Monday, May 24, 2010

The Rolling Stone’s Moss: Chronicles Of Anicka – No Maggi In My Baggage

So after the initial giddiness, that their daughter would be embarking on her first trip abroad, had faded from the minds, the family started worrying about the fact that I am vegetarian. As are they. I am sure visions of an emaciated brown-skinned me walking amongst all the Europeans would have flashed across my mother’s mind. Where would the poor girl find vegetarian food in Slovakia??

The worry pushed them to suggest that I carry loads of bread, biscuits and the lifesaver – Maggi – to Europe. Whom were they kidding? Did they realize how much it would weigh to carry 3 weeks worth of Maggi meals in my baggage on the first leg before I could come back refill and return? Lufthansa’s 20 Kg limit on baggage did not help. And Europeans love bread. I was sure there would only be a million stores selling bread out there. I would manage. Where I saw an opportunity to move away from Indian cooking and lose some of that weight, my family saw disaster.

Only until I landed and reported from the disaster site. That the world and their daughter were both safe and apparently going to be well fed.
The very first evening in Slovakia, we had landed to –4 degrees as compared to about 20 degrees in Bangalore and the light was already fading at 4:30 PM. Not exactly jetlagged after the 10.5 hours journey, we agreed to our manager’s offer of roaming about the market street and visiting the Christmas market. Post a good dose of culture and some very interesting conversation in the very first hour of meeting, she took us to Slovak Pub on Market Street and suggested we try the national dish of Slovakia.

I shifted in my seat since these things were known to have meat in their content 90% of the time. Ok I’ll make that 99%. When have you heard a delicacy, a famous recipe, a gourmet’s delight in any country but India being vegetarian in nature?

Turns out the Slovaks knew better than that. Their national dish – Haluski (pronounced Ha-loo-shki) is also available in a vegetarian variant. That was such relief. What was a bigger surprise as well as relief was my manager’s sensitivity to food habits, turned out her son was vegetarian too! So she knew all the places that served vagetarian food : ) Could one ask for any more than that on their first trip abroad?

The first time I went to the cafeteria at the client site, there wasn’t any vegetarian dish on the main course. So I decided to make do with fruits and salads and add lots of dressing to them. As I went to the counter to pay the measly amount that my meal was costing me, the very elderly lunch lady looked at my plate and smiled sweetly. I hadn’t even learnt basic words in Slovak until then and couldn’t tell her I was vegetarian. I don’t know what she made of it but pointed her hand to a corner and motioned for me to go there. I didn’t quite understand but went anyway to find broth and bread being served there. All this while she kept looking at me to make sure I took my fill. I looked back at her and smiled to say thank you. I felt immensely taken care of in that moment as she went back to counting her cash.

Over the period of the next two months, I sampled some delicious vegetarian food in the restaurants of Slovakia and Czech Republic. The soups were some of the best I had ever had and they were always served with some fresh bread. The Risottos were to die for and so were certain preparations of eggplant and spinach.

There was even a pure vegetarian bistro in the central district of Prague and the food was a delight. Add to that the Hare Krishna restaurant that was a 10-minute walk from our Bratislava office and one did not have anything to worry about – whether I wanted it or not, I was eating a healthy serving of Salad-Curry-Rice-Daal-Papad-Raita almost every other day in Slovakia.

And that’s not all. Globalization and massive cross culture exchange ensured that TESCO everywhere stocked a few basic pickles, Basmati Rice, a few variety of Indian spices and pulses and loads of Ready-To-Eat Indian dishes like Palak Paneer, Daal Makhani etc. Anyone who wanted to, could subsist on a decent spread of Indian cooking while in Bratislava.

What’s more, my manager and her family loved Indian food and Caj (Slovak for tea, pronounced chai). In fact they get their Darjeeling first flush ordered from India every season and consume a good dose of it. So we even went to her place and cooked some Indian food for her family while she made Haluski for us. And we ate like one big happy family and drank our post-dinner tea. All this was when we were not eating at the Indian restaurant Ashoka (terribly expensive, not that great but the guy stocks MDH spices, just in case).

Anyway, I had a whole lot of fun discovering vegetarian food in Europe and being pleasantly surprised. Among other things, it taught me to never pack Maggi on a trip abroad. It pays to eat a delicacy made with boiled potatoes in a restaurant that someone has caringly picked for you rather than cook Maggi in your kitchen.

It saves the excess baggage fare too.

Across The Cubicle Wall


It was when we had just watched Six Degrees Of Separation at Rangashankara and a few days later I was speaking to my mother on the phone about random things really. For some reason the conversation took a turn that led us to talk about the place I work in. And then my mother mentioned him.

The daughter of the family that lives across the street from our house in Nagpur was married to this boy who works in Bangalore for the same company as mine. Mother said his office is somewhere close to Marathahalli and I said I work in the same location. And then she said his name out. And I realized that he works in the same team as mine and sits two bays away…across the cubicle wall.


So there was this day when we were discussing plays and play reviews. It was one of those breaks you took from rehearsals that inevitably turned out longer than intended because the conversation took an unexpected and interesting turn. And somewhere during this conversation they mentioned her blog and how it was one of the best theatre blogs in town.

I went and checked it out. Dramadose. It, indeed, was a neat theatre blog with a lovely template and some good reviewing. And then I saw the author’s name and picture. And it struck me…she works in my office and sits in the bay next to mine…across the cubicle wall!


It was when I had gotten the hang of twitter quite well and was quite comfortable tweeting and attending tweet-ups, I went to only two though. Some of my friends were retweeting and mentioning this guy quite a lot and his tweets looked very witty and interesting. So I decided to follow him. In due course of time, he started following me too. His were one of the very enjoyable tweets on my timeline and I thought the guy must surely work in an ad agency or someplace like that, the way he uses puns etc.

Last week I got a message from him asking if I worked in the exact location building on the exact floor. I replied in the affirmative and asked him if he was the same guy who sat at the corner desk on the same floor. And he replied in the affirmative too.

After a few months of having virtual conversations I went and said hello to him today in the real world and realized that all this while, he, too, had been sitting just across the cubicle wall : )

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Nostalgia On A Sunday Afternoon

I was watching Malgudi Days this afternoon. Mithaiwaala. Based on RK Narayan’s The Vendor Of Sweets. And that directed my attention to the four volumes of RK Narayans that sit pretty in my shelf and I am yet to read. Sacrilege.

And for some reason, today more than other days, I thought about how they made their way to this shelf. It was on my last birthday. In fact it was the day after my birthday.

It was a Tuesday and I walked into office still giddy from the way my birthday had been such a nice day. And as I turned to my desk with these thoughts in my head, I saw a big red Puma bag on the desk. I stared at it for five whole seconds, trying not to look surprised. I looked around to see if there was someone I could ask if they knew whom the bag belonged to. It certainly wasn’t mine.

No one else seemed to want to claim the bag a whole two minutes later too. So I thought it wouldn’t harm to see what’s inside. I peeped in to find a Puma shoebox. No I wasn’t expecting a pair of shoes to arrive in the post. Unable to contain my curiosity, I decided to open the box. It was on my desk after all, wasn’t it?

I opened the box to find four objects meticulously wrapped in glossy calendar paper with some pretty pictures of Indian festivals. They felt like books. The topmost object had been wrapped in the page marking the month of October. Hmmm, quite symbolic, I thought. And since my birthday was in the month of October AND the box was at my desk, I put two and two together and laid my rightful claim to the box and its contents.

I eagerly unwrapped the objects to find four volumes of RK Narayan’s work. And I instantly knew that the gift was for me and who it was that had sent it. Two people were responsible for these books becoming the pride of place in my shelf. There was only one person I had spoken about RK Narayan to in scattered conversations and it was overwhelming to know that an occasional mention had been remembered.

As I read the handwritten messages in each of the books and a letter that came alongside, I felt a warm smile spread over my face. I hadn't received a call from those two the whole of the previous day and I wondered if I was that insignificant. From there it had flipped over to receiving a box filled with monumental works of RK Narayan and a letter inside! It was quite a shift of emotion.

It was a nice trip down memory lane, remembering that time and how my birthday joy had spilled over into most of the next day. Thanks to those two people, the fabric of my memories is more colourful…

Monday, May 17, 2010

We, The Living

We, The Living…
Those who remain
When your heart stops beating
And theirs overflows with pain

We, The Living…
Those who held your hand
And ran, now abandoned
Struggle even to stand

We, The Living…
Those who found an identity
From you, now grapple with meaning
And strain their eyes to see

We, The Living…
Those you left behind
To deal with the questions
When there are no answers to find

We, The Living...
Begin to die, 
One day at a time.