Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Lawyer and the Epicurean


Some of you may have already seen this but here it is again. The Bar and Bench  did a feature on me this week. In this article I talk about food, my love for it and why I blog.

This article originally appeared here 


I have been a foodie for as long as I can remember. And to a large extent, I think Enid Blyton is to blame. My early literary diet consisted of The Five Find Outers, Malory Towers, Secret Seven and the like. While I loved the books, what really got me hooked was the fabulous English tea that peppered all her books. These books gave me my first glimpse of a non-rasam-and-curd rice-world. I dreamed of buttery scones, clotted cream, puddings and other wondrous and exotic sounding delights. And in my mind food became indelibly associated with mystery, adventure and excitement. The great bit is, it’s still true.

It’s been nearly two and a half years since a lazy law school schedule and incessant eating out prompted me to start my own food and travel blog. From the moment I started the blog, I became obsessed with it. Bullying friends into viewing it, pimping it endlessly and pouring over each new viewer, each page click.

I graduated from the National Law School of India in August 2010 and took up a job in Chennai. I was apprehensive that the change from student to an employed professional would sound the death knell for the blog. Thankfully, those fears were unfounded. Not only did I continue to explore new places and write reviews, I also found a whole new audience to pimp the blog to. Yes, work does mess up the reviewing schedule at times but it is manageable and helps pay the bills.

People who know me only through my writing are always surprised to find out that I am a lawyer. They seem to think the two paths are at odds. Not in my mind. I don’t think the writing would have happened without law school. While law school taught me many, many things, I think the biggest lesson of all was the importance of thinking for myself. It’s important to figure what works for you and if it isn’t the law, then its OK to make that decision. There are always smart, practical ways to pursue something you love and there is no reason to not give it a shot.

While I have always loved food and been an adventurous eater, blogging has meant that I spend way more time reading about food and researching on the places I want to review. I often end up ordering disastrous things in the spirit of experimentation: buckwheat noodles that were ice cold, spicy and tasteless, suspicious looking seaweed, tough and nearly inedible squid – all in one meal. Whether it has meant braving the cold and rain or waiting in massive queues, I have loved it all (even that noodle-seaweed-squid disaster). A simple email appreciating the blog brightens even dreary Monday mornings.

And as they say success follows passion, and incessant emailing. The Hindu commissioned me for a few articles and it was pretty incredible. Nothing beats the feeling of doing something you love and being recognized for it. Living the dream, even in a 36 inch black and white column, is indescribable.

Trying to get an article published in a magazine/ newspaper requires immense amounts of patience, perseverance and self-belief. Editors will rarely reply I have been a foodie for as long as I can remember. And to a large extent, I think Enid Blyton is to blame. My early literary diet consisted of The Five Find Outers, Malory Towers, Secret Seven and the like. While I loved the books, what really got me hooked was the fabulous English tea that peppered all her books. These books gave me my first glimpse of a non-rasam-and-curd rice-world. I dreamed of buttery scones, clotted cream, puddings and other wondrous and exotic sounding delights. And in my mind food became indelibly associated with mystery, adventure and excitement. The great bit is, it’s still true.

It’s been nearly two and a half years since a lazy law school schedule and incessant eating out prompted me to start my own food and travel blog. From the moment I started the blog, I became obsessed with it. Bullying friends into viewing it, pimping it endlessly and pouring over each new viewer, each page click.

I graduated from the National Law School of India in August 2010 and took up a job in Chennai. I was apprehensive that the change from student to an employed professional would sound the death knell for the blog. Thankfully, those fears were unfounded. Not only did I continue to explore new places and write reviews, I also found a whole new audience to pimp the blog to. Yes, work does mess up the reviewing schedule at times but it is manageable and helps pay the bills.

People who know me only through my writing are always surprised to find out that I am a lawyer. They seem to think the two paths are at odds. Not in my mind. I don’t think the writing would have happened without law school. While law school taught me many, many things, I think the biggest lesson of all was the importance of thinking for myself. It’s important to figure what works for you and if it isn’t the law, then its OK to make that decision. There are always smart, practical ways to pursue something you love and there is no reason to not give it a shot.

While I have always loved food and been an adventurous eater, blogging has meant that I spend way more time reading about food and researching on the places I want to review. I often end up ordering disastrous things in the spirit of experimentation: buckwheat noodles that were ice cold, spicy and tasteless, suspicious looking seaweed, tough and nearly inedible squid – all in one meal. Whether it has meant braving the cold and rain or waiting in massive queues, I have loved it all (even that noodle-seaweed-squid disaster). A simple email appreciating the blog brightens even dreary Monday mornings.

And as they say success follows passion, and incessant emailing. The Hindu commissioned me for a few articles and it was pretty incredible. Nothing beats the feeling of doing something you love and being recognized for it. Living the dream, even in a 36 inch black and white column, is indescribable.

Trying to get an article published in a magazine/ newspaper requires immense amounts of patience, perseverance and self-belief. Editors will rarely reply and even when they do, actually getting something published will take a long time. Don’t count on stories like Petit Anglais and Julie&Julia. Yes, they happen to some people but for most of us it’s a long, uphill climb and you must truly love what you are doing. Having said that, if you are motivated and committed it is an achievable dream. The Indian lifestyle market is only now coming into its own and there are plenty of opportunities opening up. This is, possibly, the best time to try to break out as a food and travel author.

Apart from giving me a platform to share my gastronomical and travel adventures, blogging has also helped me make some fabulous friends, been a great conversation starter and even served as the topic for one of my college application essays.

I was also asked to write about the cons of being a foodie and there are two rather important ones: a burgeoning waistline and a razor thin wallet. Somehow, I always imagined it would be the other way around. I, however, have made my peace with it and it’s a price I willingly pay.

What I hope you take away from these paragraphs is the value of pursuing something you love and are passionate about. You may not be able to make money off of it (unfortunately I don’t), but you should still make space for it in your life. It needn’t always be a grand, life-changing gesture, it could be something as simple as starting a blog.

I don’t know if I will ever succeed in becoming a published food and travel writer, but I have come to realize that it doesn’t matter. All I really need is the dream.

Thank You, Ms. Blyton.
 and even when they do, actually getting something published will take a long time. Don’t count on stories like Petit Anglais and Julie&Julia. Yes, they happen to some people but for most of us it’s a long, uphill climb and you must truly love what you are doing. Having said that, if you are motivated and committed it is an achievable dream. The Indian lifestyle market is only now coming into its own and there are plenty of opportunities opening up. This is, possibly, the best time to try to break out as a food and travel author.

Apart from giving me a platform to share my gastronomical and travel adventures, blogging has also helped me make some fabulous friends, been a great conversation starter and even served as the topic for one of my college application essays.

I was also asked to write about the cons of being a foodie and there are two rather important ones: a burgeoning waistline and a razor thin wallet. Somehow, I always imagined it would be the other way around. I, however, have made my peace with it and it’s a price I willingly pay.

What I hope you take away from these paragraphs is the value of pursuing something you love and are passionate about. You may not be able to make money off of it (unfortunately I don’t), but you should still make space for it in your life. It needn’t always be a grand, life-changing gesture, it could be something as simple as starting a blog.

I don’t know if I will ever succeed in becoming a published food and travel writer, but I have come to realize that it doesn’t matter. All I really need is the dream.

Thank You, Ms. Blyton.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ceylon Stories: Galle (Part I)

After many hits-and-misses, I finally made it to Sri Lanka last week. We decided to spend our limited time in the south of the country. On a rash impulse, aided by a sweet talking auto driver, we decided to take the tuk-tuk from Colombo to Galle. It turned out to be a great decision. We passed some beautiful scenery, visited incredible Buddhist temples and ate at a local dhaba type place. Like most impulse decisions this was an expensive one. The economic thing to do would be to take the bus.

Our ride to Galle

From the minute we entered Galle, I knew I was going to love this city. Narrow cobbled lanes, beautiful rambling old houses and a gorgeous fort that encapsulates it all - what's not to love? 

The great thing about Galle is that its a living city. Seeing the rhythm of mundane daily life co-existing with the regular stream of tourists made the city so much more charming. As we sat in a cafe, reading and sipping some over-priced tea we could hear the noises from a children's birthday party next door or the evening prayer call. It made everything about Galle so much more real. 

Galle
But I could already see things change. Increasingly, the old beautiful houses are being turned into smart, new hotels. Other houses were being converted into that pretentious tourist haven: the heritage house. I am incredibly thankful that I managed to catch Galle in its twilight zone where calls for the faithful to pray, the sound of the sea crashing against the rocks and hurried footsteps of kids as they rush to school are ubiquitous. 

The Galle Fort


The fort itself is wonderful. You can climb upto the fort and walk the whole length. It's calm, peaceful and affords some breathtaking views. I spent much time just walking on the fort walls and taking the view in. Take a book, pick a shady spot on the fort and settle in - You won't regret it. 


Walking along the Galle Fort

Fort with a view

The gardens at the end of the Fort are also a popular wedding photo spot. We saw many glowing brides and beaming grooms on our walks there. 

Wedding Festivities

We also stumbled upon a Bollywood exhibition in Galle. Run by a local woman who is obsessed with Bollywood, her two storey house is the repository of suspect Hindi movie posters. We spent one very enjoyable afternoon pouring over, and clicking pictures of, classics such as Fashionable Wife, Ek Sopera Ek Lootera and Shaaka.  

Bollywood madness

Galle also houses the National Maritime Museum and the Historical Mansion. 

I must admit that I spent my entire time in the older Fort area. The newer town area will have to wait till next time.

People in Galle, and in most of SL, are exceedingly nice. They are warm, friendly and always smiling. The whole time we were there we didn't hear a raised voice, a belligerent word, a loud fight. They love Indians and are always eager to chat. How people this nice managed to get embroiled in a brutal civil war for decades, I will never understand. 

We stayed at the wonderful Ocean View Guest House. The owners rented us a room at a roomba reasonable rate (Rs. 750 per person per night). The house is right along the fort and they have a beautiful terrace garden where you can take refuge when the temperature soars. I highly recommend it. 

The roof garden at the Ocean View Guest House

We also ate magnificent amounts of food. But I am going to cover that in a different post. I have a lot more to say about Sri Lanka. Watch out for the rest of the SL posts. 

A preview of the food post



Thursday, February 9, 2012

Pune Tryst


In my head Pune has always occupied a circular, white, buttery, Shroosberry biscuit shaped spot. On this visit  I decided to give the magnificent Keyani bakery a miss and look at other places of interest in the city.

I started with the Raja Kelkar museum. The museum is fairly empty, giving you lots of time to browse.

This is how windows looked back in the day

This is the only photo I could sneak in before they cut me off.

The museum carries with it that heartbreaking air of neglect and decay that most Indian museums do. But it is a fun way to spend a couple of hours and the museum houses some interesting displays, including the display of Erotic Nut-Cutters (I kid you not).

Walk straight across a busy, bustling market street to ShaniwarWada (it's a huge landmark so people will be able to direct you). This erstwhile palace was briefly the seat of the Peshwa dynasty. While nothing of the actual palace remains, the gardens it now houses are beautiful. The perfect place to have a little picnic, a lover's tryst or just read a book. I definitely recommend going here.


The wonderful gardens 

Ah! To be young



I also had some fabulous food while I was in Pune. Most of it was thanks to Shan's mum, however, I managed to sneak in one meal at Hotel Shreyas. The food was fantastic (just look at the pictures), there was tonnes of it and the prices were very, very reasonable.




Course 1

Incredible Aamrakhand


Most importantly, the service was one of the best I have ever had. The waiters were warm, sweet and insisted that I eat all of their specialities. They even cajoled me into having some amarakhand (after that extravagant meal). This sweet was all about creamy, mango-ey goodness. I stuffed every last gooey-spoonful down my throat and tottering periliously made my way out.

Deciding that I couldn't leave without paying a visit to Big-B's old hangout, I headed to the Goodluck Cafe.



This dingy, dirty, noisy, crowded little cafe was my favourite place in Pune. It had so much character, it was so alive. I sat there reading my book and just soaking in the atmosphere of the place. Oh! if only more restaurants had a quarter of the life that his place had. I polished off three cups of tea and reluctantly bid it adieu.

Iranian Tea at Goodluck Cafe


I spent very little time in Pune, but whatever I saw of it I really liked. It reminded me of a younger, more innocent Bangalore in many ways. There is lots more I want to do there (including visiting the uber-famous Joshi Vada Pav) but that will have to wait for some time.

Huge congratulations to one of my favourite couples. Much love. And a big shout out to Shan and KK's family for being so so warm and wonderful.


Ek thi Rani
Ek tha Raja