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Thursday, 5 March 2009

Wanted: A tech savvy graduate 'Lady Housekeeper'

Seen in a classified page of a leading national dally was this job advertisement.

A working couple who have moved on to the outskirts of Delhi is looking for a warm and cheerful female housekeeper with at least 15 years experience.

The listed requirements for the job are

- Should be a graduate who knows to google

- Must be fussy about hygiene

- Know to hire and manage servants

- Enjoy shopping

- Can throw a party

- Willing to pamper grown up kids

- Can iron a shirt

- Manage home budget

- Loves cooking

- Enjoys house guest

- Have a great sense of humour

- Adept at opening a bottle of wine

- Handle an emergency

- Good health and fitness a pre-requisite

- Learn new skills

The job however comes with an 'excellent' pay and well appointed room in the family house.

Any takers?

Sunday, 17 February 2008

CITY GUIDE - Sun finally sets on Appu Ghar

There is something about feeling nostalgic which makes you want to turn back the needles of the clock.

This is the feeling I experienced when sitting thousands of kilometers away from Delhi in my in-laws home in Trivandrum, I saw a news flash across a channel saying Appu Ghar’s last day.

As the channel started showing images of one the most popular amusement parks in Delhi, I suddenly found my mind rolling back the years of my childhood, of which Appu Ghar was such a huge part.

The tug in my heart was so huge that I just couldn’t help penning down my thoughts.

Today, Delhi might be bustling with several other and probably even better amusement parks, but for many of us little ones, the big fat Appu in Gate No 9 of Pragati Maidan was the only source of entertainment and fun.

Many times Sunday outings meant one full tiring day at Appu Ghar when my parents would be busy clicking pictures of me on the swings.

Of course a trip to Appu would be a must if any of my cousins would land up from any part of the country.

Today, its unthinkable how would we spend a whole day in the crazy heat of May and June running around the swings.

But when I remember the umpteen photos I have on the swings of Appu Ghar, my gleeful little face in the picture says it all.

Even after I grew up a little beyond the age of playing on the swings, trips to Appu Ghar never stopped. I became a little choosy though.

How can I forget the blinding headache I developed after a ride on My Fair Lady or the horrible vomitings I had after two minutes on Appu Columbus?

So as I grew up, these two rides were banned for me.

I was always a water fan so I clearly remember my excitement when a new water swing called Splash was introduced in Appu Ghar.

If left to me, I would only ride that swing ignoring all the others!

It was much later that a water park came up in Appu Ghar, by then I was too old to visit it!

I remember feeling a little jealous when I was told that Appu Ghar is nothing in comparison to the Essel World of Bombay.

Well, I did go to visit it. But it turned out to be so huge and so complicated for a child like me, I preferred to stay loyal to my good old Appu.

The school picnics to Appu Ghar always used to be big events. But today I really pity the teachers who would take us to.

Groups of unmanageable and overexcited children running all around the complex would have been a nightmare.

For me, Delhi is not the same without Appu Ghar even though I haven’t visited it for several years.

I know that I will never be able to click pictures of my children on the slides of Appu Ghar.

For them of course, there will be many other amusement parks but for me, it will always be Appu Ghar.

Even though my hair has not yet started graying, Delhi today is no more how I grew up in it.

There might be plush multiplexes but there is no Chanakya Cinema today.

There might be a Metro rail taking you to the Delhi University but the Mall road no more looks the same without the hundreds of students waiting on the bus stop … Well, I guess this is what nostalgia is all about.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Ponmudi: Kerala's Golden Crown

I sat happily humming to myself on my way to work in the morning as the pleasant breeze hit my face and rain splattered the roads all around.

For a change, I didn't even mind the pollution and traffic around me. It was this weather which reminded me of something and prompted me to get over my laziness and finally write after this long break.

The overcast sky, the soft drizzle and the rain kissed trees drifted my thoughts back to a few months when I was standing overlooking an expanse of mountains covered with a green blanket with the sky playing pranks on me.

On the one side of the sky was a full misty stretch overshadowing the plants and making the early morning look like late evening. On the other side was a brightly lit up sky generously sun bathing the plants.

61 kms away from Trivandrum, I was in this quaint little hill station called Ponmudi. Literally meaning a golden crown, Ponmudi was quite a breathtaking sight to behold.

Though just about a 1000 meter above sea level, it had all the ingredients of a typical tourist hub.

We planned this family gathering during our last visit to Trivandrum. Our group reached there after a pleasant one and a half hour drive from Trivandrum.

The signboard at the outset did say 21 hairpin bends but the drive was surprisingly comfortable.

I didn't even need to pop in my usual dose of Avomine to stop me throwing up!
The beautiful Kerala countryside hardly gave me time to think of anything else.

The abundance of trees and flowers along with the lovely breeze kept me gazing out of the window of my car.

In between we also crossed the Kallar river which seemed very calm to me but I was warned that the same water gets quite wild at times.

As our destination grew nearer, my spirits were also perking up. And finally when we reached the government guest house where we were supposed to spend the next two days, I was elated.

Apart from the fact that the place looked cosy, I instantly fell in love with the area it overlooked.

To me, Ponmudi only meant the beautiful tea gardens, mountains, trees and flowers all seen from the guest house.

As the mist played hide and seek with the mountains, we kept standing there just gazing at the beauty around us.

Who could believe that we were just about 1000 meters above sea level and could still feast our eyes to something as incredible as this?

The weather-ah, the weather. It was the perfect weather to enjoy a holiday. Neither too cold to be confined to your quilts and nor too hot to flaunt your summer clothes collection.

While the Trivandrum people did start feeling cold in the evening, I and my husband were pleasantly reminded of the Delhi winter onset.

My first impressions of the guest house turned up to be perfect and the place was indeed very homely and comfortable.

The rooms, though not luxurious had all the required amenities.
But the real surprise came when we went and peeped out from the huge balconies of each room.

With swift cool breeze blowing across, the balconies overlooked to a postcard kind of scenery. The mountains, blanketed by a deep emerald cover looked almost black as the mist started falling.

Just then slight drizzle started washing all the plants, trees and flowers with its pure water. Nature's bounty had completely me engulfed when I suddenly realised that I'm being called for lunch.

Running towards the lunch room, I saw my husband and his nephew busy taking a thousand snaps of God knows what. I went near thinking it must be a beautiful flower but to my horror discovered that it was actually a garden lizard!

Both the men were completely fascinated by how 'friendly' the lizard was.
Well, being right in the nature's lap, the one day in Ponmudi did give the two many other opportunities to go on a photography spree.

My sea fish starved husband just couldn't stop raving about the fried fish served at the meal.

The fried chicken was also an instant hit with the non-veggies in our group as the ladies kept trying to find out the secret behind the perfectly fried chicken and fish.

As far as I was concerned, well I was busy gobbling down the sambhar rice with papad.
After the stomach bloating lunch, it was siesta time but none seemed to be in a mood for it.

The gossip session carried on till evening when we finally decided to get out for a walk. The kids were excited to find a small garden with some swings and instantly freed themselves of their mother's grip and ran.

It was now that when it finally struck me that my mobile had not rang since I had arrived in Ponmudi. I took it out only to realise that though the screen flashed Airtel, the connection was actually not good enough to make or receive calls.

Wow, this was a complete holiday, away from the constantly ringing mobiles and the buzzing city!
But people back in Delhi had to be informed so we marched to the only shop we could spot within the guest house.

A small provision cum stationary shop which had an STD booth but that was also shut! But the owner kindly offered to give us his mobile to make a call and we did so paying only a small amount.

As I was busy chatting away on the phone, my husband noticed packets of tea displayed. Merchiston tea powder, made from the tea leaves of the Ponmudi hills was available as black tea as well as normal tea.

We bought packets to sample of both and I must say that we thoroughly enjoyed having the lovely tea back in Delhi.

As the coastal people in our group started feeling quite cold, we decided it was time to retreat. Just as we settled back with blankets in our rooms, the menfolk silently slipped away.

They came back armed with a bottle of wine and informed us that they had chilled beer in the beer parlour of the guest house. It had started raining by then and I almost shivered to think of the chilled beer!

With the rain dropping the temperature further, we thoroughly enjoyed the sips of wine we got.
Since we had our evening tea quite early, everyone was ravenous by dinner time.

I almost pounced on the fried rice. And the fried rice was probably the tastiest one I have ever eaten. The perfect blend of vegetables and rice, I thoroughly enjoyed having it with lots of papad and raita. The non-veggies were not disappointed at dinner time also.

Sleeping in a blanket in July almost sounded like a dream. But the thin yet warm blanket provided to us was perfect for the weather. When I think of the room now, I can still smell the dampness in the walls and the air.

The night was by no means silent. We could hear rain pouring throughout the night and the wind shaking our windows violently.

Even amidst all this, we had a lovely sleep and woke up late next morning only to be told that we had to rush and pack.

After a memorable day and night in the Golden Crown, we headed back home with a heart full of memories and a camera overflowing with pictures...

Sunday, 22 July 2007

FOOD GUIDE - Oh! Calcutta

For years, I have harboured a myth - there can be nothing more in Bengali food than fish and rice.

And even though I knew I was being stupid, I somehow believed that there's nothing much about that cuisine which the vegetarians can relish.

Well, unfortunately I myself had to shatter all my myths into pieces when I devoured an amazing amount of food at Delhi's latest Bong heaven Oh! Calcutta.

I really would be the last person to know how would an authentic Bengali luchi or dhokar dholna taste, but the only thing I knew for sure was that the food there was simply delicious.

When the opening of this restaurant was announced some months back, it had stirred quite an interest in the Bengali population of my previous office, many of whom made frequent trips to the place.

Frankly, I had never thought of going there. But recently, for my mallu, fish loving husband's sake, I thought of giving that place a shot. After all, the birthday boy had to be pleased.

And only later I realised what I would have missed had I not ventured. From the moment I set my feet into the warm and pleasing restaurant right next to Hotel Park Royal InterContinental I knew I had fallen for it.

The lighting was just perfect, neither too dark nor too bright. The sitting arrangement comfortable.

So if you wanted a cosy romantic dinner, you could opt for a corner sofa or your noisy group of friends could occupy the long centre table. Basically, there is room for everyone.

But the one thing that really stole my heart at Oh! Calcutta was their staff. In a city where warmth and smiles have become rare commodities, this restaurant seemed to have stocked up these two things very well.

The waiters came, stood patiently and took time to explain each and every dish to us who were very obvious first timers to a Bengali joint.

And when the food was served, we almost forgot that we were sitting in a restaurant and paying for the meal. Every item was lovingly served to us till we said stop.

An extra care was taken to ensure that the non-veg food was kept away from the veggies. And the waiters amazingly seemed to hover around and would pop up when any of our plates had some empty space.

I'm sure I ate a trifle more than my appetite thanks to the way the food was served.

So, there was begun bhaja (yes, I love brinjal so much that I honestly didn't care about the others' taste!), aam de bhindi, dhokar dhalna and luchis.

My husband wanted to taste the famous Hilsa so there was smoked the hilsa and mutton curry for him and my father.

The plain deep fried begun bhaja was amazing and so was the slightly sour bhindi overflowing with friend onions.

But the luchis stole the show. Swollen to perfection, and so soft that they would literally break with three fingers.

And the oil. No, the luchis didn't taste as if they were fried in a can full of oil. Believe me, they tasted surprisingly oil free!

Though many might not agree with him but my husband was of the view that the vegetarian fare was much tastier than the non-veg.

But then I really can't comment much on a Keralaite's taste for Bengali fish, even if it is Hilsa. The railway mutton was tasty was what I was told.

Of course, how can a good Bengali meal be over without a good sweet. So we sampled the rusgulla, sandesh and mishti doi.

I was hesitant at the thought of shelling out extra bucks just for a mithi doi which can be picked up for Rs 8 from Mother Dairy.

But I almost hit myself when I licked a small quantity of it from my mother's kulhar (clay glass). Thick, sweet and divine.

With stomach just about to burst, chewing paan, I finally roved my eyes around to observe the crowd.

There were the obviously Bengali couples sitting and relishing smoked hilsa and luchis amongst loud discussions on everything ranging from politics to painting.

And then there was the typical Dilliwala population who would have suddenly decided to become adventurous and move over their butter chicken.

And then there was me, whose myth about Bengali food was finally broken here today. Oh! Calcutta.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Rafting the white water spectacles of Ganges

It was pure magic. We were floating right in the middle of the holy Ganges, with the white water gushing from all sides. Is it the real me?

I wondered. Considering I am not the dare devil type, it was hard to believe that I could convince myself to jump right in the middle of the busy river.

I guess it was all about the experience. After all, we were cruising through the rapids of the river with life jackets as our only protection.

And then, the sheer magic of the virgin nature around me probably made everything seem possible, even jumping into a river without knowing the S of swimming.

For me, the river rafting trip meant a lot more than just the exciting sport.

Love at first sight

None of us were prepared for what was going to meet our eye after the six hour drive from Delhi. We had spent the 27 kms drive from Rishikesh, (which seemed more like a chase to a no man's land) in excitement and anxiety.

After all, we had not seen any brochures and had done no web search. So, when we set our feet in Camp River Wild, we were taken aback.

Awestruck, we stood overlooking the silvery sand and white water cradled between mountains and wondered where have we landed. It wasn't like standing on the Goa beach along with a host of tourists running, playing, sun tanning or just sitting. This beach was no tourist hub.

In fact, when we arrived, we couldn't even see another human face for at least ten minutes. The silence was overwhelming and just looking at the sheer beauty of the place made us forget everything else ... rafting, rock climbing, rappelling - all was forgotten.

We were only trying to soak into the surroundings, just to adjust our eyes to the beauty and our ears to the humming of mother nature.

And then I knew that this trip is going to give me a lot more than I expected. Yes, it was love at first sight.

Our camp

It was my maiden experience of staying in a tent and so for the other four friends of mine. An exciting experience it surely was to enter into the flimsy looking tent which transforms into a typical luxurious room the moment you open it up.

A comfortable double bed, dressing table and a separate bath area. We really didn't mind the little congested space. Well who needs a hotel when you are comfortably staying literally in the lap of nature?

And as if to remind us where we are, our feet would dig into the sand of the beach whenever we would set our bare feet on the ground.

Back to basics

Guess what was the substitute for tube light and bulbs in the camp? Well, the good old lantern. Yes, it was a trip back in time, a time which none of us have ever known or will ever know.

Okay, I do admit that initially we did miss an air conditioner or even a fan because the afternoon temperature even in the month of March seemed pretty high. But eventually as we freshened up and the day progressed, we didn't seem to mind the absence of any electric instrument.

Strangely, there was nothing more that I was demanding from our life at that time.

Dusk brought with it more moments to cherish. The breathtaking sight which greeted when we stepped into the open air out of our tents is still etched into our memory.

The soft, yellow light emanating from the row of lanterns made the silvery sand look almost golden. And stretching endlessly in front of us was the crystal clear white water of the river which compelled us to just sit, stare and marvel.

We joined the guests staying in all the tents of the camp who were having a cosy singing and dancing session.

Far across the distance, I could hear the sounds of only our voices, our musical instruments. And sometime in between, the cry of a wild animal would interrupt our melodious meet and we all would jump up.

It was amazing and yet a little scary. We were so near and yet so far from civilisation.

The sport

Finally, I'm back to talking about the purpose behind our trip. Our river rafting experience began early morning of the day two. We were already given a brief training session on what all to be careful about while rafting.

So, wearing life jacket, helmet and armed with oars, we were running towards our raft, a bright blue plastic inflated tube like thing. The five of us were supposed to sit on the edges of the raft with our trainer sitting right at the front edge.

For about 15 kms further, our journey was smooth. There were hardly any rapids to interrupt our smooth flow into the river. And we, like obedient kids were following each and every instruction of our trainer.

With the cold, white water splashing all over our faces now and then, our rafting experience was turning out to be good fun. I couldn't believe we were sailing through a huge patch of Ganga river with oars, life jackets and a raft.

And when the rapid came, we were caught off guard. Our steady flow of conversation was suddenly interrupted by our trainer's shout saying whole team get down.

Thanks to the training, we knew what it meant and we all ducked down into the raft. The raft tossed and turned and finally became stable. We got up as per the instruction of the trainer and stared jubilantly at the now calm water. "It is safe to jump into the river now," our trainer told us.

The adventurous ones with me immediately did as told but I hesitated for a long time before venturing. Finally, very slowly, I put one foot into the icy cold water and then the other and then praying hard, I jumped.

For a second I thought I was drowning but suddenly, I felt myself being afloat in the middle of the river. I made the river my bed and opened my eyes wide staring into the horizon.

Lying afloat on the sparkling clean river felt so peaceful. Amidst the gushing of water, I could faintly hear the chirping of the birds and the buzzing of the insects.

Our journey after that was quite a roller coaster ride. The rapids were getting rougher and the trainer kept on saying 'forward all' which meant keep on rowing. By the time we braved four rapids, I was exhausted and felt I couldn't row for anymore.

I was firmly clutching the thick rope lining along the corners of the raft. Despite everybody's protests, I had given up the oar by now was no more rafting.

And then even before I realised, I felt myself slipping into the water. I knew nothing can happen, thanks to the life jackets but still I panicked but almost immediately I was pulled up.

The adrenaline rush kept us going throughout the 30 kms stretch of the river, negotiating rapids, the raft overturning and a lot more.

Our trainer kept telling us tales of the expert rafters and kayakers who regularly negotiate many a rapid to win competitions. Being first timers, we were of course made to raft in some of the lower grades of the rapids.

We did hear sad stories of adventurous people who could never be seen again after being sucked in by the swirling water of the Ganga.

By the time we reached back to our camp, our stomachs were growling for food. After all, rarely do we city bred people exercise our bodies so much.

Halfway through the sumptuous dinner and our eyes could barely remain open and we hit the bed almost immediately.

Though our legs and hands were paining badly the next morning, we didn't skip a game of beach volleyball, a session of rock climbing and rappelling. Well, we did have to pop in pain killers the next day.

With no cell phones catching network there, our holiday was interrupted by nothing which reminded us of our life back in the city. The continuous body exercise left not much room for any thought, worry or conversations.


But when we were bidding farewell to the camp, it wasn't rafting that I was thinking about. For me, it was hard saying goodbye to the paradise I had discovered.

Today, it's been three long years, but the sight of the silvery sand and white water is still fresh in my memory.

Yes, the trip meant a lot more than negotiating the rapids or climbing the rocks. It was indeed pure magic.

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