KANTAVVA

A Tall, dusky, beautiful and a hardworking woman! That is the impression I’ve always had of  my maternal grandmother in my mind. She radiated a certain kind of positive effervescence and confidence. A bundle of energy, active to the core. There wasn’t a  dull moment in her packed day ever.  She would always be on her feet throughout the day. Kantavva as she was known to us, was an inspiration to many in the town. They considered her a  perfect example of familial bonding link, loving and assertive, yet with discreet authority. Married at a very young age, she toiled hard in the saree business. From a normal tin roof house, she went on to build a huge country bungalow with 14 rooms, fully equipped with three kitchens with a spacious prangana. Nine children were born in quick succession. She moved on quickly from the loss of two bundles of joy. My mother was the eldest of seven children and lended Avva a helping hand in tending the babies  when  she was busy with business and housework. Grandpa was more of a scholar, immersed in social or spiritual work; thus he couldn’t spare time for house hold chores. He loved reading  the great epics such as Ramayana and Mahabarata to us kids in the afternoon. On the other hand, we kids  were given small tasks by Grandma like chopping tons of raw mangoes for Avakaya thokku or peeling out the tamarind seeds from the ripe pods. Imagine the little battalion of naughty kids from seven siblings during the summer holidays.

We used to go to our  hometown  Armoor in Telangana, famous for its Siddula Gutta (Shiva temple) atop the nine rocky boulder hillocks; encircling the town. The named derived from Aru (six) and Muru (three).

Business Tycoon

Kantavva had been in the textile industry for many years and was known for her acute business  acumen. I still wonder  how she managed her household work and business so efficiently?  By eleven in the morning, she would go out for business, after having prepared lunch for the big family.

She used to heave a bulky bundle of clothes on to the shoulder.This bundle of clothes would amount thirty kilo plus pay Load. I would walk along with her from the prangana till the main door. The clacking of the Kolhapuri leather chappals and the jingle of silver “Kadialoo” (hollow ankle rings with bells) which would send out pleasing signals that Grand Ajji is going out. Her trade mark ‘Bottu’, the tilak on the forehead used to compete the rupee coin in size and shape. Perfect round like a full moon. The crisp cotton printed sarees used to add the extra touch to her charm. The ear lobes were adorned with golden ‘Ghenteelu’ studded with precious stones.  She was just forty and yet a  perfect combination of beauty plus brains.. From the main door, after getting a peck, I used to wait for the moment when she would shift the bundle on to the head after walking a distance of fifty metres. The walk and poise with such a grace would put the best ramp models to shame. Smile on the face, she used to acknowledge people who knew her so well. When she normally returned around 5,  she would be full of smiles despite toiling hard the whole day. Her pallu had an adour which I always craved for it was filled with love and affection; sprayed with sweat, kid’s saliva, Susu or leftover food crumbs etc.  She would get ready for the dinner Mise-en place. It still amazes me of the incredible strength and stamina she had, going about her duties so effortlessly.

“Venu baba, go with your grandpa to the fish market and  help him to clean the 6 kgs “ She told me one evening. “Yes Avva, sure; wow I would get my thali sized pappadam from the cart along with those fancy finger Nallis. I trotted along holding his little finger while he held his white dhoti end. After the fish purchase, he kept me on guard outside the toddy close by. After having a long swig, wiping his grey moustache of the toddy droplets, came out with a large papadam and a cotton candy.” Not a word of this to Grandma, or else the roof will come down, now eat this”. But invariably she used to catch him at the first glance of his sheepish nods and murmurs when he came close to her. Avva had a sense of intuition which I just couldn’t fathom ever. Nothing could escape her, be it my aunts  smoking slyly, eyeing the neighbour lad, or even using us as a messengers for sundry jobs.  Since there was no WhatsApp  in those  days. They had to do with a  bit of scribbles, signed off stealthily in a hurry. A real party every evening daily. The huge circle of kids at the prangana, gorging on the mounds of rice and koramatta chaaru (murrel fish curry) was a sight to behold. The laughter and screaming still ringing in my ears even after decades.

Saturday afternoons were the routine accounting sessions  in the shop room with Avva.  That’s when I got a  break from reading the hold scriptures with Tata. We were included in  various activities like stock taking, book keeping, counting cash etc.She never went to school, but I’m sure a well qualified CA and MBA would be of no match to her. Her mental cancellations were unbelievable, just at the tip of the tongue. I would be laboriously be punching the figures on the calculator. Before I would get the sum total on the screen, she would rattle out the amount. Another technic which still lingers to this day is her system of measuring cloth. The Thaan (ream of long cloth) had to be measured while stock taking. She would pull out the start point of the  roll and place against the tip of her nose and release the cloth till the end of her hand. She would mark it and say, now cut this one metre. I would have my own doubts, wait ma, I want to measure it with the steel metre rod. Oh that’s for the customers to check in case they have any apprehensions, but do give it a try. I would measure it with the wicked glee of proving her wrong; but to my dismay, the length would be always a perfect metre, neither an inch less or more.

Mumbai Meri Jaan

I saw Mumbai first with her, she used to go on business trips so often. We arrived at the grand VT station in the morning by Manmad express. It was fun to travel in the ladies’ compartment, all aunties pampering with lots of eats. The thrill of seeing the charcoal engine, sticking my face near the window was exhilarating. There were curious funny smiles seeing my face covered with black soot. We had to wait in the station for a couple of hours for some reason, may the shops would open only at 11am. I saw my Gran cat napping and took that chance of exploring the surroundings, awed with the big station. It was thrilling to see so many people at one place!! I must have been a sight, a little boy with huge black curls and a poky face. In smudged white shorts with wide eyes loitering around. He quietly caught my hand, softly threatening to stay quiet and calmly walk along with him. He showed a knife hidden in his pocket. I went jelly. Oh God, what have I got into, what will Avva think of me. I resisted, so he pinched hard, felt the blood oozing. Gosh, this kind of thing never happened! He was smiling and patting with his other hand, lest passers-by get suspicious. I held my ground, no way I was going to yield. Big boy that I was, all of 7 years. The tug of war went on for few minutes. I threatened to shout if he doesn’t let go. He gave another wicked smiley look, I screamed. “Bachao, yah aadmi mujhe mar raha hai” (He is beating me)

She scooped me into her hands like a vulture and flung on to her strong back like a Jhansi ke Rani. Turning to him, gave a resounding slap. People stopped in their tracks. He ran for his life. Leisurely she then put me down giving that ‘loving look’. Those days there were no diapers, damn.

We reached the kapda baazar, a string of huge whole sale textile shops with savvy wealthy owners, their assistants scurrying around. Amazing activity all around. Mumbai at its best, never a moment’s pause. We were received by the owner with folded hands “Nameste, Kantamma Madame, please come in and hello to your curly boy”. I was sure impressed with my Avva, business like and friendly smile. The selection and bargaining / finalisation went effortlessly for the whole day along with her fluent Hindi bargaining skills. She counted those old broad hundred rupee notes like a counting machine, performing quick mental calculations. The men struggled to keep pace with their calculators. It was a sight to see her in action. That impression and lessons learnt were a good start point even to this day. Sumptuous Marwari food for lunch. Deals done, ordering the goods to courier. We took the night train back. Eventless and blissful berth sleep hugging my Gran.

Night Robber

Fast forward fifteen years, all the grand kids got busy with the careers, her seven own children spread out further. No more summer vacations to native place. End of a golden era. It was an  empty nest for Avva. Grand pa passed away peacefully, one day while chewing sugar cane on a rocking chair after lunch. He just took a hurried hiccup and lo, next minute, a massive stroke. Gone in a flash. All alone in the big house, she had too much pride to stay with the sons and adjust to their life styles. No way for a Lioness. She took few tenants on the ground floor rooms, more for company rather than monetary benefits. One night, she heard a rustling sound around 2 am near the prangana. Her mind raced, could it an animal or an intruder? She moved to the shop room, saw it secure, lock untouched. After few minutes, the Pooja room door clicked open. There he was, with a menacing corona mask hiding there. She tiptoed up to him and held him by the scruff of his neck, shaking him violently. Caught unawares, he tried to wring out of her strong grasp and  take an attacking position against her . However, she pinned him for few more minutes trying to buy some time while calling out for help. The tenants were calling out from the prangana, trying to get her attention, that distracted her for a moment and let go off the grip. The next minute, she saw him lunging towards  her with a knife. What happened next was amazing . She caught the long blade with her hand, cried out loud, but held that position steady. Blood dripping from her hands. The thief was totally baffled at the old lady’s courage and strength. He let go and ran for his life…She stood still there like a statue with the blood smeared knife in her hand . These were some snippets of my experiences with my Bold,Beautiful and Brave Avva

 

Venu Rao

18th June 2020

NEW AGE FOOD TRENDS AND DESIGNS IN MNC CAFES AND KITCHENS

Gone are the days of the typical stainless-steel factory type bain-marie. Back then, employees were quite happy with a “canting” look and feel – rows of bulky chaffing dishes serving hot items such as sambar, sabzi, rasam, kootu, chapati, kheer etc. Traditional, yet nutritious and well balanced. But our Gen X and Y were bored, they wanted options. It is quite possible that with the lockdown, Gen Next must have got used to traditional home cooking, but the craving for options will surface once work resumes.

We have been working on smart food concepts and designs to make the café floor an interesting, innovative and lively space. We are focusing on keeping the health quotient intact, yet offering a stylish approach to beat food fatigue, which often sets in at cafes. With the current crisis, we are reinventing and tweaking our latest food designs- with an emphasis on health and safety. With these changes, we aim to dispel concerns and fear factor too.

Cafe designs are evolving at breakneck speed. From smart, copper-clad tandoors bringing in the joyous festive feel to an efficient Italian Pausa café ambience showcasing home meats and crunchy veggies. We take a look at some new designs:

Main meal counters
The neat serveries are designed with style and efficiency. The bain-marie look has been removed, instead counters are 850 mm in height, fitted with a combination of hot and cold plates. The serving bowls are colourful Le Cruesets to hold food in smaller measures of 3-4 litres; the frequent replenishments ensure freshness.
The under counters are fitted with stainless steel, temperature-controlled cabinets, holding additional food. Frequent trips to the kitchen is, thus, greatly reduced. There is a combo kitchen planned behind the servery which acts a supplement to prepare some more dishes in front of the employees.

Theatre Cooking

This is where a lot of the action takes place, bringing life to the café. Live-action stations are mostly independent and floating, with hip designs. The shape can be fancy – oval or the hexagonal, as they are the focal points of service – much like a theatre set-up.

We ensure that smart equipment such as combis, merry chefs, pasta cookers, lava stone grills, tandoors etc are plugged in to assist the chefs to dish out mouth-watering delicacies. The service side equipment is also carefully chosen, be it the induction warmers, frost tops or cold wells. These are fused into the counters to give a seamless effect.

 

Global interactive Live stations
Some of the unique cuisines are selected carefully, based on their palette and popularity. The choice of equipment is, thereafter, planned into these interactive stations. Here, fresh produce is displayed in small quantities, while the bulk of the MiseEn Place is stored in the refrigerated under-counters neatly designed below.

Here, spot cooking ensures that the ambience is lively with the help of this efficient equipment – it could be a fine pasta boiler, a fry master or simply a two-zone griddle plate. These live stations are perfect for fusion food experiments – far eastern noodles tossed with an expert hand, with Indian masala. For example, a pasta dish can be made differently say with a Thai curry, giving it a totally different flavour and look. Anecdotally, women in the technology sector are fond of fusion offerings – they maybe more experimental then men?

 

Healthy offerings
As the name suggests, our main emphasis is on healthy diet with some sensible immunity boosters – nutritious and wholesome. With Gen Z often tending to skip the main meal and selecting a healthy, lighter luncheon option, instead, you can toss a salad in front of them, well displayed in a cold well or a saladette.

Steaming cups of soup are served from the tureens placed right on the front counter. The chef expertly flings a bunch of micro herbs which he has just grabbed from the visi cooler type hydroponics urban cultivator, placed strategically behind him.
We ensure that the whole station is suitably designed within easy reach of the chef who is interacting with the guests. The support equipment is usually behind the low wall section with another chef to assist. The pieces of equipment behind are griddle plates, easy to boil induction cooktop plates, sandwich grillers etc.

 

The world in a bowl
Bowlful, soulful and stomach full. A chef can create a storm in a bowl. This concept is the latest craze – challenging, yet thrilling for the chef to punch in a whole lot of exciting ingredients. We design these concept counters, plugging waterless bain-maries with sleek GN pans. These are expertly placed on the counters, depending upon the number of dishes planned. The sub-garnishes and the few main components are spread along the line. The under counters are stain- steel cabinets, with temperature controls to aid the chefs.

The chef and the customer make their dish together – the chef suggests, while the customer nods in concurrence. When the bowl reaches the end of the counter, it is handed over to him and viola the meal is ready. The client swipes his smart card and moves away. There is no chance of touch, hence our Corona friend doesn’t get a chance to bite.

The central space of the counter is designed in a such a way that the smart equipment is laid out ergonomically. Some sleek ones like space team combis are a part of the list.
However, the main component is the chef’s smile and the creativity with his dish building technique. The client is happy with some sinfully large bowls – but then, its healthy food. The crispy, crunchy salads on top add on to the look and feel.

 

Hydration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are all aware that our bodies are made up of 70% water. But, did you know that this is the same as the amount of water present on mother Earth? The MNCs have fully understood this and hence hydrate their employees adequately.

We have also planned a well thought out hydration policy. We offer a multitude of design considerations. On the offer is some very sleek aqua hydro taps, which are fitted with hot, cold, ambient and sparkling options. These are touchless too, with sensors; Corona, no chance here again for you!

We also design an interesting hydration programme named Elixir, an array of infused waters, with popular flavours such as lemongrass, mint, exotic fruits, ciders etc. the dispensers are attractive large jars or creatively shaped fancy acrylic dispensers. Again touchless.

There is also space designed for aerated drinks, but these are generally displayed discreetly, in an under-counter fridge or left behind frosted doors of cooling cabinets. Yes, some millennials do require their daily dose of Coca Cola.

Some MNCs even bring on the Thank God it’s Friday evening feel, with beer flowing, but like the responsible Biryani concept. We have also designed the beer carts and some exciting on-spot snack counters for a Bangalore-based company. Hic hic hooray apps and google maps to the rescue, thereafter!

Smart cart cuisine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The street cart cuisine is slowly making inroads in posh cafes, serving some delectable yummies. Chaat carts, for instance, are a real hit. There are many types of carts that can be placed in select clusters of seating, catering to a particular taste option. We have the momo cart, the dosa cart, fried chicken, Mexican tortillas, and what have you. For the sweet tooth, a doughnut or Banaras jalebi one would be the ultimate heaven. These carts are custom designed by architects or simply bought out from well-established vendors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Innovative Markets

This new trend is another emerging favourite. Here, visual merchandising comes to play as products are displayed to catch the eye, with their MRP concept, in a convenience-store kind of atmosphere. Employees can just grab, scan and go. The touchless POS (point of sale systems) helps. In a newer, innovative system, each time an employee picks an item, the systems add and if he leaves it back in its place, it removes the same from his shopping cart. Finally, when he walks out, the system debits his smart card!
Some MNCs are using this market concept quite innovatively, the space is stocked with in-house delicacies such as cakes, bread, croissants, puffs, etc. These goodies are extended as takeaway services at very attractive subsidised prices. Staff is happy, and their family, happier!

Kitchen design is of paramount importance
The proof of the pudding is in eating – this old parable is never out of flavour. Needless to say, the kitchen is the heart of the F&B spectrum. The cook can’t make a great pudding if he is not given a damn good oven, right? Use of technology coupled with seamless flow of people and material is the key to successful kitchen design. Ingenuity and common sense helps.
With the current crisis, the need of the hour is to introduce precautions and safety measures within the design element: Ample spaces and synergies are the need of the hour. Right from the quarantine hold area, loading/unloading, receiving, passages, prep areas, chiller rooms, main cooking block areas, food staging etc. as these are the critical flow paths. Hygiene and safety aspects considered in Toto.

The use of smart equipment makes the difference between success and failure, we ensure that this aspect reaps benefit in the long time. Technologically advanced equipment definitely helps towards this goal, rather than just plain Jane equipment. Here are some advantages of smart equipment:

  1. Reduces power requirements as most of the smart equipment like combis, flexi chefs, Varios and boilers/kettles etc are self-steam generating and are quick performers.
  2. Pot wash problems are far fewer, as many of these are self-cleansing, thereby, saving space.
  3. The final product is always consistent and tasty, despite larger and multiple volumes. This is so since most of the equipment is programmable.
  4. Most kitchen hoods (Indian make too) are of makeup air variants, keeping the kitchens and chefs cool and composed. Here, the food, and not the chef, gets cooked!
  5. Most of the smart equipment is BMS compatible, assisting the MNCs to keep a track. Indian fire suppression makers too are now adding this facility.

The list of advantages goes with new developments springing up rapidly. Connected kitchens concept is the new next wave which is currently in an advance stage of research. Soon all the kitchen equipment will be ‘talking amongst themselves.’ Probably hatching a plan to make a new yum pudding.

Venu Rao

Peacock Hospitality

6th June 2020

Aqua triplets: My memories of life’s elixir

Water, that eternal substance is the very source of our life. We are full of it – each pore and molecule. Without water for our daily needs, there is very little we can do; its presence and potency are inseparable. Even a simple, yet important, ritual like a daily bath is enshrined in our water mantra. A bath gives us so many ideas; the refreshing feeling of water cascading down our bodies transform our thoughts. We come out rejuvenated after a shower, a daily miracle which is taken for granted.

With the pleasure of water caressing our bodies and lifting our mood, it is no wonder that bathroom singers come alive during the bath. From the ancient to the most modern societies – all have evolved with water. Be it the Hamman baths or the Jacuzzis, the churning waters have soothed our stressed-out bodies.

Water for me breathes into my very being and is always on my mind psychologically and spiritually. The close bond I have with water is intrinsic and the very thought of it takes me to another dimension.

 

The little Viet mermaid

 

Our group of friends landed at dusk in the beautiful seaside town of Danang. We had an amazing two-day cruise at Halong Bay and I enjoyed swimming in the turquoise backwaters of the bay, tiny hillocks jutting out to make breath-taking backdrops.

We unpacked and walked along the famous Danang seaside boulevard. The seafood restaurants were now coming to life with their life-size aquariums, holding their prized catches of live lobsters, crayfish and a multitude of other fish varieties. The chefs had geared up to net the selections the guests had made and to cook in front of them. I took a detour from this action and walked towards the sea, it was pulling me no end.

The sun had just set and the crimson shade on the horizon was mesmerising. I kicked off my shoes and waded into the gentle, lapping water. I felt my soles connecting to my soul. I cursed for not getting my swimsuit, but I promised myself that I would be back in the morning for sure. I had forgotten our half-day trip to Bana hill. The trip was nice and we had fun, drank great beer and saw many sights. But, my heart was in the DanangBay.

We returned at 4 pm and within half an hour, I was in the water. I was like a kid collecting sea-shells, feeling rich with the bounty. The soft sand and the swish of the water were ethereal. I waded neck-deep, as the eddies under my feet now played eerily, but pleasantly. The salty water tasted soothing to my lips. I couldn’t ask for more.

I swam, riding each wave, and turned on my back after a few minutes. The sight of the vast blue sky was something out of this world – clumps of clouds, fancy shaped and gliding by like cotton balls. My mind enveloped my body first and expanded in sync with the vast sky. I wanted to close my eyes in gratitude but didn’t dare to for fear of floating into the ocean. Time stood still.

I glanced towards the shore and saw the little one. Her face was beaming as she let out delightful shrieks, her little hands flinging all over. Tiny drops of water flew around her as if they were fairies. The sight had a huge magnetic effect on me and, within the next few minutes, I was standing next to the little one! She looked at me and screamed something in Vietnamese, giggling and pointing her little finger.

I replied, “Hey baby, don’t worry, I shall just watch you swim.” Her mom translated, “No, she is not afraid, she is calling you to join her! She wants to throw water at you.” Emboldened, I took a few more steps towards her and gestured for her to come into my outstretched arms, as it touched the water. Her mom asked her to sit on my hands like a boat and splash her legs. The little girl gave one of the sweetest smiles I have ever received in my whole life and plonked into my arms. She was a bundle of joy!

She started flinging her arms and legs like a professional oars lady, little chunks of water hitting my face. Her facial expressions were a delight to watch. By now everybody had stopped and were giving a watery ovation.

The little one was going berserk, shouting above the roar of the waves. It was a heavenly feeling. At that moment I asked her mom what her li’l one’s name was. “Mai-Latte,” screamed the little one. Astonished, I saidher name and pulled her underwater for fun. She came up gurgling and smiling; clinging to my chest and calling me CHU (meaning uncle).

I looked at the mountain cutting into the ocean, with a marble white lady Buddha atop. Meditation happened that instant, fleeting yet bringing eternal bliss. This moment of water and the blissfulness and innocence of the tiny tot have since been interwoven into my being.

You can see the pure joy in the little one’s smile in the picture above – after all a picture tells a million and more impressions.

 

 

The water warrior

I must have been about nine years old when some of us kids planned an outing to the Tonakela swimming camp outside Avadi township. We reached the pristine environs of this army campsite, quickly unpacked and got into our professional swimsuits … well nothing more than a chaddi, to be precise. We ran around the pool, screaming our guts out, excitedly, as we waited for our slot, which was a good hour away. We also made many plans on what we would do in the water. One of the games we had planned was to see who held their breath underwater for the longest. Whoever came out the last, even if half-dead, would be the winner.

When we entered the pool, the frenzy grew. We splashed and kicked the water and chopped it mid-air – Bruce Lee would be put to shame! Tiny bubbles rose with rainbow hues. It was fun indeed, more so as I was with my best buddies. Our throats hoarse and lips parched despite water all around us, we started our ‘hold the breath’ competition. We took a deep breath and dived in.

A few seconds and I popped out like a silicon balloon! “What’s this?Something is wrong,” I wondered. The other kids took eons to come out. When they saw me already standing in the knee-deep water, they laughed. As a kid, nothing is more insulting than being considered a sissy. I was wounded, my heart heavy. I said, “Let me go to the deep end (a good 9 feet) and dive in there for the next round. I want to be the winner.”

The kids chorused, “No, not that side. It’s dangerous.” But little did I heed. I ran and jumped, lest they came to fetch me. I went in like a rock and on touching the floor, I bundled my hands and legs into a ball, so that I wouldn’t come up quickly. I wanted to prove that my great lungs were not empty balloons.

I held on, long. I didn’t get scared at all. The many seconds seemed like an eternity. Soon, my lungs were aching and bursting. My vision was getting blurred. I felt my stomach bloating, with all that gulping. My hands and legs were turning weary and jelly-like. I had to breathe! Oh, God!

Suddenly I was at the surface of the water. Through a crack of light, I saw my friends wailing and screaming. “Venu, oh Venu!” I went in as quickly as I came up. Again down up in a few seconds. I knew this was my last time up. My Grandpa used to say that water gives you three chances only.
I was in for the final time, flinging my little arms desperately. I thought this would be the end. All the intelligence gathered in this ripe age of nine years would go wasted. I was stuck in mid-water like a hapless balloon. Suddenly, I felt a kick on my back. Another one repeated and the force was pushing me to the side. I felt the ground, instinctively stood up and walked to the wall edge before collapsing on the low side.

My saviour was Subramanian, my dear friend who had furiously pushed me up the low wall. I lay flat on the sill and he pressed my tummy to release a fountain of water. Mani didn’t know how to swim either – it’s a wonder how he saved me that day. I owe my life to my dear departed friend. Miss you so much.

That day, my fear of water went away and my resolution grew even stronger. I knew that water would be my greatest friend. It would not harm me. I mentally turned into a Jalpara (Merboy).
And the rest, as they say, is history!

 
 

My very own Jalpari


 

She was about eight years old when we went on our Goan holiday. It was a long-awaited vacation after a hectic year. We checked in at the lovely Royal Goan beach club at Sinqerium. A morning dip at the sea and a cool evening splash at the resort’s oval pool was the new norm from day one.

The Wife promised herself that she would learn swimming in a week, made a deal with the coach and started her classes in earnest. Aabana would joyfully enter the bay pool and thrash around, imitating her mom and shrieking endlessly. I was content seeing both ladies, and settled with a beer and plans of a nice dip, later. I had purchased a designer swimsuit – a definite improvement from the Tonakela days, I guess.

Tragedy struck on day four. The little one wanted to join me for cycling after our swim. She sat on the crossbar in the front and we were pedalling along happily, a baby tune in tandem from the li’l one. Once in a while, she would let out a caution, look daddy – a cow, cockroach, an earthworm!

Suddenly there was a shriek from her as she said, “My legggg!” I braked instantly. I knew that she had brought her left foot into the wheel. I bent down to see – miraculously, it was just a bruise on the ankle. Thank God! I sent my prayers, dropped the bike and jumped into an auto, straight to the local doctor’s clinic, nearby.

The Wife came panting and gave me a stern look. But I was made of sterner stuff and didn’t vaporise. Our dinner plans were cancelled and the resorts talented guitar singers came in to console the baby. Being an RCI top executive, the Wife was getting the entire resort’s attention while pampering the li’l injured doll. My beer was served warm though. It must have been some new instructions to teach the marauder on wheels a lesson!

Armed with a plastic bag around the left foot, Abu entered the baby pool in the morning. “Atta girl, you are my aqua nymph. Not afraid of water despite your injury,” I said proudly. In her high drama mode, she announced, “Daddiyu and mummiyu, I shall learn swimming when we go back home, in our pool. This injury won’t hold me back.”

We were proud, beaming parents. I glanced for a quick pardon and the loving Wife smiled and signalled to the waiter for my beer. My beer was served in two minutes flat with some roasted cashew nuts. I love Goan barmen, as they are so instinctive. The week passed by quickly, and the Wife turned out to be champion swimmer, managing to reach the length of the pool with some real smart strokes.

We were back in Bangalore. It was still summer. The evenings were now spent at the Natasha Golf View Apartments’ pool, where we lived. Abu stepped gingerly into the pool with her bandaged leg in a plastic bag. Some habits never leave, you see. The wound had healed well, but the protection was mandatory. A little bit of coaching and coaxing did the trick and she was wading in the 2 feet shallow side of the pool, but with one hand on the wall edge. She came into my hands and practised few boat flaps and said, Daddiyu, I will learn by myself.”

With the wall as a support, she put her face into the water and started to learn the breath-control, flapping, kicking techniques. She wouldn’t let me near her, though. She was strong-willed like her mom.

Weeks and a few months passed by. She became a fixed entity by the low wall now. She would go through the regular motions, smiling, shouting and enjoying, but all alone. The plastic bag was discarded long ago, thankfully.

Time passed and another two years went by. Abu kept swimming along the wall on the shallow side. I thought, “Let it be, at least she is fond of water. It’s just a matter of time before these kids pick up.” One fine evening, she completed the same wall strokes paddling her little legs, gave a huge smile and called out, “Daddiyu, see me swimming, am going across.” She was off the next moment, with expert synchronised strokes, so effortless. As she reached the middle of the pool, my heart froze and my legs turned to jelly. With a great effort, I took a step forward, ready to pace across.

I tried to call out, but my words did not come. She reached the other end of the deep side and I remembered Tonakela again! Abu yelled with happiness, over the din of the other swimmers. “See I can swim so well, don’t ask me how. It just came naturally to me. Wait, am coming over to you.”

She started again. It was the most beautiful sight – she was like a Jalpari, with the most elegant movements. There were hardly any ripples but the speed was evident. She reached me and jumped on to my chest, grinning. All I could do was to add a few drops of blissful, salty tears to the gurgling aqua around.

A question that I ask even today, after 20 years, is this. “How, all of a sudden, could she swim like a water fairy?” Well, some explanations are never to be sought after, I guess. Maya!

Well, Truth is stranger than Fiction

 

Venu Rao

Peacock Hospitality

22nd May 2020

 

JAL PARI’S DREAM CATCHERS

These are unbelievable times for sure – unprecedented and replete with problems. The coronavirus is wreaking havoc on hapless victims – both the young and old, alike. We are all in a jail while the animals are out enjoying nature, without any human interference. Never before have we had such forced holidays! Yes, we would have been happy if the lockdown wasn’t there and we were free to enjoy. But life has its own plans.

If you look at the positive side, though, this is a wonderful chance for us to accomplish things in a creative manner –  to do something out of the box. And that is exactly what my Jal Pari chef is doing these days – using this time to embark on some more culinary adventures. She is busy inventing a few unique recipes and cooking processes. With much more time in her hands presently, she has been churning out some delectable recipes.

The Jal Pari way of boiling milk

A unique innovation indeed by Chef Jalpari – even the time-tested pasteurisation takes a back seat, here. In Jalpari’s version, you need to add 750 ML of RO water to one litre of fresh milk – whole milk lacks water you see, so you need to add in 75 per cent more to replenish and strengthen the poor milk! You need to then place it on simmer and let it to boil, for a long time.

So, I anxiously wait for my morning cuppa milk with honey and cinnamon, topped with chia seeds. After an hour and a half, I throw my now-familiar sad look at the beautiful Jalpari chef. “Anna, what’s the big hurry, let the milk come to a boil through my unique sim – sim cooking. Let those horrible Coronas die a slow and painful death. They deserve it. If I boil it on high flame, they just die in a flash. I want them to feel the torture and agony of slow death, much like how they are causing innocent humans.” She said with a vengeance.

I could only let out a meek sigh, longing for that cuppa. I did agree with the logic, but not at the extent of slow simmering the milk to the boiling point. Anyway, the watered down milk would cool down, by the time it finally reached me.

Last Sunday, she made a speciality biryani in her unique sim-sim technique. The slow flame took its own sweet time – just a couple of hours to cook the well-watered biryani rice with tender, fresh chicken. Voila. After eons, the nice bisibele bath-style Hyderabad biryani was ready. It was quite appetizing with watery chicken florets floating gamely along with clumps of rice. Grin and eat is my new mantra. I happen to have perfected it with my solid experience of handling Jal paris.

Green Cucumber Curry (Not in a hurry)

“Anna, dosakaya kurry chala bavuntundhi. (Cucumber curry would be so yummy, trust me). You see, cucumber by nature is full of the goodness of water. We should add some more water for the pieces to soak in and let them float up. Then simmer it for some time and add some exotic spices to the masala paste after grinding them,” she declared.

The smells wafted. Star anise, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom. A dash of desiccated coconut was thrown in. “Sharada, can I suggest that you add a pinch of saffron to give it an Aussie angle?” My classmate, chef Ajoy from our hotel management days had gifted me the amazing condiment recently. “He runs several successful Nilgiris restaurants in Sydney,” I added.

“He seems to be a talented chef like me. I am sure that he is very generous with water in all his recipes. Yes, we can add the saffron to our dish, it will flavour the water instantly and bring out the aromas.” She agreed, wisely,” Just a wee bit of saffron to be added, never anything in excess. It will spoil the taste. Of course – the only exception is aqua. Water is universal, all pervasive in our cooking.” Amen.

When the dish was presented in her typical signature style, I could see roundels of green cucumber with a reddish tinge, the only noticeable difference was the absence of the famous Corona spores – which have become a house hold antihero, of late.

Karela Dal

During my Welcome group days, Chef Imtiaz Quershi was well known for his Dal Bukhara. It was expertly made with the help of a secret recipe – slow cooking overnight. The guests used to eat out of his hands, making him an overnight millionaire chef. The texture was so smooth and the taste to die for.

Now decades later, he has serious competition from our Chef – the Jal Pari.  Karela dal is her new weapon against the dal Bukhara. Who can beat a Jal Pari at her own swimming and aqua cooking techniques? Her bitter gourd dal is unique; all the bitterness goes in the slow cooking in gallons of water, process.

The bitter gourd soon turns into jelly and jujubes. The dal is soft and supple; the bitter gourd takes the flavour from the dal. A khichdi kind of texture is left. Light on the tongue and mellow on the teeth.

In Telugu, we call it kandi mudda pappu – a mixture that is used in so many ways – as filling in puran poli (Holige), for instance. In the dal, it bonds so well with the bitter gourd, relieving it of its bitter nature. While the goodness of nutrition is preserved, the dal acts as great camouflage agent.

“As a child, I hated bitter gourd, now I love it,” she says, triumphantly. Well, I dare not give my humble feedback on this karela delicacy. Who knows, I may not get my next dinner. So, I just venture to say, “I don’t want any other heaven, its right here in the karela dal and cucumber curry. “

Veggies wash – uptight and tight

Jal Pari is an expert when it comes to washing food, especially grains and vegetables. She gives them a thorough shower scrub, each of their molecules getting rinsed, inside out. Thank God, rice grains are too many to wash individually.  However, if time had permitted she would have done that as well, washing and talking to each grain as though they had a life.

Her technique is morsel by morsel cleaning. She takes each fist of rice which is already swimming in a deep tub, smiles at them and reverently squeezes them, slowly massaging the clumps of rice and gently dropping them into a clean bowl. “See Anna, they need to have a complete bath just like us. I take my own sweet time for bathing, at least an hour. See my skin, you would agree that’s its glowing. The same treatment needs to be given to our food.” I shake my head in that familiar manner and she is happy with my certificate. Lord Indra, the rain God smiles in heaven and all is well.

The veggies have a different story to tell before they jump into the cook pot, though. “We see more water at your home, than in our entire life spent on plants. You can call us aqua fresh, rather than garden fresh! We are left to swim in plastic tubs, courtesy corona fear. Next is the famous Turkish Hamam bath with loads of sanitiser. We then go through a second rinse with the ethnic shikakai suds. Our skin glistens with each energetic rub and one can even see our delicate veins surfacing. We are then plunged into a warm water bowl with a saline solution. Finally, we see the sharp knife raised, ready to plunge into our tender guts. Chop, chop she goes.” The veggies seem to be talking to me thus.

With a great relish, Jal Pari now places the cubes into a clean vessel, simmering away. The erstwhile tough veggies turn into jellies as our Jal Pari continues her cooking…

Cooking for Kronus and Kresida

I invited my architect friend Gomati from our Singapore project, for dinner recently. She has two kids and was planning to visit the city to meet her elder sister. From the time I mentioned it, Jal Pari was excited about the visit. I tried calming her down, but her excitement knew no bounds. “I really want to offer her such fascinating food that she will never forget the taste of my food for life!” She said, all excitedly.

This sentence, though, is very familiar – she means it for every single guest and goes overboard with her love and affection. “Don’t you worry about the menu and the arrangements, it’s still over a week away from now,” I told her calmly. She reeled off a few sets of classical menus – Tamil, Telugu, Mangalorean. To finalise from the long list would a mammoth effort. We decided on Tamil cuisine three days prior to Gomati’s arrival. She was coming from Cuddalore, her maternal home.

The D-day arrived. The elegant chef made some mouth-watering delicacies for the evening – needlessly to mention they were well hydrated. Mutton varuval, Karaikudi khozhi (with a tinge of Andhra spices as a special effect), keerai kootu, Chennai paruppu rasam and many more. She expertly made the karuvadu kuzhambu with mochakottai, Gomati’s all time fav dish. There were only smiles, oohs and ahhs. Jal Pari enjoyed the praises she was getting for her culinary skills.

Sharada stood next to the new aquarium just gifted by Gomati. The cute aquarium had lively plants, snails and volcanic rocks giving it a very special ambience. “Anna, these glow fish are so cute, but look so famished, shall I feed them with our keerai kootu?” she asked. “Oh no, don’t you worry, they eat only small fish food, not our food, especially your generous food… there is already enough water in the aquarium.”

Sharadha then took the aquarium inside and retuned after few minutes, happily. All the plants, snails and rocks were gone. “See, I cleaned all the katchra (dirt) and kept only the water, those poor fish were suffocating! Now they are swimming in more water than before.” Oh God! I could see a tsunami emerging on Gomati’s face!

The delightful payasam served was a blessing in disguise, though the kids were still giggling over the fish tank episode. They demanded butterscotch ice cream on the dish! I have never heard of such a request, but I guess odd things happen to taste buds, courtesy our Pari’s techniques. Promptly she served them, and paused to ask them their names.

“My name is Kronus and I am studying in class four.” The little boy with curls replied. She then looked at the cute six-year-old girl and enquired sweetly. “My name is Kresida and I am studying in class 1. I love putting on makeup any time of the day!” she declared. We all had a hearty laugh – beauty queen in the making.

I then noticed a bewildered look flash across Sharada’s face. This vanished in a couple of seconds and she got her normal look again. I knew that some strange thought had crossed her mind and hoped that she would not blurt out something atrocious. Thankfully she didn’t. But I knew it would come later for sure.

After some more laughter and fun, it was time for fond good byes. Jal Pari kissed the kids and waved goodbye. I was relaxing over a Lonely Planet coffee table book. “See Anna,” she started, scratching her delicate head. I smiled and said. Shoot. “That Gomati madam, why couldn’t she name her lovely children something else, rather than Coronus and Cresinus. After those horrible wire-less devils. There are so many beautiful names, I would not even mind if she had named them, Tommy, Timmy or Jimmy like we call our pets…”

My expression would have told her a million stories, but she quickly went away still confused, muttering …. “Hmm Coranas it seems.”

 

Venu Rao

Peacock Hospitality

17th April 20.

My Kitty Papa

She entered with a cute smile, lighting up the entire room. The neat fringe falling over her doe eyes had a twinkling, yet mesmerising effect. Kittu has the inquisitiveness of a restless deer, hopping around the hall. “How can I help?” She asked sweetly, stretching her tiny palm, cupped upwards as if holding some precious nectar.

“Just watch me paint and try to follow the strokes. You tend to apply more pressure on your crayons, making them thick and too bold. They become difficult to erase, we won’t be able to correct it if we need to later,” I replied with a gentle smile.

She nodded thoughtfully and exclaimed, “But I like to make bold statements.”She then started humming Jack N Jill went up the hill. Well, it does look like an uphill task to deal with this sweet gal, all of five. Bubbly, boisterous and beautiful, but such a darling.

It was becoming a daily routine to have this lovely kid welcome me at home in the evening, armed with water colors and a great smile. A great stress buster, indeed!All the tension of hi-tech video calls, site visits and lengthy BOQs faded into distant memory with the unconditional love, demanding my time and nothing else. In return, I got a kit of giggles and nonstop chatter with loads of crumpled scribbled papers to be shown.

“Oh, these were not good, I need you to teach me again,”she said, taking out a blank sheet. I looked at my treasured drawing sheet book, so lovingly given by Geetu in Toronto. Almost empty, time to hide it.But then I stored that wicked thought deep inside.

 

“Oh, I can see you have painted two aunties, one lying down and the other one giving her a massage,” she exclaimed. I explained that I was trying to paint a typical Keralite shirodhara massage therapy. “As the oil drops are let down through a Urali thread on to the head, it creates a nice sensation which relaxes the lady,” I explained.“Hmm,” she acknowledged with a delicate nod.

Kittu examined the in-progress work more minutely. “Unkool, but, why does the auntie lying down on the bed have spots on her body, it looks as if she has bad bed sores. Is she not well?”She questioned, innocently. I froze – so much for my detailing of the top polka dot transparent cover sheet on her body which I had used to cover this lady’s body

“Oh baby, it’s just a sheet, so that the masseur auntie can slide it over to massage easily, but point taken. I shall make those sores into flowers by drawing additional petals,” I answered, rather sheepishly.

“Yes, do that,” she said. “You grown ups don’t see the details.”

 

 

Double Trouble
On day four, in she trotted in with Disita, another cute little girl of 6, deep dimples firmly in place and black curls yearning to be straightened. She was slightly taller than our two feet nothing kitty friend. She seemed to be walking on unseen springs, bouncing around a few inches above the ground.

“Uncle Uncle, please give me a drawing sheet and a better set of water colours than what you gave to Kitty!I want to draw a big rocket, which will fly off from the page.”

Nayee musibhat, I thought. I looked around the room and shrugged sadly, “See Dishi, all the pages are over.You will have to make do with this long lined paper from my accounts register.”

She glared at Kitty with a look that could have vapourised her!But Kitty was made of a sterner stuff, standing rock solid.

I was glad that my prized drawing book was hiding safely in my wardrobe. I signalled to my wife to not open it. I threw a sad look at the gals, informing them of the scarcity of fresh books. So, the rocket session was conducted on a parallel lined sheet and in steady progress.

The rivalry between the little ladies was obvious. Ever so often, one of them would come complaining- see how she copies my rocket’s tail? Kitty would respond, “Ha ha, Iam drawing a butterfly, she copied my tail into her rocket wings. Did you ever see a rocket with butterfly wings anywhere, Unkool?”

She asked for some water color pencils, “Good you gave her just ordinary color pencils, you are so nice. You have kept the special and different pencils, only for me.”

Next minutes I see two bubbly rolls bundling on the floor and hands pulling pony tails in all directions. I dashed into my open kitchen to fetch two glasses of Maaza mango drink.

Time for half time, I decided. The athletes would be so tired and thirsty. Tears streamed down the faces bawling at my feetas they scooted to the corners, ready to prance. I ran across to each corner to silence the sirens. I was sweating profusely and so I stopped and lectured.“Good girls don’t fight like this. Promise me to be great friends or else you both leave now.”

They looked at each other, gave half smiles, shook hands and kissed each other. The very next minute, there were peals of laughter as they sat there sipping their juices. Phew! Thanked God I had only one girl -my Aabana- a big lady of 27 years now, to deal with as a child. I was fondly reliving her childhood days.

Of Vanishing Colours
I was at the office one day when Kitty knocked on my door. “Auntie, is unkool there?” Kitty had her corona lockdown vacation and wanted to draw those virus cartoons. “No, but do come in and talk to me, you never have a moment for me when he is there,” my wife said to him.

She offered a plate of sumptuous steaming momos on a pretty doily paper, with a saucer. “Oh auntie, sorry but I don’t eat junk food, mom says it could have the virus on it! Maybe, they are dancing on it.

My wife turned a shade paler. She spoke to her for a while and showed her our family pics. “Oh, your picture is so sweet, you are looking beautiful and Unkool looks handsome in that smart choc dark suit.” Slowly the lost colour reclaimed its rightful place on her cheek. Only to be short lived, though.

“Oh auntie, looking at this pic again I would like to say something more, can I please?” “Oh, please do,” said my wife expectantly, hoping for another cute complement. “You are so serious and not smiling. Look at him, so cheerful showing all his 22 teeth. His cheeks are full too. Did you not eat dinner before the picture or did Unkool scold you? My dad always does that, such a bad boy he is.” Your face is so plain Jane, no makeup too.” Hmm, the color went away, again.

Heartache Amidst the Crisis
This corona crisis has put a spoke in the works so as to say and little kitty is packed off to faraway Tirupati since Dad has been asked to work from home. The absence of the daily dose of gola (noise in Telugu), is haunting me, as I ache to see that darling again…. The familiar words Unkool, Unkool ringing constantly, despairs me, no end. “See my pencil, how sharp it is!” or “See my rocket fin like a fish,” … the words sound so distant now…. Corona, you have managed to set us apart momentarily, for sure. But, wait for her Ram Baan…. you will be wiped out.

In moments like this, a few thoughts spring to the fore – the little one’s love is so unconditional. The pure buddyness as I call it, is so infectious, so Nirmal and Swach… The genteel coolness or the words of tiny conspiracy against Dishi, whispered in my ears. It often looked as though little James Bond girl was reporting her secret mission brief to her lady boss, Eve.

The story of friendship and affection, memories to last a life and beyond.

My sweet Kitty papa… Darling.

Venu Rao
Peacock Hospitality
02 April 2020.

THE CULINARY ADVENTURES OF CHEF JALPARI

Some people light up the room the moment they enter it -Sharada is one of them. Her infectious smile steals the most hardened critic’s heart, turning him into a sweet potato. The way she prepares food and the minute care she put into it, is divine.  Sharada had worked for us in the bakery and then in the new office for some time, proving to be a valuable team member.

Sharada’s story is one of hardships, sacrifice and eternal care for the children. Having lost her husband at the tender age of 20, it has been a long and arduous struggle for her, bringing up her kids single handedly and educating them. Her sole happiness has been her children, though, seeing them blossom. But, it is a beautiful success story to cherish.

Sharada has the looks to die for, is sharp and intelligent. With all these qualities, she could have remarried, but her love for the children and the undying love for the departed hubby kept her steady and firm minded. There is so much to learn from the simple village girl who moved to mega Bangalore to earn a living, and achieved her goal of raising two beautiful gems.

During her bakery days, she mastered the art of baking and Indian culinary skills while cooking for the staff. She is also exceptionally good at making Andhra food. In fact, she cooks so well that she could induce chances of coma by overeating. Sharada puts her heart and soul into the cooking, making sure that everyone is satisfied.

One thing sets her apart though her signature style of adding gallons and gallons of water while cooking. Thank God, she left the bakery at the correct time, or else those well-hydrated cakes would have become the new-age super H2O food.

 

No hurry for curry: All Furshat

I recently appointed Sharada as my cook at home – she is adept at making curries. However, she believes that they should contain the same proportion of water as the water content in a vegetable – a good 70 percent minimum. Her logical explanation is, “See anna, our body has 70 percent water, as you probably know.  The Earth too is made up of 70 percent water. Then, why should our dishes not have at least a good 80 percent water? Look at the Westerners, their meals are all so dry, causing all those problems. Drinking beer or alcohol is not the solution, the food should have natural water content.” Simple logic and quite enlightening –after all famous dishes like the Vietnamese PHO follow similar lines.

Her care and devotion to cooking begins right from the ingredient level, she would hold each veggie, touch it, caress it and turn it around to check for spots and blemishes. She would then make sure that it is clean and disease free to ensure that her Sir (yours truly) was not harmed! She would not even allow the super market staff to touch the vegetables,lest they contaminated them. Sharada has a knack for cooking exotic food. She is also equally adept at ensuring that herbs and the roots went where they should: be it in a robust roast or curry in a hurry.

After the meal was made, she would serve it with utmost care and sweetly call, “Anna, the food is waiting for you at the table, I want to make sure that you indulge as that is the only proof that my food is delicious. I would often be stuck, but the food was so delicious and made with such warmth and care that I would end up over eating. I would then painstakingly go through the extra laps at the pool in the cold frosty evenings. Shiver, Shiva!!!

Sharada would diligently ask me of my preferences each time before a meal. I would tell her patiently say, “Ok make chicken or bhindi in a semi roast gravy.” She would nod obediently and get to work.

One such day, as she got cooking, the wafting smells poured into the drawing room, courtesy my open, well lit natural kitchen. The garam masala competed with the good old ginger and won heads on, swamping the room with its heady aroma. I waited in anticipation as Sharada folded the liptahua masala on the slender ladies’ fingers, raising each one delicately to examine them. She then roasted them, where they turned from light green to darker gravy brown.

As I reached the dining table, I started dreaming of the rich thick roast gravy with my super light phulkas. Mind you, Sharada is adept at setting the table. The salads, crispies and pickles were all waiting, lovingly, to be savoured. My roast gravy bowl sat smugly in the centre of the table, covered with a frosted lid. My dining table is about 15 years old – a present from RMS hotels company when I had completed five years of services.

The roast gravy looked even grander in this entire setting. I waited longingly for the dish to be revealed.  I gently pushed my plate towards her and she rebuked me lovingly, “Oh anna, always in a hurry to taste my food…wait…” In a professional manner, putting the most experienced Maître D hotel to shame, she opened the lid and brought the bowl to serve. I started as I got the shock of my life – in the bowl was a sea – the lady’s fingers were floating merrily in a pond of water!

My dear Sharu…that’s a bit too much water I said. Sharada then explained to me as if I was a child incapable of grasping. “See anna, this water is really good for you – the rich masala which I magnet (read marinate)gets diluted so that the strong spices do not affect your nervous system much. Look at this poor lady finger, it was getting scorched in that hideous brown masala,” she said as she lifted a ladies finger to justify.  “I know your weak intestines can’t handle these masalas. See I have even made the watery sambar and flowy rasam to give the roast gravy some great company… how’s my menu planning, anna?” As for me, I was tongue-tied as usual and ate in silence with a slender finger on my lips.

 

Malabar Fried Fish Polichattu in style!

I have been lucky to come across varied culinary experts while designing large MNC kitchens. I once met this dashing chef, Sabrina during the planning and execution of a large kitchen design,where she gave her inputs.  We got to know each other well during that stint, and I learnt that she was a celebrity chef too. On one of our chats, I mentioned my lovely cook and started praising her. Sabrina said, “Well, in that case I would definitely like to taste her food.” So, a special dinner was fixed and the wife agreed to brief Sharada, accordingly.

The D-day arrived. Sabrina was served with the choicest Andhra cuisine – a complete range of watery delights- Andhra pappu, Guthi Vankaya, Berakaya mutton, Rayalseema chicken curry, et all. She gorged on the food, and announced,“Lip smacking, no complaints, really great food, just a wee bit too much water. Sharada’s face was beaming and I felt happy seeing her joyous smile.

Then, Sabrina commented, “The menu was good, but I did notice that the fried items were missing. Is there a reason?” I started and twitched uncomfortably. Not wanting to tell her the truth, I kept quiet. But, the chef was inquisitive. So I let the secret out. “Our jalpari (water fairy) Sharada has been asked not to any make fries in this house.”

“Oh no, that would be a shame. She is such a great cook; how can she not be allowed to prepare fried items! Not done. Then, I told her that Sharada didn’t know the recipe of fried fish.

“Oh,It’s so simple. I will teach her a rare recipe of Kerala fried fish, wrapped up in an exotic leaf,” Chef Sabrina said.And lo,before I realised she started teaching. Sharada obediently started her class, nodding her head with accompanying ooh and aahs.

The class began…

“First of all, make sure that the Karimeen(pearl spot) selected is of the best quality, their gills should be gleaming red like fresh sun rays. Now take each piece and exam their eyes, they should not be sunken at any cost.”Sabrina directed.

“Yes Akka, Iam an expert in selecting veggies and non-vegetarian items. In fact, I inspect each and every pieces intensely.”Good, I thought –how they complemented each other. I smiled contently.

“The next step is to prepare the most important part- the masala. Make sure the spices are again of the best quality and slowly roast them over the pan. Just add few drops of coconut oil.”Sharada nodded her head again obediently.

“Then ground them well–the end product should be finest powder, smooth and shiny. Adda bit of Kerala puli(tamarind) for the tangy flavour. Now take the best hand pounded ginger and garlic paste, and make sure you make it yourself.  If the paste is coarse, the whole taste of the dish gets jeopardised,” Sabrina explained as Sharada nodded with utmost reverence.

“Before frying you need to envelope the fish in the fresh green tender banana leaves. Ensure that they are well wrapped so that the masala doesn’t run out. The final step is to fry them until they turn golden in colour,” Sabria concluded.

Sharada was thoughtful, having listened so attentively till then. But, when chef mentor asked the jalpari chef whether she understood the recipe correctly, Sharada shook her head hesitatingly.In a slow measured voice, she asked,“How many glasses of water should I pour after frying? That is just before it gets off the pan, my dear chef akka?”

The celebrity chef fainted!!

Venu Rao
Partner
Peacock Hospitality
Bangalore.

CASTING A LONG LASTING IMPRESSION, THE CASTA WAY

We were approaching the trendy pastel yellow Casta stall; it clearly stood out from the others in terms of its pleasing and aesthetic design. It was tastefully decorated with all the different hues of yellow that signify their house. The meeting lounge, at the corner of the stall was a pleasure to sit at, soft and sleek, giving our tired legs some much-needed solace.

Casta’s attractive kitchen display caught our eyes. The mono-blocks sat majestically at the centre with their stylish lines and the efficient finish of the burners, fryers and the hotplates. The cheerful lava stone grill was a thrill to look at – the round smooth lava stones were displayed discretely, with a component lifted up to show its function and build.

The star TWIN TEPP unit was the show stopper with its well thought-out design of hot and cold surface plates, integrated in a unit. The insulation between the hot and cold surface of minus 38 was expertly done, in a mere 50 mm, yet keeping the TWIN TEPP in one metre dimension. It was so compact – a beauty to look at! The built in self-exhaust system was another enviable USP.

With such amazing equipment, could the chef be left behind? No! The handsome Italian chef in black coat was churning out delicious looking dishes, expertly tossing the newly formed crisp ice from the cold plate on the left to the hot one on the right hand. Tasty aromas hit our nostrils, and our senses went overboard as we longed to sink our teeth into the many gourmet platters on display. These were whipped up in barely a few minutes. The salmon The chef served was so delicious and out of this world, that we were left wondering, can heaven be this close?

The sunshine Italian welcome
Loretta, the boss, was busy giving a TV interview; dressed smartly in a sunshine yellow designer gown, fitted with elegant straps. We stepped aside and waited near the TWIN TEPP unit, examining it with great curiosity. On spotting us, she rushed towards us, and held out a welcoming hand! A bit surprised, I said politely, “We know you are busy, we will wait for you and, in the meanwhile, go around your interesting space.” She would have none of it, though, as she gave us a cheek-cheek peck. When my partner John hesitated, she said seriously, “This is our customary Italian way of welcoming our guests and making them feel at home. We are courteous, loyal, helpful and smile always even if there is no business what so ever.” I was sure impressed with such a rare attitude in these times of global cut throat competitions.

Kuch Kuch at Casta
She entered with a sweet smile, dressed in a gorgeous black skirt suit. She extended a warm handshake and introduced herself as Hind, the export manager at Casta. “I am very fond of India; my name means India in Hindi right? I love the rich culture, the colourful soul and the warmth of the great nation.”

I was bowled over with her introduction. Further pleasantries exchanged, she invoked the magical name India’s heartbeat – Bollywood. “How about allowing me to sing a Bollywood song for you gentlemen.” She asked. We were amused, but agreed. She quickly fished out Shahrukh Khan’s famous song- Kuch Kuch Hota Hai from the ever helpful You Tube. Lo and behold, there she was singing melodiously, “Tum Pass hothe, yuun muskuraate, sapne…ab tho mera dill…jaage na sotha …” Whoosh we were exported back to India in a jiffy by this beautiful export manager! Now the impact was getting deeper – here was a company which knew how to make their guests feel at ease!

She paused and egged us on to join in the chorus. I was swaying and singing along merrily while my partner and our friend Varun, had a rather amused look on their faces. Hind’s voice raised as she sang, “Na jaane kya kya hota hai,” while translating in English for every one’s benefit – “Wonder what happens in love.”

We all laughed and I said, “She does indeed understand the meaning of the song.” To complete the scene, I twirled her into a half circle. She obliged, with graceful steps and giggled. The entire crowd that had gathered by now, smiled and clapped. What a wonderful show this had been!

Need we say more about the great Italian hospitality and their way of creating new friends for life?

And, thank you for the yummy Biscotti box as a parting gift.

Venu Rao
Partner
Peacock Hospitality
Bangalore.

 

THREE NEPALI ANGELS

My evening walks are a source of happiness and relaxation, especiallythe stretch along the famed Bellandur lake which attracts a huge variety of birds at dusk. I take a detour later to the Sobha promenade, mixing with the other walkers- old and young alike. My tea stop is usually at the club house; after which I proceed to jump into the vast blue pool. After an invigorating swim, I would walk the last stretch and head back home.

I used to watch this new apartment construction coming up rapidly. My current landlord wanted to sell his apartment and I was going to be homeless soon.One evening, I went inside to have a dekko. That was when I saw her, sitting demurely at the gate, a soft looking smooth-cheeked young Nepali lady. Fine featured, yet so simple to look at, she was dressed in a plain churidar. Fish eyed beauty withmermaid locks, I thought to myself.

I asked for the watchman. “Sirji, ek minute,abhibulathihoon,” she said coyly and scampered off. I did not want to trouble her, but couldn’t see anybody else. She ran up the stairs and was back in a minute. ‘Please wait,’ she gasped and dashed off to the basement. Like a tennis ball on a rebound, she was back ina second and ran up this time!

In a flash again, she was back,triumphantly announcing, ‘Sir my husband is coming.’ I was impressed by her eagerness to help and the will to serve without any expectations. She didn’t even know why I wanted to see the watchman.

He came and smilingly asked, “Sir, I am the watchman.How can I help?”

“I am looking for a rented apartment; can you advise if there is a vacant one around here,” I asked.

He showed me a lovely 4th floor unit overlooking the lake. I fell for it and the owner was called. We finalised the deal quickly.I thendecidedtoask the lady to help out in the house hold work– theWife could do well with a decent lady of hercalibre.

We quietly and quickly moved in. My first job was ofcourse to get the gal on work. Kunvanti is her name, so aptfor her well-mannered nature. The Wife hit it off with her like milk and honey and the bonding between them grew steadily.

On my return in the evenings, it became a regular feature for her to sing about the girl’s virtues of obedience, hard work and their friendly chats. The Wife would talk while Kunvantiwould listen in rapt attention, never questioning anything even if it sounded irrational.

She had two adorable girls, aged four and six,who ran around the apartment block, giggling. Her two-year-old boy was such a doll – chubby cheeks and a drooling mouth. One could not resist pecking at his rosy cheeks.While he was always smiling at each passer-by, II was happy because God was smiling in the heavens. All was fine and I was busy trying to concentrate on my work.Until, Damar the husband, quietly dropped a huge bombshell one day, he said “Sirji, am moving my family back to Nepal.I plan to continue farming there as it isdear to me. This watchman’s job is so boring. I plan to move out in a couple of months soplease organise another maid.”

My senses crashed and all I could think of was the Wife- wailing and muttering about her bad luck. I was sure therewouldn’t be dinner today, and my friend Swiggywould be the recourse. I went to her with the breaking news. She went pale and then turned blue. She beat her bosom and let out a moan. “Relax darling,” I said,“Kunvanti has arranged for her friend Jamuna who lives close by. No need to be so hopeless.”

She cheered a bit and sighed with relief, saying, “Hopefully she is a Nepali lass.” I nodded to comfort her, but really didn’t have a clue.

TheShakespeareantragedy wasn’t over yet; the depression continued till Jamuna sauntered in a few days later. She started earnestly the next day onwards – a sweet natured Nepali girl –and, in no time,a new friendship between the women bloomed. I began to hear stories about Jamuna, the ever helpful maid and how well she cleaned the house. The Wifeeven gave her the old mobile for use– with a rider, of course.Use it while in service only. All was well again and God smiled mercifully on us mortals.Slowly,Kunvanti’s stories faded and the ever smiling, beautiful Jamunabecame the apple of the eye.

One fine day, the Wife said, “Don’tworry dear, when I am away in Hyderabad, she will cook for you. She has agreed to come early morning too.”My wife was planning to take care of dad in my native town. “Oh that’s sweet of her, can I see her once since she comes only in the afternoons when I am away. I want to thank her,” I responded.

So the meeting was fixed at 4pm and I was supposed to go home for fifteen minutes.On the D day, as luck would have it, though, I got held up in a site meeting and it was a no show. I entered the house guiltily at 8pm, fearing a strong back lash. The Wife’s face was set and solid. I apologised and she gave mea look that sent a chill down my spine.

However, a few moments later, she said, “Good you didn’t turn up. What a cheeky little thing! What does she mean by coming all decked up like a bride? You should have seen the truckloads of lipstick, powder and rouge on her cheeks. The hairclips on her hair and the bright yellow canary dress with thin dupatta. Gosh, I was shocked! Is that a way to impress someone and by the way, why she coming like that to see you? Tell me?”

I didn’t know what to do! I tried to talk sense, “But, honey, how do I know that? I have never seen the little girl. May be she was excited with the thought of seeing a senior man. Leave it now. These young girls are not mature anyway.”

“I told her not to come tomorrow onwards,” She said and then she wailed again. “Oh I don’t have a maid anymore and no one bothers about this poor lady.”God was surely not smiling this time around and I was wondering if dinner would be served.

Just after this drama, the Wife left for Hyderabad for two months. I was wifeless and maid less. Food and cleaning the house became a pure challenge.
Enter Rekha, the 3rd Nepali beauty.

The house took a dusty shade with piles of unwashed utensils lying for days, with soiled clothes added on. Woolly spiders were marching around – spider man would have felt at home. The bathroom cried for mercy before any attention was heeded to it. A bachelor’s pad would have mocked at this abode of a much married man.

Knock, knock came the sweet sound. There she stood, a cute Nepali lass, “Uncle mujhe watchmanjibeja, kaamkeliye.” I can cook and clean well she said sweetly. It was sounding heavenly, and I silently thanked him. Since I had a good impression of her, I signed up immediately and stared work the next day. Feeling much relieved, I sent a message to the Wifebut there was no reply. I felt uneasy, maybe she didn’t like me appointing her maid. But…I was desperate here.

Rekha would come at 7am daily and do the house hold chores.It was great to see a pleasant face and have someone to chat with.The house had been so empty with the Wife away. Rekha would make tea and go about her other work, finishing in half an hour to report in a nearby apartment.

Initially, she was quiet and gave answers only when I asked her questions. She had a one-year-old baby girl andher husband worked in the temple, nearby, distributing Prasad and helping with other activities.

Over time, she got bolder and conversed more, talking about her dad and her granddad, who was a watchman. It was a good half an hourspent each morning chatting with this youngster. Her goals and aspirations are so different and fresh –mirroring those of the typical millennials. Days moved on quickly.

Rekha used to bring an old five litre used plastic bottle that had been discarded. Diligently, she would fill water from the water filter and carry it home. I watched this for days and said, “You know it is dangerous to use the old plastic bottles don’t you.The particles get into the water, causing serious contamination. So why don’t you get a steel container?

“Uncle ji, I don’t have so much money to invest, so I will have to make do with this” She said, sadly. I decided to give her a 5 litre milkcan. You should have seen the joyous expression on her delighted face. She thanked me profusely. “Let me make you a nice dish.What will you have for breakfast?” she asked. I told her that my favourite is egg burji. She quickly whipped up a deliciousburji, a bit spicy, but so tasty.

I went to Shanghai for a week and the day I returned, theWife was also scheduled to arrive home. She was introduced to Rekha that morning and I ceremoniously sang praises of her housekeeping skills. She did a polite Namaste. I gave her the Shanghai sweets saying that they were for her baby girl.

And what was the Wife’s reaction? Well, with a stern face, she simply said, “Oh I don’t like her, she is too beautiful. That’s why the home is a mess. I don’t want her! Tell her not to come from tomorrow.”

The next day I heard the familiar words echoing loudly “I don’t have a maid and no bothers about this poor lady”
And the saga continued….

 

Venu Rao
Partner
Peacock Group

Heron’s Greed

The morning walk at the scenic Kaikondahalli Lake was relaxing, mind so refreshed on seeing the wonderful birds taking flight around the manmade island in the centre. The cackle of the red beaked water fowls added to the serene settings, not noisy but genteel. The nearby Heron was best on its acting skills, it just stood so still, even a rock statue would get a big complex seeing the bird unmoving! The other birds especially the cormorant was playing diving games on and off nearby. The water beetles were gliding on the glassy water surface while the red wattle lapwings were screeching merrily near the Heron. The raucous racket didn’t affect the statue bird one bit, in its steadfast steady gaze. No distractions nor diversions what so ever. What an actor of a bird!! I was the curious by stander watching the fun, bit funny yet unsure and wondering if the bird will ever make the slightest motion. Eons passed. Out of the blue actually grey water, a big cormorant dashed out with a silver fish strapped in, struggling to get out of the clutches of the strong beak. The Heron could not resist seeing the glistening treat to be; and it moved to see the catch and the commotion!! Aha, the food can be a big bait? No wonder the smartest fishes fall prey to the hook.

The lake was opposite my Srinivasa apartments, quickly crossed over and got ready for the big client meeting at 10am. Navigating the smooth (in dreams) Bangalore traffic is a bigger challenge than presenting the concepts to the client. I got into the car, took a U turn and was passing the lake again on the left. Taking a quick glance at the island, I stole those few extra seconds on the side glance thinking about the Heron actor and the hapless fish. In those stunning seconds of distraction, I scraped the white taxi which zipped up in front!! Typical bumper to bumper traffic. Felt the gentle nudge of the scrape on my bonnet, my mistake entirely. Saw the one inch blue mark of my car paint on his white bumper. Persian blue. The young taxi driver rolled down his glass; spat out and sent a rousing invective at me. He was most respectable in the negative without even judging my mature middle aged look. So much for a suave look and feel. Hmm. All crushed in a jiffy. My response was immediate, with folded hands, I nodded and signalled to say- so sorry. Offered to stop on the side to sort out matters. He went further red and raised a respectable middle finger further……OMG, do I need this before the big meeting. Yes, indeed have to go through the motions, no escape…benefits of a big bad city life. Alas.

We pulled over, he greeted me with a guttural North Karnataka Cush word- Goobe, told him that the police station is just 500 metres and to be respectful. The word Police seemed to be the healer to his arrogance and rogue outlook. He showed me the scratch and demanded that we go to the mechanic to ascertain the damage; expenses to be coughed by me- the great car basher cum marauder. In my most polite way, I offered him Rs 500 for the scratchy touch up. He would not agree. I raised to rs 1000 after few more minutes, it was like a feeling when you want to run to the loo badly, any short cut would help, albeit pay more cash in this situation. It was not going well at all. He repeated the same lingo with a wicked twist in the lip- lets go to the mechanic. I raised the sum to Rs 1000. Bargaining was getting to be my second nature. A bad one at that, wish the MBAs of the world enlighten me. I just wanted to scoot from there, loosing time for the appointment. Desperation aka looking for a loo with a full bladder.

The traffic constable came across seeing the commotion, sweetly enquiring about the drama unfolding. He inspected the scratch works, and gave his verdict- sir “ Isstu jaasti kudbeda” just pay rs 500 and its done. Oh, I over did it then was my immediate reaction. I looked at the driver who was drooling with rage and faulty evil emotion. He would not budge. He gave a look at the constable who melted into an ice lolly. Desperation was spreading sideways like un-vented exhaust fume, I raised the sum to rs 2000. Take it man and let go was my humble meek prayer. The stunned cop was aghast. He told, Sir that’s a ridiculous sum for a simple scratch! The greedy driver said no to that too!! He still wanted to visit the elusive car painter. I was in a coma. Mind fogged, unable to think what my clients from Intel were going to respond to my perfect sense of timing. Giving the famous traffic as an excuse was my final straw. Every one blames the Bangalore traffic, the most punched and hated bag in the state.

A white silvery motor cycle stopped next to my side, I thought I saw the silvery fish again in the cormorant’s mouth. No it was the white traffic helmet of the inspector. He gave a kindly typical Bangalorean smile and enquired the action going on the busy road slowing the traffic considerably. I blurted my mistake and narrated the string of events that unfolded, fully accepting my responsibility. With authority and wisdom of many years of road knowledge, he examines the half inch scratch on the bumper. I repeated. Sir, am ready to give him rs 2000, but let me go now, am really late, some ten people are waiting for me. Inwardly I didn’t want to grease another few thousand quid to this man was my immediate thought. Fingers and toes crossed.

Then the grand decision came- Sir, just go. Not a single paisa to that rascala. I couldn’t believe what I heard! It was the silver fish flashing in my mind again and the Heron in me moved and quivered. Albeit delightfully.

The look of hatred and disgust on the drivers face could have easily fetched an Oscar if he were nominated, but he withheld his frustration and pleaded with the police officer. I got in and started to drive, saw the chap closely following me. I winced, oh another episode down the road! To my double delight, the inspector was right behind monitoring for another 3 kms. The driver turned into a modern day Medussa, spat some more vicious venom and turned right to his destination where ever that would be. I moved on straight and saluted the officer. He acknowledged gracefully with a gentle flourish – “have nice day gesture”.

Thank you Bangalore police
Venu Rao
25th May 18.

THE MAHARAJA’S RUBY

Mrs. Nilu Curtis had the graciousness of a perfect host and the skills of a wonderful chef. I could not resist my temptation for the plump roast chicken, dripping with brown sauce and glistening rosemary leaves. The black mushrooms and baby roast potatoes added to the sinful richness of the dish, with heavenly smelling garlic bread and rice pilaf complementing the chicken. The Sandur hills, as the backdrop to the lively dining hall, added an ethereal charm to the entire dining experience. These hills are world famous for their Manganese and iron ores.

Mr. John Curtis wasa fine gentleman,with impeccable table manners. He even ate his chapatti with a fork and knife and wiped his mouth delicately with a serviette, while I wolfed down the delicacies with my fingers. As they say, in the presence of great food, etiquette is left way behind sometimes.  Mrs. Curtis,joyous to see me enjoy her food, offered some more. Her delicate features and the charming grace reminded me of the beautiful star Sharmila Tagore. She lived the mantraAthithiDevoBavaand caring for guests came naturally to her.

The local area abounded with great tales and folklore, and Mr. JC was a great storyteller. He had taken over the management for renovation of the Sandur palace, soon to be converted into a heritage hotel. My time spent with him was laced with memorable anecdotes. Once, he was stuck in the Hampi forests during a heavy down pour,with his car was almost submerged. Nilu, with mounting tension, started praying, while he tried to negotiate the river road!!  Water, gushing in from all sides,threatened to reach the seats. They were stuck for three hours with the engine refusing to start. With the water level rising steadily, he had to deploy all his driving skills learnt at the Bangalore racing tracks to finally get them out of the waters.  As I was thinking, “what an amazing escape”, he went on to narrate another story.

The next day, he took me for a visit to the Palace. The central dome was both imposing and welcoming as we drove through the gilt edged gates. The long drive would provide a good arrival experience for the guests, passing through the fountains. The Maharaja and Maharani suites were charming and spacious overlooking the vast rolling lawns and the pool.  The reception hall was, in fact, the main living space for the Maharaja Gorpade. The lady in bronze, with a parrot perched on her shoulder, smiled at me!  The central courtyard, which opened to the sky, was charming. I could see the whisky bar across,adorned with majestic portraits and a grand pool table in the centre. Well, the action is here, I thought – drink and play. The pool caught my fancy. As I dash to get a better view past the pool, I saw something very different and unique. It was a tiny grave with a small tombstone. Unable to control my curiosity any further, I asked, “Will someone please throw some light on what these graves are doing here, right in the middle of the magnificent lawns. Surely, the Raja would have a very good reason for this.” JC replied, “Sir, it’s the pet grave yard and the main star was Ruby, the loved golden retriever. He was the Raja’s biggest weakness.” The epitaph read- ‘Here rests my Unforgettable Ruby.’

As JC narrated the relationship between the Raja and Ruby, my mind wandered back and recreated the scene in the courtyard. “Oh where’s my Ruby? That naughty fella… forever onto mischief. I tell you, one of these days he will get all of us in trouble. Look he is so skinny, at this rate he will turn into a skeleton! Why, is there a food shortage in our palace?” the Raja asked.

“Your highness, Ruby refuses to eat from any one but your good self. He paws the food away, and he even tried to bite the head servant Mr. Hallappa, and scratched his face the other day”, said the maid. Hearing this, the Raja replied with a look of loving annoyance on his face, “I have some urgent court matters to look into and this stupid dog has to throw tantrums just now? That little scoundrel…Ok bring him here and I will feed him”. The ensuing scene was very funny, both the master and the pet playing games and cuddling away. The Raja spent a full hour, forgetting the time and important matters that lay in wait for him. Ruby was happy,his little pink snout twitching with glee.

The gleaming Mercedes halted for the Raja, he sat on the back seat majestically and waved his hand to say, “Go”. In jumped Ruby and perched on his lap. “My little devil, what’s this dirt all over your paws.Give them to me, let me clean them up. I don’t like your habit of running all over the muck, you little scoundrel,” chided the Raja lovingly. Ruby sure got royal treatment. The chauffeur was busy concentrating on the pot-holed road, not paying much attention to the drama unfolding inside between the master and the pet, as this wasthe daily scene.

The Sandur Manganese Board was in attendance for the Maharaja to tackle some difficult issues that were being tabled. The general mood was that the company should protect the staff from inflation. The Raja ordered a free ration scheme for all employees to protect them inflation, reiterating that the well being of the miners was his top priority.  Just as the meeting was concluding, in came Ruby, wagging his tail. The Raja lifted him lovingly and off they went to their world of playing and petting.

A few months later Maharaja’s health took a sudden turn for the worse, causing everyone to worry. “Ranimaji, I am afraid the Maharaja’s health is deteriorating, we need to shift him to Bangalore. The facilities are better there and the treatment suggested is very effective and elaborate,” said the chief of the palace administration.  After few weeks of uneasy stay in Bangalore, the Raja’s health still did not improve, and his craving for Rubygrew. The Raja missed his naughty pranks and love. The yearning grew stronger, and many a times he wouldn’t even touch his dinner plate! Meanwhile, Ruby, as quiet as a sick mongoose, would be seen near the pool deck staring at the Maharajas suite pitifully. Ruby’s diet was just some milk taken erratically. All the playfulness had vanished and the palace staff felt the soulful whimpering. Many a times, he would be seen besides the throne in the Durbar hall, the majestic stuffed animals didn’t seem to frighten him nor did the awesome display of swords and guns. With a fading look in his eyes, Ruby continued to yearn for his master.

One day, the driver parked the dog van besides Ruby’s kennel and called out for him. Ruby peeped out and ran back inside. “Ruby, come baby,” Called out the driver, “Our Highness wants you in Bangalore, be ready for a nice long ride, and I will give you a juicy bone”. Ruby ignored him and looked the other way. Any amount of cajoling or pushing proved futile. Ruby wouldn’t budge, for he was made of a sterner stuff, engrossed at looking at his master’s bedroom above.

The driver went to the head servant and said, “I will have to sedate him and tie him up as there is no other means.” The head servant, aghast, replied, “His Highness will definitely not like it you fool, remember his fondness for the pet. Wait, I have a better idea that is sure to work,” and he whispered into the driver’s ears.  The driver’s eyes brightened as he rushed out happily.

The gleaming Mercedes stopped in front of Ruby’s kennel after an hour and in he jumped happily, wagging his tail.

Venu Rao
Director – Peacock Hospitality.