Friday, July 25, 2008

Three Memorable Lunches on three islands: Greece

This is a story about three guys , Eeer, Beer and Phatte. Sorry this is about three nice lunches at Aegina, Hydra (islands in the Saronic Gulf : Greece) and the third in Athens (not an Island), but I thought it sounds nice as a title. These are memorable lunches exposing us to Greek food as far as we could venture. We, is Detective An (Ananya our little one and Companion), BBC ( Black Berry Champion, dear wife) and Agent Sam (thats me). So the story is about An, BBC and Sam at Aegina, Hydra and Athens in Restaurants called Pelaisos, Petrina and Ostria.

Pelaisos (Fisherman'House): Aegina

Aegina a hour and a quarter from the Athens port Pireaus by ferry and 40 mins by a hydrofoil is the nearest island and a touristy one. Due to its proximity to Athens and of course, some favour it for the best pistachios in the world. Its a hot day, the ferry is huge its called Fisvos and its the kind, in which you can cary 20 -30 cars in the belly and few hundred passengers ints lounge and top decks. We get their, Hang On ! its not about our excursion and Greek holiday its about Pelaisos our first fully greek meal. Thanks to Matt Baretts website about Greece, had some idea about the food.

A Frenchman looking out at the sea with fieldglasses (on the ferry to Aegina) and Agent Sam got talking, apart from serving in the military we shared a common interst in food. He said go to a restaurant that covers its tables with paper tablecloth, you will get authentic greek food. We took his advice and seated ourselves at the sight of the first such restaurant, Pelaisos (called Paaoosh by the locals). On the sea front a short walk from the port/jetty.

A young boy Salom about 10-11 years, set us up nicely, as our waiter, he was confident and shy at the sametime. Confident beyond his years for taking the order and serving, shy when asked personal questions (maybe its because Detective An our 8 year old daughter was around), His father Vangelis was the chief overseer and his mother and a few others were in the kitchen.

We ordered, Yatzikii or Tzatziki, (yoghurt and cucumer seasoned dip), Chilly peppers (enormous red chilly peppers in olive oil), fresh fried fish(nice, fresh and deep fried in olive oil), Mythos beer (most popular greek beer), lemonades (delicious) and a carafe/flask of retsina wine ( with a flavour of pine resin, used as a sealant of the wine casks in the past). Salom effeciently performed the service..The view is great the promenade, and sea beyond, in between hanging and drying octopus (turn around and face the restaurant).

Retsina is nice, feels low on alcohol, we consume copious amounts on the trip, sea breeze is cool, me and Detective An, make some engaging conversation, a Bangladeshi comes and sells us sunglasses for the little, all Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshi's we met were doing odd jobs, labour, sales on streets. BBC ( dear wife) is on the phone-- its a conference call . She winks and does thumbs up while talking on the phone through eating and drinking. It is an authentic greek restaurant,which we discover, has around around for a very long time (Vangelis's great grandfather set it up). The food is fresh, evocative, the colours and atmosphere cheerful. Salom hides behind the door when we try to take a photograph. The commercials were Euro 22 (thats about Rs1500/-) With a gratuity/tip of 2 euros for Salom. We reflect on a lovely afternoon, a little heady with the beer and wine. We drop into an ancient 56 year old Ouzerie Milos(Ouzo the traditional aniseed , saunf liqour) is strong and lingering and smells on your breath for a long time.Tasted some traditional greek coffee and watch the Saronic Gulf with men sitting with their shirt fronts opened sipping ouzo, coffee, beer and watching the world pass by. I wish we could do that , we attempt, but we are fidgety urban folk from Delhi, one the most agressive cities in the world. Where can we match the genes of a calm island mediteranean life with hints of Roman, Slavic, Turkish and inherent mediteranean culture, They were the agressors once upon a time with Alexander the Great (one of the few kings with the Great appended to their name. Now the greeks show the calmness and serenity of cafe culture participant and we exhibit the agression.

Nice place. Nice meal topped with our first Haagen Daas in Europe. A full belly, a smile on the face.

Petrina : Athens

Whats a good place to go for a meal,I ask the Bell (boy, hop, Catain take your pick) filling in as the concierge at Hotel Grand Polis). For a good meal go to Petrina, if you would like to spend more go to Ideal Reataurant. His name was Stathis, the other one is Milos and the third is Thansis (with these three names, you are in pretty good shape with 30% of all male greek names), every third male person is called Sthatis, Milos or Thanisis). So Petrina it was. We walk across.

It is a large restaurant, with high ceilings, stained glass, lots of black and white pictures of film actors of Europe and Hollywood of the 50s and the 60s, memorabalia, quite nicely done. Sparsely occupied at a late lunch. It could have been a greek orthodox church or place of worship. It is a large room leading to a large room in to hall. The toilet light comes on when you walk in, probaly the sensor.

The crew, the owner Peter and the steward Thanisis (aha), both were welcoming (as I had briefly met the the owner when he was opening up that morning and had promised to be back with the family). Petrina is in downtown Athens (near Hotel Grand Polis), a kind of place time forgot, takes its weekends very seriously shuts Saturday after lunch and opens for Monday lunch.

The food and drinks are average to good, the service and friendliness outstanding. We settle down and order,Greek salad (nice), sardines (interesting and smelly), fillet fried fish (have eaten better), bread (what can I say, regular greek bread),retsina wine (Mvaaah) (lots), coke followed by walnut brownie and ice cream and a coffee. The crew loves us, we love them I offer a cigarillo each to Peter and Thanisis, they accept and smile. Lots of photos, Thanisis lights up in the other room take a few puff/ drags on his service rounds. They like us lots, we ask for the check and they send us three portions of caramel custard pudding on the house. We have been good guests ( even agressors have unguarded moments), and they have been great hosts. The mood is great, I think they are on closing time before a weekend. We are happy to find an interesting place and enjoy it a few 100 yards from our hotel. We spend Euro 36 (which is about Rs 2450/). Its local economic exotica. Offers more character than just quality of just food. As a amentor recently wrote on a comments on this blog. Character comes with age and maturity. Of that Petrina has plenty, Character, age and maturity. I wish it luck and hope its lasts and mad urban commercialisation does not run it out of business.

The ingredients to a good meal are many, the meal, the service, the frame of mind, the people (the smell of the place metaphorically). Its a kind of place which may have hosted the rich and famous and may have been buzzing once, its easy and relaxed and has chosen its own pace. The crew is into easy banter and flirting with lady guests on the other table. Easy, smiling, relaxed and helpful. A restaurant has a character that it chooses and the leader/ owner/ manager sets the pace or attitude, much like most most organisations and families where the heads set the mood and attitude.

Ostria :Hydra

A lady sitting on a whitewashed wall bench in the innards of Hydra island, sat beside her was a half filled ashtray. She had long flowing hair (blond), she was chatty, english in origin. Almost felt she had laid aside a flute, she was playing and was ready to chat. She guided us to this woonderful restaurant called Ostria. I asked her, Austria, as in, the country. No. it means the sea wind in Greek.

Hydra the chosen home of the singer and lyricist Leonard Chen is picture perfect with whitewashed houses and persian blue windows , bluer than the sea around . The port is is beautifull almost enchanting and serene, not crowded at all, some yachts with europeans, sunning themselves on the deck. Cats and seadogs slinking way and trying to be unnoticed. Lazy feel in the port, you can imagine the rest of the island.

We take the advice 0f the blond English lady in a white flowing dress sitting their barefeet. We seat ourselves in Ostria restaurant, owned by Stathis the fisherman who is also the chef assisted by the most gregarious lady who is agressive, pleasant and wonderful. BBC (Black Berry Champion) feels the lady contributes disproprtionately to the sucess of the restaurant. The locals love her, a man sitting with a handle bar moustache drinking wine and watching the street. A man reading, is he John Updike, a couple seated on the same side of the table. They all love her and the place. You can almost feel the fondness.

Stathis , a tall man, who looks like greek version of Bob Geldorf, takes our order, fried calamari,(promises is the freshest and sweetest calamari (squid) , you would have ever had,I catch it myself), fried shrimps in soft shells, aubergine salad, chicken cutlets ( strangely, farm chicken legs deep fried in high quality olive oil), the customary bread. Lots of of carafes of Retsina wine and colas. We dig in watch the world go buy, its Sunday, peolpe walk by in their sunday best (coming back from Church), no, they are walking it to greek wedding at the Sunset cafe a few hundred yards away.

The food is wonderfull, we love lit. BBC has mountain of shelled shrimps (soft shells i thought), I like it better this way. The food is very fresh and very nice. We yet have to learn to appreciate calamari, but its nice. More nice, because of the experience and service and simplicity and honesty of the palce. They guide us to a place for a after lunch siesta and a swim. We order coffee and they send us a large bowl of creamy wholesome ice cream on the house bDetective An seiously digs in. We love the place. Photos chatting and shooting the breeze.The great meal comes for a price of Euros 30 (about Rs 2016/). Great value.

Ostria restaurant hasa website with the same name, can be googled, most greek restaurants facing the street have a simple format, kitchen, indoor seating and outdoor seating. Outdoor seating is usually full at the mainland and the islands, all have a great cafe culture, the patience to recieve service, slow food in a lazy environment and the temaparament.Their is symphony in the mood to recieve and mood to serve. We have been converted, learnt a thing or two about attitude, service, how to deal with situations as a waiter (metaphor for life), smile and use good cheer and a smile when you don't have as many resources as you would like. All the places, I have written about were one waiter (or waitress) place with excellent service, as compared to numerous other places which were full service restaurants.

Similarly at the work place we remember people, the emotional connect, the colleagues and bosses where there is intimacy in the teams regardless of organisational size. Rather than, large behmoth organisations with systems and procedures that stifle we learnto foster in developing a bond. Great lessons to learn in these low resource great experience places. People learn their lessons from lectures on organisational behaviour. I learn them from restaurants.

Post script ( I will upload the photos very soon ( pieces on food , wine and places are meaningless without pictures, I am learning and will overcome the challenge soon. I know I have exceeded the 500 to 800 word limit, but had to put these together)

So Long !

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bar tales of three cities, Spinnz : New Delhi

He calls me Lalle and I call him Lalle (often appended by Lalle di Jaan, Kocche Qurbaan), don't remember where it came from. Sanjay Malhotra and I decide to have a drink, lets do it without the families. I have known him for 29 years we have met in many avtaars. He is my jeweller friend who dabbles in properties and exposed me to the drinking out culture in clubs (where pretty much nothing els happens) hunting down bars in Delhi in the 80's to some time in the early 90's And often visited the biggest and largest bar in the world Carobar (drinking in the cars). Delhi businessmen respected their establishments so much that at end of business hours they drank at a dhaba, a barbecue joint, outside the wine shop and when they got their cars in a car.With exception of the motor part or auto market businessmen of a certain community who drank in their establishment and topped it with a few lovely!lovely! pegs in the car. Therefore the bar culture was stunted and had a bonasi appeal in Delhi, limited to five stars and then percolated in the mid 90's to the upper middle class frequented restaurants. Hang on this is not about Sanjay, or businessmen or a taxonomy and genesis of bars in Delhi, this is about Spinnz.

On a earlier outing I told my friend Alex that there are no democratic bars in and around Nehru Place and Kailash Colony, he hinted at Supper factory (where I believe you need a lady to accompany you to get a drink now), I know of Ruby Tuesday at Nehru Place, that is hardly a bar, you know what I mean. He mentioned Spinnz owned by a Sardar. I had to go to Spinnz, more like Sins.

Sanjay we are meeting in your backyard at Spinnz. I reach the dark bar with smoke at 7 pm and order a beer, only Kingfisher is avialble, its one of the big nights of IPL semis.But all the big burly sardars with series of cellphones like handguns laid out on the tables are watching tennis French open, that to ladies. I imagine they are filling in their voyeuristic streak with the athletic panty show among shots and the grunts that tennis players emit and turns a few weirdos. I ask the waiter and suggest switching on to the pre match frenzy on IPL. The owner an enormous sardar, defends tennis. I say, who watches tennis, he says yahan laggane wale jaada hain dekhne waale kun( more betters than viewers). I shut up that expalins the grunts and cellphones.

Sanjay comes in turns up his nose, I have begun liking the place and the homely atmosphere the sardar provides as he manages the restaurant from centre court. Sanjay eases,starts drinking beer, he has switched to wine from whisky you see (not much wine here). Studies the menu, its May despite that in Delhi orders fish, and makes a remark, it should not smell. Sardar makes a note. We drink more beer, the fish tikka arrives, its enormous and delicious, Sanjay orders another and another (3 portions so far). Sardar smiles they strike a chemistry. We drink more beer, Sardar is accomdating as many people in this large hall with 15 split air-conditioners, he is now refusing guests at the sametime humoring his existing guests. We drink more beer, now its kalmi kabab after studying the menu and some banter between Sanjay and the sardar they also settle on the next of the eats its a Kali Mirch Chicken (Pepper chicken), Sanjay is rocking and the Sardar is rolling with the overflow of guests. We slurp every morsel and clean the dish with the Naan. Sardar comes and confesses we did this for you, its not on the menu, its for friends and my own guests we eat this after a long day.

As usual we ended up eating more than drinking with all the beers and the eats we settled the commercials at Rs 1500/- way out of the earlier league of the bar trilogy and approx 500 to 800 number. But this is Delhi, and South Delhi for that matter(Kailash Colony) and its IPL Semis.

Well it turned out to be an endearing place, pretty much because we put down our card and pretentions and wanted to have plain old fashioned fun and a chat. The Sardar was a sport, elevated the atmosphere, hard to find an interesting drinking place like this in Delhi.

So Long

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bar tales of three cities, Chotta Bristol : Kolkatta

We are local guardians to a srilankan girl Sajni Hulugulle, she brings along a roommate home and we get talking. She says my parents are in the liquor business Shaw wines, they also own a bar called Chotta Bristol. Interesting, I hardly know any one who owns a bar. She was wee bit embarassed about the bar. Its old and dhaba type.....gets a lot of regulars, journalists. I had briefly heard that fleeting mention on my visit to Kolkatta early this winter when I had gone there with Injeela and joined by Krish, feasted on Mughlai food at Shiraaz and Bengali food at..... Hang on this is not about anything else other than Chotta Bristol.

I had to go there, got an opportunity finally in June this year circa 2008. Was kind of a loner that evening,Sajni's friend had said Regal, asked the knowledgeable cabby to take me to Regal, sleaze, porn,were the posters at the cinema, adjoining a sleazy bar... the doorman almost pulls me in... try to take peek has a fat painted singer preparing to sing, a blur, see another bar no one knows, I call a colleague, he thinks I have lost my mind, ask a few wine shops, no one knows. Cabby an old muslim gentleman is patient. Plan to drive back to the hotel. Call Manjeet Narwan, a friend and collegue at HT, ask him will join me for drink. Politely ask him when we meet and suggest Chotta he is apprehensive. Last time he and Rajiv Bagchi the Resident Editor of HT at Kolkatta went there, they could'nt find any place. They are mighty brave and agree to join me.

We find it finally, its near Metro and not Regal, aha. We enter, its as big as football field, the menu is on a LED screening scrolling across with prices of drinks. No drinking at the bar counter allowed and there are over 500 seated in there, drinking, smoking,eating,talking and apparently airconditioning or cooling or ventilation works. We look like weirdos and no one is paying us any attention. The waiters stack in pegs of liquor one glass into another like empty glasses of tea. We try to flaunt our style still no attention,Manjeet takes a few pictures of waiters, they want to split, I say stay. They are really sports and we decide to stay.(Manjeet you must send us the pictures to add to the visual impact)

Squeeze into two chairs, we order, Peter Scot whisky for me and Smirnoff for them all large, with mixers and sodas Rs 155/- we leave Rs 45/- as gratuity some attention. Served a tiny portion of wet channa, some chopped raw ginger and salt. We are still cramped. we begin drinking, its getting louder. Some Sikhs from Amritsar join in the adjoing table, they say they are sightseeing. We get talking, Manjeet calls this a Ahaata (a drinking place in Punjab) where you buy the bottle and the service is free if you buy sodas, mixers and snacks. Quite similar to down south where I remember guys going and drinking behind wine shops and gazing at Silk Smitha posters torn at strategic places.

Now the snacks and fillers, there are separate snack waiters and they bring in outsourced snacks from outsite the bar. We see around, fish fingers, fish fillets, peanuts, cubes of cheese. We want it all. Our waiter has only fish fingers, what about the rest, can't get it, our drinks waiter winks at him (the tips are working), we begin to get the choicest stuff. We have more food than liquor on the table.Democracy prevails well some are slightly more equal.

Another round and we abstain from the Bengal debate on Communism and the usual jibe of Manjeet. With the experience, we want to move on.........It is a historical place started out in the early part of the century with a lot photos of generation of owners. Many books and articles have been written about it in terms of papers and pixels. Its an interesting place not yet endearing like the Janata and Dewars. Its important to do, like the Sikhs from Amritsar sightseeing, I read up and was seeking, they probably were looking for a cheap place to drink.

It has oodles of character, adds to the woes of society or calms them down does the fellow tippler turn wife beater when he gets back home, or does he lovingly pat his children and gently caress his wife to sleep. The reasons these places are crowded and the role in Civil society as it isfashionably called, is still evolving in my mind. Well lets not think so deep and enjoy the egalitarian, democratic and some slight hints of mass drinking in a vodka bar in the pre prestroika Russia. An experience alright all for a stately some of Rs 550/- including the most expensive drinks of the house all the eats, sodas, mixers and service gratuity.

Chotta Bristol is not just a drinking place its almost an institution, some may think its a cheap place to drink I think its more than that. That kind of ends my trology on the three bars from the three cities. Though I have lived in Delhi off and on for more than two decades, I have not yet come close to this character in terms of a bar, anyting that came close was the old Moti Mahal at Darya Ganj, where there were ghazals and Qawalis and you could carry your bottle of scotch and order succulent tandoori chicken and be served like gentlemen but that was in the mid 90's

So Long

Title Song and inspiration of Soldier of Fortune

I had to put in the lyrics of the song that inspires the title of the blog, Soldier Of Fortune, sung by Deep Purple more like Ritchie Blackmore

I have often told you stories
About the way
I lived the life of a drifter
Waiting for the day
When Id take your hand
And sing you songs
Then maybe you would say
Come lay with me love me
And I would surely stay

But I feel Im growing older
And the songs that I have sung
Echo in the distance
Like the sound
Of a windmill goin round
I guess Ill always be
A soldier of fortune

Many times Ive been a traveller
I looked for something new
In days of old
When nights were cold
I wandered without you
But those days I thougt my eyes
Had seen you standing near
Though blindness is confusing
It shows that youre not here

Now I feel Im growing older
And the songs that I have sung
Echo in the distance
Like the sound
Of a windmill goin round
I guess Ill always be
A soldier of fortune
Yes, I can hear the sound
Of a windmill goin round
I guess Ill always be
A soldier of fortune

Thanks and so long

Monday, July 21, 2008

Bar Tales of three cities, Dewars : Bangalore

Its not owned by John Dewar or Tommy Dewar, the family that has been making scotch since 1846. Its owned currently by Vardaraj in Banglore is located on 3, Cockburn Road !!!!! in Frazer Town.

My friend Rajesh Kanan in Bangalore told me last winter, when I was launching Mint (the business paper with "Wall Street Journal" and nursing a couple of broken ribs),"let me take you to a interesting (or was it cute) place. Rajesh freely uses the word cute in place of interesting.

Cute and interesting it was, housed in a old 19th century Victorian pub building with marble top tables, wicker or more like rattan chairs, wooden partitions. There were four of us, i ordered a quart of whisky, rajesh had dark rum and Nitin (intelligent friend and collegue), whom I call Senator Choubey as he is going to study public policy at Bekeley and Poonacha ( a newspaper exec and part time coffee planter from Coorg) had Vodka with some mixers.

The came an interesting deluge of eats , snacks, fillers, Rajesh said they have a limited menu, fillets of fried fish, bheja fry (brain fry), chilly chicken and was it liver. I enjoyed it all, I am not a great fan of liver.The most exotic was the fish, in its simplicity and astonishing freshness and taste. Large fillets, probably the most expensive in the entire spread.

The crowd was, partly anglo indian, some advertising guys, some regulars who had some businesses and spoke good english , however at the bar there were some barefooted lungi folded in for a quick shot. The place had English ghost air to it with a wooden bar (dark wood, can't tell which), pictures of Gods and Godesses along with some old british pictures overseeing the proceedings at the bar.

The common thread that runs common in three bars (Iam writing about, Janata, Dewars and Chotta Bristol)is the simplicity, democratic and somewhere deep down appeals to a socialistic sensibility I carry around, despite everything.

The commercials were settled (as Raju pullan would say) by Nitin Chaubey in cash As I don't think they accept credit cards. The bill was a stately sum of Rs 800/- or so in circa November 2007.After many visits to Bangalore since November 2007, (probably 4 visits) and often talking about this bar and sometimes fantasizing about it.

Rajesh and I agreed to go to Dewars on cold rainy evening on 2nd of July 2008, lets start early, the same feeling, its cold, lets drink a lot and eat all we can and we don't have to spend so much. Reached Dewar's at 6.30 pm, its shut tight(aghast, Iremember speaking to the owner, its open all days and 11 am to 11 pm), diappointed. We said to ourselves lets go somewhere else and comeback. Went To Jayamahal palace had a few drinks in a portico facing the lawns and watching the rain. Went back at 8.30 pm and Dewars was shut tight. It had a look it has'nt been open for some time. I wish it well and a quick opening. There are very few places with character, economy,simplicity and deocratic nature left, feels like a William Tel Sackett entering a bar in Louis 'L Amour novel in the heart of an urban Bangalore.Anyone who has visited Dewars and knows its open, live and kicking. Please do let me know, It will help me sleep better and motivate me to visit bangalore sooner.I know Dewars and all these legendary bars have meant different things to different people especially for a bar like Dewars which has been around for many decades even before independence, with interesting stories to tell and the their closeness to an institution, This is my take and tribute to it.

So Long....let me gather my words and images from by recent memories of chotta bristol at Kolkatta

Bar tales of three cities

This is a story of three bars in three cities. Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkatta in other words , Janata, Dewars and Chotta Bristol. In my quest for eating local exotic in under two hundred rupees, I came across the experience of finding interesting bars in the cities I have lived and visited. Its currently an all consuming passion to absorb the sights and sounds, currently with my senses rather than a camera and audio equipment someday that maybe a possibility.

Janata Bar: Mumbai

Tucked away in a row of shops at Pali Naka on the cusp of Pali Hill and Bandra is Janata Bar. I lived in the neighbourhood in a building or a apartment complex called Queens at Pali Hill. Shared the apartment with Ava Sethna (the parsi owner), three dogs, one 6o year old parrot (as old as Ava Sethna), four ducks,some maids and ofcourse Pravin Dabas(of Monsoon Wedding fame.We were often visited by Gayatri Joshi(of Swades fame and a friend of Pravin)It was a 5000 sq ft apartment. However this is not about that, its about Janata Bar which I never visited while I lived there in 1999-2000.
I revisited Mumbai which I have often called my janambhoomi, while Delhi is my Janambhoomi, in 2005-2006. I was living at Searock hotel for three to more like four months, and many visits ever after.
We discovered the bar because it was cheap, meant reverse snobbery among the hoity toity hot nights in Bandra types and it felt like a discovery also felt cool to say meet you at Janata.

Its simple, no nonsense bar with quarter system(of which there are over 10,000 in Mumbai.In every city you need a bar you can call your own.It has a vast repertoire in terms of alcohol from types of beers, to wines whisky, bacardi, gin in all sizes coolers and even scotch and you get the scotch in a Director's Special quarter(as scotch is available in India in only 750ml and above), The food is fish, prawns, crab sometimes and even varan bhat (or simply called dal chawal). They serve to the loners, to strugglings artists, adverising crowd,production crew of companies and late night stragglers. Its often said if you need a drink at 2am in the morning you know who to call.

Will not write the menu and prices, it can get two persons some drinks and food within five hundred rupess.But, it gained its fame when I was named after the bar while I worked as a launch team member of Hindustan Times at Mumbai. There were three of us from Delhi the princes of the future Rajiv and Amit were called Santa and Banta and I hung around at Janata bar often or pretended the girls at work, Sonu, Varsha added the third name which was then. Santa, Banta and Janata.Sandeep Ghose another great fan of reverse snobbery (which one can be confident of practising, when one is confident of oneself or financially secure and can afford anything but choose something cheap and quaint).

Let me attempt to explain, everyone we know can go to Hawain Shack or Seijo and so one and so forth and so can Sandeep and I , however we choose to go and entertain there often, because, we choose to be there. Its like you have the safety of huge bank account, you may choose to spend it or not or buy something cheaper like Woodland shoes vs expensive shoes .
Janata has alot of princes and lot of real paupers going there. The best ,its very democratic. You share a table you share camraderie, even the same waiter, and the ice bucket and sometimes your sodas and your quarters with a fellow tippler who may be ponytaied mechanic from Bandra or Discover Channel executive or morelikely the kids that work for mahesh murthy now at Pinstorm or is it Pinstrom.
I have often entertained there, Shobhan Saxena the journalist from Times of India, Sanjay Malhotra the jeweller friend from Delhi, my wife and Daughter visiting me from Delhi, (she was really a great sport), the wife nursing a vodka and being polite, nibbling at the tandoori pomfret and the little one being spoilt by the waiters getting her ice cream),Mohit Mehra, my most intelligent friend,Raju Pullan-Nitin Chaubey(my second most intelligent friend)-Piyush Prakash- Rahul Wadnerkar-Mhaja-Manish all friends from Ht. Also took my friend and the technical team from Star Tv and my ex collegues from Discovery Channel.Even the marketing gang at HT Bhardwaj, Sonu, Varsha, Stephanie have been forced to accept invitations Net. If you want to meet Sam in Mumbai for a drink its at Janata Bar or in town at the US Club.

Its the kind of place that grows on you (almost like the store/bar in I forget the name.... in John Steinbeck's Cannery Row).Its a place where you dont worry too much when you order (about the bill). You can order you cigarettes and even cigars from your table. They even accept creditcards and will give you a bill for food even if you drank like a fish. So .... I can barely be objective about a place I have been lovingly called after even if it has archaic name like Janata (reminder of aam aadmi, Janata party, Janata meals, Janata Express ) a reminder of the mediocrity of the 70's. The lack if imagination in the name is made up by the experience. While my brother Sanjiv Malhotra set up many bars a restaurants and the fashionable and genuinely great bar opium den (among numerous others, Firangipani, India Jones)I am sure will acknowledge the simplicity of this place. The objective is to take him there when we meet in Mumbai next.Janata the epitome of mediocrity and reverse snobbery will meet the elegance and perhaps the snobbery of Opium Den a perfevt Yin and Yang

The next two tales are about Dewars and Chhotta Bristol... Cheers

Monday, July 14, 2008

Patricko's first meeting with forces of Nature

Ananya has christened the MM550 Patricko , now he has no number (has a plate, applied for ) and seems so silly to call it MM550 Mahindra at home. Besides all the other cars ended with an O, Santro, Baleno , Pajero and now Patricko . The logic seems unbeatable.

Patricko has been around for a few days, had not experienced an off road trip with him, though have had a few roadtrips. It does have a few glitches. Started from home at 3 pm with my crew of Bhushan and Jaichand to fill in Diesel and get to Gurgaon Dlf golf course at 4 pm for evening and night OTR (Off the Road). I had to prepare for Beer and kababs as part of the celebrations of my new jeep for the gang at Jeep Thrills (also sometimes called the Northern India Offroaders club). Last minute changes the shammi kebabs were traded for vegetable cutlets and bread, too many vegetarians in the forum.Ofcourse, pints of Kingfisher, cheaper you see (though Carlsberg was available at nearly twice the price), Vijay Mallya can only fight on price, the others beers I saw launched yesterday are Becks and Tiger in India. More choice for drawing room and pub consumption , but for copious consumption its still Kingfisher.

All set to leave took the U turn from the house and the jeep stalls, blown , fuse, can smell a hint of an electrical burn. Me and the crew jump out, fiddle for 15 minutes, craft fuses out of naked wire. Call Praveen offers, take the "Pajero", I say no pussy footing Pajeros, its got to be the rough ride of Patricko, it gets very windy, my hair is all matted, the crew has patkas (bandanas) on we look like the NSG (black cat commandos) , the urban and South Delhiesque version caught in wind gale or famous Delhi sandtorm (not much sand as its been raining alot lately). Get an electrician Mohammad (its already 3.35 pm) fiddles changes a few wires and fuses, try to start it, this time the wiring catches fire. Finally more electrical parts are ordered, relays, fuses, wire. Meanwhile chota chetan (jaichand) spots a naked wire touching the alternator, simple enrobe the nakedness of the wire and then reassemble all the other stuff and we crank and we are all set.Its 4.15 pm.

Frenzied driving, through the rain with a lazy wiper just moving cosmetically, the blades don't stand close enough to the windshield to give it a clean wipe. Reach the sand pits, the group has already done the shallow lake. Meet the guys in the rain which is really coming down, they alreaddy have cans of Royal challenge beer in their hands, greeted by Pushkin, Laxman. They walk around complement me on Patricko and its original look and feel has no, cosmetics, this definitely is not South Delhi Art deco Kitsch its simple and the way its meant to be. We shove the beer in Laxman's huge bag cooler in his Jeep and meet the others Sarvinder, RB, Shyam and few others. Some offer to take take ride I am nervous with the recent episode and starter solenoid getting stuck, some of my friends at Mint know what I am talking about. Basically the starter motor gets stuck if you dont use the heater. Have to bolt out like a jack rabbit and disconnect the battery to stop the constant whirr of the starter and the smell of an early burn. Me and crew are really trained for this exigency. Therefore the jeep needs an extra hand always. Ananya is qiuite amused and giggles at her father sometimes jumping out opening the bonnet and disconnecting the battery and reconnecting in 7-10 seconds. I think I dampen the enthusiasm of a few fellow jeepers , for being reluctant on trial run, but they dont care.

I hit that sand pits which are now clay pits will send a few pictures in this URL (hope you can open) will give the picture of the terrain.
Patricko performed smooth light and easy even on 40 degree incline (lot of Gyan from Shyam on the4X4 usage by a good hearted but the semi- knowledged expert (the kind who think accelarating is the only answer to getting out of all tight spots), I for one like to learn and use the gear, clutch, brake and accelaration to move around like stirring honey in curd/ yoghurt (treacle anyone ?). Its great fun, the crew is enjoying themselves and shriek out the occassional Ma Bhen out of sheer of exhalaration. The crew thats, Bhushan and Jaichand get involved as though family pride and honour is involved as the maintain the vehicles (even with the Pajero and Patricko, they comment Hamari Gaadi Dhoka nahin Degi, our vehicles will never betray us).

Sandpits done, we now head for the dragons back, we are already peckish, we(me and crew) sneak a sandwich of bread and cutlets on the go from our copius supplies on the sly and on the go.We read the gorge next to the Dragons back. Its straight incline, I dont have enough time, space to negotiate the approx 45% degrees descending slope from a squared approach thats perpendicular. So Patricko goes in diagonally nits deep nearly 100yards, and I am in an awkard position, Patricko is totally tilted to the right, Magically Laxman the anorak clad Punjabi swearing South Indian (I swear you he speaks better Punjabi than Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale) magically appears. Heis always done that, first one help even when I was in a tough one with Pajero, ever willing to guide me and also winch me out.I was out in a jiffy and ready to hit the rainwater lake/ Pond. Though I am not a great fan of water fording or slush driving, its a big turn- on for the other jeepers. I believe, it destroys, the plankton and insects and perhaps some aquatic life forms, ruins the water the villages use for cattle and other purposes and is a method of natural Indian rain water harvesting.

I do strongly feel about this, besides, I have nearly wasted two Jeeps CJ 3bs in the Army, once in Chakki Khad near Mamun in Pathankot (its another long war story, to be told as fire side chat in winters) and once in the river bed of Basantar (the famous place where the battle of Basantar was fought in 1971 and Lt Arund Khetrpal was given a PVC posthumously). I had merely driven through waist deep water and the current and depth got the better of us. On both instances a pudgy senior of mine Captain Naresh Kakkar was with me, and he always wanted to remove his socks and DMS boots and jump out which always slowed us down. I was the driver on both the instances. Enough on my teatise on water and deep water fording.

I did go through a single water fording with 15 jeep tracks already made through the water and slush (which means the going gets harder as the slush has really got churned and gooey). Surprise,I drive through cool and easy like stirring Honey in Yoghurt, smooth and silky. By now the rain is really coming down hard, we light up and cup the cigarettes with our hands and talk about tyres Jeeps and more Jeeps. Sometimes of adventure gear. Drink some Kingfisher which has cooled. The moderators, Sarvinder, RB and Laxman gather around I offer them the latest copy of the magazine I work for "Motoring" Its shrink wrapped and with stands the rain , I mean the magazine. After all this extreme stuff (the photo thats attached with this postis me and the crew in Patricko doing the water fording !!!

Get on moving to the Benam (un-named ) lake (its a I Hr minutes drive into the Arravallis near Gurgaon), real offroad, but largely stony as all the extra mud and silt has been washed out. Its beautiful all lush and green, even the kikar the most boring trees are looking neat.On the way we stop at to an abandoned stone qarry, some members feel (and emphatically), this high incline and ramps were made for anti aircraft guns mounted to protect Delhi they show me the bunkers. The concrete build around it (mind it none of them have miltary experience, born and brought up on Commando comics and uncles friends stories), they add you see the technology changed and acac guns were replaced by missiles, hence no need of ramps. Well I feel they are abandoned stone quarries with the rollers of crushers deop from a height to a waiting dumper truck below (thats this thing about life, no one care what you were, all they care and rightfully so, is what are you today). A can of corned beef good have been a wild bull steer or a timid calf, all we care is how is the meat today.

Any way the view from one these 4-6 ramps that guarded Delhi aka as abandoned stone quarries crusher ramps that helped build parts of gurgaon the view and wind is amazing. To use a an out dated phrase it was far out. You can see the whole expanse of Dlf city and the lit up tall buildings the bright lights of the 24 hr DLF Golf course, Its quite a schizophrenic feeling we stand in realtive darkness on a prehistoric mound in the oldest mountain ranges in the world (Aravallis where ramapithecus lived thousand of years ago), life is fairly simple here we are 7-10 km from the malls and life here is still about using the sickle gathering firewood , women singing folk songs at the village well or temple. Its almost prehistoric existance largely untouched by modernism all 7 kms from Ruby Tuesday in the mall in Gurgaon, or is itTGIF.

This is another beer halt, we wolf down the cutlets and bread and ketchup (some the remanants of the ketchup are extracted by adding beer to the empty bottle and giving it a shake), boring rotis and cooker full of dal (cost cutting at its prime), aloo rotis the non fried and oil less parathas, chiken biryani from ???, the food was not so good a lot of free loaders. I smoked a cafe creme cheroot in the wind and sipped beer. Bhushan lit one as well. We were having fun. The non alcholic beverages were water, amul lassi and Dabur active apple juice.

Lots of picture and introductions of new yet to become members read the website and tagged along varieties, I was also one of them, though I was not such a rookie, had driven albeit badly (as my crew silently and my family vocally feels, Praveen and my folks), I have a fan in Ananya (our little one) who never complains about my driving in fact shrieks in delight. I think she enjoys it, though Praveen's rendition is she is too polite to express otherwise.

It 8.10 pm the caravan of jeeps are moving into the kikar forest to the Benam lake another 5 clicks ahead. The caravan is three World War 2 Ford Jeeps restored nicely in muddy sand color,4 MM 550 like Patricko or near about versions, One Mahidra Legend the amby bamby version of the MM 550 a collectors item with Keshub Mahindra;s signature commemorating the 60 years of the leegendary vehicle Jeep being assembled and then manufatured in India. In all 9 jeeps slightly low attendance. Lots of people holidaying in the South of France or at Martha's Vineyard (more realistically, Bangkok, KL, Mussourie, Jim Corbetts Park).

So nine jeeps moving to the next destination and two jeeps peal off to head back and instinctively I follow them as the convoy is now going to be Lake and I have shared my disdain with the (driving and seeing the devastation the Jeeps create). Besides with all the getting stuck and recoveries we wind up at 11 and get home by one. And the next morning I had a date with walkers of Mandakini near my home at New Delhi. So swung back amids a lot of honking and hooting to call me back. I buzzed off. Fortunately, no desparate calls on the Cell phone to get be back. Most cell phones are out range in this rural prehisroric belt despite all claimes of air, water food and cell phone connectivity in 4 lac out of 6 lac villages in India. I kid you not we are 7 clicks from the Gurgaon malls as the crow flies and perhaps the jeeps crawl.We re usually out of signal for the mobiles. Bhushan drives back, accelarates with a roar. The crew make some banter a review of sorts. They light up the Gold Flakes (they have a ball when they come out),Its no boss, its a democratic collegiate rustic bunch and I quite enjoy it, Till I come back to my executive existance.

We are back by 9.30pm the earliest ever, it was nice short and sweet, did three four extreme terrrains, a good initiation for me to Patricko. There are many theories that Patricko was a timid CO's (Commanding officer) vehicle which never stepped out of the Cantonement and never got to use its sandgrip tyres and was on memsahibs duty (for mahjong and coffee mornings) annd for dropping the babalog at swimming and tennis sessions (as it has original paint and the hood and body and tub are in good shape and I paid a preium for all this). Or was it with combat group vehicle in the deep forests of Wairangte near Aizawl. Its hard to tell. Steer or Calf. Patricko is now my friend and will build a circle of trust. You build a relationship with a horse or Vehicle, if it contiusly gets you out of a tight spot effortlessly. Patricko has all the makings for it. The deep growl says I have seen it all.

In the metro life, in the slow whirr of the airconditioner on a soft mattress after a warm water bath, dozed of to dreams of treacle.......soft honey stirred into creamy yoghurt. The yin yang of crankshafts and soft treacle.

So Long

Samil Malhotra

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