Tuesday, July 31, 2012

City Crush

City Crush

I am a city girl. I love going on holidays to small towns, beach resorts, mountains, but I need to live in a big city. I cannot imagine myself living in a small town. And it's strange because it's not that I love the fast life or night clubs or crowded streets for that matter. 

But still, I have to live in a big city. I love the feel, the vibe, the energy and the amazing variety of people one can meet. Life is never dull in a big city, there is always something at every turn which surprises you, shocks you even. I love these little surprises and the adventures they bring with them.

My favourite city is and will always be Bombay, or Mumbai as Sanil insist I call it ("because you are Indian and not British, you should use the Indian name"- as he explained sternly to me). I have written a few posts on Bombay- both in poem and prose- so I won't  dwell on that here. 

I remember a conversation with a friend many years ago where he explained how left a city he loved, for his girlfriend. I told him I could understand that it was a tough decision - choosing between a city and a girl, both of which you love. And then I added "The only difference is that girlfriend may leave, but the city will always be there!". He simply nodded in complete agreement. 

There are some cities I knew since I was little that I would LOVE. I had only read fiction novels based in these cities, but I just KNEW. One of those cities is New York. I read 'I'll take Manhattan' by Judith Krantz when I was 15. And I fell in love with Manhattan. I did not visit it until I was in my mid-20s. And it was like I was meant to be there. I could see myself living in Manhattan and loving it.

Then there are some cities which surprise you. I never wanted to visit Hong Kong. As I felt it would be like Bombay only with Chinese people. So why bother, when I have lived and loved the original. I know! Pre-conceived biased notions are not a good thing. But unfortunately, I have a few of them. 

However HK disarmed me. I forgot all about what I thought about it, and allowed it to introduce me to itself. Since my first visit I have been back a few times on both work and pleasure, and city grows more and more on me each time. I have not been to able to go over and say hello in the last few years, and need to change that soon. 
I believe that every city has a soul. A soul that makes it what it is. Cities breathe like you and I. They have suffered, they have cried and they have mourned. They have laughed, they have sung and they have celebrated. And it's because of all this, they have a history and they have memories. 

Another city I knew I would fall in love with is Paris. I know it's a cliche, who does not love Paris? But the connection I knew I would feel, am feeling it every minute of everyday that I am here. It's simply magical!

Am sure Paris remembers its plight during the two World Wars. Like New York who still fears that the Great Depression may pay a visit with every recession. Or Bombay which has given as 'dowry' in 1661 by the King of Portugal to King Charles II of England when he married the Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza only to find itself now as nothing short of a Bollywood diva.  

Every building, nook and cranny  in every city has a story to tell. Stories of people who lived there, of cafes that were once the talk of the town, of movie theatres that have seen silent black and white films. 

Paris has romance in its soul. That's why even today it's called the city of love. Ambition finds itself as an integral part of New York's soul. And Bombay is like the beautiful but ageing prostitute with a heart of gold. 

When we each visit or stay in any city, we leave behind a part of our souls. Our histories and memories and those of the city become intertwined. Thats why I adore old cities. Can you imagine the number of people who have passed through these cities over the hundreds of years? The cities touched each one of their lives in different ways and the people made the history of the cities a little richer.

A city is capable of love. A city accepts you as you are. A city embraces your eccentricities and makes it it's own. That's how all big cities have a bohemian area which thrives on it's residents individualities. 

There is nothing better than walking through a city that's steeped in history. There is no better way to discover its secrets and enjoys its pleasures. I urge you all the walk the trails that many before you have walked, but trust me, what you will take out of it will be unique and special to you alone.

For now, I am continuing my Paris walks, drinking in every sight (along with an occasional glass of Chablis), savouring every experience (and not just the macaroons), and thoroughly enjoying every step along this walk.

It's great I have packed my pink Hush Puppies shoes.

Written on 30 July 
At Shakespeare and Company in Paris and the Paris Plages

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A short story by Seema Punwani


A short story by Seema Punwani

- "Rahul. Naam toh  suna hoga".

- "I am Maya"

- "If it were Simran, it would be so Dilwale Dulhaniya"

- "That would be possible, but you are 'Rahul' not 'Raj' from Dilwale Dulhaniya. You were quoting Dil Toh Pagal Hai, hence 'Maya' and not 'Simran'.

- "Damn! The line has worked every time before. And it's never been this complex!"

- "There is always a first time...'Rahul'. Don't take it so badly"

And that is how Anay and Mishka first met. 

- "So... is your name really Maya?"

- "If your name is really Rahul"

And with that Mishka smiled, tossed her head, turned and left. As Anay watched her go, he felt a strange sense of loss. But pursuing girls was not his style. They came to him. So he turned the other way and walked away too.

A few seconds later he turned, only to catch her look back too. She laughed out aloud, while holding her hair back from the breeze. She then winked at him, with a mischievous glint her her eye... And then...she was gone.

Anay felt his heart skip a beat and he ran to get her real name and number, only to have a red BEST bus zoom past him and stop him in his tracks. It was a 255. He will still remember the bus number many years later.

If this were any other love story, Mishka would be waiting at opposite side of the road, waiting for bus to pass. But this is not any other love story, so here Anay and Mishka met for the first time and parted ways too. It was 4 July 2008.

On her way home Mishka stopped at the vegetable stall at Juhu Church and picked up some coriander and lime. Tomorrows snack menu was wada pau, and she needed to go home and make a fresh pot of green chutney. Upon reaching home she debated between watching Grey's Anatomy or head to bed. Common sense prevailed and she went to sleep as she had to wake up at 5 am everyday.

Mishka ran a 'dabba' or tiffin service and the dabbawala was at her doorstep at 7am to pick up the 50 tiffin carriers that she prepared fresh each morning. Today's menu was chicken kheema, chapatis, raita, moong dal and wada pau for snack.

Mishka made the chutney first thing in the morning and added her own secret ingredient- peanuts. It is not a common found ingredient in green chutney, but it was her special touch. It added texture and gave the chutney a distinct 'Mishka flavor' as she liked to think of it.

Mishka's parents had named her Mythalie and her nickname became Mishti- which meant 'sweet' in Bengali. Mishka had spent her childhood years in Kolkatta and though neither of her parents were Bengalis, her mum was obsessed with all things 'bong'. And thus Mishti was what everyone called her.

When she was 18 and moved to Bombay to study, the first thing she did was to re-christen herself 'Mishka'. The name was inspired by her love for Russian literature. While other girls read Mills & Boons, Mishka re-read Anna Karenina for the umpteenth time. While other girls had their noses in crime fiction novels by Agatha Christie, Mishka could not put down her worn-out copy of Crime and Punishment.

Mishka studied Arts and Literature at Xavier's. It was an obvious choice and had received a nod of approval from both her parents. After graduation, it was expected of her to do her Masters and take up a respectable teaching job, followed by marrying a boy- need not be chosen by her parents, but should come from a 'cultured family' and should be a Chartered Accountant or Doctor or at least an Engineer. But Mishka had other plans for herself. She joined Dadar Catering College to learn professional cooking.

Mishka had to fly down to Kolkatta to console her mother and explain that it did not mean she hated her mum's food and it also did not mean her mum could not teach her to cook. 

After the initial shock and heart palpitations that Mishka gave her parents and family, everyone slowly settled down. And Mishka went on with her life. She was happiest when she was in the kitchen cooking, experimenting, tasting and feeding her friends her new creations.

After she finished catering school, Mishka took a loan from her dad and started her tiffin business. She dedicated it to her mum and called it 'Mishti's'. Within a year she had broken even, and within the following year she returned her dad's loan, with interest. By this time Mishka's mum had given up all hope of her marriage, and Mishka was left pretty much to her own devices

That day would have been an ordinary day, with everyday chores and humdrum routine. But that was not the case. It would be remembered as the day Anay and Mishka would curse each other for the rest of their lives.

Per normal, Mishka sent off the tiffins and left to buy the groceries for next days menu. Her phone was on silent so she did not notice the 12 missed calls from her assistant, Tripti. Upon reaching home a surprised Mishka called Trip ( as Tripti ordained she must be called. And well, Mishka always respected people who changed their names and insisted everyone call them that).

Trip picked up the phone with panic in her voice and told Mishka she was coming over as she could not explain what happened over the phone. Mishka was pacing up and down her balcony till Trip arrived anxiously wondering about what possibly could have happened. 

When the doorbell rang, Mishka nearly jumped out of her skin. She ran to open the door to see a rain-drenched Trip with an extremely worried expression. Mishka made her sit down and slowly Trip explained what happened.

One of Mishka's clients, a Ms. Kate D'costa, had called up Trip and informed her that her boss was going to sue 'Mishtis's' as despite giving strict instructions about his allergies, the food in the tiffin contained peanuts. 

Mishka then realized her mistake! She had one customer from an advertising agency whose PA had filled the registration form informing about his allergies. Mishka always prepared his tiffin separately from the rest as he was allergic to peanuts, cashew nuts, almonds- well all nuts actually- and shellfish also. However today as none of the items needed any of these ingredients, Mishka did not cook his meal separately. Except she forgot about the chutney!

The gentleman, named Anay Mathur, was now in the hospital because of Mishka's special touch of peanuts.

If this were any other love story, this day would be known as the day Anay would tell their grand kids  as 'the day when your grandmum nearly killed your grandad'. But this is not any other love story. So here this day will be known as the day when Anay was in hospital while Mishka met her future husband.

Trip assured her that the customer was out of danger, but her business could be in peril. As Mr. Anay Mathur was going to sue 'Mishtis's' for negligence.Trip advised Miskha to get legal advice at the earliest.

Mishka was not even sure where to begin! She has anticipated many things going wrong when running ones own business, but being sued was not one of them. She got in touch with Fixit. His name was actually Farhan, but since college days he was called Fixit as he fixed everyone's problems or at least introduced them to people who would do so.

And that is how Mishka met Vikramaditya Chatwal, Attorney at Law.

To say it was love at first sight, would be a lie. But to say Mishka was not smitten, would also be lying. When the very existence of what you have created with so much affection and passion is under threat, you naturally look to the person who is helping you save it as your messiah. And a wee bit of smitten-ness is only natural. 

Vikram did a great job of defending Mishka's interests, business interests strictly. To be honest, her family lawyer who had drafted her initial business contract had done a good job in CYA (covering your ass) or what's referred to as terms and conditions in legal language. They clearly stated that at any dietary specifications were limited to main food and could not be extended to accomplishments (in this case the chutney). This was drafted as most accompaniments tended to be store bought, and hence out of the business owner's control. The fact that the chutney was made by hand by Mishka herself was a small technicality that Vikram easily exploited.

Mishka did not need to meet Anay or even his lawyers for that matter. Vikram handled it all very admirably. For Mishka he was nothing short of her knight in shining armor. Handsome, charming and extremely attentive...what more could a girl ask for? And he was a lawyer! What more could the girl's mother ask for?

Within a year of wooing (on Vikram's part), swooning (on Mishka's part) and dating (naturally on both their parts), they got married. 

4 Dec 2011. Rustomji welcomed Mishka to Brittania. She was one of his favorite customers. Sorab the head waiter knew her order by heart. So Mishka settled comfortably at her table and started reading 'Persuasion'- it was the only Jane Austen she had surprisingly not read as yet. 

"Kem cho dikra", she heard Rustomji's loud voice yell. She looked up to see 'Rahul' standing 2 feet away from her. She still remembered him as 'Rahul' and thought about that day sometimes and wondered 'what if' to herself. 

It had been 3 years. She did not think he would remember. Little did she know that Anay remembered every little detail of that day very vividly. And he looked back at that day rather wistfully over the past years.

So when he saw her, his face broke out into a huge smile. He went up to her with a cheeky grin and said "Rahul. Naam toh  suna hoga". Mishka laughed out aloud, extended her hand and introduced herself as 'Maya'. 

Anay had imagined the scene when he would bump into Mishka countless times in his head, and in all those scenes, she was still his 'Maya'. He was thrilled that this was panning out just as he had imagined.

"Well this is just like 'Serendipity' with John Cusack and Diane Lane" said Anay.

"You are thinking of 'Must love dogs'. 'Serendipity' had Kate Beckinsale. I can see your movie references are still all messed up". She still had that mischievous glint in her eye, it had not faded one bit, thought Anay fondly.

"Well, I have never met anyone before who has done a PhD in movie lines" retorted Anay laughingly. "Mind of I sit down?"

She hesitated, but only slightly, before extending her hand to the chair next to her.

He sat down and contemplated deeply while reviewing the menu. "Berry pulao. That's the speciality here" advised Mishka.

"Oh I do know that, but I love their boti kebab as well".

"Why don't we order both and share?" suggested Mishka

"Excellent idea! But I won't share the caramel custard later", replied Anay, much to Mishka's amusement.

Suddenly looking up from the menu, Anay said, "You know what I hate"

"You mean besides girls who correct your movie reference pick-up lines?"

- "Yeah besides that. I hate that nowadays there is no mystery in meeting people. You know their life history down to the last meal they ate, all thanks to Facebook"

- "I know! It leaves no room for surprises!"

- "So what do you say, that for today, you be 'Maya' and let me be 'Rahul'"

-"I would really like that!"

With that 'Rahul' and 'Maya' settled into a comfortable conversation about everything under the sun, except telling each other their real names and professions.

After polishing off 2 caramel custards, each, the time had come to leave the cafe. Anay refused to let Mishka split the bill, and then they found themselves in the awkward moment, when neither wanted to leave, but they did not know how to ask the other to stay.

Anay looked up at the December sky and commented how it was his favorite time of the year. Mishka took the bait and complimented the beautiful breeze and suggested an after-lunch stroll. It was just what Anay was hoping for!

They walked towards Gateway of India and sat on the wall by the sea and played 'Spot the tourist'. Mishka explained that it was a game she and her friends had invented when they were in college and came here when they bunked their lectures. Gateway of India had hordes of visitors everyday. It attracted locals and tourists alike. 

Anay began, - "The family on your right, posing for the camera. Definitely out of towners"

- "Umm...good first attempt, but you got lucky. Camera is such an obvious clue!. The teenage couple feeding the pigeons- locals, but from the suburbs like Boravali or Vasai"

- "That is ridiculous! How can you possibly know something so specific?!?"

- "Cause they are too young to come to Bombay by themselves, and the way she has tied her hair in a braid, its obvious she is not from around here. Elementary my dear Watson"

- "So now you are quoting 'James Bond' to me?"

Mishka was about to yell 'No, Sherlock Holmes', but she saw Anay's cheeky grin and stopped herself while laughing out aloud.

Anay felt his heart skip a beat again, just like it had 3 years ago. Except this time he was not willing to let the moment pass. He took her hand and led her down the road. Mishka could not get herself to put a stop to this, even though she knew it was so wrong

They both needed their caffeine fix and went to Gaylords for coffee and cake. Mishka found herself telling him her childhood stories from Kolkatta and how now she could not consider any place other than Bombay home. Anay told her how he could see that. As she had no qualms about calling 'Calcutta' by its Indian name, but could get herself to call Bombay, Mumbai. 

Anay talked about how he grew up in America and never imagined he could live in India. And now he could not dream of a life anywhere else. Even though he travelled all over with his job from Budapest to Boston and Melbourne to Milan, Mumbai was still what he considered home. He explained that he came to the city after its rechristening, so calling it Mumbai is what felt right to him, not Bombay.

They went for a stroll to Marine Drive...still holding hands. By this time the sun was setting and it was the perfect time to sit down and look out into the Arabian sea. They sat quietly for what seemed like hours, their bodies closer, hands help tighter and Mishka's head on Anay's shoulder. She felt terribly guilty, however could not bear to let whatever was happening, and probably going to happen,stop. 

Anay could feel exactly what she was thinking. He did not want the evening to end either. But they could not sit like this forever, even though he did not want anything more.

He suggested having the famous sandwich ice-cream at Churchgate. Mishka's eye lit up and they walked towards the ice-cream stall. 

Anay had never seen anyone eat an ice-cream so sensuously. She removed the wrapper with utmost care, and slowly let her tongue caress the ice-cream. She then took a small lick, closed her eyes, and murmured 'ummm'. She then open her eyes to find Anay gaping at her with is jaw hanging. She should have been embarrassed, but for some reason she felt confident, almost brazen. And she simply continued savoring the ice-cream in the same way, while Anay struggled to look away while finishing off his ice-cream.

Short of nothing to say, he blurted, "This is just like the scene from 'For love or money' where Helen Slayter drinks water from the fountain and Michael J Fox can't stop staring". Mishka stopped eating, and shook her head slowly, "Well at least you got the actors right this time, but the movie you are thinking of is 'The secret of my success'".

"Well I give up! No more movie references. Ever."

"What would happen to all those pick-up lines then?" 

"I am hoping I never need to use them again", and with that he leaned forward and kissed her lips. He could taste the sweet strawberry, while she felt her lips feeling the chocolate. Suddenly she pushed him away and tried to move back. Anay pulled her towards him, held her from the waist and for the first time in his life begged..."Please stay". As she looked into his eyes she saw a fervent desire for her that she had never experienced before. She dropped her ice-cream to the floor and rushed into his arms. And stayed there for what felt like eternity.

As the stars came out in the sky, they continued their stroll. This time stopping every few minutes to kiss. And never once leaving each others hands.

They indulged in every cheesy cliche in the book, the Victoria ride, the late night strawberries and cream at 'Bachelors', the long drive back with Kishore Kumar and Lata songs on the radio. 

But the night had to end at sometime. 

Mishka  felt the need to be bound by their initial agreement and refused to let Anay drop her home. She got off at Bandra station, which meant she lived anywhere between Bandra and the end of the Western suburbs. Anay would have no way of finding out where.

Mishka entered her Juhu apartment close to midnight. She could not bear to think about the days events, as she knew she would break down into unending tears. In such cases, routine always helped. She decided to watch the Grey's Anatomy episode which had taped the previous night. And made a mental list of the next days menu. She reminded herself to not marinate the chicken afghani with egg, as one of her customers was allergic to egg. 

Which made her think of the last time she had forgotten a customer's allergies and it had lead to her meeting her now ex-husband Vikram. The problem with having a handsome, charming, extremely attentive lawyer as a husband is that there are many other smitten clients besides the wife.

If this were any other love story, Mishka would be calling Rustomji tomorrow to get Anay's number. 

But because this is NOT any other love story, Mishka shed a tear remembering how Anay slipped his wedding ring off his finger and hid it in his pocket, just before he had approached her table that afternoon. 

Parting note from the writer- There are many 'Rahul & Mayas' and 'Raj & Simrans'. But there are also many 'Anay & Mishkas'. Coz happy endings are not for everyone.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Of nearly missing trains and the DDLJ hangover

If you are in Europe , then nearly missing a train is an integral part of the experience. I blame it on the  DDLJ-Train hangover caused my Shahrukh and Kajol...and well Karan Johar.

I was not going to write a blog post for Nice, as it was a lovely but uneventful few days. No drama, no worries. Spend days walking around old town, lazing by the beach, swimming in the ocean, eating great fish, drinking nice wine, and sleeping in all kinds of places- on the train, on the beach, in a restaurant sofa which was by the beach, on the bus...it was simply perfect. Peace and quiet. Just what the doctor ordered.

Except at the very end...

As usual I had my last morning in Nice planned to a T. Final touches of packing, charging the mobile phone and iPad, having a relaxed breakfast in the balcony overseeing the ocean for the last time. I even had my travel clothes laid out from the previous night, so I could shower and scoot.

My train for Aix-en-provenance was for 10.57 am. So I decided to leave at 9.45 am. And woke up by 7.45 am. Now it all would have been more than sufficient time, had I not checked with the B&B hostess. She mentioned it would take 20 to 25 mins to the station, by tram, so I decided to leave slightly after 10 am. Also I came to the B&B the same route  so what could possible go wrong, right? WRONG!

Now if only I had relied on simple logic, rather than my memory, I would have been fine. I remembered the email from the B&B saying 'tram stop Pont Michel'. So I assumed the stop I took the tram FROM was Pont Michel. So I took the tram towards it. But it did not seem right...as I remembered coming in this direction, so while going back, I should be taking the other direction no? Like I said, I should have relied on logic. And not my failing memory.

I still took that tram and the second I entered, I knew I had taken the wrong call. So after some serious internal debate, I decided to get off at the next stop. Crossed over, bought another ticket and this time took the train towards the station, aptly called 'Gare Theirs'- which should have given me the hint, as 'Gare' is French for station.

By this time I was terrified of looking at the time. And little good would that do, as I would either make it, or not.

So I waited patiently in the tram, taking in the beautiful Nice sights for one last time, and as soon as my stop came, I ran. I said 'pardon' a lot which can be used for 'sorry' or 'excuse me' and ultimately reached the station...almost breathless.

Now I am extremely anal when it comes to travel instructions. I read carefully, I check, I double-check, I cross reference, I ask, and as I am from Singapore, I also 'double confirm', before I make my way towards the platform/gate. And then I follow the same process before getting on the train/bus.

But there was no time for any such protocol today. I had memorized my train and coach number while on the tram. I looked up at the giant screen, found the train number but it did not say Aix, it said Marseilles. Now I took the leap of faith that the train would have multiple stops and Aix would be one of them. I saw 'voie B' which I safely assumed to mean platform B. I looked for the way to it, and it was surprisingly easy to locate. Went down 2 flight of steps, ran through a seemingly endless corridor- had a worried mum move her little boy out of the way, as I yelled 'pardon', and found my way to the platform. Now of course, with my luck my coach was the last one, and the previous one had a bunch of 15 school kids trying to get in. Seriously!

I finally got in, put my suitcase away and found my seat. And then it stuck me, because I had not followed my strict protocol, what if I was on the wrong train? So I asked the girl next me if this was the train for Aix. She was very sweet, but her command of English was rather poor to say the least. I think she thought I was telling her that she was on my seat. So she showed me her ticket and I cross referenced the train number- it was the same. I gave her big smile, said  merci beaucoup and sat on my seat heaving a big sigh of relief!

The train journey was beautiful, managed to get a window seat and saw the stunning French Riveria coastline and watched the landscape slowly change to green plains as we got closer to Aix.

It's embarrassing to admit...but I nearly missed getting off the train. I only managed to  within seconds of the door closing.  The queue for the restroom was too long, so I almost could not get off. But thankfully the stars were in my favor, and I jumped off the train...literally. 

So that is the story of how I nearly missed getting on (and off) my train.

Of course, if I hadn't got on, there could have been a DDLJ opportunity with a younger SRK. (He was tolerable in his younger days, to the extent of being pretty cute).

But well, we would never know now will we? :)

P.s. for my non-Indian readers (may be I am being presumptuous that I have any), but if there are, here is the link to the famous DDLJ scene- it has become one of those defying Indian cinema moments.

When he helps her get on the train- http://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=plpp&v=wSXVqZi98qg

When they both miss their train- http://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=plpp&v=Mz0qxJIqy8Q

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Just Be- dedicated to Unni

Just Be

Dedicated to my friend Unnati who constantly reminds me to 'Just Be' and live in the present

Don't dwell on the past
Don't  worry about the future

Just Be

Give nostalgia a miss
Send it off with a kiss
Think about the next day's survival
Only after its arrival

Just Be

FEEL the breeze
Let it tease
SEE the sky
Watch the clouds drift by

Just Be

Savor every bite
Take in every sight
Relish every hour
Caress it like a flower

Just Be

What is today
May not stay that way
What will come tomorrow
May be joy or sorrow

What could've been, should've been, would've been
No one has really seen

So why think of it now?
When we simply don't know how
We didn't know then
We won't know when

The only thing that's certain
Is this very minute

So I hope you can see
Why you simply need to 

Just Be

(Written on the beach in Nice, France)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Paris Chronicles- Food, Cuisines and Importance of Rice

Every culture has an obsession of some kind with food. And everyone believes they are the most passionate foodies.

In my family we discuss what we shall eat for lunch while we are having breakfast, and which restaurant will have dinner in, while we are eating lunch. We reminisce about meals we have had in different places- sometimes across continents, debate incessantly about which place has the best biryani and maintain a historic record about the specialty dishes of every aunt in the family.


Thus it was no surprise that my cousin Heena had prepared a thorough and long list of the must- eat places in Paris. Some were the usual suspects e.g. pierre herme macaroons which were waiting for me in her fridge, Frenchie wine bar where we went in my first evening in Paris and had the most amazing ham. It was also the first time I had foie gras. Have never been a fan, and to be honest am still not. But it is one of the must-try French foods that I could not get around refusing.


And of course I have been eating croissants EVERYDAY. I LOVE bread. Like really love it. And what better place than France to gorge on every kind of bread imaginable. My cousin Kamal and I have this theory that Sindhis eat bread in everything- toast bread, bread pakora (I introduced it to Sanil and he was quiet taken up with it), sel bread (white bread cooked in onions, garlic, tomato and Indian masalas- its the best thing ever), bread and butter pudding- I know it's not an Indian dessert but hugely popular in the sindhi community for some reason. So there has been a bread overload, not that I am complaining. 


On Saturday, we spent the first hour after we woke up, talking through our various options- not of places to visit. But of places to eat, before and after which we could potentially visit places too.

And as we walked around, I realized if it weren't for Heena I would be lost- not literally, actually that too, as unlike me, she can reads maps, which is handy to say the least- I would be lost from a food point of view, as every place in Paris looks so nice. Every bistro, every cafe, every restaurant, every roadside cart looks like it serves the best food there is. But thanks to Heenz we knew exactly where we needed to go.

And I have discovered since that in Paris you can only eat at places which have a long queues. Those are the only ones who deserve your patronage. If they are empty, I just felt sorry for them, but was not brave enough to step inside. Why waste calories on half decent food?


I had pizza cravings, so we walked for miles- yes really miles- to reach Le Soliel de Naples which came highly recommended by Heena's friend, and had the most awesome pizza. And great antipasti too. The waiter asked us where we were from, and when Heena said India, he replied in French that no wonder you both have lovely smiles. And it was followed by the two words I always dread when talking to foreigners about India. 'Shahrukh Khan'. Really?! In Paris, in an Italian restaurant, we have to hear that name. 

I have been listening to French podcast trying to learn basic French like greetings, etc. I should have learnt French for 'I don't like Shahrukh Khan' too. But I really did not think I would ever need it. Then the chef and the waiter told us how much they loved 'cinema Indienne' which was pretty flattering. And right before we left they repeated the same thing, this time trying to do an Indian dance step :)


Now I had been told this, but I found it tough to believe. But now I know for a fact- coffee in Paris SUCKS. Big time. We went to one coffee place that was run by an Aussie- had to be- as it served pretty nice coffee. But nowhere close to the Aussie cafes in Singapore. So disappointing! 


For Saturday dinner we took a picnic to the park near Eiffel Tower and sat on the grass while watching the beautiful Bastille Day fireworks display. We sipped wine, had cheese and crackers and polished off the remaining pierre herme macaroons.

For Sunday breakfast  Heenz took me to one of her favorite places 'Le loir dans la théière' which literally means The Mouse in the Teacup. Inspired by Alice in Wonderland was an eclectic place where we had a great Parisien breakfast sans nice coffee of course.

We then walked around the Marais and I saw tons of falafel places and it smelled so good! So once it started raining I had to have the warm falafel. But we did not have it at the place which had a queue that snaked across the street with an average waiting time of 35 minutes. But instead went to 'world's best falafel which was crowded- as that's a mark of a good place-' and it was pretty great falafel.

After walking around, we rested at a park for a while and then walked to near the Notre Dame to have the must-have ice-cream at Berthillon. On Heena's recommendation I had the salted butter caramel flavor instead of my usually chocolate. And it was divine! And of course in Paris you are not allowed to taste flavors, you just have to buy them!

And in Paris you cannot ask for 'ta pau' or 'parcel' either. Seriously! I have paid for the food and if I can't finish it, why cant I take it away!? But you cant It's bad etiquette and severely frowned upon. 


Now as much as I love bread, and want to naturally try French food in France, and love pizzas and falafels...after 3 days, I need Asian food! 

Actually I need Indian food, but I did not want to be overtly fussy. So I told Heena, even if I could not have Indian, I had to have RICE. I can't believe how the French can survive without rice in their diet. They have no idea what they are missing!!

I made Heena do intensive research and we finally found a Chinese restaurant called Tour de L'Orient- not very innovative when it comes to the name- but it was open on Sunday was walking distance from home and was pretty crowded.

I ate fried rice, sweet and sour chicken and awesome fish which was covered in red chillies. Satisfaction!!

Heena was v amused and has been telling everyone how only I can come to Paris and eat Chinese food. But sorry all. You can take a girl out of Asia, but you cannot take Asia out of a girl. I need rice. Plain and simple. Or fried.

I was writing this post on my way to Nice. And have a list of restaurant reccos from Heena. I will be fine for a few days with that treasured list, but then by the time day 3 is coming to an end, I will need to go hunt for rice. 

When I was walking towards my hotel, you would not believe what I saw? 'Mother India' and  'A Roy Thai'. So no issues getting my rice fix when I need it!

And once I am in Madrid next week,the very first meal I will ask my chachi to make for me is dal-chawal...and aloo tikki :)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Paris Chronicles- asking for directions

I watched an old Sex and the city episode on the flight, where Charlotte is explaining to the girls how everything happens for a reason. Which is so true! I did not get on the BA flight so that I could have a fabulous flight on SQ.

Great food- as I always ask for Indian vegetarian even though I eat meat, I could have hot upma, sambar and vada for breakfast. Soul food! And watch good movies*- though I expect a better selection. And I had the whole row to myself so I could stretch out the sleep very comfortably. Could not have asked for a better long haul flight.

I was very impressed with CDG airport in Paris. No immigration forms to fill, no queues, immigration checks happened in in less than a minute- which is even faster than Changi. And completely unexpected. But then real life took over and baggage claim took over 40 mins. I knew it.! No airport on this planet (or even alien lands) is more efficient than Changi.

My cousin gave me great instruction about the bus and it was a very smooth and only a 10€ ride.

And then armed with a google map print out I set to locate my sisters place, which should have been a 10 minute walk, but I took nearly 30 mins as I kept walking in circles and asking English speaking people for directions.

So...I don't want to add to the female stereotype, but well, when it comes to map reading, I am one of them. I rely on 2 ways to get around-

1) get lost and finally find one route to get to your destination. And then NEVER EVER change your route

2) ASK for directions. I do it shamelessly all the time. Tip- in Bombay panwallas Are the best direction providers. It used to be watchmen but since that business got commercialized, they are just bunch of dummies who have no clue what the next building is called. And in Paris it is the newspaper vendors on street corners, who don't speak English but when I smile sweetly says 's'il vous plait', point at my google map print out and finally end with an even bigger smile and 'merci beaucoup', it's all good!

Another way to give direction in cities is to go the 'brand way' which hence worth will be called the 'Seema way' to give directions. E.g. If my cousin would have told me 'after you get off from the bus stop, look out for the Apple store at the other end of the street, walk to it, turn right at Zara and then walk till you come across H&M, turn left and you will find Uniqlo and voila! I would be able to find my way in a jiffy.

Side bar- iPad is super annoying when it comes to typing Hindi or French words, it keeps bloody Auto-correcting. So if you come across any words that make no sense, blame auto correct.

Also reason you can't see pictures is that iPad does not allow uploading pictures on blogspot. Will need to find an app. Pain in the neck!

And yes, Chinese tourists are rude in Paris too. They don't reserve that for Singapore alone. I have a feeling I will find the same with most Indian tourists also. Hopefully I won't have to find out.

Finally I reached 13 Rue Therese, struggled with my luggage to the top of the steps only to find more winding steps, and finally reached an adorable and beautiful apartment. Now would it not have been wonderful to see what it looked like? But sadly I can't show it to you here :(

Heena had left sweet post-it's in her lovely handwriting to let me know where everything was. And she had prepared lunch. Fabulous mozzarella, basil, cherry tomato baguette, salad and my welcome pressie- box of macaroons!I resisted the urge to eat them all. And with great self restraint only had 2...and then 1 more.

Lovely meal, warm shower and a cozy bed.

It was simply perfect, until I was fast asleep, I felt something on my bed. OMG! It was the landlady's cat! On my bed! And it was Friday the 13th which I noticed when I changed the time on my phone in the morning, that just freaked me out only more.

A girl came up to take the cat and she did not seem French but I did not want to be presumptuous about anything so politely I asked her name and as soon as she opened her mouth I knew she was the Filipina house help. We chatted like old friends and she said how she has many friends in Singapore. It was at the tip of my tongue to ask if she knew Rose, but then I thought better of it. Of all things i was surprised to find in Paris a Filipina house help still ranks the highest. Second is Ikea. Don't know why but I felt Parisienne's will be too stylish for Ikea so it does not exist in Paris. I was wrong.

It was a rainy evening, but my first one in Paris so I did not mind. Was lovely walking on the Pont de Neuf, looking at the glorious Eiffel Tower gleaming amongst the clouds and seeing the Lourve by night.

Ate French food, drank lovely French wine...

And while we walked back home, I was shivering and walking so slowly as I was terrified of slipping on the wet footpath, a stylishly dressed man approached us and asked "are you two together?" followed by "do you have a condom?". Heena managed to keep a straight face and politely reply no, while I just giggled uncontrobally.

That ended my first day in Paris.

Let's see what adventures await us on Bastille Day today! Heena just mentioned a firemens ball. Now that sounds interesting!

Au revoir!

* watched Vicky Donor. Was hilarious!! Anu Kapoor was superb. As was Dolly Auntie. Too funny!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Paris Chronicles- Let the drama begin!

Ok so here is the deal. I am a drama magnet. Hardly anything happens in my life that is not fraught with drama. Normal, simple, basic tasks become dramatic with me. I have been told its because I tend to exaggerate and some even go to the extent of saying that I enjoy it.

I dont think that's true. It's just that drama seeks me out.

So here is how my Paris trip unfolds.

I am super organised to the point of being rather anal about everything. I make to-do lists, I pack 2 weeks in advance, every little task or meeting is scheduled in my handy Blackberry, I have check lists for everything. So I have been plannig my Paris trip for months. Coordinating leave schedules, researching (which basically means emailing my cousin Heena multiple emails in a day), shopping, tring to lose weight so I can gorge on crossaints and macaroons in Paris, and the usual travel must-dos like tickets, visas etc.

So naturally come yesterday, everything was in order. Or so I thought. My friend Pam sweetly drove me to the airport. I happily checked in at the British Airways counter and even took a chance to ask for Business class upgrade. The check-in officer kept looking at my passport and talking to his colleague. Finally he looked up and said 'madam you have a type C Schengen visa which does not allow for transit in London'. It took me couple of minutes to understand what he was saying. I fervently explained that I was not visiting London, was not even getting out of Heathrow airport, so I should not need a visa. He very patiently explained that even to TRANSIT in London, a visa is needed. My heart stopped. Actually.

He took me to the BA counter where another woman explained the exact same thing to me. It was then I realised- I was not boarding this flight tonight!

The lady was very helpful and asked me to go to the Air France counter and buy a direct flight to Paris. And later I could cancel my BA ticket with my travel agent for a $200 fee.

The Air France guy was very helpful too and offered me a ticket on a flight leaving in an hour. While doing all this I was on the phone with my brother who was trying to check if I could book a Krisflyer miles ticket.

Ultimately we decided it would be best I go back home and then decide the coarse of action in the morning.

So I called Rose asking her to come down and help me with my bags. If she had big plans to go partying that night, those were sure ruined. And then I went over to my friend and neighbour Pam's place to give her a shock and explain my unique predicament.

I was rather proud of myself that despite all the drama I did not lose my cool or breakdown into tears. I was a pretty good sport about it. Pat on the back!

I went to sleep in my faithful bed, faithful as it pretty much ensures a lovely sleep. And woke up next morning refreshed and went to visit my travel agent.

The women there was extremely helpful too, and she applied for a refund of my BA ticket which I should receive when I am back from my holiday. And booked me on the fabulous and reliable SQ. By 10 am it was all sorted and the whole day stretched in front of me till my midnight flight.

I decided to make most of my extra day in Singapore. I went to see a friend I had not seen in awhile and it did not seem right to leave Sinagpore without this meeting. Then met another friend for lunch and we ate a French cafe- ok it claims to be French and serves pretty good baguette and coffee.

Then I came home and watch Mad Men (they were discussing fee vs. commission, seriously? Was fee based remenuration a thing in the 60s?). Sorry I digress, but it did throw me off a little.

After which I went and watched The Amazing Spidermam. Andrew Garfield was superb!

Spent sometime by the pool and surprised few others by being there.

And ultimately left for the airport. There was a big accident on ECP- really horrid one with a truck, a car and 2 motorbikes. And finally when I reached the SQ counter I got a trainee staff who took 20 mins to check me in, not because there was any problem, but only because she was probably doing this for the first time. But everytime she turned to ask her supervisor anything, I held my breath. After an excruciating length of time she gave me my boarding pass and I was on my way to immigration.

Now sitting at the lounge and typing this post, am wondering how many more dramas are there in store for me in the next few weeks when I travel across 2 countries and 4 cities.

Well I for one can't wait to find out. After all, a simple life is so not me :)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Life is a beach...

...and all the people merely swimmers

Some swim against the tide, some go with the flow and others merely wet their toes in the ocean.

I simply love the beach. Everything about it- the sand, the sea, the waves, the sun, the deck chairs, the breeze...

The first time

I first realized how much I loved beaches when I was onboard the Rajdhani Express from Bombay to Delhi. I think I was about 9 or 10 years old. I told my dad that in Delhi I wanted to go to the 'Juhu beach'. One of uncles laughed and replied, "Delhi does not have beaches!". I felt miserable, not as much for me, but for the people of Delhi who could not spend lazy Sunday mornings on a beach, or go for an evening walk on the sea shore.

I was a pretty good student and geography was one of my favorite subjects. So I did know that all areas are not coastal, and there are many cities and towns in the interiors which are not by the sea. So even though my mind knew, my heart just felt so grateful that I lived in Bombay and from my bedroom I could see the sun set into the Arabian sea every evening.

Bombay's best kept secret...Silver Beach

Silver beach also known as Godrej beach is a 7 min walk from my house in Bombay. It's one end of 'Juhu beach' which till date is not as commercialized. And in the 80's when I was growing up, it was even more secluded and almost pristine.

It was where you could learn to ride a horse (no kidding. The 'Janbaaz' scene where Dimple is riding a horse and looking stunning is shot there). Families came for picnics, kids swam in the ocean, serious joggers went about the daily exercise routine and old uncles played crickets. It was where couples held hands and gazed into each others eyes as the sun set in the background. Bombay does have the most beautiful sunsets. As the sun goes down, the sky turns a burnt-orngey-pink and it's one of the most amazing sights. Even today when I am visiting Bombay, at least one visit to Silver Beach is a must. It's become a ritual for Sanil too-who loves beaches almost as much as I do. And I love him even more for it.

Happy childhood memories

When I was a child one of my fondest memories are of dad taking my cousins and me swimming in the sea. Swimming in the ocean is something else! The thrill of being swept away by the waves is just so much fun! Of course now I only sit by the sand and remember those childhood days as I would not even dream of entering the polluted waters of Juhu beach- such a shame!

When I was slightly older, around 13 or 14, a bunch of us girls from my building started going for morning walks to Silver Beach during the summer holidays. My friend Anubha used to visit from Jaipur every summer and a few of us used to wake up early in the morning and head out to the beach for a walk. It was never for exercising- we checked out cute guys, we gossiped about people from the building and chatted about everything under the sun. Happy happy times!!

I spent the first 5 years of my life Las Pal Mas in Canary Islands, Spain, where I was born. Have been a beach bum since I was a baby!

Bombay to Goa

One of most memorable beach holidays was in Goa in 1992. I went there with my parents, brothers and my aunt. It the first time parents were happy to leave us alone and we went cycling, exploring eating places, swimming in the pool.

The next time I visited Goa I was much older. It was a trip with my MBA classmates. This was after all of us had got jobs and were waiting to graduate. Fab times with lots of drama and laughter.

I have not visited Goa since that trip in 1997, and keep hearing it has changed a lot. Have promised Sanil to take him there soon.

Beach havens in Southeast Asia

One of the best things of living in Singapore is there are fantastic beach resorts so close by. From Phuket to Langkawi and Bali to Boracay- I have taken at least one beach holiday every year. And it never gets old.

I started writing this post on a small sheet of paper when I was in Boracay (Philippines) in July last year. I went there with a colleague of mine after our workshop in Manila. It was a silver sandy beach, one of the best ones I have been to in Asia. Not touristy like Phuket or Bali- a lot more pristine and quiet. The boutique hotel had the most excellent service with 'beach butlers' at your every beck and call- no exaggeration. My beach butler negotiated with the boatman for the sail boat ride, re-scheduled my spa appointment as it clashed with the sailing, delivered one-for-one mojitos on the sail boat for my friend and me...I did not resort to getting him to clean my sunglasses or remove sand from my slippers like the hotel brochure said I could.

Sanil and I had beautiful holidays in Phuket and Bali where we would spend the whole day in the pool and by the beach. Sanil can play in the sand for hours since he was little. Perfect time for mama to read a book and simply chill.

I end this post also in Phuket where I spent a day on a luxury yacht. I LOVE boats!! Second only to hats, which I also love. And if I can spend an afternoon on a yacht with my hat and a glass of wine, while enjoying the sea breeze...there could be nothing better!

Beach Wish List...

Mauritius, Maldives and Mexico...I see a hammock, a book, sunset and myself- thin enough to wear a 2 piece bikini ;) power of positive visualization...it will happen!

P.s. spent my morning on the stunning beach in Nice! It is such a different experience from Asia. This was a pebble beach...takes getting used to. V different feel from sandy beaches. The water is much cooler, but as always there is nothing more exhilarating than a swim in the ocean. And with relics of bodies here, I don't actually feel half as bad! In Asia I feel like covering myself in a kaftan to hide the...well politely put...curves, but really put its flab. Here you can feel more Katrina Kaif, and less Vidya Balam :)

Friday, July 6, 2012

You know you have done something right in your job when

1) there are as many tears as smiles when you are leaving

2) when your farewell drinks/lunches/ coffees start 2 weeks before your last day and continue till the last minute

3) when what you have taught is not only remembered but cherished

4) when you come across many worried expressions that read "now who will do all the work?!"

5) when clients wish you success...and mean it

6) when bosses give you their blessing to move on

7) when peers feel like they are losing a partner in crime

8) when juniors say they are losing a mentor

9) when this more laughter and no sniggering (at least none that you can hear)

10) and when you know that you met people as colleagues and are leaving them as friends

Bye bye my Ogilvy-UL team. I can't believe I wont be there anymore. It's been a crazy fun ride with many ups....and yes some downs, like every exciting ride does.

No more gossip sessions, no more working on decks till 2 mins before the presentation (and continuing making amends in the taxi), no more balcony (no) smoking breaks, no more random chats at each others desks....and no more aunty Jenny's coffee :(

But the world is small and Singapore even more so. So I shall see you all for Friday evening drinks, mid-week lunches and in the lovely world of social media.

I have to sign off now as I have been receiving complaints that my farewell notes made many cry...so before your eyes get misty and iPad screens get wet...bye-bye and stay in touch. I will miss you so so so much!