Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Summer games

The summer holidays are here, and my daughter and niece are bored. School is closed but it is too hot and humid to play outside. There's only so much television they can watch. So the girls are holed up inside the room, with nothing to do. The airconditioner is going at full blast.
"Let's play Monopoly", says my niece suddenly. All at once, the mood in the room changes, and the afternoon seems filled with new promise.
In a few minutes, the board is set up, and "money" allocated. Within the first thirty minutes, the girls are transformed into real estate barons. Ha! I got Park Street, says one, as she pays for the property. Tchah, says the other, I have Bond Street!
When the rivalry gets sharp, I announce lunch. They give up the board reluctantly. "We're going to continue after lunch", they tell me.
After lunch, the game quickens. By now, both sides own sizeable chunks of London. There is gleeful gloating, as rents are levied. The girls keep a sharp eye on each other's wealth. Fortunes are made and lost, and the fate of London's real estate swings wildly in the hands of two girls competing for giddy sums of money.
As I watch the game, I am transported to a scene from my own childhood - my sis and I playing Monopoly in the summer holidays. We compete fiercely, but I always seem to lose, while she makes infuriating amounts of money. It is the same with any game of chance - Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, cards - I always try hard, but she always wins.
My daughter interrupts my train of thought.
"Do you want to play with us?" she asks. I smile and refuse.
"But why? It's fun!", says my niece.
I decide to confess. "Because I'll lose", I say to my niece. "I'm no good at this game! Your mom and I used to play this game, and I always lost!"

The girls look at each other and grin. "I'm going to win this one", says my niece. "No way!" says my daughter, and they go back to the game.
I watch them competing, hunched over the board, and I smile to myself. I remember my sister, and the intense concentration of our summer games. I'm glad some things just don't change.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Masala Central

- by Deepa Krishnan
I was walking through Crawford Market looking for pasta, when I saw a little shop with a row of bottles. The neat blue labels and red caps arrested my attention. .
"What a great collection of Mughlai masalas", I said to myself as my camera went click. There were over 50 different spices, ranging from simple popular dishes like Chicken Tikka, to regional specialities like Yakhni Pulao.
As I read the neat labels, I thought of Mumbai's many small "Punjabi" and Mughlai restaurants, with their faded menus and their standard but popular offerings. Did they all buy masalas from places like this? Maybe that's why Chicken 65 tastes similar, whether you eat in Bhayander or in Masjid!
Alongside traditional Mughlai masalas, I also spotted coastal cuisine - Konkani Malvani Masala, Goan Fish Curry Masala, Vindaloo Masala, Prawns Masala Fry and so on. A bottle of Sambar Masala was the sole vegetarian representative from South India, but to add a dash of international flavour to the offerings, there was a bottle of "Pizza Masala".
There are other shops in Crawford Market that sell masalas, but none of them had the neat packaging and display of this one. I complimented the owner on his marketing savvy. "It's not just bottled masalas", he said to me. "If you buy the masala, we also give you the perfect recipe for how to make the dish at home. Try it - your home food will taste just as chatkeela as the restaurants!"
Home cooking, as tasty as restaurant food? A tempting thought, indeed, for harried mothers of finicky children! Mumbai loves to eat out, so often it is restaurant food that defines the standards for what is tasty and what is not. A masala that promises to transform home cooking into something interesting and extraordinary is quite a draw.

So if your family is addicted to restaurant food, go to Crawford Market and take a look at Tasty Spices on Lane 1. Maybe you'll re-create that strange restaurant magic at home, and have everyone asking for more!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Vedic astrology goes global

- By Deepa Krishnan
"My colleague Anne is flying to Mumbai this week", said my friend Pradeep. "And she wants to have her horoscope read. Can you help?"
Anne, it turned out, was British. "My company works in consulting", said Anne. "We advise people on how to manage vendor-client relationships. And I'm curious about this science that predicts whether a relationship will work." Anne figured the best way to understand Vedic astrology was to try checking her horoscope compatibility with her husband.
"It's all computerised these days," I told her. "If you give me the date, time and place of birth for your husband and yourself, I should be able to get you a reading."
So she mailed me the data - they were both born in little towns - and off I went on a Saturday morning, looking for a computerised horoscope service. I found one in Churchgate, but I wasn't quite sure how they would manage astrology for people from different time zones.

As it turned out, they were quite capable of producing charts for the British. Or for Mexicans. Or Polynesians. Or really, anyone from anywhere. The secret? The Britannica Atlas! To figure out the exact time of birth, the guy at the shop spent 15 minutes finding the towns I gave him, and then found out the latitude/longitude co-ordinates and time zone.

Once the dates and places were keyed into the computer, here's what it produced - an analysis of the two charts, and a recommendation. The report starts with a little disclaimer:

"It should be understood", says the disclaimer, "that marriage is pre-ordained by Almighty Providence, and actually one has no control at all over the selection of one's partner in life". Some other very sensible advice on the disclaimer: "Astrology is only capable of indicating tendencies and potentials. The user of this service should treat these predictions with due discretion".

Vedic Astrology is a practical sort of thing - it determines the compatibility of horoscopes by checking whether the couple is mentally and sexually compatible, whether the marriage will bring luck or prosperity, whether the attraction in the relationship will last, whether the bride and groom will live long, and of course, whether they will have children. A reasonable recipe, actually, for a successful marriage.

The methodology is complex, but primarily includes an analysis of the major gunas (characteristics) of a person. The assumption is, of course, that the position of the stars and planets at the time of your birth influences your gunas.

There's a scoring system to see how well the gunas of the man and woman match. If you don't make the minimum cut-off (18 points), then the match is not considered very good. An average "acceptable" level is 18 - 24 matching gunas, but the higher the score, the better the marriage. Scores of 32 or above indicate that the marriage will do really well.

I don't know if Anne's horoscope matching was correct, or whether she figured out new secrets for great client-vendor relationships. But I'm hoping it will give her a couple of anecdotes at least, for her next presentation!

Apart from horoscope matching, you can also get a glimpse into the future - a 20-year prediction costs 700 rupees and tells you everything you want to know about yourself, year by year. What's more, this is a multi-lingual service. You can order the prediction in Gujarati, Hindi or English. While I waited at the shop, several prosperous looking people came in for future predictions, and remedies for current problems. They got neatly stapled printouts, with advice on what lucky stones to wear, what mantras to chant, what prayers to offer, and what colours to wear.

Me, I prefer not knowing the future. My grandmom had a simple philosophy - do what you have to do, don't harm others, don't think bad thoughts, and let the future take care of itself. If my future is meant to be good, then it will happen anyway. And if the future's bad, I don't want to ruin the present worrying about it.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Dona Ganguly - outstanding

And for those of you who want to know what I was doing *before* the Blue Frog visit - here are a couple of photos from the International Dance Day celebrations at Nehru Centre.
There were three performances in different genres. The Bharatanatyam performance was indifferent and amateurish and hard to watch. The solo Kuchipudi performance was interesting, but it was Dona Ganguly's Odissi recital of Mahishasura Mardini - the Death of the Buffalo Demon at the hands of the Great Goddess - that stole the show.
For pure spectacle, it was hard to beat. I very quickly gave up photographing, and just sat back to enjoy the show. These two photos are from the early part of the performance.

Dona herself is a pleasure to watch. She is confident and commands the stage, arresting your attention. But her students are very good as well, and the choreography was vivid, bringing the Great Goddess to life before my eyes.

Now you see why the Blue Frog was such a shock to my system? I went from one world into another!

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Blue Frog - very cool indeed

If you like live music, The Blue Frog is definitely a must-go-must-see place. They play an interesting and eclectic selection of stuff, and the club itself is a very cool place to just hang out.
We went on a Wednesday night, after a classical Odissi and Bharatanatyam dance performance. What a contrast it was, to go from that sort of jasmine-and-kancheevaram event to this ultra-chic place!

The first that struck me about the Blue Frog was the seating. They have these little curvy lighted pods that you just sliiiiiiiiiiiiiide into. Feels very hip, gives you privacy and space and you still feel very connected. You need to reserve tables in advance though, because they fill up real fast.

This is the view from the other side, there is a long bar where you can hang out if you don't have a reservation.

The night we went, there was a band from Holland playing, called the Agog Trio. They had a nice chemistry between them, and came across as a team of friendly, energetic, experimentative players.

The food isn't really anything great, I tried some starters and gave up midway. My Thai Mojito had an interesting kick with ginger and coriander, but it was cloyingly sweet. The service was absolutely super, though.

The Blue Frog is more than just a restaurant that plays music. They have four sound recording labs, as well as music production facilities. They help launch records and they offer artist management services. Quite a welcome addition to the city's music scene.

The May program includes performances by both Indian and internatonal artistes. There's Pratz and the Blues Band from Calcutta, Montreaux Jazz Fest winner Leo Tardin, the interestingly named Silverchops (a jazz band from Pune), Alisha Bhatt (punk rock), Aurora Jane from Australia (funk rock with aboriginal twists), Cap'n Crunch (Mumbai-boy Floyd Fernandes plays what he calls "electro-jazz and clubtronic fusion", whatever that is!), and lots more.

Go check it out. I'm definitely going back there again.