An Italian Oasis In The Rajasthan Desert!

I’d visited La Palma a while back. And though I don’t usually post reviews of restaurants on my blog, I’d written this one as a demonstration for my students in a Food-Writing Workshop I’d conducted called ‘Brew A Tale’. That, along with La Palma being quite a respite in this arid culinary landscape – I thought I’d share my thoughts on the place with you all. Enjoy (the review, and the place thereafter) 🙂

My wife and I are always on the lookout for new eateries. In fact, I can stake this bold claim with a fair amount of confidence, that if there’s a café or a restaurant that’s just opened, we’d be among the first to try it? Why? Because we love food, and to be perfectly honest, we also feel sometimes that Jaipur is a tad lacking in the western food department. Naturally then, upon hearing of a new Italian place, we promptly made plans.

La Palma is situated just off Ahinsa Circle in a modest, old hotel called The Garden View Hotel. Despite having crossed this part of c scheme a million times, we hadn’t noticed this place until now, its that nondescript. No matter, good old google got us there perfectly. It was a doddle to reach. And though there didn’t seem to be a valet service, we were ushered by the hotel guard and made to park inside the hotel in a rather convenient spot. So it began well I’d say. We went up the few steps right at the outer facade of the hotel that lead directly into the restaurant. So one doesn’t have to enter the hotel as such, which I suppose is a good thing. Once up the steps,  there are a few tastefully done plain outdoor tables and couches for those in the mood for al fresco dining. For me though, the real action was on the inside. How should I best describe the interior? Mediterranean, open, flushed with palm plants, just the right mix of opulence and spartan-space, not in the ilk of the scores of other ‘all white’ Grecian places these days; more upmarket, but with a real easy, sophisticated, airy, classy vibe. At one end of this beautifully appointed space is the bar. To one side, a most inviting wood-fired oven, whose tantalizing aroma permeates the entire restaurant, beckoning the taste buds. Just right. I loved it.

There was however one flaw in this seemingly magical potion that we were soon to discover – the service. Lazy, ill informed, uncooperative staff who first refused to lower the volume of the most misplaced, loud, intrusive and inappropriate lunch-time music, even though we had our 10 month old baby with us, for whom especially, it was clearly too loud. After much pleading and prodding, the volume went down by a shade.

Anyway, the menu then, made up. Some real surprises here, pleasant ones. Fairly authentic Italian fare, not normally to be found in many other places in this city at least. My mum and my wife had chilled beers that were presented promptly, thankfully, and I, an iced tea, that was natural, effervescent, and served in the most unusually and enticingly eccentric tall cut-glass tumbler. A classic Bruschetta for the table followed, which also, as was emerging by now, to point – fresh, fragrant, light, kind of like the first burst of streaming sunshine that foretells a lovely sunny winter day. We then tucked into our mains – a classic Margarita pizza that the ladies shared, of which, since I’m lactose intolerant and couldn’t partake, was absolutely divine. Freshness seemed to be the key again, and my wife informed me that the tomato sauce was particularly tasty, obviously not a bottled affair, and that the cheese was authentic and flavorful. I had a Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Pumpkin Puree, and what can I say, I absolutely loved it. The ravioli was hand rolled, just the right consistency. The stuffing was generous, the mushroom beautifully plump, and the pumpkin puree silky, adding just the right sweetness and flavor contrast to the rest of the dish. The entire dish was a melange of contrasts, kind of like a stark desert replete with the vibrant colors of the traditional turbans mixed in with the seductive dance of the Kalbelia – a treat for the senses. A real triumph.

We were absolutely stuffed by now and had some dessert packed – Tiramisu, the classic again, and I am happy to report that when we tucked into it later at home, it is the best I’ve had in Jaipur. The real ladyfinger or boudoir biscuits, the right amount of liquor and coffee, smooth, consistent, divine. I suppose while the place would be considered a touch pricey in Jaipur, our bill amount of INR 3100, I thought, was wonderful value for money for a delectable meal in pristine ambiance, including some alcohol. Yes, the service leaves a lot to be desired, but there’s lots else that makes up for it. Compared with similar offerings such as the Palladio duo, I’d much rather La Palma. It’s a hidden gem, a must visit, and I can only hope it stays, and stays authentic.

 

Embracing The Educator In Me!

That I always wanted to teach, and that I have been teaching for the past five years, is known to many people. However, there is a certain evolution that has come about in my own perception of education, my approach to teaching, and the significance and importance it holds in my life.

See initially when I moved back to Jaipur, my ideal plan was to continue being a Writer (my primary vocation – ghost writing, content development etc), and teach on-the-side as and when time and opportunity permitted. I was very clear that I would teach in the allied areas of communication & writing, and what is commonly known as ‘personality development’. I got lucky and despite having no formal academic background or experience in teaching, I met friends, colleagues and mentors who gave me many platforms to teach.

However, what I thought would be a ‘thing-to-the-side’ has assumed increasing importance in my life. Teaching now, happily consumes a majority of my day. And there are a couple of reasons I steered clear of this in the beginning, and have embraced it completely, now.

I never believed in ‘tuition’ classes – a rage and I suppose, a prerequisite in India (given our skewed education system). So I always shied away from seeing students at home for fear of being labeled ‘tuition teacher’. No offense meant to the thousands who dedicate themselves to teaching what schools ought to; personally, I was also sure I did not want to teach any set school curriculum or ‘prepare’ students for any standardized tests/exams. A small group of parents and students seem to have seen merit in what I’ve been trying to do – impart life-long skills and ‘prepare’ people for LIFE rather than their immediate exams – and ‘risked’ me 🙂

Ever since, that number has grown significantly. And so, I have now made my peace with seeing students at home – because I am NOT teaching them English, or Grammar, or Vocabulary – rather how to find themselves, and express themselves!

Two other reasons I was a touch reluctant to let teaching become my happy preoccupation – less pay and  mental fatigue. Both my presumptions,  I am happy to report, have been proved wrong! That if one associates with quality institutes, organizations and people, and stands one’s ground in terms of charges/fee for personal one-on-one lessons; one can make a respectable living doing this (which I always doubted). And that after half a decade of teaching versions of the same broader program, because each time I interact with a new set of students or with an individual, my experience of teaching and sharing the same material is completely renewed, with new examples, new experiences, varied thoughts – that has alleviated my fear of being ‘bored’ and seeming repetitive to myself.

I am ecstatic that Jaipur seems to be getting to know me, and has begun to recognize that there is a life for students beyond their prescribed texts at school. That life isn’t limited to 100% marks. That life ought to be about self-expression and the quest to find oneself. And that is why, I find myself teaching more and more. And I am loving it!

That I have begun to get inquiries from out of Jaipur that invariably translate into online/skype/whatsapp lessons is just the icing on the cake. Be it through a workshop, a home lesson, or an online session; it is my endeavor to reach as many keen learners (age being irrelevant) as possible, now that I have finally Embraced The Educator In Me 🙂

The Hunt

Plump with desire, having just been administered her weekly shot of narcissistic narcotics, she beamed as she exited the salon of vanity. Taniya hailed a cab in the tony Soho of London and shouted instructions “to Knightsbridge, pronto!” She was feverish with anticipation as the taxi made its way, winding through congested inner streets of the British capital. Her senses were on high alert, perhaps a side effect of her recently purchased self-esteem; maybe tonight would be the night!

Each moment of the half hour drive felt like a ticking time bomb. The world around her slowed down. Everyone moved at half speed, everything, at reduced pace. Her mind jumped intermittently, blank stares at this paused world, racy thoughts, of a potentially racy night. Her desperation permeated the air, infusing the damp with even more wetness. She finally arrived. At the entrance of the swish night-spot she fixed her Chanel dress surreptitiously. And entered.

The club pulsated. The beat of the electronic music was perfectly in sync with her own. Her surroundings were drenched in hues of psychedelia. Caped crusaders hid in plain sight as they masked their identities with a dizzying variety of actual masks. Taniya took hers out, a dainty half-face affair that revealed just enough, teased, just right. Mystery themed evening, the treasure hunt, had begun!

A man took her by her arm and dragged her onto the dance floor. He was concealed. But his smell captivated. His snake-like movements enchanted. His forcefulness commanded. Taniya felt empowered though she was weak in submission. Giving in entirely to her strange-befriender, she reciprocated his each step, gyrating, slithering, naked affections on display. She, the seductress, became the seduced.

Four minutes into this pandemic of mating-rituals, the ‘stranger’ whispered, “my place or yours?” “Anything”. “Mine then”. With one powerful stroke he lifted her in his arms and vanished into the thick fog of human glory. Out the club, Taniya found herself riding pillion. The throbbing beats of the club had been replaced by the raspy engine note of the cruiser bike. It entered her, enveloped her, ensconced her, consumed her, devoured her. She hadn’t a clue where her caped-stranger was leading her. She rode, a tidal wave…

Her fancy was rudely shattered. The engine had stopped. Masks still on. The man beckoned her into a sprawling mansion. Dimly lit. Sophisticated erotica. ‘Perfection’, she thought. They entered a monumental gate. ‘Are these the pearly gates’, she wondered. The illicit alliance seemed fraught with certainty . Along a corridor, doors lined the lush red carpet. To the very end. A door. A black door. Three locks. Click, click, click. She was tossed in. And the door, slammed shut!

Anew!

Stolen a few moments from a hectic move

Its hard to describe being in this shiny new pair of shoes

The malignant tumor cut off and removed

A parallel universe, a paradigm shift, removed from abuse

Away from that black hole, the insufferable deluge

Look forward, look positive, a life renewed

A fresh lease of life

Anew!

Divorce From Reality!

If you were to have a negative, omnipresent force in your life, it would stunt you. Deplete your energies, exhaust your intellect, thwart your self-worth, negate your very existence. You’d always question yourself, doubt yourself, second-guess your choices, develop unresolved feelings, even grow a pessimistic world view, before eventually turning into the monster at who’s hands you’ve suffered your entire life!

This has happened to my mother and I, and more recently to my wife, at the hands of my own father. Someone who has abused us, ripped us of our esteem, our very core. How? That is too painful, too disturbing, just too much to put down. Suffice it to say that when a family decides to LEAVE their ‘patriarch’ after four decades, the circumstances that have led to this monumental event are of utmost gravity.

The reality of our lives as we have known it for these imprisoned and seemingly unending years, is about to change. And the one person, aside from my mother, whom we all have to thank for this, is my 14 month old daughter Krisha.

A new life force awakens you. You are compelled to take a long hard look at your ‘situation’. Your priorities metamorphose. You may have yearned freedom from captivity but it wasn’t until now that you realized it is an ABSOLUTE, non-negotiable essential. To give this beautiful, innocent, vivacious, NEW life, a NORMAL life, a GREAT life, you move…

As many of you know, we have been in the process of moving out for the past few days, hence no new posts since a while. I felt however, that I’d be remiss not to at least share briefly, the reasons for us moving within the same city despite owning our own home and now going to a rented premises, since naturally the ‘move’ has solicited justifiably confounded questions in many people. So THIS IS IT!

It is, in every sense of the phrase, a Divorce From Reality. A brutal reality. A ghastly reality that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemies. Despite all the lies that may be proliferated to the contrary, and against all odds, for better or for worse, we are OUT! My mum, my wife, my daughter, and our three pets…. I hope that you all pray for us. Give us strength. Keep us in your thoughts. And very soon, we will be united in merry cheer. Because life ought to be a celebration, and because in this scenario, DIVORCE is the BEST step FORWARD 🙂

The Tea Party!

Tea, albeit inherited from the British, is undeniably our national drink. It is the nation’s go-to morning fix. The milky goodness that is the Indianized Masala Chai is that quintessential, non-negotiable accompaniment to anything, be it a celebration or triumph, lonesome introspection, or irrefutable defeat. Quietly though, there is a younger India that has gravitated towards ‘cooler’ drinks. Drinks that are perceived as hipper, trendier, more ‘with it’. Tea is the parents’ generation’s drink. Now its all about coffee, lattes, and concocted tonics. Or it it?

A new breed of Indian tea makers and blenders have studied, turned connoisseurs, and are boldly venturing where no one has before. They are bringing about a huge resurgence in tea in India. A revival of the most inventive, innovative, and intoxicating variety. And no, it does not involve alcohol. What is does however involve is a lot of experimentation, that is leading to a lot of blending, that is resulting in some rather exotic teas.

If you thought wine and coffees offered variety, you will be amazed by the bouquet of gourmet teas on offer in India today. Greens, blacks, whites, non-caffeine, therapeutic as well as occasion-festive teas. And this is only the tip of the proverbial tea-cup. Artisanal teas, sourced through fair trade from the choicest estates are fused into delightfully creative potions by expert mixologists resulting in a slew of choice for the modern and discerning tea drinker. The palate is spoilt for choice. So invoking are the aromas and flavours of these teas that you can journey across the world in one sip of a brew. From the solitude of the Dal Lake in Kahmir to the streets and spices of Marrakech, teas are exciting, enticing, and super cool again.

There’s something for everyone. if you don’t care for your steaming cup of chai, most of these new-age teas can be infused into chilled water and made into Iced Teas. Peach and Lemon are passé. Now you can have Japanese Matcha, Lychee and Rose, to literally whatever amalgamation your mind can conjure up!  Proliferating this onslaught of fine teas is a gamut of tea-tasting events where the most unlikely pairings are being offered across cities. These events acquaint a sometimes uninitiated, and otherwise studied palate to unthinkable attractions. Tea & cheese tastings, tea and chocolate tastings are all the rage.

The next time you dismiss tea as the ‘done and dusted’ drink, get online and smell the tea leaves. It’s a veritable Tea Party out there!

The Actualized Adult – ‘MANish’

My regular readers know that my articles tend to focus on education and children. I do however feel very strongly about certain issues pertaining to adults as well. So here, I give you, the first article in my series called

‘The Actualized Adult’ – my personal take on some broader issues that many of us adults grapple with. The first piece I’d like to share as part of this new series is called…..

‘MANish

When I was a young boy my father tried his utmost to get me to play cricket. Correction. To get me to play cricket with him! He bought me the best gear money could buy, gathered a bunch of workers from his factory to create a legitimate team, and in the sprawling lawns of our home in Jaipur, set up a field each Sunday, in hope. In almost desperate anticipation that I, his SON, would naturally conform to that age-old cornerstone of the ‘father-son’ relationship – sports bonding. How else would it be proved, to ourselves and to the world at large, that we were both, albeit in our disparate capacities of eight-year-old and thirty-six-year-old – men!

In case you hadn’t gathered, I was unrelenting. I suppose I began to disappoint the world and him, since those innocent years. When I was sent to boarding school with much pride and joy, I was told by my father in no uncertain terms, that they (my parents) were going beyond their means to ensure I received a first-class education at one of the country’s most regarded residential schools, and that I should under no circumstances, squander that opportunity. I suppose their efforts were in vain. There I was, lodged in this testosterone-overdosed all boys school, where manhood was defined and measured not as much by individuality and character, more by goals and runs scored. As I followed my passion in Hindustani classical music, both vocal and instrumental, my peers and my father were left in despair. I had failed to prove myself a man, yet again!

Ironically, what gave me the courage to stand my ground were a few men! Men who were my teachers at school. A housemaster, an economics teacher, and a music teacher, who encouraged me and fuelled my desire to explore, discover, invent and find myself, no matter who or what that might have been.

Years later, I fell in love with a beautiful girl and got married. My wife and I lived and worked in Mumbai. We loved to entertain. We were house proud. We hosted many dinner parties. There too, the gender stereotyping continued. Even in liberated, cosmopolitan Mumbai, our guests would be most surprised if and when they found out that – I’d laid the table, I’d arranged the flowers, I’d selected the drapes, I was sipping a white-spirit! Blasphemy! The final nail in the coffin, that I’d cry like a baby if I watched or read something that moved me.

I’m simply using my life as an example to address this hypocrisy and patriarchal dna of our society. For myself I can say that nearing forty, I am infinitely happier having followed my own path rather than succumbing to societal pressures. Of long embedded, generational definitions of man and woman. Where the man cannot feel or cry. Where a man must be physically strong. Where a man MUST have a man’s drink (read Scotch). And I find it quite incongruous that then we make such a bruhaha about women’s rights. Of course, we need and want women’s rights and empowerment. But don’t we also want men’s rights? Don’t we ultimately want gender-equality. So if a man can’t be who he wants to be, how will society let anyone be who they want to be?

coffee

A little hope floats
Aromatic, healing notes
As stories to friends you quote
Silently your creative lies I toast
Faithfully by your side I post
An inexpensive indulgence at most
While you blow hot, blow cold
Regardless of young or old
Immaterial in a material world
Unfazed by circumstances I’ll stand bold
Never to be told
“you’re my best friend”

Column Concepts

Over the past decade, I’ve been fortunate to have been asked to write and contribute to a slew of publications. What’s been most interesting for me is that this has been a rather diverse set, that has piqued my passion in various genres. For the Book Review, a serious literary journal, I have reviewed many books that have mostly been biographies/autobiographies of pop culture icons such as Biddu and Leela Naidu. For Fahshionomical.in, the country’s largest online fashion publication, I have contributed by writing about various aspects of sartorial style, something I am deeply interested in myself. For Overdrive Magazine, I have indulged my own automotive fantasies and written a few articles that have been slightly left-of-field; for example, which Car would suit which Politician the most, and why, based on the pair’s personalities! And most recently, I am writing weekly columns for DNA After Hours, where ‘Of Notes & Words’ each Monday is a purely lifestyle column that brings together Books, Films and Music, all three great loves of mine. And for Times of India’s NIE (Newspaper in Education), I am writing a column each Wednesday called ‘A Word To The Wise’, which is targeted at middle to high school students since the paper goes directly to schools, again, exploiting my little knowledge of Writing, Language, Communication and Personality Development through topics such as Correct Sentence Construction and Online Privacy!

You could say that I have gathered some experience in being a Columnist. And I thought I’d quickly share some of my personal insight into what really makes a column, tick.

  1. OPINION – First, let us start basic. A newspaper is a purely factual publication. As are most magazines. But if you are to write a ‘column’, it is the one space within that publication where ‘opinion’ is allowed, encouraged even. So while writing a column must obviously be based on facts, there should be room in your piece for you to share your ‘perception’, your ‘take’ on a particular matter. For example, I recently write a column where I took a stand that supported technology in Books, Films and Music, which might be contrary to what many purists feel – but then that’s my opinion, and I shared it, and rooted for it, vociferously.
  2. CONTENT – Your content must be well researched, thorough and updated. No matter what you may be writing on, it must be ‘correct’ factually, before you layer your opinion over it. Also, content must appeal to the Target Audience of the publication/column. No point writing for example about the latest technology in a publication that is read primarily by an older generation right!
  3. STYLE & LANGUAGE – Again, depending largely on the target audience of the publication, one needs to slightly, or at times, dramatically alter one’s writing style and language. When I write for NIE, I use correct yet simple language, so that students understand the write up. When I write for DNA, my style and language is a bit more mature, though still relatively light. And when I write for instance for The Book Review, which is a serious literary journal, I use my best language and writing style.
  4. ENGAGING – No matter what your information and opinions, if your column does not ‘engage’ you have lost your audience at the very get-go. I find that in order to ‘hook’ the readers, one of the best tools one can use is to ‘personalize’. Do this by interesting personal anecdotes and little stories that people will relate to. Same applies editorially. One has to pick and choose topics and subjects that resonate with the intended audience.
  5. FOOD FOR THOUGHT – Lastly, and in my view perhaps most importantly, your columns MUST provide something for your reader to think about. If they wanted JUST news, they wouldn’t read a column. Readers need to be given some information that makes them either nostalgic, or provoke thought. Even if it is through an opinion they disagree with, at least it will compel them to think!

And remember, writing a Column is NOT a lone pursuit. One HAS to work in tandem with one’s editor, take his/her suggestions on board, work as a team player, to produce what will then most certainly be a popular column with a loyal following!

 

Creating MOOD with WRITING!

As a Writer, Columnist, Content Creator and especially as a Writing Teacher, I always stress on one primary function of good-writing – to create a mood, without stating the obvious. The adage, a picture says a thousand words is true. Its reverse, as well. Because in the absence of that picture, the words have to be plentiful, more importantly, they have to ‘paint a vivid picture’. That’s a challenge, not just for students, also for seasoned writers. There are only so many ways something can be said or described. Only so much the language can express. Herein lies the skill and creativity of a writer. To craft a piece, a scenario, a mood, using the finite expression of language, presenting it in a new, fresh, original, engaging and animated way. To place the reader, inside the scene!

How does one do this?

  1. Use symbols, metaphor and simile
  2. DO NOT state the obvious. ‘Suggest it’
  3. Build character and consequence
  4. Title (in a subtle, inviting, intriguing manner that does not give away the story)

I often use examples to demonstrate this in my classes. And I thought it’d be nice to leave you with one short example that I often share with my Writing Students, to try and illustrate how to ‘build mood’ to them:

‘Shall We Dance?’

OR

‘Lifetime’

OR

‘Off Shore’

The short striped dress fit the nautical surroundings, and her slender frame, perfectly. The sun kissed her wavy blonde hair and she glowed each time her face fell back with laughter. Sat beside her, sharing the modest stretch of the pink beach towel was the man who serenaded her. Of him, it could be said, there was no dearth of charm. As his lilting voice bounced off the waves of water, it seemed to envelop her in rapture. With each new note he struck on his accompanying guitar, a gentle gush of frothy sea water caressed their toes, only to retreat back into the ocean. It felt as if her giggles, his harmony, and the intermittent embrace of salty aqua were engaged in a mysterious dance. In one swift stroke, the singing ceased, and the singer, now positioned on one knee, had produced from his person, a tiny box. Like a deft magician at work, he beckoned his girl to open the offering. Her shapely fingers cautiously unveiled the contents of this unexpected present. She gasped. They kissed. And the sun set on this gleaming romantic beach!