The Ringside View

My attempts at writing have always been stacked up in old diaries and scraps of yellowing paper.Time,neglect and phylum insecta however, always ensured that the gibberish i scrawled, never would see the prying gaze of an alien eye.Years later, i still scribble once in a while - this time in word documents stored in some obscure folder somewhere in the innards of my C drive.I am unearthing some of them and opening them up for the interested.To get what i call - The Ringside view.

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Location: Bangalore, Karnataka, India

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Big decisions world makes, small decisions you make.

Picture this: Act 1 Scene 1.

You are sitting on one of those white plastic chairs waiting to be counseled. No. You’re not James Frey in a ‘Million Little Pieces’. No. You don’t have a demented bent of mind and contribute to no psychiatrist’s cash register. You’re just waiting to be counseled into one of the hazaar professional colleges in the state. And you expect your freakin life to take off sails upright into sunny Bohemia after that.

The last one year’s been one big blur. Social life has been as happening as that of a weasel’s. You feel you’ve stunted. You speak more gibberish than you ever did at any point in life. And the numbers on the marks card has proved you geek enough. Or so you thought. But now sitting on that white plastic chair, staring at the big electronic board blink rapidly depreciating numbers, you reckon otherwise. You look around. Guys in glasses, checkered cotton shirts and trousers ending at their ankles have all got better numbers than you. When you lived like a weasel, they probably lived like a weasel in solitary confinement.

Your dad next to you is panicking as the numbers against good city colleges for so called good technical streams disappear like Harry Potter books. You can feel the sails on your imaginary boat going limp.

It’s your turn finally. ‘Yen thagothiya (What will you take)’, they ask you at the pearly gates like in a grocery store.

‘Computer science – ABC college’, you reply for lack of a choice (Where is ABC college – somewhere in the city. Is it good? Probably. Do you like computer science – probably not. Then why are you taking it? Don’t ask too many questions no. I am taking a career decision damnit.).

Computer science close aithu. Electronics thago. Ole scope idhe (There are no more computer science seats. Take Electronics. Good scope)’

Your plans have been re-shuffled like a Rubix cube. Holy fuck, now what. ‘Jaldi (Quick)’, he prods you like you were not disoriented already.

Kot bidi sir (Give it to us)’, dad to the rescue. The sail has now completely gone limp. You can see yourself paddling in the high sea. Career decision made. What joy.


Act 1 Scene 2:

Your American Airlines flight from Denver or Houston or wherever else has barely hit the tarmac and your marital future is already being discussed. Oblivious you, with 46 kilos of luggage, 23 out of them being chocolates for all and sundry is merely happy to be back. Mars, Maltesers and Snickers for aunties, uncles, unseen neighbours and Lindt and Ferroro Rocher for women friends with whom you intend reviving some lost chemistry (little do you know that all these women friends of yours are now snugly married with their little ones winning general proficiency awards in Ryan Internal School first grade).

You feel disoriented. Stoned. And like in a trance you are whisked away to see some potential wife-to-be. Nice pretty stranger sits there as disinterested as you are.

‘Now why don’t you’ll go into the living room and talk’, an elderly uncle from the wife-to-be’s side announces; like he were some DJ at some rave party announcing – ‘Let the party begin’.

Progressive India you see. You get to talk to wife-to-be before marriage and all. You are jet lagged, disinterested and pretty much speak as much sense as Hunter S Thomson in Fear and Loathing. Wife-to-be sounds aloof as well.

‘Did you like her’, one of the cousin’s prods you back in the car.

‘She’s got a nice nose ring. It twinkles’, you reply.

‘Uncle, he likes her’, cousin (devil incarnate) conveys decision after parsing innocent statement above.

‘I did not say so’, you counter attack.

‘Don’t feel shy I say’, dad volleys back into the far court.

You stretch. Reply. ‘But I have hardly even talked to her’

‘Lots of time to talk after marriage. So much so, I get irritated when your mom speaks these days’. Federer style cross court smash. Laughter. Applause. Decision made.


Two years later, in one of those silly office events you and wife-to-be (now wife) score 7 out of 50 in the ‘oneness of thought’ round. You are petrified. But the office average is 5.76 you hear.

Now picture this: Act 2 Scene 1:

You stare into the mirror and get a ‘Was I not wearing this yesterday as well’ kinda feeling; your one favorite jean is working round the clock and accompanying you everywhere from hair saloons to ice cream parlors. And when your mom, without prior notice decides to wash the poor thing, you pretty much are stranded with nothing at all to wear. Fine!! Enough is enough, you decide. Retail therapy time it is.

You walk into big swanky mall and cookies that smell much better than they taste are doing what they do best – smelling good. Pretty girls stand around campaigning for pretty cars and what not. You hate the malls as much you like it. Enter store one. Depreciating fashion sense these stores these days have. Outrageous designs. Looking for something wearable is no longer an easy job. Everything on display are for models strutting the Milan fashion scene. Poor you can find nothing at all.

You lay down fairly simple requirements. Something regular; single colored. (Is it a god damn necessity that every denim fabric should look faded). Ya, preferably not ballooning at the base. Absolutely, and no intentions of showing the black strap of your undergarment either. The sales man gives you the ‘this is the 21st century boss’ kinda look.

You move onto shop two. And three. And twenty three. Consultation. Deliberations. Trials. You finally narrow down the winner. Napoleon would not have thought this hard. You return home victorious. Mom looks at it and hollers –‘Again the same colour’.


Act 2 Scene 2:

You: “So where do we go?”

SP: “You tell.”

You: “WTF? Why is it always me?”

SP: “Ok, how about Shezan. Like always. Good food, familiar faces, easy on the wallet”

You: “Why are you freakin worried about the wallet. It’s his treat. Wanna rip him apart”

SP: “Rip him apart we will. We can order extra food and not eat, can’t we?”

You: “What’s the point bugger. Why not go some place swanky.”

SP: “Ok then you tell”

You: “RB?”

PS: “No Chinese”

You: “Little Italy?”
CG: “Ya nice”

SP: “Fuck you. That’s a veggie place”

You: “Coffee shop at the Taj”

PS: “Ya my cousins tell me it’s a nice place. They have a poolside…”

AH (interrupting): “No pseudo places place. Just want food. Loads of it”

You (Beaming): “Pinxx?”

Chorus: ‘Ya”

AH: “Good liquor as well”.

VS: “I’ve not won the sweepstakes yet you bastards. It’s my treat and no way in hell it’s Pinxx”

{Two hours later]

You (sounding bored): “So where do we go?”

SP: “You tell”.


P.S: Ever wondered why we ponder so much over the little things in life while the big decisions are just shoved down upon us no questions asked?

The question is asked, so if you’ve got an opinion, do drop a word. Else, go fly a kite. Lol.

P.P.S: Act 1 Scene 2 is not autobiographical. The other scenes may have tinges of the same. Btw, I finally managed to write a blog which is not in first person. Yayyy.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Food Talk

[Published on Hafta dated 18th July 2007]

‘What is, authentic British food?’, I asked Matt over lunch one day. He pondered pensively like I had asked him the very meaning to life itself. ‘It varies’, he started evasively. But I was not to let him slip out of this one easily. ‘I understand’, I interrupted. ‘But there still must be something that the British would have every day. Something staple. Something they’d die for’, I dramatized. Staring emptily into a distant nothingness, Matt replied, ‘Yorkshire pudding is authentic and every Englishman likes his steak and roast potatoes. And…..’, rubbing his chin gingerly added - ‘Chicken Tikka masala probably’.


We were at JVK’s leaving do the other day and amidst passionate discussions on women, wine and other vices, we suddenly found ourselves discussing food. I quickly slipped out my million dollar question and asked VK, the ‘What is staple English food’ question. VK on six pints of lager laughed hysterically and told me – ‘Don’t believe the folks who tell you pies and puddings and something else exotic. For all and sundry, a normal English lunch is still the humble sandwich’. ‘Try Logan’s’ he continued in the same breath. ‘I had this jumbo deli today with turkey breast, mayo, lettuce, pickled olives, tomatoes…..’


Now that, I am afraid is what I very often get from folks when I probe them with questions on English culinary habits. However, not to be put off with Matt’s ignorance or VK’s statement of truth after six pints of lager, I set off this weekend to the Council library to demystify the truth about English food. Now don’t get me wrong people. It’s not that there is no English ware up for grabs in the streets of Norwich or Peterborough or where ever else you are in the Queen’s land. It’s just that for every restaurant serving British food, you will find three others serving non- British. And even by basic probability theory, chances are that you will end up in a restaurant serving Indian or Italian or Mexican and keep pondering ‘What is authentic British food?’


I walked past the giant racks on the first floor, searching for volumes on my new found interest. Imagine sitting around huge volumes on British food, making notes and looking pensive as summer clouds loomed dangerously outside. I remember watching Mastermind India on TV as a kid and being baffled by how inane the topics of specialization of some of the contestants were: All works of Vladimir Nobokov between 1938 and 1977. Phew; all Nobel prize winners for Chemistry and their works between XXXX and YYYY. Phew. Phew. Painful though it sounded, there seemed a vague sense of purpose to these topics and I was kicked to have eventually found my share of arbidness. And into it I shall pour my heart and soul.


I walked past World History and Criminology and finally found Health & Food tucked away nice and cozy between Economics and Photography. Four racks of literature on food and food alone. Quick and easy Italian lunches, books by Madhur Jaffrey and even the odd one on Lebanese cuisine. All hard bound and glossy with a ‘pick me please’ earnestness. But undeterred, I turned a blind eye and kept looking for something with point blank titles like –‘All you ever wanted to know about English cuisine’ or even ‘English cuisine for Dummies’. But multiple left to right scans later, the closest I ever got to anything remotely topical was a book titled ‘Fish & Chips’. Wonder who wrote that. Should I cross borders and venture deeper into ‘Health’ territories, I wondered. I’d be damned if steaks, pies and pudding made it to healthy eating.


I must admit that thanks to my culinary skills, I do eat out quite a bit and scrawling down eating joints of interest seemed like a good beginning. Very good beginning indeed. Out came a scrap of paper. ‘Can I borrow a pen please’ to the good looking girl sitting nearby and I am off. Scribble; scribble; scribble and I have a fairly long list.

The groundwork done, now it was down to analysis. The rain pelted down in a ‘Oh ya, you bet it’s summer’ kinda mockery.

Rocco’s it read. A nice place you come across when you walk down from the rail station. Black leather furniture; waiters in bow ties and bar girls with thick Italian accents. ‘Pasta, Pizza and Salad buffet’, the inviting board outside screams out. And if you took their word seriously and ventured inside, the Chicken Risotto, Meat Lasagne (is it beef? Pork? Do I care) and slivers of Margherita is what I would call food worth killing your neighbour with a fork with. Decorate your food mountain with colourful leafy salads and by Jove you have an endless (it’s a buffet people) gastronomic saga. But then let’s just not get carried away here. The Italians from Caesar’s times always were adept at building roads and colosseums and cheesy tongue twisting delicacies. But we’re studying British food here and I scratched out my Rocco’s with a casual albeit hungry pencil stroke.

Pensively I worked down the list. Nandos, the Mecca of grilled chicken. It’s a Portuguese joint with earthy interiors, very pretty waitresses and spicy Peri-Peri sauces of Mozambique origins. It’s an aphrodisiac they claim as well and I wonder if it’s the reason why whenever the pretty girl at the billing counter asks me ‘How spicy would you like it’ I always end up mumbling ‘Hot…Very Hot’. Ironically, the Nandos at city centre is right below my gym where I labour endlessly on treadmills and recumbent bikes burning calories which anyway are bound to magically resurface in the floor below. Anyways, that’s the ‘energy can neither be created nor destroyed’ concept locked, stocked and barreled. Swish goes the pencil stroke.

There are days when you do not cook and do not want to eat out either at places exotic. And walking home like a loser, in the dead of the night you see shining like a beacon – the Turkish Kebab centers. You suddenly feel the urge to eat Sheekh kebab in Pita bread, or Chicken burger with loads of lettuce and onions. You enter the shady joint and the barrage of questions rain down on you.

‘Hello braather’.

‘Hello’, you reply. ‘Can I have a chicken burger and a coke please’.

‘Braather Indian?’. Yes.

‘Braather student?’. No.
‘Braather working then?’. Yes.

‘How much money braather making’. You shift uneasily and ask for mayo and ketchup as well. He gives you more wisdom and asks why all Indians in this town work for the same company as you. Thanks for making me feel unique braather. Burger in hand, I walk out with a ‘I have earned it and it’s not just three quid’ feeling. Swish.


A couple of Indian restaurants grace my list in loyal allegiance. To be honest, if statistics is to be believed almost 70-80% (don’t quote me on it) of the so called Indian restaurants in the UK are Bangladeshi in origin. But who cares. The fact remains that they serve everything from Chicken Madras to Vindaloo to Mutton Rogan Josh and that’s all a foodie should ever be bothered about. Mop them up with rotis, naan breads or pilau rice all while listening to Bollywood music pelting out in a setting the ambience exercise. Swish. Swish.


We went to a Japanese place recently and it duly took its place as one of the latest entries on my list. Interesting way of operating, they did have. Your order taken, there was vigorous scribbling of your dish number on your table like it were some covert Japanese formula. You wait and the drinks arrive and nobody ever bothers if it was 46 on your table or 73. ‘Iced tea’, asks the waitress. ‘Here please….46’, I smartly quip. She hands me my drink and looks at me like I were some number freak. Anyways, the straw like rice noodles eventually arrive, and I restrain from quoting numbers. It tastes distinctly of lemon grass and ginger and I get wild visions of Japanese rice fields and farmers in long straw hats( don’t know why). I concentrate and fight through the quietest lunch of my life. Phew!!! Chopsticks.


The summer clouds outside the library window had finished their sport and drifted further eastwards. The sun faked a ‘I’ve been here all along’ smile. I walked out of the revolving glass door right into the aimless Saturday crowd of shoppers and revellers. I looked around ravenously. All the food talk had whipped up a roaring appetite, you see.

‘Half grilled chicken with coleslaw and garlic bread, please’, I said.

‘And how spicy would you like it?’, the Lateita Casta look alike questions.

‘Hot…..very hot’, I stutter.


So that’s the crux of it. English food is Portugese; it’s Turkish; it’s Indian; it’s a melting pot of cuisines from wherever the Englishman went. Not quite satisfactory. I fiddled with the pencil in my hand. Anyways until a better answer dawns, let’s consider it proved. Period.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007


I sat staring out of my bedroom window at the kids playing cricket below. At 23/2 one of the boys came out and smashed a straight six which splintered the glass window of flat 14B into a million little pieces. The lady of the house stuck her head out and bellowed abuses at the now empty ground. A pair of forgotten slippers being the only testimony to a game that now seems did not happen at all. The fun was over. I stepped out of bed and threw my sponge ball against the wall and dived for the rebound.

‘Don’t dirty the wall’, dad commanded without lifting his eyes of the morning daily.

I walked across to the hallway and looked at my cousin. ‘Will they bring it’, I asked in doubt.

‘Can’t say’, he nodded despondently. ‘Younis’ grandmother passed away early this year it seems. Heard your mom telling’.

I grimaced in disbelief. Mom called out from the kitchen just at that very instance. ‘Go get some chilies will you. The money is in the box’.

I hate doing errands but I picked the loose change and rushed out of the door. The Younis household lived on the first floor and we on the second. The door as usual was ajar. The fruity fragrance of perfume wafted in like from neverland and I think I smelt saffron. And cardamom. And a hundred other spices. Mounds of footwear are strewn around the threshold of the house. Shiny, strappy, golden ones of the young and trendy; the flat utility Bata variety of the elderly; dusty, workmen slip-ons of the bearded men in white kurtas – all piled in one rising heap of colorful disorder.

I returned chilies in hand and Younis’ mom was chasing one of the many kids of the house. I beamed a 100 watt smile. Mumbled a not so loud enough ‘Hello aunty’. I don’t think she noticed.

‘You know what’, I whispered to cousin on my return. ‘They are celebrating. There are loads of guests and all’.

‘What are the two of you mumbling? Come to the table. Lunch is ready’, mom interrupted.

‘I am not hungry now’, I categorically sulked and went back to my cozy corner. The cleric called out the end of prayer somewhere in the distance. I stared out at nothing in particular. Everything outside looked bright and yellow in the jaundiced sunlight. Period.

‘Ok that’s enough. Come get your food’, mom concluded. ‘I know what your problem is. I wonder where you get these habits from. Always expecting stuff from others’

I glum faced and frustrated, went to the table. Resistance was futile. Rice and a yellow yogurt based cucumber curry. I want to holler and throw my sponge ball against the showcase but I know it’s of no avail. Gulp. Gulp. A few morsels and I decide I can take it no more. I can hear the dissent in the background but I get into my ‘I can’t hear anything’ cyst.

Back at my window sill, I continue staring. A good hour or so later there is a knock on the door. I take a measured walk into the hallway. I know it is them, expectation swelling in my little self. Younis and his mom are sitting there with a tray. ‘Happy Ramzan aunty. Happy Ramzan Younis’, I mumble. The biriyani has arrived.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007


[Ok, readers of my blog, I now officially write for an online mag as well. So do visit - This one's from there. And I am adhering to the 'publish it in your blog only one week later rule'. Ofcourse, what you read below is the uncut version.]

You realize that the Ol’ Blighty has worked on you when you do twice the number of ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’ than the obsequious air hostesses on the London Mumbai flight. I pushed the bridge of my black framed pseudo intellectual glasses as I made my way through the doors of the A320. ‘Good morning sir’, the first hostess clad in yellow wished. Though I hated the ‘Sir’, ‘Good morning’, I wished in return. A tall, short haired, dusky hostess with a nose ring was next. Huge turn on. ‘26A please’, I enquired in a false Sinatra baritone. ‘Straight ahead darling’, she replied with a beaming smile. Darling for godamn sake. I cringed at the ring of those words. ‘I am no kid damn it. Call me sir at least’, every sinew in me wanted to shout back.

The smart boy image having shattered into a million pieces, I sat around twiddling with the entertainment console. Aishwarya Rai danced beautiful in an artificially simulated rain sequence. The orange juice tasted sour and the unseen occupants of my neighbouring seat probably fiddled with their luggage in some tube station near Covent Garden as we left Heathrow behind and cruised heaven-ward.

Miss Rai danced twice more in the next twenty minutes, once with rain and once without. And when the flight safety manual started seeming more interesting than the happenings onscreen, I knew I had reached the pinnacle of air travel boredom. I vainly, alternated between states of alpha sleep and quasi wakefulness as iterative interruptions of food, drink and more food happened. ‘Excuse me sir’, she’d wake me up from a state of deep REM sleep and ask ‘Paneer wrap or Chicken wrap, sir’. One of each please.

But they finally ran out of food I presume and I managed to sleep through a few decent countries. When Mumbai finally happened, I was pretty much like a giant salamander post hibernation (assuming salamanders do hibernate). But the last place salamanders want to be after a relaxed period of nothingness is the airport. Immigration control and the long stares at your passport like you were a KGB agent at the JFK; the filling in of arrival cards, where shamelessly my name would jut out with a ‘can I have more boxes please’ earnestness; where restless me waited around conveyer belts like a love torn Romeo wondering – ‘Is that my beloved red back pack or is it the burly man’s next to me’.


The heat wave hit me like a welcome hug as I lugged my bags to the nearest pre-paid taxi stand. Three hundred rupees later, I was sitting in a black and yellow ramshackle Fiat with the only thing older than the taxi being the driver himself. A Rohinton Mistry protagonist look alike, the old man hardly uttered a word, maneuvering the road ahead (which had enough in it to seem like one of the higher levels in a brand new version of NFS) with concentration writ large on his furrowed brow. ‘Mumbai me garmi kaisa he’, I asked inanely. ‘Diktha nahi he kya’, he grumpily replied. I wiped the sweat of my brow and laughed sheepishly. I tried again a few minutes later, but a limited vocabulary and a lackluster choice of topic meant I was only going to get monosyllabic uninterested replies. Okay. No conversations for the taking here. I resigned and stared out at the giant billboards instead, advertising game shows on national television.

I checked in, showered and looked out of my hotel room window. There’s nothing like a room with a good view. Mine looked straight into the living room of some apartment on the other side of the road. The girl in the blue top was the only eye candy I got (if I were to not consider the shriveled petunias in her balcony). I walked west a minute and there stood the Gateway of India. Boats towed and bobbing in the simmering Bombay Sea. Boy scouts running around in shades of khaki. Peanut shells and pigeon feed strewn around today like carnations would have been when King George sailed in.


I sat at Leopold Café later that evening, with all due reverence that a place running since 1871 should deserve. But I felt weirdly incongruous. Largely because I did not have a copy of the Lonely Planet and everybody else on every other table had it. My previous visits to Mumbai (at least from the gastronomic angle) always had that ‘Damn, I did not go to Leopold’ factor to it. And now that I come to think of it, I do not think I missed much. All its got is a dreamy Indian Coffee House kinda nonchalance (in the nature of the waiters that is), a ‘ShivSagar’ kinda menu (Chinese,Indian,Italian….) and an interesting way of serving draught which would make even Arts students feel like they are in a chemistry lab. And what’s more, the Leopold menu seemed to reflect the grand Indian economic uprising. As I paid my hundred rupees for the mango juice, I was indeed painfully proud.


I walked the Leopold stretch this way and that; flooded with PYT’s shopping for little trinkets for the Monday morning flaunting back at college. And somewhere in between I felt the long lingering looks of an angel. And a whisper and giggle later, another. Must be my new Frank Lampard like frontal spike. God bless my Turkish hair dresser who speaks unintelligible but works like a craftsman. It all boils down to having a stylish hair style I say. I walked towards them with an air of conscious well being and then I heard them giggle and whisper ‘jumper’. Oh yes!!!, it was the freakin’ jumper. Stuck to me like an additional body layer all the way from Norwich. I was probably the only one other than the typhoid patients at Breach Candy wearing a black jumper in the hot Mumbai summer. And the girls sure did find it amusing. Strip went the jumper and I scurried into the nearest restaurant and downed the embarrassment with a Chicken biriyani washed down with fresh lime soda. Thank god for the fact that all things nasty have antidotes. Burp.


Two sunrises later, as I stood in the immigration queue at Heathrow, I had the beaming satisfaction of having learned from Mumbai. I had bulldozed my way to the top of the queue sending a couple of Chinese folks flying (Gattuso would have been proud). And when the immigration officer, stamped my passport and gave it back to me, I matter of factly picked it up and nodded a quiet thank you. To hell with the exaggeration and the profuse pleasantries, for you’re doing your fuckin job and I am doing mine, thank you.

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