FAMOUS FIVE CAPTS

The cook out party was in full swing along with the spiritual flow.  During that time period, Manoj Mathew’s uncle had a huge bungalow off Cunningham road in the quiet by lanes.  However, if one travels to Cunningham Road in the present times, you would spot the Fortune Cosmos Hotel in place of that bungalow.  Realizing the family was away for a while, we seized the opportunity to have a ball of a time! Sandy Nayak was enjoying the tender succulent pork pieces from the famous Pandi curry, cooked expertly in a mud pot by MG Ravi. He is from Coorg and learnt the perfect recipe from his mom. He was a popular steward in our Southern Comfort coffee shop at the Taj Residency. We were the budding hoteliers, still learning the ropes, having been recruited after the Cat colleges. It was our off day; somehow we conspired and managed to take it on the same day. We four boys were roommates living at Viveknagar near post office, having rented a two-bedroom house at a princely sum of Rs 250. There was the Kashmiri handsome hunk Harish Rangroo from Memories of China restaurant, Nicky, Banquets, Manoj, Jockey Club, hero Sanjay Goel, the look alike of Ajay Devgan from coffee shop. Sandhya from Cake shop and myself under room service. All key outlets represented.

The morning was spent in leisure, the usual haunt was Brigade road, we were parading up and down the stretch with helmets in our hands like big racers. Little did people know, that we owned pidly mopeds which always struggled to start and got defeated easily by a speedy cycle! Thereafter some chilled beer at Church street Pub owned by one of the regulars at Taj, Mr Ashok Sadhwani.  Lunch was at the Kohinoor mappila restaurant known for its kuska and chicken kebabs clubbed with matthi meen fry. By four I had a brain wave, “Let’s go to our Taj cake shop boys, Sugar and Spice where everything is nice”. Harish said, “Sala, kyon Sher ke mooh Mein shir dal rahe ho, if MK see us, your day will be made”. The beer took the effect already, it emboldened us four boys adequately to shoo him away! We promptly landed at the cake shop with our Chests puffed up of course!  Sandy’s reliever Anita Fernandez was watching helplessly while we gorged on yummy pastries, raising a ruckus. “What does he think by putting us on 15-hour shift, bonded labourers? “Someone asked. Every one nodded in agreement with their mouths stuffed, making hmm/ ha sounds. As a result, mutiny and revolt plans were hatched at that specific moment. None of us noticed the warning signs from Anita, slowly a voice came from the door.

“Hey boys, good fun eh? great to see every one relaxed! How come all five caps are off on the same day? “Said Ms Jacky Bond, the assistant manager, Banquets. I instantly remembered -Spy who loved me, the famous blockbuster. We ran for life to the Kamadhenu hotel opposite the Taj with laser lights under our heels. Zip. Ordered masala dosas with extra kempu chutney in dire straits. Finishing them in a second, we lit our ciggies at the pan shop, puffing and huffing. Calculating the next day’s Mis-En-Scene (read preservation strategies).

Back to the cook out party scene, we fine-tuned our plans over some more beer. It was my turn to drop Sandy home at Malleswaram. My Avanti Garelli moped didn’t have GPS, so promptly got lost for about two hours, mind was already stressed on the impending fire crackers show the next day.

There was a furore at the morning F&B meeting, each of our outlet managers were dressed down, neatly filleted, and gently broasted. Spitting venom, my own immediate manager Aziz Athiculla gave me a ‘look’ and said. “Well super Cap Venu, your weekly offs stand cancelled for a month. When they resume, we will make sure that none of your pals will be giving you company at the cake shop. All weekly offs charted out already. German precision at work, I swallowed hard and tried to resist, but failed. The stewards were having a free show and I didn’t like it one bit. Especially from that naughty waiter Kenneth Andrews; grinning slyly. He was my ever tormentor, would purposely delay tea orders since I wouldn’t give him fat dinner trolley orders. A-ha, the spy lady did accomplish the espionage mission quite successfully! I was planning revenge- should it be dish wash chemical, perhaps steaming oil, or a blunt bent room service dinner knife? Slow torture.

Just then the big boss PKMK waded into the room service area amongst the din. I was ready to scoot once again. All the 1857 great mutinies vaporised in a flash. He smiled at me sweetly, patting my shoulder and enquired of the morning rush. “I am very happy with you, there were zero complaints past one week, keep up the nice work”. I lost my colour, knew he was mocking, but thanked him with a guilty shy head nod. He moved on few steps, turned back with a glint in his eyes; asking casually, “BTW hope you enjoyed chef Prasanna ’s yummy Choco chip pastries”.

Venu Rao

22nd  September 2020.

BRUNO

 

Dobermann pinschers are complicated characters – they are either downright cranky or annoyingly one-person dogs. My friends had warned me against getting the breed. But, when I saw the scrawny little fellow all wrapped up in a cloth, I was floored. I would have mistaken him for my month-old daughter, if it were not for the little tail sticking out. He was chocolate dark while my girl is gorgeously dusky. Two bundles of joy! How cool was that? The maid brought a milk bottle to feed him. He did not know how to suckle, so she patiently taught him. Gurgling and whimpering, the little fellow tried his best. A few days passed quickly tending to his needs.

I was shocked when I learnt that a Dobermann’s tail had to be docked! I resisted tooth and nail, but with no success as my father-in-law, Mr Nadkarni, was firm. He explained that it was in the medical interest of the dog. The dreaded day arrived. Bruno panicked and passed urine when the tail got severed – I still can’t forget those mourning noises he kept making all day, in different pitches. He was in my arms and looked pathetic, vying for all the attention in the world – a drama king in the making. I named him Bruno that day – not sure why, but for me he was the ‘brown boy’ in the rain, Tra La la..

Baby’s best friend

He grew by leaps and bounds over the next few months, proving to be quite a handful with a whole lot of tricks up his stumped tail. He would steal milk from my baby; if there wasn’t any left, he would lick her face all over. The girl would make little sounds of glee! He would curl up beside her on the divan and place his snout promptly next to her diaper, heavenly smells of midnight lilies, I wonder! Every time we tried to remove him, there would be combined sirens from the two little rascals.

In the next four months or so, he grew bigger and heavier, his mischief multiplied by a hundred times. It was a full-time job for the Mom-in-law Mrs Sumitra to keep him at bay. We finally took the services of a police dog trainer whom Bruno hated dearly. The trainer was a tough master – seeing him, Bruno would run to me pleading and trying all stunts to evade him. With no chance of escaping, he would perform all the lessons he had learnt in one go, and scoot out of our villa. He was adept at performing the hind leg act majestically – standing up on them while doing a Namaste with his paws. He always had a loveable smile plastered across his face. This turned into his biggest USP, all the visitors would bring him special goodies, in return for the exclusive Bruno welcome. He was a millionaire by all standards, with an abundance of dog bones in his kennel.

His senses were sharp. In the mid-nineties, RT Nagar was considered the outskirts, as compared to my city centre work place at Taj Residency on MG Road. I would ride my Hero Honda for 12 long kms, returning late nights often. At the PCTC army corps gate, I used to take a right turn which was about three-quarters of a km from home.  Bruno would start barking in a different manner and my folks would know that I would be arriving pretty soon. Our house also had a lot of open ground around with plenty of snakes. Bruno would smell them immediately and bark in a ferocious manner, giving us a heads up. Viper arrival, beware.

Many happy months slipped by and he turned a year-old. Big and strong, his muscles rippling. He was vying for far more attention than our girl, trying to nudge her out, asking us to carry him instead! He would snuggle besides her given a chance and push her off in a one-sided competition. The girl would raise a ruckus. We were getting worried. The decision to move him into the kennel, came from the boss. I had many sleepless nights hearing Bruno’s sad wails, as he sang in different Beethoven symphonies, and even as if in a Zubin Mehta orchestra! It was insurmountable misery.

Of barks, greets and tricks

The morning walks were, however, like a skating rink experience. Bruno was taller than me and would drag me as per his whims – I simply didn’t have enough strength to control him. All the other street or pet dogs on the P&T Quarters roads would make way for this Hitler in the making. There wouldn’t be even a single yelp from them, till he moved on with his nose up in the air.

One evening a colleague of mine from Taj, Sanjay Goel, and his wife Archana, came to visit us. As they rang the bell, we heard Bruno’s friendly bark. I had instructed him to behave and not to beg for goodies in his Namaste style. I came down from the mezzanine living room, cracking open the door so that our canine friend wouldn’t get in. Lo! He was excitedly frothing and going crazy besides them. As soon as Sanjay pushed the door wider to shake hands, I saw Bruno slip in slyly and gallop up the stairs. Seconds later, we heard a loud thud from above. He had landed full force on the divan where the baby was sleeping! Not a sound or a cry came out, it was all quiet.

I broke into a cold sweat and ran up the stairs, my heart pounding in my mouth. There he was, grinning at me with his head next to the baby’s bum while she was smiling and cooing gently, creating gurgling gibberish sounds.

German dogs are mad buggers; Bruno was an extra special specimen. He would scratch his face with his silly paws or try to bite his limbs, just to while away some time. I used to give him chirputlees (a tight finger snap on his mouth or stubby nose). He would stop for a few moments and get back to it, as soon as he made sure I was busy with something else.

One day, I was tending to the round cement fish tank at the garden while Bruno was busy chasing the frogs away. After a while, he got bored of them. He came and sat next to me, watching the gold fish. I was immersed in cleaning the four-feet tank, when I caught him biting his hind thigh. I yelled. He stopped, ran around the garden and settled down a few feet away. I resumed my deep cleaning when I heard him yelp. I turned just in time to see him in a big pool of blood! In those few minutes, he had bitten himself so hard that the artery had snapped and blood was gushing out like a fountain. I pressed my handkerchief to the wound, but to no avail. Bruno collapsed. Seeing such a big pool of blood, my head spun and I fainted.

I was awakened, God knows how many minutes later, by the gentle splash of water from a worried MIL. She was petrified to see both the heroes unconscious on the ground. I gathered myself up groggily and touched Bruno. He did not move, and was barely breathing. The three of us heaved him up into the car to the GKVK vet hospital nearby…

A lot changed that day. Memories of the unconditional love he gave us bring a big broad smile each time; even to this day. We miss his cheerful, loving antics and a full life of exuberance.

Venu Rao

7th September 2020

Tusker Trumpet

Vasundhara, Ravi and I entered the famous lush green Masinagudi forests by noon. The road ahead curved gently while the trees were passing us in slow motion letting out silver streaks of light, a hide and seek scintillating effect. They smiled at us welcomingly. All our jagged frayed city nerves were beginning to sooth down as the mesmerising scenes unfolded. The hordes of deer darting across, the peacocks dancing and prancing around completed the picture. We saw a baby elephant looking at us in confusion from the road side while its mother prodded him to behave and ignore our existence. The fresh air on our faces comforted the further thought of meeting the college class mates at our destination. There was Vanathy fondly called as Ooty Rani, Arup, the garment tycoon, Kasi, the great bike racer, an expert foreign two wheeler dealer. Last but not the least was Panneer, the Yule Briner from Pennsylvania. He’s the most successful restaurateur owning the landmark Udupi house in Philly for over two decades.

We arrived at the elegant Monarch resort owned by the famous Bollywood star Mithun Chakraborty. Vanathy, the carbon copy of yester year Tollywood actress Vanishree was at the reception dressed in a killer lace and chiffon churidar set. She flashed a million Pavala malli fragrant smile, while our bangalore beauty Vasundari did a jig, giving the famous Mysore mallige tooth sparkle. We were all blinded and I quickly put on my coolers in a swift reflex action.

Next morning, the walk at the picturesque Moyyar falls was quite an adventurous trek amongst rocky slopes. Mr Melky, the ever smiling head constable deputed by Vanathy’s husband, the Ooty additional superintendent of police. Being a local lad, he navigated us expertly through the narrow precipices. He then brought us to a vantage place with an amazing view of the falls. Majestic. If one looked down, there would be a two thousand feet free fall. Heads sure to spin. Vasundhara looked dazzled and was feeling quite elated. Face glowing. In a poetic style, she said “Listen guys, I feel like a taking a bungee jump now without any support whatsoever!” I know people would lose their senses sometimes at the breathless beauty around, but why is our lass thinking suicidal? Beats me!! Immediately, Arup and Kasi tied her to a tree nearby, securely away from the precipice. You see safety is the best policy. She was laughing but yelling, “hey crackpots, I said in jest”, we didn’t want to take any chances.

The steep Vinch at Mayor village took us down rapidly from a height of 2000 feet. It was a wooden katola kind of receptacle. We were sitting in a funny 60-degree angle, clutching at the hand rails. Paneer’s knuckles were turning white due to his tight grip. His teeth were clenching with mortal fear writ large on his smooth chiselled face. Luckily he was bald, or else we would be witnessing some hair raising spectacles, before reaching the river below. We ragged him endlessly, but not a sliver of whisper from the American Indian. The water turbines were roaring when the piped water was falling on the blades with a great gusto. We got to see some of the intricacies of this electric generation station, while our friend was clasping his ears, almost closing the eyes. To distract his attention, we led him to the quiet sub stream which was 250 metres away. There showed him some nice VAAMs (long fin eels) swimming smoothly. We were then served tender coconut water by the boy. We chatted for some more time while reminiscing our nice memories.

On our way back, we stocked up from the Tasmac for the evening gala BBQ planned. I was getting restless to take a cool plunge at the pool facing the Gorilla mountain. The other guys zipped on the resort’s cycling track, while the beauties gossiped nonstop, keeping a mindful eye on the BBQ mis-en-place by the F&B team. The nip in the air added to the excitement, I was shivering from the cold water dip. All seemed fair and smooth, very soon the fire was crackling with a zeal, lighting up all our content happy faces. Ah nice.

Cocktails were flowing, baby BBQ snacks adding a smack to the tasty tinge. Chicken chettinad roast on the grill was an innovation, with it masala dripping and sputtering over charcoals. Tasted heavenly!!  We started dancing around the camp fire imitating the local Toda dancers. Ravi performed a lungi dance. We were acting like college kids, not of 55 plus, pulling each one others legs with the bygone college incidents. Fun. Rani’s mobile rang. The beautiful face contorting with each hmm and haa. Looked a clear SOS. “Just hang in there, will reach in half an hour before the gates close, its getting dark, don’t step out of the car on any emergency”. She turned, “My friend Kirtana and her daughter are driving from Hyderabad to Ooty, their car is stuck inside the Karnataka border forest. “Can’t leave them. Enjoy all of you, will be back in a second”.  She got up straitening her designer red Theni churidar set with golden laces flowing around. Vasundhara replied, “How can we let you go alone mad woman”? Soon we all jumped into her red BMW.

Vanathy was driving, assuming command, she said, “No camera flashes, cigarette butts or whistles what so ever. We go silently, swoosh them up and return to the party”. Paneer was nodding from the front seat. The rapidly declining dusk light was playing hide and seek with the trees zipping by. The jackals were out howling, while the deer gangs were cautiously returning to their hideouts. The scene was serene. Silent whispering and breathings in the car added to the charm. They were standing beside the car!! “Get into the rear car fast, you silly guys!” thundered Ooty Rani

We were softly speaking; munching chips cautiously, so that they don’t make crackling sounds. The red BMW was like a ship, comfy and steady, cruising smoothly. The doe eyes were shining in the bright headlights, she turned them to dim mode. We drove another five kilometres, ensuring the rear car is in sight and following rules. What did we see in the middle of the road, after taking a gentle curve turn??   It was a huge tusker!  He was standing about eight feet ahead and we felt as if he decided to step on to the road as if to play a traffic police! Vanathy brought the BMW to a complete halt! We could see his tusk gleaming, as if it was polished specially for this rendezvous!

 

She murmured, “lets switch off the engine and remain silent”. Kasi Reddy said otherwise, “just keep the engine idle, he will know that this is another big animal purring. He is sure to size up the car against his own girth and decide the future course of action thereafter”. She nodded in concurrence, but mistakenly pressed the accelerator instead. BOOM!!! it made a loud sound, much to the annoyance of the tusker. As a result, his eyes roved wildly, he took three steps forward however he stopped right there to give a thought! Vanathy’s adrenaline hit tree tops, thinking of the next day’s headline- ‘Police chief’s wife and friends crushed by wild elephant’!  Paneer clenched his teeth and lurched towards the dash board hitting hard. Stay still was the uttering from the captain. We were concentrating on his eye, clearly visible in the dim light. Ten agonising seconds slid by, both the parties unmoving. Paneer had a bright idea, he took his cell phone and clicked. Flash. He gave a low trumpet and moved another 4 steps, ready to charge, trunk lifted, sizing up the red BMW again and wondering if this metallic animal is any stronger or bigger than him? Vanathy was furious, she gave a hard knock on the bald head!  a bulb appeared on his head instantly.  We didn’t know whether to cry or laugh at that moment. With Hearts in our  mouth, we waited for the grand decision!  For us it was now too late to reverse. He would be on us in a matter of seconds. I turned to check the rear car, they were about 15 feet behind, slowly yet silently backing up. Another agonising ten seconds passed. I softly mentioned the killing words to Vasun, “May be you would have been better off jumping into those Moyar falls, rather than getting crushed under a jumbo. At least you would have had a nice levitating free fall experience with the scenery below”. She pinched me hard, drawing instant blood. I had no other option but bite my tongue mutely.

The tusker’s eye was roving again, after Eons of seconds, it shut. With a loud trumpet, he took another 3-4 quick steps forward in a charge mode. We held our breath, waiting for the Corona curve to be flattened. All of a sudden, he turned to the right side stepping into the hedges! Lifted his trunk yet again and trumpeted loudly, giving a Go now look….

The party mood fell flat on returning…. while silent prayers were still reverberating!!

 

Venu Rao

20th August 2020.

PARSIMONY

Life as a room service manager those days was extremely satisfying, but pretty hectic and stressful. Imagine serving hundreds of breakfasts in the rooms between 8 and 9:30 am! We would have a little lull before the storm at 7:30 am, having sent those millions of bed teas. The Taj’s promise of serving tea in three minutes flat was the most challenging task for me. Lift pantries was an idea floated, but not much avail. Some shoe string guests would add on to the woes by asking for hot water and lime wedges, to be had with the tea bags they had brought from home!

The ‘In Room Dining’ (IRD) kids are a lucky lot, nowadays, as they have the convenience of a sumptuous coffee shop breakfast buffet, easing their ops! I was always tired, yet sharp from the previous day’s dinner sessions, which would finish at midnight most times. 

The Taj believed in VIP courtesies – a rule written on stone. Pamper them with all kinds of trollies, platters, multi decks, et all. All individual likes /dislikes had to be taken into consideration and written prominently on the notice board. 

The VIP parties in the suites delicately arranged on the candle-lit trollies was another life shortner. I had developed quite a few strands of grey curls at the ripe age of 26 years. They would end up standing like steel spikes with all the tension.

One step above was the VVIP guest, either corporate super weights or Taj bosses like Mr Ajit Kerkar. My F&B manager, Mr Mohan Kumar, would go red in the ears and cheeks when he was expected – he would literally be on the frying pan while we were hung just above the fire. His handsome face would have developed a solid jaw, stiff with steel nerves for those few lucky days. 

The VIP trollies contained well thought out assortments of imported liqueur, soft drinks, exotic fruits (mangosteen, dragon fruit and japani phal), Swiss chocolates, et all. The inspections from the boss was another game of thrones!! However, for me there was an exception to these VIP visits – Mr JRD Tata. The moment I would hear of his arrival, all my tension would automatically evaporate and I would eagerly wait to see his gentle, kind face. I was always asked to escort him into his room. 

As per standard Taj SOP, I had to explain the string of goodies lined up. He would say, “Venu, my young man, I have no interest in all this pampering, just leave a couple of warm water flasks. Yes, a very light dinner tonight. You know my tastes. I will quickly go down to say hello to your GM, N.R. Daruwala”. NRD was my most fav GM during my entire Taj stint of 12 years.

“Yes, Sir I will bring your favourite Mumbai khichdi, along with warm milk mixed with haldi (turmeric, now an all-time favourite, thanks to Corona) and honey,” I would say. I would then send a quick pager update to my boss MK and hope that he would go home, since the next day was going to be a mini Tsunami.

The scene during the morning F&B session would be one of theatrical excitement – red cheeks and ash trays filling up rapidly. “Listen boys, Mr JRD is hosting a dinner meeting for Mr Xerxes Desai at Vijaynagar hall. He is the MD of Titan watches, a Tata company. What’s more, our own Mr Ratan Tata has graciously accepted the invite.” Boss would say. 

“Venu, escort him to the Richmond suite and check the amenities personally.” He ordered. More trollies! I replied, “Sir, he is also like our JRD; doesn’t care for those fancy trollies, except some cut fresh fruits, maybe.” 

“I know that my dear room service manager, however we need to show our respect and courtesies, which you know so well,” and with that the smart man would give me the ‘you dumb head’ expression’.

The big moments for me were always those few minutes before the actual start of the event. The Tata bosses would always come early to have a chat with us boys. 

I received Mr Ratan Tata at the entrance of the Iconic Vijayangar hall, famed for its massive mahogany carved pillars. I was promoted as a personal valet for the two gentlemen for that eclectic dinner. “Venu, you are here again, we just met in my room with your famous fancy but unending trollies.” Mr Tata teased me and held my wrist. 

Looking down at my wrist, he asked. “Oh, you don’t have a watch? Don’t like wearing one eh?” He teased me again. I replied shyly, “Sir, my wife works at Titan, she is vice president Mr Amitha’s secretary who is helping us get a big discount on the upcoming moon phase watch being launched in a month.” 

He nodded and gave a don’t worry gesture. He chatted with us for some more time. Don’t ask me how and what happened, but my wife presented the watch a few days later! Inexplicable.

Dinner was served, I ensured that I was just a discrete shadow of Mr JRD. Every slight turn of his would bring me to him promptly. Dessert was announced. Arputraj, the master coffee cocktail barman made an amazing presentation in front of the guests. Applause. Mr JRD turned and I was there next to him in a flash. “Venu, don’t feel up to a heavy dessert. Can you give me something light?” It was strawberry season. 

“Sir, may I bring some fresh strawberries with roasted almond ice cream,” I asked. His face lit up in appreciation. The shining EPNS cup landed in less than three minutes. Wah Taj! He finished the ice cream quickly, with the berries were still half eaten. He asked for more ice cream. I served him just a half scoop, knowing that he is a light eater and I am responsible for his health. Gone too soon, he asked for some more cream! I served him again a half scoop. He looked up smiling and said, “Well my boy, why are you so parsimonious?” There was silence. I blinked for a moment, but replied very confidently, “Sir this is English almond ice cream, not the Parsi style!!”

There was a thunderous laugh from all the dignitaries, I didn’t know which way the lightning struck. I stood there paralysed and stiff, with enough passive strength to bite my tongue hard. One glistening tear made a secret entry. Still smiling, he said, “My boy parsimonious means being stingy and not my Parsi style.” He patted my hand reassuringly.

That one-word advice of a life time from the great man had struck a chord that very instant; well I would be a wordsmith one day…

 

Venu Rao

5th August 2020.

BIDAR KOTA VENKANNA

Short, fair and strikingly handsome, these features were enough for people to take a second glance at him while he crossed them. That’s the loving impression of my paternal Grandpa. Popularly called as Beedhar Kote Yenkanna avaru, well respected yet equally feared, for he was a man of strong action. One wrong deed, they were sure to invite his wrath with dire consequences. At the same time, people used to flock to him for help and guidance, for he was a very generous man despite his profession. Whenever someone used to beg him to reduce the instalment payments due to difficulties, he used to assess these requests cautiously. If the case was genuine, he would go to the extent of writing off the loan. He was a Money lender with a golden heart. If there was a hanky panky turn observed, then God help the naughty chap!! Skinning them would be an understatement!!

Hunting tools
Grandpa’s hobbies and gaming activities were much more vibrant and well known to all. A great hunter, famous for his sharp shooting skills. We used to wait for his return anxiously. After all , there would  be exotic meats on the dinner table, be it pheasants, wild boar or a deer. Those days there was no restriction on deer hunting. Grandma was an expert in producing dry salted meats from these. He was about fifty during my primary school days. Robust and rippling with sturdy muscles, looking like a champion wrestler in saffron dhotis and red pagris. His Grey handle bar moustache would complement the magnetic persona.

We kids used to visit during the winter holidays, Bidar was too hot in summers. He used to repair and service his hunting tools himself and wouldn’t trust anyone touching them. Hunting was his first love. The variety of arms in his hunting kit were unique and varied, be it the single barrel gun, bows /arrows, catty or traps (quite funny yet dangerous looking ones). There were some interesting fishing nets and rods. One afternoon, I saw him at his repair session and joined to watch the fun. His mind would be so focussed. He was explaining the parts of a trap used normally to catch small animals such as the restless yet furtive baby wild boars. The SOP explained in detail. It had a strange long arm and a short one on the other side with a plate in the centre. Mounted on a small pedestal. The plate would have a bit of food item as a bait. So when the victim pecks on it, the long arm would have flung rapidly, stunning the animal motionless for a minute. Hmm so that’s the working! I was thrilled to gain such exciting knowledge. Must try it out soon.

The opportunity came almost instantly, when he said adjusting his dhoti, “Wait for two minutes, am going to the rest room”. “Yes pa, please go, I will be a good boy, promise not to touch any anything”. I said obediently. The very next moment, I secured the trap, held the long arm in its place, tightened the string and lo, it was ready to strike. Now is the chance to test it quickly. I placed my chin and acted like a little pheasant trying to peck at the plate which was empty! Bang the arm came on my chin, cutting deep. The plate was filled with some good sacrificial blood. I yelled, bringing the house down. You can imagine the commotion, Grandma came running and started shouting at Grandpa, “I say you are killing my boy! That chin mark still remains, an unforgettable gift from Bidar for a life time. Each morning while shaving, it reminds me of the intelligent test.

Krishna Kaka
The usual hunting grounds were the Bidar fort and the Guru Nanak Jhira back yards which were then filled with lush green forests. The famous Narasimha temple located outside the town had abundant wild life on its gentle rolling hills. One had to wade through waist deep water in the long tunnel to gain the Darshan of the lord. Often I was carried by some elder on his shoulder, the thought of something touching my legs would be so scary.

This little story in a story goes thus, many years ago when my own dad was a kid, Grandpa went to the Narasimha forests to hunt. As the typical saying goes, he went further into the forests and got lost chasing a baby deer who was too agile for him. Giving up, he started to get his way back with little success. Thirsty and hungry under intense heat, he was searching for a good shelter. Imagine, a pahelwan (body builder) getting tired!! The situation was quite challenging. Few hours in the hot sun quickly went by, too tired to move, sat down to rest, but he fell into a sleep. He was woken up after an hour by a screaming child cry coming down from a nearby spot by. Behind the dense bushes across, gathering himself up, he went on to find out.

There was a tiny hutment, very tribal yet neatly decorated, very surprising to be right in the middle of the thick forest. The cone shape structure had a little thatch door with colourful bamboo strips. He pushed it and went inside. The child was crying hoarse, he was about three years, saying something in his language. Grandpa looked around the tiny room, there signs of few belongings though. But no one around. Coming out, he noticed a mud Chula and a tattered grass covered bathroom. He walked around a bit more to find out the whereabouts of the parents. Finally, at the edge of the thorn fence, he saw a lady’s silver ankle sticking out of the bushes on the ground. Glittering. Rushing to the spot, he saw a man besides her, lying down motionless. A large swath of foam on their mouths. Dead. He looked around further, he saw the king cobra few feet away, face smashed. The picture was clear, the parents had a bitter struggle. Heart broken, he walked back to the child.

“What’s this? You have brought a little boy instead of deer from hunt return, that too at midnight” Said my Grandma. He narrated the tragic event. We shall call him Krishna, you know he wouldn’t let go off his father’s bamboo flute when I was getting back here. He will match to our Gopal (my dad) in name and deed, raise him well, his parent’s souls will be happy in heaven”.

Krishna Kaka (uncle) was always loving and caring, dancing to my tiny whimsical and unreasonable tantrums. Pampering me to the core. His favourite spot was the Narasimha tunnel temple and the surrounding hills. He used to take me there at every occasion, first he would give me a natural spring bath. The tiny spring was nicely diverted through a man manmade cow mouth giving a mini waterfall effect. Later carrying me on the shoulders while wading through the waist deep waters. It was thrilling, I felt like a horse rider, cheap thrills. Fondly remember the day out cooking picnics thereafter, he was a great chef with game. Supplies from Grandpa of course. The whole family used to spend time tighter sans mobiles, laptops, just the glorious sun rays peeping thru dense trees, making a mesmerising memory on mind. Indelegible.

Cascade in the fort
His favourite space was the fort which was abandoned those days and all the wild boars used to roam freely. Sleep in the fort at night and patrol on the open surrounding wilds in the day, bygone royalty traits still entrenched I guess.  we reached the fort before dusk one day. All the armaments in the kit, fully loaded and ready, I could see the firm expression on his shiny face. We passed the great entrance 40-foot-high dome, a masterpiece of an architecture. The Solah kambah masjid was the next building we passed by, before reaching the huge open court yards. There were remnants of great gardening plans that one could still see amongst the ruins. The Rang Mahal (Colour palace) was adjacent where the Rani ma quarters used to be. He said, “That’s where the game hides at this hour”. He unpacked the kit, took out the rifle, hunter’s knife and a catty. He said, “Wait here, don’t do anything silly. I will be back in ten minutes even if there is no catch”. I nodded like a good boy, waiting for him to go fast, flashing an innocent sweet smile.

I looked around for my own piece of action, had a paper knife tucked inside my shirt. Taking it out gleefully, I walked to the end of the courtyard towards the high wall. I saw the trellis cascade fountain. It looked interesting. Tall and steep. Starting from the ground, it sloped upwards touching the high wall of about twenty-five feet. The two sides had a nice railing kind of a grip while the middle portion had curved lime stone inundations for the water to cascade. This feature must have been a sight then, water gently flowing and bringing joy to all. To me, it looked like a giant play slide, like the one at my convent school. Wow, I must try to go up right till the top and slide down. What fun? I started the climb nimbly holding the rails and used the chipped curves as foot holds. They were actually quite smooth due to many years of neglect and erosion from rain. The climb was getting tough, with the body in an angular form but still fun. A good ten minutes later I managed to climb about twelve feet. A gentle breeze blowing on my face, while the black curls refused to be swayed, which were like stubborn springs, too coily for comfort. I happened to look down, Oh my God, what a great height! Eyes spun. Legs began an immediate tandava Nritya (Celestial Shiva dance). My little hands started to sweat profusely and the rails turned slippery. I slid down a couple of feet, in the melee, face rubbed against the trellis notches, making some nice red designer scratches on cheeks and nose. Phew. I managed to hold tight, unmoving in a frog like positional angle. Mustered little strength to look up to the edge of the high wall, it looked like Mount Everest while the Indian Ocean down was beckoning with its quota of sharks. I better stay put till grandpa arrives, come what may. Salty tears now flushed my chubby cheeks and entered the gashed mouth. It had a funny wild taste, mixed with blood I guess. Fifteen minutes passed by, excruciatingly.  Grandpa, Grandpa, I started yelling, at which I was a champion at. Cursing that I forgot my faithful whistle, a great annoying piece for the neighbours. Neighbour’s curses never go wasted it seemed.

The reply came from below in the form of low growl. I looked down. Teeth barred, it was looking up at me in a much wicked fashion. Furry and ferocious creature. Could it be a wild dog or a fox was the confusion, but nevertheless, legs started trembling, this time aka Michael Jackson’s beat it song.  Finally, the centuries old cascade received some human salt water. Damn again, no diapers. I closed my eyes, with no sign of him; started to pray that the silly animal shouldn’t climb up. I offered my whistle to the God, promising that it’s his keep for life. My predicament was a repeat of the previous week after our fishing trip. The fish bone got stuck in my throat, couldn’t swallow or spit it out.

Bang Bang, the shots were fired. I knew my dear hunter came back. I heard a yelp and saw the fox slump. I was busy kissing his cheeks amidst genuine joy and plenty of Croc tears. He didn’t yell at me.

A half century later I visited my dear fort recently with sister and brother. It has a heritage site tag now, well preserved. The first flash that struck at the parking lot was well? You guessed it right “The cascade”.

I ran. It recognised me instantly, giving that ‘knowing’ smile !
Venu Rao
15th July 2020

 

IGNITING KITCHENS, WITH THE IGNATIUS FLAIR

The fire is the heart of the kitchen. A good kitchen consultant breathes life into to that very fire by creating an exemplary design. The difference between success and failure is the critical path instilled into the design flow, which is the soul of the kitchen.

Ignatius John has brought alive many kitchens with his innovative planning and zeal. He has established his trade mark design in all areas – be it a humongous central kitchen in an MNC or a complex new-age hotel eatery.

Ignatius is a role model for budding planners and a great peer reference for seasoned consultants. What stands him apart is the combination of skill and analytical ability. He has had an impressive career path – rising from a hands-on management trainee after IHM, to becoming an F&B manager, a corporate GM, across stints abroad, the owner of a large catering company (12,000 meals in the mid-90s) to finally becoming a remarkable kitchen designer – his passion and hi-octane profession for a quarter of a century.

He has successfully designed more than 350 kitchens and is a hot favourite, especially among big boys such as Microsoft, Wipro, Oracle, Intel, AIG hospitals, SAP and so on to ‘Ignite’ their kitchens. Twenty-five years on, the flame is still burning bright with renewed vigour.

It is difficult to fit into a few words all that Ignatius is about. However, working with him so closely for the past ten years as a partner at Peacock Group, I will try to give justice to what drives Ignatius and has made him among the top kitchen consultants in the country,

Committed to hard work: For Ignatius, all seven days are packed from 7 AM, without a single dull moment, till 8 PM. He allots each project to the time schedule as per the priority of deliverables. He emphasises on the moto of the Peacock Group, ensuring that equal attention is paid to all projects, regardless of their size. At the outset of a new project, the planning starts with clear vision and time lines.

Ignatius’ attention to detail starts from the word go. The excitement and nervousness never end and every project coming on board is treated as the very first one. He believes that each kitchen should be at least 10 % better than the last one!

Building blocks: Ignatius approaches each project as if they were building blocks: with clear vision, due diligence, space matrix grids, schematic designs and all the steps in the road map. He gathers the critical information during feasibility stage through primary, secondary and tertiary sources.

As the next step he floats a friendly, yet comprehensive, questionnaire to the client. He uses analytical and number crunching techniques to generate valuable data. Systematic workings of meal load calculations, seating capacities, dish wash cycles, CFM/Power loads or the water usage calculations give the required foundations. The knowledge accrued from these becomes the way forward strategy, bringing all stakeholders on a common page.

The space matrix block is the stepping stone, which is actually the pillar of the entire design. In the initial days, I would try to go for the jugular and plunge right into actual kitchen equipment layout without getting the basic matrix worked out. Ignatius would patiently guide me, explaining that the skeleton needs to be in place before the meat is put on. If not followed correctly, it would be like a pack of cards in a Tsunami!

A meticulous planner: Ignatius applies the same amount of dedication and in-depth planning while attending works shops as well. Armed with A3 printouts, PPTs, excel sheets, sketch pens and colourful highlighters, he would be at the workshop with a ready look on his handsome face. It’s a pleasure to see his eloquent presentation skills, making it so easy for all to understand. Nowadays, despite COVID and the virtual stage, his fluid style remains the same.

Once the appropriate approvals are in place, detailed MEP schedules, final drawings, tender documents are generated for further smooth flow of the project. Looks simple right? Well, as they say, you need a brilliant writer to convey something so lucidly! The MEP consultants love him for this hands-on approach. It’s a common saying in design language – If the BOH services are taken care of, the FOH will be heavenly.

Mr MG Kamat, MD of Dhruva Engineering Consultants (DEC) says, “When Mr Ignatius approves, the end result is guaranteed. A person who ‘listens’ is the best engineer, and his best-approach attitude makes him a perfect example.” Ignatius never leaves highly sensitive services to chance. He firmly, yet politely, insist, “Please share your final drawings post our MEP plans, we would like to check if all our requirements are met.” He ensures that all loose ends are tied up neatly, securely.

Always punctual:

Punctuality is an important word in Ignatius’ dictionary. Most of our visits to other cities are hectic day trips. If the meeting is at 10 AM in Mumbai, he would be at the site at 9 AM. His day would have started at 3:30 AM. Funnily, the local team would still be strolling in after he arrives! Looking at this frequent occurrence, I would ask Ignatius to reach the airport at 9 AM, instead of 8 AM, but he would be turn up at 7 AM! Commitment!

The day would proceed smooth and fast since he would have pre-planned the agenda meticulously. MEP queries, site marking checks, clarifications et all – without a single sign of irritation, even if the lunch break is skipped.

Memory is the key: Ignatius is a huge memory reservoir. Despite juggling multiple projects with multiple timelines and at various stages (one may be at DD stage, while the other big assignment would be at the tendering stage), he would recollect the right piece of information and pass it on, effortlessly. Each hour stacking would be judiciously managed and this is possible due to his do-it-yourself attitude and his detailed, logical method.

His equipment knowledge is amazing, he is adept at plugging the ideal piece with the right budget. This is possible due to the constant sharpening skills via research, browsing and meeting vendors in the office or at exhibitions. He would willingly allot time to hear them out even at the expense of his personal discomfort. Mr Pandurang Prabhu, MD of a reputed hood manufacturer company says, “One rare quality we see is that he continuously tries to take feedback from vendors, ensuring that the products are user friendly, for ease of operation.”

Courtesy and simplicity: Ignatius addresses everyone formally as Mr or Mrs, never by first name, even if it is a 20-year-old trainee architect/engineer. He sagely says, “Embrace the current trend, but don’t have to let off the niceties we learned in the hotel industry, addressing all our guests/clients in a formal way. It leads to good business atmosphere”.

Ignatius is always dressed smartly in full sleeves shirts; simple yet respectable. No T-shirts ever for meetings, even with the Friday dress down culture prevalent nowadays. His well-trimmed trademark French beard and a gentle smile are the constants on his face. He travels mostly by auto rickshaw, many a time by overnight busses too. Due to his easy to approach manner, he is often invited for panel discussions, industry lectures and design forums.

Playing hard- The wild side:

Not the social party kind, though. His wild side stems out of his love for nature and great passion for safaris and treks. His greatest stress buster is seeing wild animals in their natural habitat. The safaris take him to faraway exotic destinations including Masaimara, Amboselli, Serengeti etc. The day would start at 6 am, well stocked with binoculars, a simple camera and a Stetson hat. He gets his adrenalin fix from merely gazing at the trees nonstop and observing the game.

He has a jovial set of safari buddies – his besties. Mr Sekhar in the pic above (next to IJ) is a reputed kitchen equipment manufacturer. During one such evening, recently, the friends, over a sun set cocktail at Corbett, were discussing the finer aspects of safari life. The excitement was heavy due to a young tiger sighting with a kill earlier in the morning!

Ignatius was silent; deeply preoccupied, when someone joked whether he was missing his beloved auto cad. He replied, “No, I was just mentally finalising a grand kitchen design for pets and strays, as well. Not the typical preserved foods module, but fresh, hot and healthy.” Everyone laughed and someone commented, “So pal, why not for your much-loved wild animals?”

He, an expert at managing his energies, thoughts and emotions, replied calmly, “Well, I would like them to roam scot free as always, hunt and stay natural as per mother Nature’s design”.

 

Venu Rao
20th July20

 

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.