Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Pondy without its soul

I am a firm believer that magic created in certain destinations should not be replicated else where. With magic I mostly refer to food. For example, I would never order a Goan fish curry and rice outside Goa, similarly there are many street food joints in Goa that are known for Wada - Pav but I have never had the courage to have them there. Some how Wada - Pav is synonymous to Mumbai and how ever good the taste it is not complete without having it on a busy road in Mumbai, with lots of crowd, noise, honking and chaos. Certain dishes and delicacies are complete only at certain locales.

In our annual visit to Kerala (our home town) the early morning's I look forward to Kattan Kappi (Black Coffee) also known just as "Kattan". Some how the urge to have them never kicks inn while at home in Goa or Mumbai. It is not all about the coffee but the whole package of having a hot glass of kattan while watching elders reading Malayalam Manorama and discussing the news in the thinna (Balcony).

Thankfully my obsession about certain food at certain places is limited only to a few dishes and experiences. I will never have bun maska and chai at a 5 star lounge or even at a udupi restaurant even if theirs tasted better or they gave it for free but I was more than willing to experiment with a Tunday Kabab joint that opened close to my house in Porvorim, Goa. I thought it was good until my friend pointed out that they were average and no where close to the ones you get in Lucknow. I had never been to Lucknow so far and tunday kabab was not yet magic for me. I might change my tunday kabab strategy once I have had them in Lucknow and if the magic happens.

When in Tamilnadu or Pondycherry, the experience is not complete without a hot frothy cup of filter coffee. Here again it is the entire experience of the latest Tamil film songs playing in the background, along with posters of actors and politicians staring at you from different angles of the street, the dark and handsome coffee maker working in symphony to the demand of the market, the TVS mopeds zipping by etc. This time though I had very less idea of what I was heading into.

 As soon as my bus reached Pondycherry in the morning, I was in the look out for the coffee. No better way to start the first day at this erstwhile French colony. As the bus reached quiet early, there weren't many options available, dragging my luggage I found a street side shop serving tea, coffee and crispy samosas, I thought I was in the right place, but as soon as I ordered the coffee, I knew it was all wrong. I later realized that all others were ordering tea and I was the only one who ordered coffee. He made coffee the way we make at home and to top it all it was not filter coffee.

The experience put me off to the extent that I did not have coffee any where else in Pondycherry through out my stay. There was a fear psychosis that I will have as bad a experience every time. However through this experience there was another positive, I realized tea was not bad in Pondycherry as well. Mostly I am a tea drinker except when in Tamilnadu or Pondycherry, here it is always coffee. This visit changed it after all. I am back from Pondycherry after having coffee only once where I should have had at least 12.

Pondy will never be the same again for me, next time what would I look forward to have tea or coffee, I don't know yet and till I get back to my coffee ways, Pondy is without its soul.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Road to the Ganges - Indore

Every day we wake up to bright sunlight or to a buzz from our phones, but for the first time in my life I had a privilege ;) to be woken up by Mr. Kumar Sanu .His nasal vocals were piercing into my drums and then... there were cries and shouts from the neighbours/fellow passengers calling out “arre bandh karo yaar” but Mr.Sanu was adamant and the shouts got even louder.Then came a THUDDD...the floors trembled and the walls shook, our bus had jumped over a speed breaker and what followed was silence.The shouting neighbours, the roaring bus and of course Mr.Sanu everything stopped. The cleaner boy came announcing “sabko uthaane ke liye gaana zor se bajaana padtha hain”. Slowly the bus came back to life and the journey resumed.
The grey strip of NH3, which had perfectly hosted our drive from Mumbai to Indore, now looked like a swirling serpent with sun lit farms on either side. Here I am, with my friends, on our way to the city of Peshwas-INDORE. Though I had been to Indore earlier, as a student of Architecture, but this time it is different, probably because now I am a more confident traveller or maybe it is the sense of familiarity. I had a day to be spent before catching the bus to Kanpur. We put our bags up at a locker available for passengers at the bus Terminus and moved around weightlessly. I found a parental love in the words of rickshawwaalas who were fighting amongst themselves for claiming me. We sneaked away at the right time, still one of them followed us and insisted into taking care  .when I am in the city but I came with the ultimate answer ..My friend is here to pick me up thank you. After a brief walk of 10 minutes I reached my first destination. ‘Treasure Island Mall’ the first mall of Madhya Pradesh. There are few moments in one’s life when you feel the devil inside you rising to a big silent laughter ‘this was that moment’ Being welcomed by the smiling guard saluting me with respect and saying “welcome sir you are our first visitor today” the devil laughed in my mind and said “hahahahaha...I am going to be the first person to use your chaka chak toilet”. I thanked him and walked in. This mall is a shift away from the ones in Mumbai, which are either too small or congested or too large and still congested. Though it was not very big but the arrangement was linear along a fluidic atrium. This enhanced the sense of space and its depth. After freshening up in a free of cost spic and span glittering wash room. I walked across checking out the offerings. The shops were just opening up and there college students trickling in groups .Then suddenly I started experiencing something in my tummy it was rumbling and mind was tumbling there was an strong force which was pulling me inside and all I could hear was ...FOOD.!! FOOD..!! FOOD..!!..My inner soul was now awaken to the cry and plead of my stomach after giving a smile and a thank you to the watch guard, who showed me the way to ‘Chappan dukaan’. After a brief walk of ‘10 minutes’ here I was....knocking on heaven’s door... yeah.I was at the paradise of authentic desi Indore- style breakfast hub.


  A chain of 56 shops...!! All dedicated to food..... This is an undeniable part of Indore's food legacy. This place boasts of the best available chaat in the country. I started with a nariyal patice (crisp potato balls stuffed with coconut and dried fruits, served with the most delicious chutneys) at Vijay Chat House, working my way through kachoris at Madhuram Sweets and their ambrosial shrikanji (a thick milky concoction) poha and then it was the crispy jalebis at Tarang and an egg banjo at the end (don’t ask why an egg omelette in a butter fried bun is called that). There were many chaat shops serving the usual chaats and many sweet shops selling the winter favourite- gajak, a sesame seed sweet which melts in your mouth. And did I mention garadu? Go find out!
Indore has a number of mansions who exhibit a undeniable aristocratic feel their scale can give an inferiority complex to many palaces across the country. After fixing a deal with my dear Autowala to take me around for the day I started my journey. Indore kept becoming more and more dense and intense as I transverse into the old city and to add to that, the election flavour. The Modi wave was about to hit and all the hoarding rightly signalling the same.I reached “char Bagh” which was a famous garden of roses once, and now has only thorns.

 It was the winter palace of the Holkar’s completely designed in a colonial style of Architecture with lavish use of Metal. The palace has a good part of it preserved, though it was not maintained to the best. The palace had many attendants manning the building and keeping an eye on miscreants who were trying to touch or jump off into restricted zones. The palace had a lot of stuffed animals preserved as trophies showing the brutal hunting games played by the lords of Indore. The magnificence of the beast who were now reduced to standing mannequins shouted out loud filling your heart with hatred for the ignorant lords who killed these and many more for fun and show of valour. One of the most interesting places in the palace is the indoor Planetarium which runs space shows subjected to availability of minimum 6 people and the sad part is these information’s along with existence of such a spaces not let known to any of the visitors and yes also about  the ignorant and rude manager. Char Bagh has now reduced to a magnificent structure stuck in time amidst the casual caretakers. The once cherished garden has now become a lover’s paradise for guilt free PDA

My next stop was Kaanch mandir  

A Jain temple fully clad with Belgium mirror and silver on the inside, boasting of a rich trader who is also known as the uncrowned king of Indore .The temple strikes a very strong and lasting impression of the grandeur and the richness, at the same time generates a sense of divinity into the devotees .Around Kaanch mahal are various streets which derive their name mainly from the thriving trade in that zone,to name a few...Bartan galli,Kapda galli and the unique Sarafa.Saraf in Marathi means jeweller and I guess this was the evolution of the name thanks to Maratha rulers. This area is filled with gold smiths and jewellery shops which open during day time and in night this area turns into a one stop shop for all sorts of delicacies...Friyal sabudana khicdi,Butte ka khees,Dahi bada,mawa jalebi,Shikanji  etc.
The streets here form a cross grid and transports you into a different world of bazaars some which are 150 years old exhibiting a very typical feature of multi-storey buildings having shops down and house on top where the shopkeeper shuts the shop for an afternoon break and goes upstairs home.
The royal rajwada stands tall in the bazaar as if dictating people around and reminding them of their roots and the once command and power house it used to be. The rajwada has lost its grace but still charms you. A recent past fire has thrown up many things and adding to that a shoddy restoration leaving it in loom of a reminiscent past.
I Am on my way back and the numerous chatris – the Cenotaphs built in the memory of the Holkar rulers stand as testimonials to the royal past once it had, that this then capital of the clan called Uttarbharat commanded. I held my face out from the moving auto rickshaw with the joy of a puppy with open mouth holding my face against the whooshing breeze and lustfully tasting the wind "My moment of Happiness"
I stil remember the words from the attendant at Char bagh Sir indore ki baat hi kuch nirali hain aur sabse nirali hain yahaan ki thandi har sham chalti hian aur sabke dilon ko choo jaati hain”.
I was not sure whether the wind touched my heart but what it did was to tease me and set promise to myself ,i  have to come to this place again......good bye Indore .