Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas & New Year 2014 at Courtyard by Marriott Pune City Centre

Christmas just went by and the whole world was swept with emotions most pleasant. Good food was consumed with gusto. At Courtyard by Marriott Pune City Centre was no different. On December 24, a special Christmas Eve buffet was laid out for the interested Punekar. Quite a few walked in with quizzical faces and went out with happy grins, courtesy the fabulous spread of combination of Indian and continental food.

Starters like Honey Chili Potatoes, Bhatti Da Kukad and Dhuan Aur Sarsoon Ka Paneer wowed us. There were also veg salads like Grilled Veg Antipasti Platter, Crispy Nachos with Guacamole/Salsa/Sour Cream and Venetian Artichoke Corn Salad which were interesting. Fennel, Orange, Rocket, Nigella got my taste buds tingling with its simple dressing. I loved the assorted salami slices which tasted well with the Hard Rolls. The exclusive salad bar looked amazing with the assorted selections like Seafood and Meat Selection (Seafood & Meat Selection), Assorted Lettuce, Dressings, Condiments and Breads. Then there was the usual Cheese Bar and Non-veg Salad Bar. I personally loved the sublime taste of the French Onion Soup. The usual Christmas specials – Roast Stuffed Whole Turkey, Honey Baked Leg Ham with Green Peas and Bacon and Suckling Pig – too were seen.

I saw the Main Course too equally divided in Indian & Continental food spread. There was Barbarie
Duck Breast with Orange Ginger Reduction, Pork Tenderloin with Port Wine Glace Topped with Apple and Apricot, Methi Ki Khush Mehak Machalai, Kadahi Ki Subzi, Gobhi Musallam, Dum Nali Ka Gosht, etc. I choose to dig in to Nutty Ricotta and Prunes Stuffed Chicken Breast with Mustard Sauce which was tempting but not as brilliant as Nazakat Ke Koftey and Tawa Murgh Zor Masala. The creamy dense flavour of Dal Makhani had to be had. Subz Chilman Ki Biryani was another well-prepared rice dish – typical but good. It was a hearty meal which finally led to the desert section with varieties like Exotic Cut Fruits, Chocolate Yule Log, Chocolate Stuffed Gulab Jamun, Chocolate Mud Pie, etc. Each of the desserts completed the meal with aplomb. This Christmas Eve menu came at the price of Rs 1, 200 + taxes per person for non-alcoholic package while the unlimited domestic alcoholic package was priced at Rs 1, 499 + taxes per person.

Now comes the best part for those looking at celebrations around New Year’s. On December 31st, one can attend the New Year’s Eve Countdown Feast priced at Rs 2,999 + Taxes per person and is inclusive of unlimited food and alcohol. It will be on several levels for any kind of crowd wanting to enjoy the moment. Starters will be served at the Cafe & Lounge, with items like Prawns in chilli garlic sauce, Amritsari Macchli, Peshawari Chicken Tikka, Mutton Shammi Kebab, Satay Bar, etc. Variety of Soups & Khow Suey Counter and Bread Display will be at Cafe, L1 and Lounge. Salad Bar, Assorted Sushi Roll Station, Seafood Bar, Charcutiere Selection, etc, will be seen at Cafe & Lounge. You can try the Live Counters like Chaat, Gujrati Tawa, Grill, Lebanese, Italian, Roast, Asian & South Indian at the poolside and lounge. There will be your usual Indian Selection Buffet at Cafe, L1 and Lounge, while deserts like Passion Fruit Pannacotta, Chocolate truffle Cake, Baked dry fruit tarts, Poached pear in red wine with cinnamon and oven baked green Apples in white wine, Selection of Petit fore and chocolate truffles, etc., and Hot Dessert, Ice Cream Station and Crepe Station would be stationed at Momo 2 Go. One can also try the Only Midnight Buffet at Rs 699 all inclusive per person. Several fun events will mark the occasion.

Wait, there is more. For those wanting more and others who missed the previous outing, they canst 2015, which will be Rs 1,199 + taxes per person inclusive of a glass of sparkling wine and Rs 1, 499 + taxes per person inclusive of unlimited domestic alcohol. Here you can start with Veg Salads like Grilled Vegetables Marinated In Pesto, Panzanallea Salad, German Potato Salad, or gravitate towards Non-veg Salads like Mix Seafood with Pommery Mustard Dressing, Oriental Chicken Salad, Chicken Chat, Roasted Lamb with Tzatziki, etc. There will be your usual Cold Meat Platters with assorted items and the Cheese Platter. Be healthy with the Chef Salad Counter with dishes like Assorted Lettuce, Marinated Boccancini, Marinated Feta, Marinated Artichoke, Marinated Palm Heart, etc. Try going towards the Chaat & Sushi Counter. Get surprised with the Food from Hot Kitchen – Buffet consisting of Indian & Continental dishes, Hot Action Counters (Egg, Pasta, Shawarma, Oriental Stir Fry, and Roast). Feed your sweet tooth with French & Continental Pastries, Indian Sweets, Breakfast Pastries and even Pastry Action Counters like Waffle & Pancake Station.          
come for the New Year’s Sparkling Brunch on January 1

In short, Courtyard by Marriott Pune City Centre will not just wow you with food and events on New Year’s Day but also the day after. Located near Jehangir Hospital, it would be a good idea to contact them soon for a party within your budget and for the entire family. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Nivedita Saboo & Shouger Merchant Doshi rock 5th Pune Fashion Week

Designer Nivedita Saboo with actress Lisa Haydon in one of Saboo's creations
The fifth edition of Pune Fashion Week saw some amazing names scorch the ramp at Ishanya Mall from December 19-21 with their interesting collection. Amongst the designers to make their mark were Pune’s very own Nivedita Saboo and Mumbai-based Shouger Merchant Doshi of Zanaaya Couture. While model-actress Lisa Hayden was the shining star for Saboo, actress Shriya Saran looked amazing in Shouger’s creation.

Model in Nivedita Saboo creation
Nivedita Saboo, as usual, challenged herself to do something exquisite. This time, she came up with “A Rendition of the Raj”, a collection which was the interpretation of colonial India. The contrast of the cultures came here in an interesting fashion. Myriad elements of the eras showcased the culture of yesteryears in the western silhouettes and traditional indian drapes. The result were some beautiful creations with great fabrics. It’s an amalganation that was never seen before. The show had Miss Diva Universe 2014 Noyonita Lodh open the show in a ash grey Chantilly lace gown, while actress Lisa Haydon was the perfect show stopper.

A Shouger Merchant Creation
Shriya Sharan with Shouger Merchant
Called Urban Melange, Shouger Merchant Doshi’s collection for PFW spoke about opulence via the Indo-western outfits. The traditional aspect was a kept strong, making it ‘Trenditional’ in her terms. The range was for every occasion, from smart casuals to evening gowns and dresses. The colours were as vibrant as possible and seen on fabrics like satin, georgette, nets, etc. Of course, it had to have the usual detailing to make it work of art. The collection became better with Rejuvenate jewels by Sushma Mehta Shah – a unique handmade designer couture costume jewellery designer.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Tales of the bard

Works of Shakespeare came alive via a theatre workshop – Bringing Home the Bard held at British Library last month. Facilitators Shivani Karhadkar & Saket Raje spoke about it. 

William Shakespeare is a name commanding utmost respect in world of English Literature, but the young especially have truly not got the gist of his genius. The British Library made sure youngsters between 12-20 age group fall in love with The Bard with its theatre workshop called Bringing Home the Bard: Works of Shakespeare by Shivani and Saket. Here, the world of Shakespeare was revealed to the young ones and helped them understand him better. It was under the guidance of Shivani Karhadkar, a theatre facilitator and Saket Raje, a theatre teacher.  

What made you take up the topic of introducing Shakespeare to the youngsters?
Saket Raje: I recently attended workshop at Adhishakti, Pondicherry, organised by Royal Shakespeare Company and British Council named ‘Bring home the bard’. The idea was to make William Shakespeare’s text simple for students and interpreting his text. We learned new techniques of handling Shakespeare’s plays and working on staging of these plays in different forms. The second motto was to conduct such workshops across India. I think youngsters are more open-minded and if they are aimed at the this age, then it will be more simpler for them to understand Shakespeare.
Shivani Karhadkar: I have been an avid fan of Shakespeare since an early age. However, I had a fear of presenting this archival language. But when I attended the workshop by Royal Shakespeare Company, it showed me ways that I could present the works without making it difficult. It was then I realised I could remove the same fear from the minds of youngsters and make them feel comfortable with his works. We tried to introduce the works to the children in a manner that makes it totally interaction-oriented and lively for youngsters.

Why do people thing reading Shakespeare is tough?
Saket: People tend to focus in a negative way, only towards the language aspect of the literature. The performance part is completely ignored. If this notion is addressed systematical and people’s misconceptions are clarified, then there is higher probability of people enjoying his plays. 
Shivani: Shakespeare wrote in the archival language. And that language is certainly difficult to grasp in a single reading. He often wrote his works as poetry. We have so little time nowadays and the reading habit is so rare, that Shakespeare is certainly difficult for most. In some cases, I think it’s a prejudice that has taken root in many minds. 

How did the pairing up happen?
Shivani: Saket and I have been co-actors and colleagues for the past four years. We have also attended the Royal Shakespeare Company workshop together. We have also done a lot of productions together for Mystique Studio of arts. 
Saket: We have staged many plays together and have also achieved many state & national prizes. Some of our recent productions were Mirad A boy from Bosnia, Macbeth, Ajacha Baki Itihas, At the Ark at Eight.

Your personal favourite Shakespearean work?
Saket: I cannot chose one play, as Shakespeare has written many plays under different genres. It will be a never ending list of plays - Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, Othello, Twelfth night, Julius Cesar and so on.
Shivani:   Each & every work of the Bard is unique and wondrous. I recently directed a production of Macbeth, and it  was an eye-opener. Every word or line has something to share. I have many favourites like As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, King Lear, Titus Andronicus, The Taming of the Shrew... the list in unending. 

Photo Credit: 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Food Talk With Shipra Khanna

Masterchef Indian Season 2 winner Shipra Khanna speaks about her new book The Spice Route at the 2nd Pune International Literary Festival.

India and food is quite synonymous and Indian cookery shows rule the roost on television. Amidst all this jazz, we have Masterchef India which has its unique way of bringing out the best in amateur cooking to the forefront. Shipra Khanna won the Masterchef India 2 (and our hearts) with her unique style of global cuisine. After the win, she started her own restaurant, starred in her own TV show, toured the world and so on. She was in town recently to talk about her new book The Spice Route at the 2nd Pune International Literary Festival and also be a part of the special Masterchef Australia show.

Shipra Khanna
We, of course, begin with the talks of the new book she has launched – The Spice Route. Shipra narrates, “I was thinking about which way to go and wanted to do something different… just like I do with my cooking. I wanted to do something which people could read and cook as well. And that is where the whole thought of the book came from and it was compiled together very well.”

These days, it is about marketing the book to reach a wider audience. She is clear about these factors. “When I won Masterchef, everything I did or got on the plate was well-appreciated. And the basic funda of life is that if you do something from your full heart, it reaches out to people and is well-appreciated. And that is what I have done in the book. I have put in my travels, the Himachali recipes which the Himachalis wanted, etc. I put everything together and people just loved it.”

One always feels that there is an X factor which takes one from mere passion for cooking to the desire to prove yourself in that field. For Shipra, this passion for cooking made her enter this competition. “I think I am just born with culinary skills. It is god’s gift. I can’t think beyond it. I don’t have any training in this field. Whatever I learned is from my family and god made me just cook.” She prefers calling her experience in the Masterchef India competition as a spinner in her life where everything just happened. “I remember a lot of the experiences but there is one of them which I can vivdly tell. We (that is the final six or eight of us) had to get a ticket to Hong Kong. We were down to the last three and had to cook something from the entire banana tree. I don’t like bananas at all. But I quickly made a pie with different ingredients. There was kiwi, apple, chironji and stuff like that. I won and got the ticket. It was a spinner as the full tree had to be incorporated in the food.”
Speaking about the special Masterchef Austrialia show, Shipra adds, “I am going to shoot for a special show called Masterchef Travel. It is the culinary journey all over Australia and I am travelling with Cox & Kings. Whoever will be booking with them, I will be taking them on this culinary journey.”

Every chef worth his or her salt has a favourite cuisine. Shipra reveals, “I love baking like cakes, desserts, etc. I also love French cuisine as lot of baking is involved. This cuisine brings out the best in me as they bake stuff like breads and croissants You need to put in a lot of technique, efforts, hard work and then you get the result.”

In future, Shipra Khanna wants us to expect a lot from her as she is doing a lot of things. “A couple of my new books are coming out. I started with my YouTube channel and I am also doing this show to Australia. I am doing a couple of TV shows and a couple of them are already on air.” Here’s to some sumptious cooking!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

GourmetItUp MasterClass at Malaka Spice on November 29, 2014

Anything in food always works for Punekars. Malaka Spice happens to be one of Pune's most happening eating joint where the best in South East Asian cuisine is served as authentically as possible. Thai food in particular is their forte. They are always up for something innovative. GourmetItUp is an innovative way to get some fabulous eating experiences in the best of restaurants with their unique tie-ups and offerings.  
So GourmetItUp in association with Malaka Spice are bringing for you an interesting masterclass with Chef Ranjith and Chef Shatrugan on November 29th 2014 between 4.30pm-7pm. They will be teaching quite some interesting dishes like Quail Samosa, Green Chicken, White Chocolate and Bailey's Mousse and so on. But we warn you that only 15 people is the limit. So one has to hurry to book the seat. Those looking for something interesting food experience can reach the details given below. 
Reserve seats by calling concierge service at 09619551387 or one can long on
Venue: Malaka Spice - Lane No 5 Koregaon Park, Opp. Oxford Properties
Date and Time: 29th November. Time - 4:30pm to 7pm
Price: RS 800/- 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Kitchens of Kangan Festival – The Westin Pune Koregaon Park

Achari Murgh
When you happen to the presence of a popular chain of 5-star hotel, you invariably get a taste of flavours from all its outlets. The Westin Pune Koregaon Park is making sure all Punekars get the flavour of their popular Indian food restaurant. They have brought together their best chefs from all the Westin Hotels in India to give a taste of some great culinary delights via the ‘Kitchens of Kangan’. This interesting concept has great signature dishes from the 3 chefs from Mumbai, Pune and Hyderabad. This happens to be the 2nd edition of the festival and serves some amazing North West Frontier cusine at their very Indian restaurant, Kangan. It will be open for the interested people till November 28th. The chefs involved are Chef Narayan Salunkhe from The Westin Pune Koregaon Park, Chef Rakesh Anand of The Westin Hyderabad Mindspace and Chef Shamsher Ahmed from The Westin Mumbai Garden City.

The vegetarian starters has dishes like Kale Chaney Ke Kebab (black gram patties stuffed with mint and chilli yoghurt), Bhutta Amritsari (crisp fried spicy tender corn & green peas bites), and Hare Masale Ka Paneer Tikka (cottage cheese marinated in herbs & cooked in tandoor). I tried the Paneer Palak Ke Sikke which were subtly done seasoned spinach sandwiched with picatta of cottage cheese. The rather tangy taste of Daastaane-e-kumbh consisting of char grilled mushroom marinated with tandoor masala, cheese and pepper, will be a more popular (and tasty option). But one felt one could give the Subz Tarkash Ki Seekh a miss which has assorted veggies cooked in Indian spices in clay oven. Amidst Non-veg Starters like Murgh Siya Masala (Chicken sautéed with onion and tomatoes, spiked with crushed black pepper), Murgh Kalmi Masala (tandoori chicken leg with cheese, chilli and marinated with home made garam masala), Tala Gosht (baby lamb leg marinated with ginger, garlic, chillies) and so on, I really liked the very desi Bhatti De Murgh (spicy chicken marinated with secret spice mix and dried mint) and the delicate flavours of Soofiyana Tandoori Jhinga (tiger prawns marinated with fresh fennel leaves, laced with seasoned egg white, finished in clay oven). Many might opt for Tandoori Nalli which is well-prepared baby lamb in cinnamon, vinegar and spices. The tender meat came off easily and the spices did not overwhelm each other.

Sarhad Ki Fish Curry
The vegetarian main course has some interesting options like Nazbu Paneer (Roulade of stuffed cottage cheese gratinated with basil flavoured tomato gravy), Subz Noorani Korma (Seasonal mixed veggies flavoured with carom and nigella seeds), Guncha Meethi Matar (cauliflower tempered with fresh fenugreek & indian spices) and Peshawari Chole (slow cooked chickpeas with Peshawari spices). For me, Subz Aashiyana worked just okay as it meant eating mix veggies in traditional spices, cheese, spinach and cream. Lovers of rajma might love the Rajma Dum Biryani. I am a big fan of Kangan Pune’s signature dish – Dal Kangan which is black lentil cooked overnight and cooked with tomato, fresh cream and butter. The smooth and slightly tangy flavour stays with you and despite the cream content, you want to keep on eating. The non-veg section is filled with dishes like  Murgh Benazeer (chicken drumstick flavoured with tomatoes & feneel seeds and cooked on dum), Nalli Gosht (lamb shanks cooked in Indian spices in brown curry), Musafir Ka Adlah (slow cooked lamb in spices, red onions, ginger-garlic and Peshwari chillies) and Sarhad Ki Fish Curry (fish cooked in a special masala).

While there are some interesting daals and rice dishes to entice you, get the Masala Garlic Roti and Kacche Haldi Ke Parathi which is layered bread infused with raw turmeric and carom seeds. 
From the desserts section, I personally felt the delicate flavours of Gulab Patte ki Kheer is the clear winner. The Shahi Khubani Tukda might be heavy for some.

All in all, going to Kangan at The Westin Pune Koregaon Park might be a good option to eat like a king. The Kitchens of Kangan beckons you to eat heartily till November 28th

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Book Review: Rokda: How Baniyas do Business

I always feel that writing about business in India is a gold mine. There is a tale to be told in every corner of every city. What is interesting about Indian business structure is the interlinking with caste, community or even religious groups. In this light, journalist Nikhil Inamdar’s second book Rokda: How Baniyas do Business is something of a read. 

Hee, the focus, we are told, is on how this enterprising community – the Baniyas – has managed to not be restricted to the usual business areas it is connected to. It has gone beyond what people expect them to be prolific into. You get a small pitch of the community in the book’s introduction where Inamdar speaks of the community’s origins and how he approached the topic and the entrepreneurs regarding an interesting topic without sounding too focused on the caste aspect. The book comes out as how that particular individual has come into the said business and has managed to reach the position he is in and the struggles.

Inamdar has picked up five brands and the names behind it which have changed the game in many ways. While reading each of them, one finds them to be quite distinct in the way they approach their work, entry into the field of business, their method of looking at each & every detail of work, tackling success & failures and so on.

You are introduced to Neeraj Gupta, the name behind Meru Cabs which changed the scenario of private taxis in India. His story comes across more as a tale of someone who did business more with accidents opportunities and was a mix of luck, looking for the extra kick and smart choices. You are allowed to visualise Gupta’s start as a member of a family which strived to set up their small-time eateries in Mumbai. What made Gupta reach his present state is a certain attitude of taking life as it comes but jumping on opportunities which stared at his face. One of them is his response to a tender by Maharashtra Govt to set up private radio cabs in Mumbai as an answer to bludgeoning public transport. His method comes out as a trial and error one where one see Gupta accepting mistakes and also help. Inamdar has a certain method of allowing you to decide to see if Gupta’s methods of business are correct or just acts of over-confidence.

You go over to the two powerhouses behind the renowned cosmetic brand Emami, the two Radheshyams - Radheshyam Agarwal & Radheshyam Goenka. They are an earlier generation Baniyas with ideologies and business skills of a different generation. Though they met during school, Agarwal is the brilliant brain with a ‘photogenic memory’. But Goenka was no less. What Agarwal thought, Goenka was able to put into action with greater success. While travelling with them in their various ventures, takeovers and moves, it is their friendship which probably is the star in the whole journey. Here you come across the brains and risk-taking factor which has made this community such a business success.

The story of Snapdeal is the one which might attract the young generation as almost every her young one has done a ‘deal’ via it. Here again, a different kind of business mind comes through which is young, well-educated and willing to take calculated risk. IIT pass-out with a well-paying job, Rohit Bansal comes across the quintessential young well-educated  Indian who prefers being one’s own master over a well-paying job. Bansal, along with pal Kunal Bahl, established Snapdeal in 2010, but the build-up for it began from Bansal’s life in a small town, Mahlout. His family’s small fair price shop depended on weather meant that he was witness to ups and downs. A certain force to do well made him take to Delhi on a scholarship where he met his best friend and future partner, Kunal. Inamdar keeps the narration more upbeat, keeping in mind the subject of this tale and the fact that the duo are the representative of today’s India. Even while doing the nesaccary to set up Snapdeal, you see them struggling with making internet selling concept work for the Indian market.

I personally felt that the fourth case study was the typical one representing the Baniya community, just like Emami’s Radheshyams. RK Somany of HSIL which owns the sanitation business leading company Hindware, comes from a family which had slowly made its way up in diverse businesses in Calcutta, including arms & ammunitions. As part of his elder brother idea of giving each sibling a business to run independently, RK got into sanitation ware business. A small spark to get the best in this business made way for RK to not just travel abroad and learn the best of technology but also hone his own business acumen. Inamdar has been successful in getting RK’s tough nut acumen with his efforts to understand the market.

The last one is one which I would call both an oddity and also intriguing. It is an oddity because the said case study is not the run-of-the-mill business tycoon. V. K. Bansal of Bansal Classes probably changed the game in India coaching capital, Kota, Rajasthan. VK’s journey started small from Jhansi in a poor family, but sheer grit made him reach engineering and pass with flying colours. A happy marriedlife in Kota changed when he was diagonised with Biocitis or muscular dystrophy. But where there is a will, there is a way. From one student, his success as a teacher grew into an empire which exploded the coaching classes scene in Kota like no other. His sheer bull spirit to achieve the best without compromise on his teaching or his students overshadowed his personal life. His story comes out more as a personal battle than business acumen.

Throughout the book, the success of the community as a whole comes in parts. It comes via their own personal grit towards going into business. Inamdar’s choice of entreprenuers is intruiging. Only Neeraj Gupta comes from India’s financial capital, Mumbai. The ‘Emamiwalas’ and RK Somany come from Kolkata, a city which owes it financial success to the Marwadi families residing their for ages. The northerners here are the two Bansals – Rohit Bansal and VK Bansal. The case studies are also interesting from the point that none of the names come from establised Baniya families but have created their own presence. Even second generation enterpreneur RK started from a scratch at the sanitation business.

Inamdar’s method of narration is presenting facts without taking sides or trying to blow things out of proportion. He starts with an interesting annecdote or story of the said people. It allows you slowly get introducing to the protagonist. The only thing which stuck me as a little bother is his rather neglect (in my views) to speak of the Baniya connection in a separate chapter with each case study.

With Rokda: How Baniyas do Business, Nikhil Inamdar tries to bring out the spirit of the business community who probably define Indian economy and business in their own unique way. One should pick for a light business reading, if one must.         

Book Title: Rokda: How Baniyas do Business
Author: Nikhil Inamdar
Publisher: Random House India
Price: Rs 175 (Paperback)

Photo Credit: 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Moroccan Food Festival at The Westin Pune Koregaon Park

Morocco stays in Pune till November 8th at The Westin Pune Koregaon Park, as an interesting Moroccan Food Festival is underway at the hotel known also for its exquisite food at its different restaurants. Held at Seasonal Tastes and planned by Chef de Cuisine, Prasad Metrani, it was definitely a peep into the food which smells of authenticity. Chef Metrani has had experience of getting to know the cuisine when he had visited the country quite a few years back. He personally saw how it is prepared and has brought ingredients straight from the North African country to give it a touch of reality. It had everything from tagines, salads, and soups to wraps, grills, hot spreads, typical breads and the works. A taste of authenticity marks the eating experience here, as I was witness to it.

Amidst the Moroccan cold salads like Zaalouk- Aubergine Dip, Ispinaki Limone Salade (Spinach And Pickled Lemon Salad), Serouda (Chickpea & Tomato Sauce Salad), Taktouka (Tomato & Green Pepper Salad), Beetroot With Yoghurt & Oranges and Fegguos Salade (Chopped Cucumber & Tomato Salad), I loved trying Hummus with Green Harrisa, Berber Salade (Country Style Salad From Marrakech) and Onion Mezgueldi (Caramelised Onions With Butter). The spiciness in the hummus might appeal to the Indian palate. While one shifted to the one veg and one non-veg soup, the Lamb Harira might tempt you with its lightly spicy and tangy soup with hints of lamb.

Sure, there were starters like Kasbah or Spicy Chicken Bites, Sesame Halloumi Bites, Puffed Moroccan Pizza, wraps and grills, the Grilled Merguez Sausages or Lamb Sausages were simple ones. It was main course which called for the attention with Samak Chermoula (Pan Fried Moroccan Fish), Vegetable Tagine, Maakouda Batata (Moroccan Potato Cakes), Cous Cous and Mograbieh (Semolina Dumplings With Cumin). I personally loved tasting the subtle flavours of Dijaj N’Quallu (Pot-roasted Whole Chicken) and the well-cooked & spicy Arin M’Qualli (Braised Lamb Leg with Cayenne Pepper).

One had to try out the desserts which consisted of B’stilla Au Lait (Layered Pastry With Almond Cream), Fresh Fruit Briouates (Fresh Fruit Triangles), Almond Gharibiya (Biscuits from Casablanca), Fakkas (Morrocan Rusks), Almond & Cloves Cookies, etc. One could give the Fez Style Rice Pudding a miss for being too typical. Try the Chakbkia (Fried Pastries drizzled with Honey & Sesame), Chocolate M’nancha (Chocolate Rolls) and the very delicately flavoured Orange Flower Blossom & Pistachio Ice Cream. My favourite in the whole lot was the B’stilla Dijaj (Chicken cooked with Eggs wrapped in Pastry & Baked in Pots, served with Relish or Salads). It felt like a lighter version of scrambled eggs with chicken in it inside a bun. One could it gobble a few in one go, if you are too hungry.

The special Moroccan spread is quite wide to let everyone’s taste buds feel happy. I felt the veg and non-veg options were quite vast to satisfy everyone. Yes, Moroccan cuisine might sound like something for the meat lovers but veggies do have space here. Try it if you want.

Date: till November 8th 2014
Time: 7.00pm

Venue: Seasonal Tastes, The Westin Pune Koregaon Park

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Flash Mob with a Difference

On 19th October 2014, a unique flash mob organised by Music Matters, ragpickers with Swach and Deep Griha NGO at Seasons Mall spread the message of cleanliness via music. Here are the details...

It is always fun to mix something good and entertaining with a cause. And in a city like Pune, it has been happening quite often. On 19th October 2014, a unique experiment took place at Seasons Mall between 6.30pm to 6.45pm wherein an interesting flash mob helped spread the message of cleanliness. This initiative by Music Matters had waste pickers from Swach and members of Deep Griha NGO join hands to make people aware of cleanliness. All that was done by drumming and the the power of music. It was a proud moment to know that this was a first of its kind event in India where flash mob idea was used to spread an important message.

One saw 40 social workers get the nessacary training from 40 musicians for a week and it was seen in the 7 minutes performance. 1000s saw the wonderful performance when they visited the mall for their Sunday shopping. They head slogans like Swach Indian Clean India from the percussionists along with household items like buckets combined with percussion instruments like Djembes, Lajems, Drum Sticks, Tambourines, Shakers and so on. It is good to know that the 80 members had been trained by Arthur Fernandes who is a psychologist, musician and arts-based therapist. It was a evening filled with fun and getting to know about the importance of cleanliness. What more can you ask for?

Here’s a link to the flash mob video: 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Book Review: The Butcher of Benares

Blame it on DaVinci Code. All of a sudden, thriller with a base of religion and mythology suddenly became my obsession. I have read my fair share of such books but I was trying to find something with an Indian background. The recently concluded 2nd Pune International Literature Festival managed to convince me to pick up the talked about book The Butcher of Benares by Mahendra Jakhar. While talking to the author, his detailed study intrigued me to read his debut novel.

After reading the prologue, I was hooked and within a span of one day, I finished the book. I believe the story has to have a linear thread, despite being set in different time frame or places. The readers should be made aware beforehand that the title is quite apt for the kind of blood and chilling scenarios presented in the book. You are introduced the protagonist, tough Jat cop from Delhi Crime Branch, Hawa Singh, who might look all brawn with his six foot plus height and hulk of a frame. But he also has some brains to match.

An incident from his path has given him a devil-may-care attitude, apart from a bullet lodged in his brain. He is in Benares, the heart of Hindu world, with his dying father Fauja Singh, whose way of dying is more hilarious than ever. Dying in Benares leads to moksha. And it here on Makar Sankranti that he discovers the floating body of an American woman, amidst the cries of Har Har Mahadev of the intimidating Naga Sadhu. She has a cross stake in her heart with the organ removed.

Hawa gets sucked into a murder mystery of a religious nature which involves the Vatican, the Benares royal family, Hinduism’s most formidable sects (Nagas and Aghoris, bitter rivals) and most important, a cunning cannibal on loose who will not stop at anything to prove his point. As Hawa gets entangled in this rather internationally religious plot, you also meet FBI agent Ruby Malik assisting the protagonist.

What pleasantly surprises the reader is the fact that the book has been well-researched. Whenever the mention of any religious or even historical fact arose, it does not bother you as something out of the fertile mind of the writer. Mahendra weaves these facts without letting the pace of the book down. The Naga sadhus led by an intriguing American Mahant named Baba Ramtirath create a terrifying vision, be it their fierce loyalty for their guru, utter disregard for worldly rules and just mere presence. On the other hand, you have the equally terrifying Aghori sadhus. Hardcore Shiva followers, the revered but mostly kept a hand’s length Aghoris are known to haunt cremation grounds, indulge in cannibalism and known to be masters of tantric art. With these two rival parties making appearances as suspects, you also have a suspicious Kashi naresh with an intelligent but maniac brother who happens to be an Aghori and a cannibal. In between you are introduced to a scheming evil opportunist entrepreneur-cum-politician and his deranged son.

It is these facts mixed with a linear pattern of fast-paced story-telling. Mahendra does not let the mystery or the plot slow down with soppy romantic plots or personal baggage. I found it refreshing clipped. I also found the character sketches on similar lines. The characters are not burdened with endless dramas. You can picture Hawa Singh’s personal battles while solving this case. His father is on another trip of finding death and moksha in the holy city, but it eludes him. So he is on another trip of enjoying life till it lasts. Be it FBI agent Ruby, the mysterious Kashi Naresh Abhay Singh or his Aghori brother Manavendra, the very mysterious Baba Ramtirath, or even minor characters like SSP Neeraj Thakur, each make an impression.

I would prefer calling the language to be perfect for the kind of story The Butcher of Benares is. Mahendra has used simple language with the scenes to be created effortlessly before your eyes. You see Benares in a different light here. Holy is one word which always comes here, but eerie and dark will soon come to your mind. Whether Hawa and Ruby tried to pick up clues or episodes leading up the next victim, all episodes come out with ease.

I have always been a big crime thriller fan, along with mythology and religious stories. It is probably because all these offer me the thrill to picture the written word or figure how it would be. One would call The Butcher of Benares to be quite a heady combination of all these genres. At the end, I was just glad to pick it up for a relaxed Sunday. Mahendra Jakhar, take a bow.

P.S: Benares happens to be on my must-visit places list for quite some time. The book allowed me visit the place without even stepping out of my room.

Title: The Butcher of Benares
Writer: Mahendra Jakhar
Genre: Crime Thriller
Publisher: Westland
Price: Rs 350 (Paperback)

Friday, September 12, 2014

An act in mask

Theatre lovers in Pune are in for a treat as this Sunday at Arc Asia, Koregaon Park where an unusual play unfolds in front of the patrons. Music Matters will present A Tale of Two Treaties which is a Commedia Dell’Arte play for the first time in Pune. One man with ten masks will tell a story of love, betrayal, vengence and more with lots of hilarious results. While the one man army behind the play is Deepal Doshi, Music Matters is run by the young Arthur Fernandes and Chantelle Cabral. Commedia Dell’Arte happens to a popular and influential Italian form of masked theatre from 16th century. Here, you have masks, improvisation, physical comedy and grotesque humour and also meet archetypes.

Deepal Doshi
Deepal’s foray in physical theatre began at Grotowski-based school in Sweden, where he learned Commedia Dell’Arte for three weeks. “I immediately found an affinity to the world of masks. My teacher then suggested me to study physical theatre in California at Dell'Arte International School Of Physical Theatre. I studied here for 3 years. Here is where I studied forms like Commedia Dell'Arte, Clowning, Melodrama, Tragedy, Buffoun, Devising, Adaptation work. At the end of school, I was working as a freelance artist directing shows, acting and teaching in the US, Sweden and Bali.”

We return to A Tale of Two Treatise. After taking the decision to come to India in 2012, doing something in Commedia Dell’Arte was running through his head. “I tried to look up on the internet and asked friends if they knew of anyone doing Commedia Dell’Arte in India and unfortunately I couldn’t find any. I was averted to the idea of starting with a workshop or beginning by teaching about Commedia Dell’Arte to introduce the form in India. So I decided to experiment with this form. Even though Commedia Dell’Arte is an ensemble form, I decided to create a one-man show. I wanted to challenge myself just the way the form challenges the actor to create a piece of work that engages, entertains and inspires. I was all set to perform this show in Mumbai at The Hive, where I met Chantelle Cabral with Arthur Fernandes. Unfortunately the rains destroyed the make-shift roof and the show was cancelled but a small chat with Chantelle and her partner was enough to inspire the three of us to collaborate. They introduced me to the possibility of performing at Arc Asia in Pune. Since I haven’t performed for a Pune audience, we thought this might be a great way to premiere this show here.”

Speaking about Music Matters, Chantelle reveals, “Our company is into very innovative events indeed. And creating a new path and opening out a new horizon of innovation for the people to see, take part in and experience. All our events are organised on our own and we also work along with like-minded people. We are blessed to come in contact, work with, or associate with the people who share the same thought of experimenting with interesting ideas that are out of the box.”
For any artiste, his creations hold something special for him to do it. For Deepal, it is the engaging world of masks. “What excites me the most is the experience that the show transcends from one actor playing ten characters to an entertaining story of these eccentric characters that entertains the audiences. This performance demands a lot of energy and everytime it creates a magical space where I feed off the audience energy and throw it back at them creating a “play” in every sense of the word. My memory of Puneris has been of fun and enthusiasm ans I have a feeling that that’s what they will have on Sunday. The show in Arc Asia is not just a performance but an entire evening of great food, great wine and a wild theatrical experience.”

This Mumbai-based actor, creator, director and educator has travelled all over learn various works
Chantelle Cabral & Arthur Fernandes 
like Commedia Dell’Arte, Clown, Melodrama, Mime, Tragedy. “I teach workshops and master classes for acting professionals as well as students in U.S.A, Sweden, India and Indonesia. I am currently performing this one man show directed by Kathryn Doshi as well as It’s Not Waht You Tihnk, a three person original devised  Commedia Dell'Arte play, written and directed by me.”
For Deepal, the thing that enthrals him about theatre is its essence from his point of view. “The performer shares a unique emotional and intellectual vulnerability with his/her audience in an exclusive time and space that they have agreed to be in together. I believe the experience of an audience watching physical theatre is profoundly visceral as much as it is intellectual and emotional.  In all the work I create and aspire to create, I am always questioned by my sub-conscious “What is it about your theatre Deepal that film cannot recreate?”. I believe this forms the basis of my work and the inspiration for me devoting myself to theatre.”

Regarding Music Matters which has base in Pune, Mumbai and Goa, along with events in Nashik, Delhi and worldwide, Chantelle speaks, “We are always open to moving to where ever we are needed. We always have done our best to have the most successful events and got very positive responses from them. The only tough part we find is to talk to people and introduce concepts that haven’t been done before. Innovative Events, Drum Circles, Artist Management and so much more... keeping Music as a constant base, we work around.”

They makes sure that they give back to society as much as they can. “At the end, if you believe and faith in what you do, leave the rest to nature and you shall see it all fall in place at its own time. You do what you love doing and you will never have to work for the rest of your life, and that’s what we do.”

VENUE: Arc Asia, ABC Farms, North Main Road, Koregaon Park
DATE: September 14th, 2014
TIME: Cocktails at 7pm and Showtime at 9pm
TICKET & INFO: 9860088475

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Visiting PVR Bluo

I am always sceptical about places which have so many things woven into one. One is not sure of whether it stays true to anything. While Pune is flooded with new places of entertainment and eateries, I refused to be allowed to be the donkey made to travel all over with a carrot in the front. And in this state, I was called to check out a new place in town – PVR bluO at Phoenix Market City at Nagar Road. Three words proved to be THE word of attraction – Bowling Alley, Complete Entertainment and Good Food. Psst... bluO happens to be a bowling chain and the one here is indeed quite big.

Located on the lower level and spread over quite some area, what interested me was the fact that the area was not lumped together for just one thing. While a large area was given to the bowling area and the eating & drinks area, the cubicles were divided into private sitting areas, karaoke area, games area, and area for parties of all kinds.
I started to discover the place by checking out the specialised cubicles. I was glad to note that the area was well-divided and even an area for collectibles. One only felt that the area could have been a bit brighter, though it was not like you have a blackout here. It just needs more illumination than provided. But this could be a personal view. It’s a good thing that the various cubicles allowed privacy.
As I moved around, I found the place to be crowded but it was not claustrophobic. An in-house DJ played good techno music, but one is afraid that it might be turned towards boring item songs. The bowling alley – the main attraction - was quite large indeed. Special shoes are provided for those who want to play and it was quite fun to see people enjoy.

I was more interested in the food, as unlike other places with gaming as a major part and food relegated to the last, here good food is given prominent place. There is an actual qualified chef heading the kitchen here and had arranged for all kinds of world cuisine along with Indian.
I first sampled the Aloo Chutney Waale, a tangy dish with a twist to a typical aloo chaat. The Sheesh Touk was an interesting middle-east kebab. Though it tasted more like any spicy tikka, it still made you want to eat more with the yoghurt dip provided.
Now that my taste buds were tempted, I went ahead to eat the Chinese BBQ Chicken – a certified winner. I loved the way the BBQ sauce was in right consistency and the chicken was well-cooked. The best part is the way it was presented – on a fork to be eaten while you played. All you aloo tikki fans will be happy to find Dilli Style Aloo Tikki. It was as authentic as one got in Delhi and came with three dippings. The taste came out perfect.
Since the A/C air was pretty chilly for me, I tried the Chicken Pepper Fry which was just like it sounds and so much better. I loved the way the tender chicken went well with the pepper marination. Its finger food which you pop while chatting with friends or bowl around. The eating session went on to BluO Special Nachos which was a better version of the typical nachos you find everywhere else. But I found the Peri Peri chicken Satay to be usual... tasty, yes.
I prefer passing Masala Spring Roll, while the Garlic Bread Platter to be a great option for having a bite, literally. All the three – Caramalised Onion and Sour Cream, Leeks and Cherry Tomato Compote and Roasted Bell Pepper and Balsamic – were an unusual topping but quite tempting. Though there was a complete bar, I preferred avoiding it. But it might be an attraction for many.

To be honest, I expected PVR bluO to be just another bowling alley. But it turned out to be a complete package. You can hang out with family, friends, on your own or for just about anything. It might be on a loud side, due to the music and the fact that its attraction is bowling. If you can deal with it, you can head to Phoenix Market City in a jiffy.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Book Review: Zindagi Ke Martbaan Se – Poetic Reflections From The Jar Of Life

I confess that despite being a literature student and also taking Hindi as one of my subjects during my graduation days, poetry has always brought out mixed emotions. You either liked it or scrapped through it for the marks. And there were people like me who oscillated in between. While travelling on the path of writing authentic impersonal reviews, I chanced upon this book of poetry by Kuhoo Gupta who describes herself as a born singer, an IITian and a Gulzar fan. Her poetry book, Zindagi Ke Martbaan Se – Poetic Reflections From The Jar Of Life, is a collection of 79 poems written in a very conversational fashion. The Hindi verses have Urdu and English mixed in it.

Thanks to my previous shaky connections with poetry, I made an attempt to truly appreciate the varied topics and emotions covered by Kuhoo in her debut book. So, we meet love (loads of it), nostalgia, remembrance (that too in kilos), emotions and many random topics. You do feel that these poems have been written during an emotional phase. The sentimentality has a touch of contemporary via the use of modern lingo. So, you have poems like ATM, Teri Wali Nas (vein), Kasam Se, Khushboo, Parvaah, Grand Canyon, Hourglass, Mansuba, Aadatan, Tera Pehla Bosaa, Betakkalufi, Metro Station, Zindagi Mausiki Hai, Ranjishe, Fasle, Pehli Mulakat, Khudgarz, Bhawandar, Gehrahee, Ehsaas, Technology, Immortal and Kitaab.

One can notice a certain impression of Gulzar’s shaayari on her style as it is colloquial, simple and at times, profound. One still has to read a lot from Kuhoo to make her stronger connection with the legend. One can appreciate the fact that her poems display a certain maturity, though she has a tendency to go a little too philosophical in the matters of the heart. But she has not kept herself limited in that sense. There is that poem on global warming or on quitting smoking and even on what the mind wants to.

It is the language which might interest you all. It is a reflection of the GenX wherein Kuhoo uses Hindi mixed with Urdu and a word or two of English. Many of us who have departed from Hindi language after school might be happy to know that the language here is simple. But allow yourself to understand the deeper meanings. One of the smartest thing done is you can find the meaning of some of the Urdu words used at the bottom of each poems.

I had a few favourites. One, titled Bhawandar, speaks of being caught in a swirl wind of sorts and her need to find a place to speak to herself. Another of my favourites happens to Gehrai which wonderfully speaks of trying to find the meaning of relations and finding its depth. My personal favourite is Illma – a two line poem of trying to find the depth of others but not sure of their own. I loved the fact that the length of poems is varied but the meaning it is trying convey is sublime.

Kuhoo Gupta’s maiden attempt at poetry and Hindi one at that too is worth taking notice. Zindagi Ke Martbaan Se – Poetic Reflections From The Jar Of Life is a note-worthy pick, but only if you have the patience and nature to understand what she wants to say. We would look forward to more attempts but purely in Hindi.

Writer: Kuhoo Gupta
Publisher: Notion Press
Price: Rs 260
Genre: Fiction
January 2014

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Rocking Remix: Music Review of The Bartender – Classic Bollywood with a Twist

Listening to The Bartender – Classic Bollywood with a Twist makes you want to hear the original songs and fall in love with both the versions. Mikey McCleary has an ace of an album up his sleeve.

The name Mikey McCleary will have scratching your head to figure. If you loved heard the fabulous remixes of Khoya Khoya Chaand, Hawaa Hawaaii in Shaitan or Pukarta Chala Hoon Main or recently Mast Kalandar in David, clap for this guy. His latest offering, The Bartender – Classic Bollywood with a Twist has some unusual Bollywood classics up for musical bartending.

The first to go under the knife is a cabaret number, Aaj Ki Raat Koi Aane Ko Hai. The cabaret feel has been charged up with some great use of drums, guitar and trumpets. It has been given a jazzy feel. Shalmali Kholgade does a fabulous job singing this Asha Bhonsle number and provides a husky feel to the song. You will never believe when you hear Anushka Manchanda take on the classic Jagjit Singh ghazal Tum Jo Itna Muskura Rahe Ho. It becomes Mikey’s Blues number where slow drums beats, trumpets and guitar bring in a different thehrav to the song. Anushka’s blues style singing brings in an amazing melancholic side. You hear it while downing a whiskey.

Mikey’s version of the amazing Mohammed Rafi number Aaj Mausam keeps the peppy mode of the song alive, while adding a certain speed to the song. Mauli sings with the same energy, mischievousness and fun as the legend had. The small flute or trumpet pieces are great. Mikey has picked a Geeta Dutt classic, Aey Meherbaan and he has made an unknown Saba Azad sing the song. No, she does not sound like Dutt and that is the best thing. Dutt’s innocent seduction through her singing changes in a throaty flirtation with Saba. Here we see an excellent use of the instruments like accordion, drums, and clarinet.

Shalmali’s rendition of the classic Kishore Kumar number, Ek Ladki Bheegi Bhagi Si, makes her match Kumar’s teasing nature. Of course, Shalmali’s version is more sensuous. Adding to it, Mikey adds a touch of casualness to a rather peppy number, with drums, cornet (if I am correct), keyboards and the works. Shalmali returns with a classy rustic song, Ude Jab Jab Zulfen Teri and both the song and singer are unrecognisable. Her husky version makes the song fit for romantic tryst with your loved one in a cosy posh place. The use of trombone makes this desi song peppy.

Woh Haseen Dard De Do has Shalmali bring certain innocence to this song. A Chinese effect is heightened with the trombone and drums. Its romantic side becomes extra special. Fans of old Hindi classics should not offended by these remixed versions, as Mikey McCleary comes with yet another ace of an album - The Bartender – Classic Bollywood with a Twist. Play it anywhere for a casual atmosphere.

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