Sunday, June 29, 2008

At the Taste

So went to this thing called Taste of London last weekend. Low expectations as she who knows everything about food in this city wasn't very encouraging. But it turned out to be alright. Crowded and all but had some pretty good food. Ya, you might have read a slightly different version over your morning coffee so yes, there is a reason why this reads like it does.

Expectedly, London’s diversity in the food scene is unmatched by most other cities in the world - every region that one could think of is represented here. There is also no question that the city has some of the finest restaurants in the world especially if one were to go by the stars that Michelin gives out every year. However, if the city were to be judged by the food that is available to the masses, most Londoners would agree that the city does not score high. There are some very good markets and some amazing street food but for the most part, the “good” food is heavily overpriced that most of us commoners have to be happy with instant kebabs and pasta from the neighbourhood grocery store. So an occasion like the Taste of London, an annual event that Time magazine describes as one of the world’s best food festivals, that brings together more than 40 of the top restaurants in London and offers up fare at a fraction of the cost sounds too good to miss.

Evidently most people in London thought so too, I realised as we joined the crowd right outside the entrance. The Taste is held for four days in June in the leafy environs of Regents Park, a stone’s throw away from home, another reason why I was ready to pay the hefty entrance fee. The evening event was just beginning as we entered, and the Cuban band performing that night was tuning their instruments.

A special draw this year was Taste of China showcasing the regional variety of the country, and we walked in there first to see what was cooking. At the Amoy tent, a musical cooking session was in progress. The travelling cook, after playing the flute for a few minutes taught us how to make real Chinese food. He exclaimed “Real, as in Chinese food where you do NOT call the takeout joint and ask for a number. This is not number 76. This is a real dish!” Then he proceeded to teach a bunch of Britishers (and two Indians) how to cut cucumber. He pulled out a rolling pin and bashed the cucumber a few times and viola, you have bashed cucumbers which actually absorbs sauces. A few bits of the cucumber had splattered onto the front row and our cook profusely apologized blaming it on the Chinese beer he was drinking. Which prompted us to move on to the next tent which was serving cold Harbin beer which we happily sipped while watching an ice-carver carving a dragon.

The best food in the Taste of China section was served up by a Beijing restaurant called South Beauty. The London restaurants such as Snazz Sichuan and China Tang had good food but came nowhere close to South Beauty’s heavenly steamed chicken dipped in fresh chilli sauce and Kung-pao shrimp balls. We left the China section and I was flipping through the booklet to see where we should go next when I realised that I had lost Bill. I looked around but got sidetracked by a cooking event in the Nintendo stand. Nintendo has a Cooking Guide (a satnav for the kitchen!) which tells you how to make fast and tasty food!

Leaving the tent, I ran into Bill; he was busy finishing up tasting glasses of Tanqueray. An avid gin-and-tonic drinker myself, I joined him and we spent the next few minutes between the Tanqueray and the Grand Marnier booths. Happy with our aperitif, we then ventured into Café Spice Namaste, London’s famous Parsi joint for dahi batata poori. I was expecting the snooty Bombay-bred man to turn up his nose but to my surprise, he called it good chaat. We followed it with smoked monkfish from Salt Yard, the Spanish restaurant with the crazy wait lines. The monkfish was good but the best fish I tasted that day came from Launceston Place where the salmon was smoked right in the stall before it was served.

What is a food festival without French food? So we hit that next – seared scallop at Club Gascon and lobster soup at Le Gavroche. Decent stuff but well, French food is always lost on me. We headed to the Wine & Spirit booth where a Spanish wine tasting was starting and spent the next half hour sniffing and swirling and claiming to recognize various fruits. Followed by a trip to Nahm, arguably London’s finest Thai restaurant where we had the best chicken of the day – green curry chicken with thai basil and aubergines.

All in all, the food was great and my stomach was going to burst any moment. I was ready to call it a night after a tiny portion of the amazing Flour Power brownies butBill wasn't done yet. To round off the night, the Bong wanted the Bengali style minced mutton cutlets at the Cinnamon Club. He loved it and so will you. Just make sure you head over to the Taste of London next year.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Time to get Bamse

If you haven't heard already, there is this silly comedy happening in Kerala over seventh standard textbooks. So the deal is the SCERT introduced new textbooks which has a lesson on boy named Jeevan who has doesn't seem to have religion / caste. When the Principal asks his parents what if Jeevan wants a religion, his parents tell the Principal that if he really wants one, he is free to choose one when he grows up. Evidently this is a Communist ploy to corrupt young minds and turn them away from religion and induct kids into atheism. All religious groups in Kerala - Nairs, Bishops and the Mullahs and the Opposition party (which was once led by chap called Nehru) are up in arms and in true Mallu fashion, burning everything in sight.

As you have all guessed by now, ya, I have a solution. Its all very simple. Just bring in Bamse. If you are putting his stuff in textbooks, get him to say it himself. No one will complain. Problem solved.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

In which Chotu Motu go see Stalin's boots in Budapest

People, another Bill post. Well, I had to rewrite parts but its mostly Bill.

Budapest. Day Two. Bill is diligently reading city guide.

"Ha, this guidebook is funny"

"I will let the LP people know"

"I mean seriously. They have these random things that they claim we have to see. Something about the relics of communism in a field somewhere"

"What is funny about that?"

"Apparently they took all big big "monuments" from their Communist days and stuck them all somewhere outside town and now people go there and pay to see these things"

"What, where? Let's go!"

"It's too far. And doesn't sound like there's much to see"

"Okay, lets not go then"

"Why not? There is a special tourist bus that will take us there"

"I thought you said there's nothing much to see"

"Yeah. Well. Not like we have hajjar other things to do. Besides don't you want to see this?"

"I do. But just wanted to make sure you do too. Because I know how you will spin this later"

"I am not evil like you"

"Yeah right. Where is this bus?"

The one tourist bus had already left from Deak Ter. But as you all know it takes a lot more than a silly tourist bus to make our intrepid travellers give up on Communist relics.

"We can take public transport. Lets go ask the bus station"

"How good is your Magyar?"


"So the place is an hour away, and requires three changes of bus to get there. Why are we going there again?"

"People's transport to see the peoples' relics. It's so appropriate."

"Yeah, yeah, you card-carrier. I'm sure this is some kind of pilgrimage to you."

"Yeah, Sabarimala only this is for me. And who you calling card-carrier?"

"You only. You and your family card-carrier"

"I come from a family of large land owners. Trust me, if anyone's family is Communist here, its surely not mine"

"Yeah yeah"

"Well, I am not the one here who is related to Olof Palme"

"Olof Palme is no Communist"

"I know. But how are you related to Olof Palme?"

"I am not related to Olof Palme"

"If you say so. Anyway, my grandfather did not head the Communist part of Britain"

"Mine neither. Rajani Palme is from some long lost branch of family that no one knows about"

"Nonsense. Your aunt in Stockholm told me all about your family's past. Come on Billster, embrace your roots"

"Go away"

"I will. Here's the bus"


Which is how we ended up trudging up the hill to Memento park. (Chotu Motu being Chotu Motu promptly got down one stop before the Park and had to walk) Sort of like going to Tirupati, except there are no crowds. Only some picnickers, enthusiastic American tourists, and of course card-carrying people from Bamse's own land.

The top of the hill is an enclosed park, with cars whizzing by outside. Next to the motorway are the imposing boots of Stalin, announcing the beginning of the park. These tower over the onlookers, giving a sense of how big the entire statue would have been, before the students took an axe to it in 1956.

Next to a statue of Lenin looking very solemn and wise is the ticket seller. There's also a souvenir shop, selling T-shirts advertising the "3 terrors" (Mao, Stalin and Lenin). All very capitalist, making money off communist relics by converting it to a show.

As we enter, there's a Trabant standing alone in a field. Looks remarkably well-preserved, for a people's car that was synonymous with cheap and unreliable construction.

Then there are statues of workers announcing victory, and some farmers standing tall with pride. There's a whole section of forgotten men, Russian and Hungarian party workers and leaders. And of course, some who are not forgotten, at least in some parts of the world.

(Aside. Feanor: Doesn't this last but one picture remind you of the one you shot near Temple? Connected, you reckon?)

"Hey look, there's the bearded men! Both Marx and Engels, together. Quick, take a photo"

"For when you are standing for elections? That picture is worth a thousand votes"

"Exactly. Don't you want one too, when you are standing in Bengal elections?"

"I don't plan to stand for elections in Bengal. Or anywhere"

"But we need picture of you with this big, strong chap here"


"How will I win election then? If you are not there to show support"

"Bill showing support actually doesn't work that well. Ask Hillary"

"It works in Malluland. Especially when Bill is from Bengal"

"Yeah yeah, we know that's why you married me"

"Of course"


No, not the End yet. It does not end until a couple of shots are downed. All pictures taken, red stars on the garden duly noted, we took the buses back to the city. We stepped out of the last bus back on Deak.

"Dude, look at that: Festival of the Hungarian Spirit"

"Hmm, sounds like something that would have been home in the Memento Park. Workers of Hungary, unite"

"Maybe they will have some good folk dance and music. Let's go!"

Turned out they meant Hungarian spirit in the literal sense, being Palinka, the local schnapps. Our workers from Kerala and Bengal had appropriately heady shots. Viva Liberty!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I am glad that the Times agrees.

Come on people, you surely remember how much I was enamored by Berlin around this time last year? Times took another year but they have come to the same conclusion. My favorite city in Europe also happens to be the most cultured city in Europe. Teach you all to listen to me.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

True colours

"This Ashis Nandy chap..."



"What about Ashis Nandy?"

"He could be so idiotic sometimes"

"I thought you liked him. Like like types"

"I do. But sometimes, he is so silly"

"What did he do now?"

"Read this"

Was the article inflammatory as the complaint suggests?

It seems inflammatory because it challenges the self-serving illusions of the middle class against which it is directed. But since when have attacks on the middle class become a means of fomenting enmity among communities? My attack may seem strident, but it is tame compared to, say, Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay's critique of the Bengali middle class, a prescribed text in Bengal for at least seven decades. A middle class that can't stand radical criticism is not really a middle class; it only has middle-class income. I admit I am a traitor to my class, but I am in good company.

(From here)

"What are you chuckling about?"

"Well I have always found Mr Nandy entertaining"

"Not the point"

"What's your problem dude?"

"You mean you don't see it?"

"See what?"

"One. Assume you are in trouble with like the whole of Gujarat. And you are being interviewed by this magazine and you are explaining away / justifying your actions. What do you do?"

"I don't know"

"Well, Tell me what you don't do"

"How do I know?"

"I will tell you what you don't do. You do NOT draw a parallel to Bengal. That is guaranteed to make the situation worse"

"Yeah but who said he is trying to get out of this? From what I know of Nandy, he lives for such controversies. Why would he ever want to get out of this? You must admit that it is a lot of fun"

"Yeah but that's not the point"

"You just told me that it is"

"No, I did not"

"Then what is the point?"

"He drew a parallel to Bongs. Did you read that?"

"Yeah. So?"

"Do you know how that makes me feel?"

"You? Dude, if something makes you feel, that must be something. But I have no idea why"

"You are being silly now. He drew a parallel to Bongs. Implying that Gujjus are comparable to Bongs. Can you imagine a worse insult to us Bongs?"

"You bloody racist"

"This has got nothing to do with being racist"

"Okay, regionalist. Bongist. Whatever. Thank Bamse you never lived in Bongland. You would have been some Thackeray type character"

"Don't be silly. No way. We need these people to do the work"

"Oh yes. These inferior people!"

"Obviously. Now you begin to see my point"

"I do indeed. And all I can say is its all okay as I am sure the Gujjus feel the exact same way"

"Go away"

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Real Swedish men (and one Egyptian-American) wear Björn Borg underwear

Hullo! I know, I know, there's like some 1008 posts that I need to do. But the past few days have been busy with the Kid visiting and some other stuff going on. Net net there's so much material that I cannot decide which one I should post first. But wait. Bamse has threatened to call from Stockholm so I need to make this a Rooster post. Especially with this Nadal chap making a habit of following Borg man, someone should tell him (Nadal) what is in his future. So here is a post in which moi's a silent spectator.

Malmo. Its the day of the Rooster's party. The Rooster's conned his very responsible sisters to take care of all the party work and he has got nothing to do. All that's been asked of him is to turn up. Rooster and M Antonius in deep discussion in balcony on foothills of Turning Torso early afternoon.

R: I need to pick up some clothes

M.A: What's wrong with what you are wearing now?

R: I need to change for the party

M.A: You got no clothes to change into?

R: I do. But I need to buy new underwear.

M.A: What happened to your laundry machine? Or don't they exist in Sweden?

R: This is a special occasion. I need to get special occasion underwear.

M.A: What do you Swedes do in your birthday parties? Is there something I should know that no one has told me yet?

R: No, you don't need to know. There will be a couple of chicks from my dorm.

M.A: Why do you still live in a dorm? Who lives here?

R: I stay in the dorm some days. The chicks are all there.

M.A: That sounds like a good reason. Can we go there on my grand tour of Sweden next week?

R: No.

M.A: Why?

R: Because we have to take a train to get there. Do you know what that is?

M.A: No, what is it? Wait, I know. I think I have seen it in a museum.

R: It is a vehicle with lots of coaches and an engine. It is huge.

M.A: Like a SUV? And its all just for one person?

R: No, lots of people travel in it. Hundreds. Its called public transportation.

M.A: Ah. Silly Swedes. No, can't do.

R: That's why we can't go to the dorm. And now, I am going to Björn Borg. Do you want to come?

M.A: Who is Björn Borg?

Rooster nearly falls off the balcony.

R: Did you ask who is Björn Borg?

M.A: Yes. Who is he?

R: Everytime I try to forget that you are American, you come up with something like this.

M.A: Well, who is he and why are you going to see him?

R: He sells underwear.

M.A: Oh, he is a Swedish underwear designer. Why should I know this Swedish underwear designer? So he is like a big brand in these parts?

R: You can say that.

M.A: I am in. Let us go see Björn Borg.

Twenty minutes later. Björn Borg store in Malmo. (People: Did you really think I was making all this up? Go click the link. Go on)

M.A: What is going on here? Where do these people come from?

R: Sweden

M.A: I know that, thank you. You don't see anything strange with the salesmen?

R: No

M.A: You mean you don't think that they have jumped out of a gay music video?

R: No

M.A: Dude!

R: What? Here, I am done. I am getting these.

M.A: What's up with powder pink and blue? What happened to blacks and whites?

R: They are all here

M.A: Yeah, there are two solid blacks among thousands of pink underwear. Where are we dude?

R: Bamseland. Here, men are comfortable in their sexuality.

M.A: Yuck. Yuck.

R: What now?

M.A: This is like lycra. This is porno underwear, that's what it is. You wear porno underwear.

R: The cotton ones are here. If you look at only porno underwear there is nothing I can do.

M.A: I don't believe this. We are in a store that sells pink underwear with floral patterns on them.

R: You need to get outside your country once in a while and see what real men wear.

M.A: Real men? Yeah right.

R: I am done. Let's go.

M.A: Wait

R: I knew it

M.A: It isn't what you think it is.

R: I know it is. Which ones are you getting?

M.A: I just want to show people back home what goes for men's underwear in Sweden.

R: I am sure that's why you are buying powder pink.

M.A: Why can't I be comfortable in my sexuality?

R: We aren't comfortable in our sexuality because we wear Björn Borg. Its the other way around.

M.A: Do you know how these sizes work? Relative to US brands?

R: Why would I?

M.A. accosts salesgirl (SG).

M.A: Hello! Would you happen to know what size I should get?

SG: Sir, you can try them on. The fitting rooms are this way.

M.A: Oh. Thanks.

SG runs away.

M.A: Why are you laughing?

R: She didn't want to hurt your feelings. No need to try on anything.

M.A: What do you mean?

R: Björn Borg doesn't sell XXXS. For that matter, nobody does.

M.A: Very funny. I am getting medium.

R: It is your money. Are you sure?

M.A: Yeah, absolutely. Sure looks the size. Where do we pay?

A few minutes later.

M.A: 90 bucks. I paid 45 bucks for one of these?

R: Porno stuff costs a little more.

M.A: A little? This is the most expensive pair of underwear I have ever owned.

R: I am proud of you. Btw, Björn Borg.

M.A: Yeah, bastard.

R: He plays tennis.

M.A: Yeah right. And I wear porno underwear.

M.A. was more than happy to showcase his $40 underwear to all and sundry over the next couple of days. If this weren't a family blog, I would surely have put up pictures. But since it is, you will have to go see the yellow & pink flowery ones here.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Las Meninas

(The first from Museo del Prado in Madrid and the second from Museu Picasso in Barcelona)

No, no, you are not on 42, not to worry. Early morning Google reminded me of Velázquez and obviously Picasso, so generally. Also because I never got around to posting about Museu Picasso which hosts about 50 of these. Its worth going to Barcelona just to see this collection. Not kidding.

Monday, June 02, 2008

This just in

So a few minutes ago, Bill calls. This is cause for concern. We call each other at about 8 to figure out who is getting / making dinner but any call before this is usually someone dying.



"Hey. You alright?"


"Everyone else alright?"

"Who everyone else?"

"Oh. What's going on?"

"Work only"


"What's up with you?"

"Me? Nothing. Work, I guess"

"Nothing else kya?"

"Between this morning and now? No"

"Okay. When do you leave?"

"I dunno. Around 7"


"What's going on dude?"

"Nothing. Oh, I might have to go to Paris"


"Three days next week. We have to meet this guy at the uni there"

"Okay. Not stretching to the weekend?"

"No, I need to be back Friday"

"Oh ok. What's happening Friday?"

"Oh nothing much. Might have to work on thesis"

I drop the phone. Take a good look at it. Pinch myself. Pick it up.


"Hello. Where did you disappear?"

"Here only. You have to do what?"

"Might have to go to the States end of the month"


"Yeah. Not sure about because we have a paper deadline first week in July. So might not get to go"

"I see. Why were you thinking of going?"

"I spoke to Karl. There's some conf in Pitt"

"You are attending this conf?"

"Not really. Remember that Princeton chap?"

"Yeah, the guy who is supposed to be in your committee?"

"Yes, he is coming to Pitt for the conf"


"And Peter and Bob are going to be there"

"Does this mean what I think this means?"

"If I get to go, yes"

"You mean after 1.6 years, you have actually managed to get all four people who need to be there for your dissertation in the same city?"

"Yes but unfortunately, a fifth person needs to be there"

"Who is that now?"


"What is your problem? Here, let me give you my Mileage Plus number. Call. You will get a seat"

"No, thats not the issue"


"I told you. There's a paper deadline for ACM early July. I need to be here"

"Says who?"


"Did you explain situation? That if you don't go now, he will be forever stuck with a post-doc without a phd"

"Yeah, he understands but doesn't think its such a big deal"

"For him, no"

"Well, he has a point"

"Which is?"

"We gotta do this paper"


"What do you mean why?"

"Whats this paper going to give you?"

"Its for the ACM"


"I can't not send paper for ACM"

"Again, why?"

"What are you getting at?"

"Tell me what will be acheived by you sending paper to ACM or whatever it is. Its not like you have a dearth of papers in conferences"

"You won't understand"

"I see. So why did you call?"


"Why did you call?"

"Well, you know, just to tell you that I can go the States and finish up this month"

"But you are not doing that. So this is relevant for me because?"

"I did manage to get all people together in a room"

"Again why is this relevant?"

"Oh well. You realise the only reason I am not going is because of you"

"Oh, thats so obvious"

"No, seriously. If I actually do finish my phd, who will you malign?"

"Wait, you are telling me that the only reason you aren't finishing your phd is because then I will not have material for blog? Even BM is not capable of coming up with such nonsense"

"High praise"

"You know what? This has gone on long enough. What do you really want?"

"Those upgrade coupons that you have for Eurostar. Can I use them?"


Hang-up phone.