Sunday, July 29, 2012

Colour , colour what colour do you choose ?

What is your favourite colour ?

I skip the question if it I am asked to remember this as the secret question to remember a password .  

It is a question for which an answer has always eluded me.  

It is green… on second thoughts it could be blue .. sky blue …no i am equally partial to lavender or to be exact mauve. Now Mauve is not even a colour.   

Actually, I do not have a liking to any colour in particular… that is an easy answer.
I am in awe of all those people who are so sure of what their favourite colour is ...

Really .. how do you determine your favourite colour.

A colour that is close to your heart.

A colour that sets your imagination wild.

A colour that soothes your senses.    

Here is my attempt to describe my favourite colour.

It is not the pink .. the baby pink that is associated with girls and all that is girlish.

It is not even the pink on the other extreme .. the one that borders on magenta.

It is the pink that unfolds itself when you cut this variety of guava.

Guava pink … that is my favourite colour.
Final answer.

Fragrant flowers

In a world where nature’s bouty in getting reduced to tasteless, odourless packaged products anything that is naturally fragrant and excites ones olfactory senses is always welcome.
Sambhangi, Champak, Sampige. Shenbagam …Telugu ,Tamil, Kannada, hindi and Marathi.
On a Sunday morning standing under a grand Sampangi tree in the compound of East Parade church near Trinity circle, Bangalore evoked these very nostalgic memories.

With a very strong fragrance, sampangi can somtimes cause a mild headache, if it grows too close to your backyard in abundance.  On the other hand a flower or two can create a waft of a refreshing odour that can freshen one up and seduce the passer by.    

 Fragrant flowers like Malli poo, jaadi poo , mullai poo are a refreshing welcome to the bottled perfumes oozing out synthetic fragrance .

My favourite is  JATHI MALLI (PITCHI) Jasminum grandiflorum L. Oleaceae.
Courtesy :

Jathi  is a variety of Jasmine with a purplish tinge with a very strong refreshing  fragrance . 

A creeper of Jaathi Malli adorns my terrace garden and it has started flowering ( albeit two or three a day) . It fills me with joy seeing it grow and flower every morning. 

It has been my long cherished dream to have a garden with fragrant Jaathi malli  flowering in abundance and wafting through the cool morning air from the balcony along the living room along with the early morning sunlight.

Jaathi Malli, evokes nostalgia of school days when dorning a long braid of stringed Jaadi malli or plain malli to school  on a double plaited hair was not so uncool.  Needless to say I would think it ‘oh-so-lacking –in-fashion-sense’ to wear flowers to work these days.

Times have changed … or is it me …     


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Victorian Bangalore Walk

Victorian Bangalore Walk

 I migrated to Bangalore two years ago.  Immigrants like me particularly from the IT industry have swarmed this city, stretched its limits and changed its identity. 
What was it like before it became the IT Hub?  What was it like before the HAL, BEML, HMT and IISc other engineering institutions set  up base here ?

A couple of weeks ago I chanced upon Peter Colaco’s book Bangalore – A century of Tales from City and Cantonment.  The small sleepy city that Colaco describes has indeed  grown too fast and too vast over the last one or two decades. 

This Sunday I set out for a Victorian Bangalore walk.  It was recommended to me casually by my sister in law about four years ago when I took her around for a walk in London . I had totally forgotten about this until Peter Colaco’s book nudged me.   

I had become interested in  history & culture through a series of London walks over my years in London . I always knew Indian cities were loaded with history and culture, but was never really confident if they could pull off a show that could render history and culture in a practical and interesting way to an international audience. With so much History and interesting trivia loaded, London walks are worthwhile for their two hours of  neatly packaged , informative and interesting  rendering of history through effective story telling and dramatics from their well trainied guides. It is a fitting tribute to a very fascinating city that to me manages to strike that ever elusive balance between embracing modernism and keeping the ancient heritage intact.    

To cut the long story short, the Bangalore walk did take me by surprise and awe. Simply put it is as good or even better than some of the London walks I have been to.
We were a group of 25 from literally all over the world. History lovers from Ireland, France, United kingdom, Canada, USA, South Africa and Germany . From old bangaloreans to new age IT professionals, expats on business visits and tourists on a short visit to Bangalore and India.

Very well researched and passionately rendered , Victorian Bangalore walk at seven a.m on a Sunday morning  certainly leaves you with a feeling of a morning well spent.

And that is not just because of the sumptuous ( surprise) breakfast at the end of the walk, but all the interesting trivia on history of personalities that have shaped Bangalore starting from Lord Cornwallis, Tipu Sultan , Winston Churchill, George Everest  to  Rahul Dravid & Sabeer Bhatia.
They are so well interspersed and interestingly rendered that you fail to notice the information overload in just about three hours of a Sunday morning that one would have otherwise spent in the bed.
Apart from noticing many other things, you also get to ring the church bells for the Sunday morning service at the Holy Trinity Church ( It is indeed a heavy metal bell and ringing the church bell is’nt for faint hearted …) .

Victorian Bangalore walk also walks you through the changing  profile of the old Architecture in Bangalore showcasing a few old buildings that are still surviving the onslaught of urban development right in the heart of the city.

It also explains Bangalorean’s love for trees. About the bright orange gulmohars that came from Madagascar, the Jaracanda trees with purple flowers that was imported from Mexico and the other serial blooming trees that paint Bangalore’s city scape in various colours through most part of the year.
I have made a mental note to do their other walking tour of the Lalbagh botanical gardens.
It is a breezy walk on a Sunday morning across the otherwise busy stretch of M G ROAD, thanks to the Bangalorean’s  Sunday morning slumber making a huge difference to the traffic on the roads.


Found this bill ( photocopy) pasted on a pavement on M.G Road near Trinity Metro on Sunday morning.
Certainly Does’nt look like an advertisement .

Cannot figure what the intent behind this is … but never mind…

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Silicon Valley

The Pilgrimage to Silicon Valley

Long ago in 1938 a Prof. Frederick V….of Stanford university  encouraged two of his young Stanford graduates … a certain William  and David to start something of their own rather than go and seek a career with established companies. What was born out this advice was some work in this garage.

 As I type this blog on a HP laptop ( nope no ipad as yet J) , it gives me a great sense of awe to think that William Hewlett and David Packard went on to establish one of the pioneering corporations in this garage that paved way to the Information technology revolution that has changed the way we now live in this world.

If you were not a Computer History nerd, you would never find this place.  Tucked in a unassuming street in one of the residential areas around  Standford university campus is this garage of what is still a private property .  ( HP – the corporation could have easily brought this place off for a small change … wonder why they did not and chose to just erect a small plaque on the street. L) . HP garage in the birthplace of what today is known as the silicon valley. 

Thanks to google and the GPS , reaching the street where HP garage is located was not much of a problem. Although it was a lovely sunny day throughout , the dusk had set in by the time we reached Stanford university. Dusk in california brings with it chilling ocean winds. Unless you are warmly clothed for the evening, it can

be a chilling experience being outdoors. With some quick photographs we depart the quiet leafy residential suburb saluting the spirit of entrepreneurship William and David set out for in 1938.

Googling around for Google

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Musings over coffee

Musings over coffee


Musings at Cafe Coffee Day

Overlooking the Cubbon park, in Bangalore is the Café Coffee day square.( Earlier known as Tiffany’s square). Swanky is an understatement to describe the ambience. The place, the imposing façade overlooking bangalore’s Cubbon park is very befitting location as headquarters for a entrepreneurial venture that started out as India’s answer to starbucks.

In Bangalore more than in most other cities in India, a Café Coffee day outlet is just almost there at every nook and corner. If you wanted to meet up an old friend who was around in your locality, you just said , lets meet up at café coffee day and you are sure to find an outlet in your neighbourhood. Complete with a wi-fi enabled infrastructure, it is a nice swanky place to spend a little bit of time or to meet up with someone, Could be an old friend, a business prospect or a casual date.

Like the Starbucks it is not so much about the coffee but about the ambience, the relaxed atmosphere and a decent place to hang out. Not exactly inexpensive though for a cup of coffee.
I grew up in a household of coffee drinkers. As far as Coffee drinking goes I am the black sheep in the family. Am not much of a coffee lover . I can savour a cup of coffee just as obligingly as one drinks a potion of ‘kashayam’ or ’castor oil’. Many a times my grandmother has exrpessed her deep concern as to what a hopeless daughter –in-law I might turn out to be, if I did not know how to serve a satisfying tumbler of Filter coffee to my in-laws. ( Thankfully I have’nt been subjected to that ordeal as yet).
At my parents place, as in any pure bred ‘Tambram’ household, Coffee is not a just a beverage , it is a way of life. The’ degree kaapi’, needs to be piping hot, made out of fresh milk, freshly ground coffee seeds with the right amount of chicory powder at 5.30 am in the morning and then at regular intervals through the day. In the morning just as the milkman delivers the milk and the local temple blares out ‘venkatesha suprabhatam’ much to the irritation of the youngsters who watched a late night movie and have just managed sleep a couple of hours ago, the decoction is brewed in a coffee filter.
The aroma of freshly brewed coffee lingers around the house around the same time as the bird’s screech their lungs out and the orange colour of dawn breaks out from the grey sky and announces the arrival of yet another day.
The ‘filter kaapi’ served in a steel tumbler placed inside a ‘davara’ held in one hand is best
savoured with a ‘Hindu’ newspaper on the other .
The aroma of filter ‘degree’ coffee remains undiluted in its standards in most ‘tam bram' households to this day . It was therefore with a slight trepidation that I took my parents to a starbucks café when they were visiting us in London. With the knowledge I do have about the exacting standards of coffee they are used to ,we ordered for them expresso coffee, that would be the closest possible resemblance to the one and only form of coffee that they recognize and acknowledge as ‘kaapi’.
When the orders were ready and called out at the counter , I went and fetched the tray . We settled into the counch as I poured out the coffee , some milk and reached out for some sugar and stirrer from across the our couch at the self service counter. I prepared and handed out the coffee to them and settled down to sip my vanilla flavoured iced tea .
From across the couch my father looked at the board over the self service counter that listed the menu of a 30 different varieties of coffee being served and he asked me which was the one they were having.
'Esspresso – hot' I replied.
He digressed into a pensive mood for a moment and did some mental maths.
He said he did’nt quite get it. ‘If you have to fetch your own decoction from the counter, pour a few teaspoonfuls of cold milk and add the sugar on your own, then what are you paying him a good 280 bucks ( 3.60 GBP) per cup for ?.
Back home, in Sri Krishna Vilas or Madras café they would serve you a much better conction, piping hot and that too within minutes.
Is this just bad customer service or is there more to it?
I tried to explain to him that coffee did come in various other sizes, shapes, colours and prices.
I have made a mental note to take him to café coffee day outlet in our neighbourhood in Bangalore one of these days to drive home the point yet one more time.

It is probably an exaggeration to say the Café coffee days will wipe out the degree coffee at ‘madras café’ , Sri krishna vilas’ or the local ududpi restaurant in a few years to come.
But then the reality is not far away. We do see signs of Pepsi and coke putting the ‘nimbu pani’ vendor out of business in some pockets where there is money to throw away. I am not sure if ‘degree coffee’ and ‘Cutting chai’ are on their way to extinction is a similar way .

Chaya Kadai Courtesy :
I would like to believe my fears are exaggerated. Chaya kadai , filter coffee , nimbu pani and vada pav have weathered far too many summers and winters to fade away from our taste buds to be forgotten as a result of changing lifestyles.
No matter how much surplus money you have to throw away at a ‘café coffee day’ or a ‘Barista’ your conscience still nudges you that this is still an indulgence when you can get ‘namma ooru kapi’ or a ‘cutting chai’ with ‘hot vada pav’ for one tenth of that price round the corner .

Years ago in Mumbai my husband- to-be wooed me over many mugs of hot & cold coffee at the Barista behind the Capitol cinema near VT station where we headed frequently a long days' work.
We have hardly been there for many years now. I once suggested we should go there, just for old memories sake.
‘ Expensive indulgence’… he remarked with a sigh and turned down the idea.
I would like to assume he referred to the cold coffee we used to have over there and nothing more.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Introducing Mercedes BC class

Introducing Mercedes BC ( Bullock cart ) Class . The most fuel efficient , eco friendly vehicle from the manufacturers of Mercedes Benz. 

This vehicle is a familiar sight for commuters on vartur road in whitefield, Bangalore\


I did have a chat with the proud owner of Mercedes BC class and he told me in a matter of factly manner that he got this done in chickpete.

It's the Time to Mango ( Part 2)

Mango in its ripe form is best enjoyed during the season. ( I am no fan of the preserved pulp varieties). But it is the pickles that give Mango the immortality and enable them to be enjoyed throughout the year. 
The culinary diveristy in india is best captured in the varieties of pickles made across traditional households across india. 
This blog is dedicated to a few varieties of the Mango pickles that I have known.  
 Avakkai :
Usually associated as an Andhra specialtly, it dons different avatars in different regions.
The sourest and firmest of mangoes are chosen for the pickles . The mangoes are so firm that it is almost impossible cutting them into pieces at home with ordinary kitchen knife.

Avakkai mango seller in mylapore

Somewhere in the middle of the mango season ( usually mid-may) , the market is flooded with sour raw mangoes suitable for making the avakkai pickle. The enterprising seller also cuts them to pieces and sells it for a slight premium. The cut mangoes are then dried in the sweltering summer heat before they are pickled with copius amounts of oil, mustard and chilli powder into huge jars that last for almost the entire year till the next season of mangoes arrives.

The taste of Avakkai mango differs in every household with marked variations as you traverse east to west and north to south of south India.

The Andhra variety ( from the Vishakapatnam area) is usually pickled in mustard oil and chilly powder and is best relished as an accompaniment with ghee and rice.
In Tamil nadu the mustard oil is replaced by sesame oil . The avakkai thus pickled and stored in jars gets exported to dear ones living in faraway lands where it is relished as a great accomplishment to curd rice.
My personal favourite, the tender mango pickle. Maavadu is made pretty early in the season, much before the onset of the summer in its true form. Late March and early April, when the flowers in the mango orchards start withering and give rise to small tender mangoes, they are picked washed and sold by the kilogram.
They are then pickled whole in salt and chilly water. When the brine and the chilly soaks and shrinks the tender mango, it oozes out the tangy, chilly juice along with the raw mango pulp. Best eaten with curd mixed with Rice that is soaked overnight in water ('Pazhedu' for the conossieurs), Maavadu tastes divine in any season.
Chunda :
Chunda the gujarati version of mango pickle is the closest the western world gets to assocaite with the raw form of Indian mango. Thanks to the enterprising gujaratis, every Indian restaurant in the western world (Europe in particular) serves this as an accomplishment with poppadum and the rest of the indian fanfare.
Trandtional British Pub food - in Cheltenham of pilao rice, chicken tikka masala, popadum and mango chutney
Chunda in a traditional gujarati household is made in huge quantities during the sweltering summer heat. Shredded mango pieces are mixed with sugar and some spices and filled in pickle jars and covered with muslin cloth. This is then left to melt and mix itself on the terraces in the summer heat for days ( not the nights) before the traditional Chunda is ready for finger lickin' experience.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Wood fired Indian Bread

It is a Sunday evening I am walking  across this stretch of the road in my neighbourhood, where a few construction workers have pitched their tents.  

There was music crooning out of the radio from a nearby tent, naked children running across the tents, screaming and playing. 

But that is not what stops me there. It is the subtle smell of the freshly prepared chapatti.  Food hardly smells good these days, and when it does it does whip up your appetite.

Outside this tent is this lady cooking the evening meal of  jowar ki roti ( or could it be chapatti ) in an iron Tava mounted on top of three bricks fired by twigs and small pieces of wood. The men and children are watching while the lady and a younger girl possibly her daughter and cooking the evening meal.

It is dusk and there is very little natural light. But I do not want the moment to pass. My standing and staring is noticed by the lady. I ask her if I could click a photograph. The lady does’nt understand my hindi and I do not understand her kannada or possibly telugu. A young man from the neighbouring tent volunteers as my translator.  I tell him why as someone who is seeing a ‘wood fired’ chulha after a long time, I want to click a photograph and possibly take a video.
The lady is a little embarrassed and gestures to me saying she is so badly dressed for a photograph and her hair is not combed .  I tell her it is ok and explain that it is essence of how she cooks that intrigues me.  Neither the translator nor she have understood or appreciate my reasoning, but they are more than willing for me to take a photograph or two. 

Here is what I captured this  evening.
Wood fired … Indian Bread … anyone.      

Wood fired rotis 

Wood fired Pizzas , they cost more, but they taste better as well.  ( Read Meena’s blog here

 ‘Food used to be much tastier in our days’, I have heard my grandfather say .
He would rant about the taste of the spinach that grew in their backyard, the drumsticks that grew in plenty in the neighbours  garden , the mangoes that threw in a bumper harvest  every other year in their orchards.

The list was endless especially when he had a captive audience to listen, he would go into this trip of nostalgia endlessly for hours. 

As I grow older, I see myself  experiencing  this more often not just out of to nostalgia about the past, but for the fact that food DID taste much better in the days when street side vada pav wasn’t replaced by more hygenic Mcdonald’s burger and water drawn from the well at home was just as safe as the bottled mineral water .
When mass cultivated branded vegetables were not packed in plastic packets and sold in air conditioned super markets  but were sold by the old woman who procured it fresh from the local market at 4.00 am that morning.

When pasteurized milk with sell-by dates was not picked up from super markets or delivered in plastic packets, but along with the milkman came the calf and cow to the gate and the udders were milked right in front of the ladies of the house, lest should that crook of a milkman add water into the milk. 

Coming to think of it, Tea, coffee, milk, ghee and sweets tasted really really good.  It does'nt seem very long ago. It was the era before lactose intolerance was unknown and sugar free substitutes were unnecessary.               

Its the time to Mango

Its the Time to Mango...

It has been a bumper season for mangoes, atleast from what I get to see in Salem and Bangalore . They say the best of mangoes harvest when the summer has been scorchingly hot. 
Driving across the NH7 from Bangalore to Salem, is a sad experience of seeing trees cut and uprooted for the construction of the six lane highway. Such is the price we pay for development !!!  

 The NH7 cuts through some mango orchards throughout Thoppur, Dharmapuri, Krishnagiri and Salem. Along the highway are numerous wayside sellers with varieties of the local mangoes selling it to the urbanized travellers looking for a good bargain and a slice of local flavor. 

Local Mango sellers along the NH7 
Mango orchards near krishnagiri
Mango orchards near Krishnagiri
Mango harvest - summer 2012
The locals entice the buyer by offering a slice of the mango. If you are a conossieur of mangoes or just a wee bit shameless, you could get to taste a dozen varieties before you make up your mind to buy one. 
Normally it is the Sindoora or the Alphonso ( yes they grow them in Salem and Krishnagiri as well now) capture your attention. But then there are other unsung varieties that have their unique flavour    and taste as well. 

rumani, sindoora ,malgova and Imampasandu

Sakkarakutty - sugar baby

Sakkarakutty translated in English for a more appealing name is known as sugar baby. Round, small  plump and green, she scores low on the looks department in the world of mangoes. 
Like they say dont judge a book by its cover, do not judge Sakkarakutty by her looks.  'Sakkarakutty’ oozes out sweetness that can put a jalebi or rasagulla to shame. Like all things beautiful she comes with her set of flaws.

With a lot of fibres and a thick seed inside, sugar baby is'nt a variety that can be served in a fine dining place.This is not for the one who is conscious of dining etiqutte. She is best relished in private. The trick is to press her in the middle and squeeze ;) the juice straight into your mouth (never mind the mess on your clothes and feet, it is worth the experience :)       

Imampasandu, earliest known to have breeded along the banks of Cauvery in thathachariar gardens in Srirangam near Trichy has an intriguing name. She could be a hydrid between Malgova and Banganapalli, two famous mango varieties earlier grown in Tamil Nadu and Andhra pradesh respectively. 

It could be a moghul export into south india and denotes something like ‘imam’s favourite’ .  Supposed to be south india's answer the to more aromatic, tastier and 'exportable' Alphonso. 

I am partial to the unsung varieties of mangoes, but that does not negate the queens among the king of fruits. Sindoora, Mallika and Alphonso are to me Katrinas , Kareenas and Aishwaryas of the mango world. Good to look at, not much by ways of flaws like fibres, or occassional sourness , they are  universally liked, presentable, well marketed particularly because they all travel well.

Alphonso ( the variety grown in regions of Konkan) is undoubtedly the top variety and goes unparalled not only for her taste but also her aroma. Worth every penny of the exorbitant price that she commands. 

Sindoora and Mallika are highly presentable ( no sugar baby disasters here) , sweet and pleasant to eat. Cultivated commerically, they are available in plenty during the season all over.      

Malgova : Big and green to look at, it can be mistaken for a Ripe mango.  Unlike other mangoes it does’nt colour yellow or orange. With a tinge of red to indicate its ripe form it has a unique flavour with a tangy after taste that makes it suitable to be eaten with a mix of sweetness and tanginess.  

Aam ras - Mango pulp
Rumani, with a very thin skin is round and juicy. Usually Rumani is best eaten as a pulp or juice with generous amounts of milk and sugar blended with the pulp, because of the tanginess that can sometimes mar the taste of the mango.  This is a variety more common to tamil nadu.  Rumani  is typically an the accompaniment after the curd rice in many parts of Tamil nadu..

The deserving  climax to the mango season comes when the market gets flooded with the Neelam variety. David Davidar dedicated his book 'the house of blue mangoes’ – to the meries of this mango that grew in courtyard of the protagonist's house. Neelam in native Tamil signifying the colour Blue.
While there is nothing blue about the Neelam variety , it is probably named so because it leaves you with the blues of the season, nostalgic memories of yet another incredible summer gone by . Neelam seldom gets exported ( that leaves it inexpensive for the locals to enjoy) . And that is because the sweetest of Neelam mangoes have a bug living at the center of the mango.

Bug at the center of the Neelam Mango

 A true conossiuer of mango would hardly get put off by the bug. The bugs choose the best neelam flowers to lay their eggs. With time, the flowers ripen into fruits and the eggs into the bug. The sweeter and jucier the neelam, the more are the chances that there is a bug living inside.

Neelams are sweet and pleasant are aromatic in their own way. Eaten by itself in its ripe form or in a juice variety, commonly made into Aam ras,  they are a fitting finale to end the mango season in the southern part of india.

With some luck I plan to take off during the mango season to the north of India. Then hopefully an entire blog shall be dedicated to the north Indian varieties of mangoes.
Payari, daseri, chausa , langda  .. here I come.       


Lessons in Humility at the Golden temple

To call it a structure symbolizing classic minimalism would be an oxymoron. The Harmandir Sahib or the Golden temple of Amritsar...