with egg) and Tom Kati Poo (coconut soup served lukewarm to retain the coconut flavor and consistency. Had a subtle taste, but was especially good). With the soup, we got chicken satay, that was also quite nice. I was quite impressed with the size of the portions. I ordered Gaengjued Woonsen Ga or crabmeat and glass noodle soup. The noodles were interesting, though you have to develop a taste for it's sticky texture. Some of what we ordered was the standard fare - Khao Phad Kai (egg fried rice) and Goong Ohb Woonsen (prawn noodles). And we got Pla Yang too, which is basically fish, but I was intrigued by the name. The Goong Tod Nam Prik was a pleasant surprise. Large succulent prawns cooked in an aromatic blend of Thai herbs and spices. Truly flavorful. The Yum Mamung, a raw mango salad, was strangely forgettable.

For dessert we had Khao Niew Sankhaya. Melt in the mouth ice cream-like concoction, although warmer, served with sweetened sticky rice, cooked to perfection is a lightly flavored milk base.

Service was prompt and curteous. The decor was apt. And I was in great company. My only grouse may be with the layout of the restaurant that can be a tad confusing. But that's easy to ignore. I walked out happy.

Walking on thin Ice

So much of the world's progress and great ideas comes from inspiration. Of someone or something wanting to be better than their present state and not quite sure how to make that transition until met with a source of inspiration.

That seems to be what happened with Iceland, that is coping with financial ruin at the moment. However, the word "inspiration" doesn't really fit this situation.

My first clear insight to Iceland was around the time that Indian actress, Aishwarya Rai, appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Iceland was shown as a nation almost unconcerned with the rest of the world. This tiny country tucked away above Europe, had a small, very happy population. People were in excellent health, the education system was great and Iceland was virtually self-sufficient, depending primarily on a thriving fishing industry. No wonder then that Icelanders partied hard and frequently and enjoyed the rich cuisine and vibrant arts their country had to offer. Until 2008.

Around 2003, Iceland had the brainwave to invest in American banks, with the idea of replicating a Wall Street. This for a country that didn't have experience in high finance.

As the American financial markets began to grow, Icelandic markets multiplied. But when the American economy collapsed late 2008, that left Iceland competely crushed. It became the first western country to borrow fromt the International Monetary Fund since 1979.

The aruguments are several and possibly valid: Why did Iceland not stick to fishing? Why did they venture into a the big bad world of money if they had no prior knowledge of the territory? Why interfere with a system that seems to be functioning fine?

But if inventors of the past had thought similarly, all of us would have been doomed a long time ago, deprived of great changes and valuable innovations. That's what makes this so sad. Iceland took a chance and got burned. It's such a depressing signal to anyone who wants to take a chance again. And that's much more likely to leave many more of us burned.

Monday, June 15, 2009


These were the most disciplined group of feathery creatures I've even seen. The ducks at the Windflower resort walked neatly in line and lowered themselves into a pond.


The entrance to Bylakuppe

On the way to Bylakuppe. I took this picture standing out the sunroof of my car.

Pretty sheep grazing along the highway.

The Sunday market.

Fields in Karnataka.

Curiousity got the better of me and I suggested a roadtrip to Bylakuppe. The family agreed and we set out on a Sunday.

Bylakuppe is a large Tibetan settlement in southern India, close to Coorg. The weather was great and India looked beautiful. Radiant in the sunshine, enveloped in a blue sky and green for miles, I couldn't help letting a tiny sigh escape my lips.

We drove for what seemed an eternity. Passing by IIJNM on Mysore Road, we entered and exited Ramnagaram, Chanapatna, Mandya and Srirangapatnam, enroute to our destination. At Ramnagaram, we saw the famous hill where the legendary Indian blockbuster, Sholay, was shot. In Chanapatna, we saw brightly painted toys and childrens' rocking horses lined up outside the stores. Somewhere along the way, we also saw a Sunday market in progress. Temporary stalls of tarpaulin attempted to blockout the sun as owners traded in fruit and vegetables.

Just before Mysore city, we turned on to another highway to head to Bylakuppe. The ascent became more noticeable, the weather got cooler. After nearly two hours of passing by green fields under fluffy white clouds, we reached Bylakuppe.

It's a well-planned settlement, spread across acres of green space. The Golden Temple crowns the area. Tiny shops lined closely next to each other form the industrial part of the habitat and houses are tucked toward the rear of the property. Quite possible to miss the turning to Bylakuppe bcasuse the sign is nestled among a million others. Unless you're specifically looking for it, you could drive right past.

We were at Bylakuppe for barely an hour before we needed to head back. Evening traffic on the highway is not the best.

We made a quick pitstop at the Windflower resort in Mysore where we ate dinner and sipped on mysore coffee. Nice place, new and well-landscaped. Would have helped to have some plumbing in the restrooms.

It was almost midnight by the time we got home - tired and perfectly happy.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Gettin' (Bus)y with it

Ami and I decided to investigate the bus routes a few days ago. Since the new international airport has opened, several shiny new red Volvo buses have been deployed to help weary passengers commute the almost 30-kilometer distance from downtown. Joining the new fleet are pretty grey and pink "Suvarna" buses, green and yellow "Big 10" buses and and attractive Orange and Blue line buses that aesthetically cruise down a fixed city route. Why live in the city and not take advatange of greater connectivity that the government is trying to provide in addition to the upcoming Metro?

Our adventure began when we stood at the bus stop just outside our house, located in the suburbs, 20 minutes away by car from the city center. Although we had intended to begin our bus trip at 7 a.m. that morning, we were officially at the bus stop only at 11:40 a.m., give or take a little. Blame it on the roadtrip we had taken the day before that forced us to oversleep.

Semi-crowded bus after bus momentarily halted in front of us, seemingly mocking our discomfort in the heat, seemingly dangling a mode of transport before us that it knew we couldn't take as much as we wanted to. Perhaps that's a stretch of my imagination. But whoever said that wasn't allowed?

All of three route options continually passed by us: Marathalli, Silk Board and Hebbal. Finally exhausted, Ami and I took the most logical of the three options: Hebbal. Ten minutes later, we reached our destination, crossed over railway tracks and waited for Bus No. 2.

More six-wheeled monsters passed by, some Volvos and an ocassional Blue and Orange line one. Again, only three routes: Jakkur, Kempegowda Bus Stand and another one that escapes my memory at the moment. None seemed befitting, so we took one to the Kempegowda Bus Stand.

At this point you should know that our original destination at 11:40 a.m. had been the Shivajinagar bus station. From there, we had intended to use our combined navigational prowess to take a connecting bus to Richmond Circle. The circumstances were that the sibling had recently enrolled in a college at Richmond Circle and we were attempting to create a more mobile Ami.

At this point, those not familar with the terms should aslo know that Shivajinagar and Kemepegowda bus stands are the two main bus terminuses in Bangalore. Get to either one and there's a good, though not guaranteed, chance you will find a bus to any part of the city.

When Ami and I got off at KBS, we were tired beyond belief, dried like prunes under the Bangalore summer sun and aching for lunch. We headed to KFC. Thank God for small poultry mercies.

Between zinger burgers and sips of iced tea and Aquafina, we regained focus in our vision. And thought too. Out in the sun again, this time we took the underground walkway and returned unscathed by traffic to the terminus. Earlier, we had swung our legs over slimy road railings to get to the other side. Apparently, there was no other more "civilized" way to cross the road.

Before entering the walkway, we saw a sign outside that read something to the effect of "Speshul Chickan Biryanee." In the words of my wise sister, "You know there is something seriously wrong with the fare served at a restaurant where every word of the dish is mispelled."

The walkway itself was a whole different story - burgundy betel leaf juice unflatteringly sprayed on the walls when some moron lacking civic sense thought it would be a good idea to immortalize his saliva. Dirty floors, more than one hundred bodies in the underground space at a time. And a vendor trying to sell three handkerchiefs for ten rupees to a passing crowd. His marketing strategy...thrust the product into the face of the closest passerby. When forced to examine the cloth from such proximity, there's a chance they'll consider it. At least he would have got them to look at it. He didn't seem to be having much success with the tactic.

Back at KBS, Ami decided the sanest thing to do after our little sojourn would be to park herself on the platform that hosted the most comfortable buses - air conditioned, one seat per person, no "standers" - and go to whichever part of the city these dream machines traveled to.

"M.G. Road!" screamed a bus conductor in a white uniform. My eyes lit up and soon filled with tears of joy. Music to my ears - the name of familiar territory. Ami shared my sentiment. We boarded the red beauty. To confirm our fortune, we asked the bus conductor again if the bus went to M.G Road. "Yes maam," he said, blankly typing away at the ticketing device that hung around his neck. "Garuda Mall, Lifestyle...," he continued in the monotone. Ami and I tried to suppress a giggle and ignore the insult to our intelligence. Evidently, there was no escaping our blondedness.

We reached M.G. Road as promised and eventually made it to Shivajinagar Bus Stand. An autorickshaw from there took us to Jaymahal, to our grandmother's house, where clean water and warm food greeted us. Aah, to be home after a day on public transport.

Did I mention that we didn't make it to Richmond Circle? But the day was filled with giggles and good food. Memories that we'll look back on and giggle some more while we share more good food. Paul Dunn did say," Happiness is a journey, not a destination."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Take me by the hand

A late night conversation with mom and dad turned into an aha moment for Ami and I. They began explaing the background of a long-standing family property dispute during which cropped up names and details of decesed family members. Our great-great grandfather and who he was. Our great grandfather and his eventful life before he succumbed to an early typhoid-induced death at 32. He was survived by my 26-year old widowed great-grandmother and six young chidlren. One of them would grow up to be my Baba.

Turns out, my family has had a long realtionship with the Indian railways and their roots are traced back to a tiny village, if all it can be called that, named Tayalur in Karnataka.
Ami and I were already too curious. This past Sunday, the four of us took a roadtrip to Tayalur and nearby, Bangarpet. It was wonderful, to put it mildly. While the dust and surroundings were reminiscent of my taluk trip at IIJNM, the bigger reason behind the journey made it extra special. We walked through the railway station, which by the way has been really well-maintained, both the old and new part, that was inagurated only in June 2008.

Although we only left home at around 10 a.m., all of us were promptly hungry at 2 p.m., so we stopped for a sumptious lunch at a roadside resaturant. The vegetable thali with puris* and aloo** was perfect.
Next stop was Tayalur, the tiniest vilage I have set eyes on, tucked away on a road that offshoots from the Mulbagal road sign on National Highway 4. It has just one tiny 'main street' with cubby-sized stores that sell beedis*** and peanut candy. The rest of the village extends behind this road, into a series of maze-like houses and sructures, packed in close proximity. Chickens and dogs roam the muddy tracts, freely.
Ami and I now know where we come from. Tiny villages in Karnataka, a few kilometers from Bangalore. Our ancestors have worked hard over the years to provide future generations with a standard of living greater than one they lived through. We're proud of our lineage and more at ease in our own skin.
Next stop, the inner boroughs of Chennai, that trace the lineage on our father's side.

*Puris -Fluffy fried Indian bread
**Aloo-The Indian name for potatoes
***Beedis-Indian cigarettes

Below are some pictures of the trip.

A dog takes a nap in the waiting room of the Bangarpet Railway Station. Also seen in the picture is a wheelchair(?!). Before the days of chairs on wheels, the elderly and passengers who needed assistance moving around were carried in chairs with long poles extending from the frame that people would use to carry the seat.

The winding railroad tracks.

Huge boulders on the Old Madras Road. It's amazing how insignifcant one of these rocks can make you feel. When surrounded by them, you realize that you're just another person, passing these huge stones, your tiny car just a metal toy that it could crush instantly.

View from the top of the station.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Custard Topsy Turvy

Ami dropped custard powder in the kitchen today. It was so hilarious, dad and I could barely stand straight as we doubled over with laughter. Like a scene out of a comic movie, the carton exploded in a cloud of powdery dust and settled all over the counter top. The windows. The bottles and jars. And that was just the beginning.

Mother was not pleased. Amu was embarassed but only momentarily, as she should be.

Out came the sponges and mops, the custardy mess cleaned by eight pairs of hands in 20 minutes. Aah, to spend the evening at home after dinner. Entertainment guaranteed.

The antics Amu employed to open that fateful carton will forever remain a secret.