Friday, September 12, 2008

A thing for Saambaar

I like Sambaar. I like eating it, I like cooking it and there have been times I must confess when I have craved for Saambaar. This is usually when I am travelling and I start resembling a grumpy South Indian man of about forty by day three. A few people have asked me pointed questions if I have any confessions to make regarding my guilty food pleasures- is it chocolate, is it cake, is it chocolate cake? I tend to just give them a crooked smile, a wink and a nod. I am not sure if it is socially acceptable to reply Saambaar. They'd think I was a grumpy old South Indian man of about forty.

And why do I bring this up? I am writing this post sitting in Melbourne's Tullamarine airport waiting for my flight to take me home, and if we were to rewind back to within two hours from t-now you'd have spotted me at Laxmi Vilas Vegetarian Restaurant in Dandenong happily immersing myself in what could well be the most 'dhansooo' Saambaaar in the Southern Hemisphere. With a couple of Vadas to boot. Me content. Me sated. Me back to being a cheerful South Indian man of about twenty nine.

Just the right amount of 'hunnse-hannu' juice, podi like mum makes it, thoda takkali thoda magic. For a few minutes there Melbourne almost equalled Madras.

Monday, September 01, 2008

The Great Ball(s) of China - Jeeban Bhai's Olympic Diary

Wanted to give meself a bit of time to settle down and drown out the effects of the massive games hangover before I did a full length post on mine experiences at the Olymbics.

Summit Chaurasiya (, my esteemed former classmate, purveyor of poetic profanities and philosopher extraordinaire, had he accompanied me to the Games would have summed them up in his typically pithy fashion thus: "Raita Phaila diya chinkion ne." And Raita indeed was phailaoed in unmeasurable quantities in Beijing.

21st August
Minor disappointment upon arrival. Our flight docked itself at Terminal 2. Was really looking forward to checking out the new and 'gajab type' Terminal 3. Ah well, bugger that for a lark! It would take a lot more to put me down. We were picked up by one of the organizing committee reps, put into a fantastic car and shipped to our hotel. All very efficient and well done.

Bhokaal Alert no. 1
En route to the Hotel, I noticed that while our car was zipping along at a reasonable 90kmph on the empty leftmost lane, the other lanes, all three of them were packed with traffic crawling at Abey Kuruvilla like pace. Curiosity was aroused. I asked the driver "Dost, yeh kaisi chaal?"
Aparently one lane on every Beijing road, especially the main highways, had been earmarked for Olympic visitors travelling in specially accredited vehicles. And not one sod had the temerity to even touch this lane with his vehicle. Ah, the joys of unilateral decision making.

The hotel was plush, in the "bahutey mehenga" category with a well endowed Hospitality lounge for Olympics guests - round the clock food, drink, internet, television. I felt like Castro. There was an army of efficient volunteers who handed out our passes, tickets to venues and a list of must do's and absolute dont's. China is a largely unambigious place. There are things that you can do and things which will probably kill you. I had tickets for the Athletics that night. The last bus was leaving at 5pm. Ran into my room, dumped my bags, changed into new T-Shirt especially bought for Olympics, out came the camera and J was ready to go.

Overheard a colleague mention to another colleague, what I think is the understatement of the year. "Theek thaak kiya hai arrangement mere hisaab se."

The bus beat a path down the Olympic lane at a fair rate and within 15 minutes as it snaked up a flyover we spotted the 'Bird's Nest.' There are various theories going around about how the Nest was conceived. Some say that the architect did not have the foggiest as to what he was thinking, some call it a marvel of abstract visualization, some see it not as a nest but a cage symbolizing China's control freakishness. But the fact remains that its an arresting spectacle. The way the bars rise out of the ground in random directions and somehow manage to hold everything together is a fascinating sight. Engineer colleague from REC background immediately remarked, "Abey ismein load bearing column kaun sa hai." To which Engineer colleague from IIT background responded, "Khurmi-Gupta ke students ke bas ka nahin hai yeh sawaal."

Ze Bird's Nest

Athletics Watch Update:
W 1500m Semi, M Decathalon High Jump;
W Javelin Final; M 800m Semi;
W 4X100m relay 1st round; M Triple Jump Final
M 4X100m Relay 1st Round, M 400m final, M Decathlon 400m

The highlight was definitely the 4X100 relays which featured baton drops during the last transfer for both the US men and women's teams. Such hearbreak. Wonderful drama. Tyson looked everything but Gay. The triple jump again was fascinating and made even more so by the fact that we were sitting right in front of the pit (merely 11 rows away). Philip Idowu, he of the gangsta rapper looks, flattered to deceive and ended up winning silver.

Idowu tries hard but doesnt make it

Bhokaal Alert No 2
Celebrities spotted: Usain Bolt

All in all an excellent day, met all expectations and then some.

22nd August
This was the day we were supposed to do the tourist thing by paying a visit to the Great Wall. We entered via the Badaling Section (I wonder if there is a double-meaning Hindi connection here) which is also the most popular one via an outrageously steep and noisy ropeway. First impressions on the wall from Tambram colleague - 'itna bada diwaar banane ka jaroorat nahin tha'. The Ching dynasty emperors must have turned in their graves.

Just the fact the wall covers more than 6000km is enough to boggle the mind. Never mind the fact that they took 2000 years to complete it. Which makes it about 3km per year. Better than BMC even then. Bought a few T-Shirts and a bag as part of mandatory tourist souvenir shopping. The shop owners were a pleasure to chat with:

J: How much for this T-Shirt
Chinese Shopkeeper: 120 RMB
J: How about 15 RMB?
CS: Sold. You want more? I can give discount.

There is something highly unsettling about this kind of a conversation.

The programme for the evening was the big ticket basketball semis featuring Lithuania, Spain, Argentina and the USA. The basketball stadium looks from the outside as if they could not complete it in time so they had to cover it with a large curtain. On closer inspection it emerged that the curtain like thingy was a design element. Overheard colleague from Kanpur say, "Do kaudi ka design hai."

Bhokaal Alert No. 3
Celebrities On View:
Ricky Rubio (the outrageously gifted Spanish point guard), LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd, Pau Gasol, Luis Scola

Major Major Celebrity Spotting: Diego Maradona (bachpan ka sapna poora category)

The games themselves were slightly underwhelming what with the Spain/Lithuania match marred by numerous fouls and the US/Argentina match not living up to expectations as a match-up of the two best sides in basketball. Nevertheless unhealthy amounts of fun was had.

Kobe going for three
23rd August
We were all quite exhausted by the rapid Guy Ritchie style pace of our itinerary so far. Add to that a diet consisting exclusively of Bread, Butter, Biscuits and Salads for a fundamentalist vegetarian like me, things were not quite fulltoo. But we atent seen nothing yet. Day 3 was the baap of all days. Early morning start to the Olympic green where we were supposed to visit the company pavilion and generally hang around until lunch time. Now the Olympic Green can be best described an outrageously large area of land consisting entirely of concrete pavement and chinese volunteers. For every tourist the organizers had 3 volunteers. Even I thought the place was a bit crowded, and I live in Mumbai. But to be fair, the Green was so large that it could have probably accommodated at least two Mumbais (Navi included). I must have walked more than 10kms all day.

Post lunch was the Football finals featuring Argentina and Nigeria. We had the best seats in the stadium and a pair of binoculars each. "Mere paapon ka ghada was bharoing at the rate of knots". The game itself was quite sedate with a few random flashes of brilliance, one of them resulting in a goal for Argentina.

Bhokaal Alert No 4.

Celbrities on view: Leo Messi, Juan Carlos Riquelme

We mucked about after the game visiting sponspors' pavilions, collecting freebies, drinking coke, comparing India and China and pointing out how individual freedom is sometimes highly overrated. Overheard snatch of conversation amongst Indian tourist group at McDonalds, "Banaya to accha hai lekin jo bhi kaho India is India." And I always thought India was Korea.

Evening programme was another Athletics fest.

M Javelin Throw Final, W High Jump Final, M 800m final;
W 1500m final; M 5000m final, W 4X400m relay final;
M 4X400 relay final.

Fascinating round of events with a couple of Olympics records and a superb high jump contest. My camera by this time had started shedding tears. Tambram colleague was visibly overwhelmed by the High jump contest and remarked, "ladki log accha kood-ta hai"

Celebrity Spot: Sergei Bubka, Juan Antonio Samaranch, Raja Randhir Singh (WTF), Suresh Kalmadi (keh do yeh jhoot hai).

We returned to the hotel at 10:30 and a group of like minded hungry desis made a mad dash to a nearby Indian restaurant. The chap was just about to close when he was confronted and forced to reopen. Butter Chicken, Mutter Paneer, Dal et al were ordered in 'anaap shanaap' quantities. The general consensus at the end of it all was, "khana theek hai"

24th August
The last and final day featured only the closing ceremonies. A hundred thousand people were expected in the national stadium so we were advised to be in by 5pm for an 8pm start. Before that we made a trip to the famous Silk Street market. You might have thought that what with the Olympics and all in progress there might be a big crackdown on the Chinese farji goods market. But nothing of this sort was on. The farji Guccis, Pradas, Armanis were out in full strength. I had to buy a suitcase and had an interesting time buying it:

Chinese Salesperson: Where you from?
J: India.
CS: Ohhh..Great Country
J: How much for suitcase
CS: 2000 RMB
J: Too much.
CS: How much you pay?
J: 200 RMB
CS: Ohhhh. You very tough. Final price. 1500 RMB
J: I give you Indian souvenir (10 Re Note). Final Price 300RMB
CS: Sold. You buy more. I give discount.

Had to buy some clothes for the missus and here is another conversation
CS: Where you from?
J: Guatemala
CS: Ohhhh..Great Country.....

Which brings us to the closing ceremony. Spectacular in every sense of the word. Kanpuria colleague remarked, "abey thoda sa crouching tiger type item hai" He was not too far off. It was choreographed by Zhang Yimou of Flying Daggers and Golden Flower fame. One Chandu Bhai that I knew from Hathras had had once sagely remarked, "China ke andauon mein udney ki kalaa ab abhi payi jaati hai". He was speaking the truth. It was all highly breathtaking.

Celebrities Spotted: David Beckham (well!)

On our way back we spotted several armoured vehicles on the streets. Tambram colleague warned us thusly, "Deere deere chalo warna wuda dega"

And thus ended my Beijing experience. Lots of people kept calling it a once in a lifetime thingy. But I dont want to do that yet. I'll see if I can make it to London. Because I seem to have become addicted to the Olympics.