Sunday, September 23, 2018

It’s a personal thing

By Nikhil Raghavan

Gifts come in all forms and varieties, including the easiest to choose – a bouquet of flowers. You can never go wrong with that, whatever the occasion. But, many a times, we think we know an acquaintance well enough to present him with a book or a music album, since you know that he loves to read and listen to music. You couldn’t be more wrong!

Many a times, for birthdays or anniversaries, friends have given me music CDs or books. At least 5% of my shelf space for music and books consist of unread/unheard material which are not my cup of tea. I know they were given with good intentions so, it will remain there for the rest of my life. Music and books are probably the only two things that have strong and personalized preferences and as long as people realise that, the world will be a better place to live in. I, for one, have never gifted music or book to anyone, for I do not know what his or her personal preferences are.

I would buy a magazine off the rack or grab a newspaper off the stand, for that casual ‘time-pass’ periods of waiting at airports or travel on the tube. And, just as casually, fling it into the nearest dustbin. Or, I would turn on the FM on my mobile and listen to ‘canned music’ to keep away the outdoor ruckus while commuting. Both these actions do not warrant intense or dedicated attention.
But, when I buy a particular music album or a novel, it is because I need it to satisfy an urge. No one can sense what my urge is at a particular ‘moment’ and try to gift me one.

Over the years, my choice of music / artistes and books / authors have continuously evolved, changed, swung back and forth, but, genre-wise, mostly remained stable – thrillers and adventure fiction and rock music. I may have indulged in the occasional periods of jazz & blues, country & western or heavy metal, but I will always drift back to pure rock music. For me, the kind of music I listen to purely depends on the mood of the day or the state of mind.

But, when it comes to reading, I like the adventure of Wilbur Smith, the thrills of Robert Ludlum or the lyrical landscape of Jeffery Archer. In younger days I have had my fill of classics and Shakespeare but not anymore. For me, reading a book is like watching an entertaining film. It has to occupy my mind during the length of the read and then forget about it, rather than dwell on the characters and plots and ‘would-it-have-been-so?’ situations. Maybe I will never read the same title again, because, somehow, the story will always be fresh in your mind, even after a decade.
Similarly, listening to an album is cerebral to the extent that I try to understand the lyrical story or the musical arrangement or the guitar riff, forgotten till the next track comes along. But, I will revisit the album or songs several times only to enjoy the compositions more and more, and even discover nuances that will keep surfacing.

Now, let’s assume a situation where you have to give a good friend and neighbor a gift for his birthday. You know he loves music and reading but not the same stuff of your choice. So, take him to the nearest book/music store and ask him to pick his choice…but, be prepared that he might have multiple choices and will dent your debit card a bit. Never mind, he is your BFF and at least your gift will not go to waste. Never mind that the surprise element was lost, the recipient got what he loved, after all. Would everyone think of doing something similar?

Similarly, music being so personal, there are times when you can get lost in the lyrics of Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, John Denver or immerse yourself in the guitar pyrotechnics of Slash or Jimi Hendrix or the flights of fantasy of Eric Clapton’s blues. Now, how would your neighbor know whether he should give you a Clapton or Wilbur Smith. Would he know if you already have it? How would he know that that particular Clapton album is really not up to your standard of liking?

Remember, music and books are a personal thing!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Absolutely awesome

Following up on the runaway success of Absolute Barbecue’s first outlet on G. N. Chetty Road in T. Nagar, Chennai, the speciality of which was AB’s Wish Grill, AB’s have just opened their second restaurant in Velachery. Strategically located on the vital Velachery-Taramani Link Road and bang opposite TCS, AB’s have come up with a few newer concepts to satiate the hunger of their patrons.
The new outlet features a Gaucho Style Churrasco counter – Mexican attired waiters and all! While they carry forward their favourite Cold Stone Creamery, a new introduction is a Kid’s Corner, during weekends. “This will help the weekend family diners to engage their kids while they focus on the food part of the experience. We have also noticed that, in recent times, it is the children who dictate the place for a dine-out,” says Prosenjit, one of the two directors of AB’s.

Prosenjit and Gurudas, the brains behind AB’s accompanied me to a lunch tasting at the new outlet. “This is a 160-seater restaurant and is located strategically to cater to both OMR and Velachery residents, as well as those from the immediate neighbourhood. With the addition of this, we are now operating 8 outlets, including two in Dubai. We have two each in Bangalore and Hyderabad,” informs Gurudas.

The live grill placed in the centre of the table attracts the attention of a retinue of waiters who constantly place skewers of veg and non-veg food. In between, to cleanse the palate, American corn is served, along with American Cheesy Potatoes. Only then can you do justice to the Chiptole Wings. Juicy Texan prawns, Singaporean Chicken Wings, BBQ Mushroom, Lady Fish in Sambal Olek Sauce which are followed by chicken and pineapple served the Gaucho style.

Desserts include donuts and soufflé, phirni and rabdi not forgetting hot crisp jalebis which can be topped with a variety of ice creams straight off the cold stone.

The overall eating experience is enhanced by the pleasing interiors with cleverly planned seating and air conditioning which, combined with the unique smoke exhausts, prevent any sort of stuffiness or food aroma.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Sun, sand and the sea

There’s something about the sun, sand and sea that increases your appetite for food. I think the salt in the air tickles your taste buds and the fragrance (note: NOT smell!) of the sea stirs the sensors in the nose to heighten the need for food. At least for me, the ‘sss’ combo always works to make me hungrier and thirsty. Probably the reason that numerous seaside eateries and beach resorts do so well.
Ever since Suresh Chandra Menon opened his The Beach Club at Neelangarai, I was dying to visit. I did so, a couple of months ago, at the fag end of the so-called Madras winter. The air still had a nip in it, when I reached the plonk-on-the beach eatery. Noon-time sun was bright, but not hot. Still, I decided to enjoy the sights from the vast and airy first floor balcony with its wicker chairs and glass tables.
Suresh has converted a twin beach house, with a medium sized pool in the front yard, into a well-appointed restaurant which has an air-conditioned seating area, a garden set-up with granite tables and chairs, and a vast balcony which overlooks the garden and the sea beyond. Inside, there are pool tables and a lounge area.
The Beach Club serves both Indian and Continental cuisine, with a firm thrust on sea food. With an eye on family patronage, Suresh has consciously avoided serving liquor. Hence, fruit cocktails or mocktails, smoothies and other ‘cool’ drinks will quench your thirst after a romp on the sands. Succulent prawns, fresh fish, tender lamb and chicken to go with Indian breads and rice dishes will make you crave for more.
Not being satisfied with the lack of exploring the sea and the sands, I made another trip to The Beach Club, just as summer was setting in, before the sun disappeared into the western horizon. While tiny crabs scrambled about and the waves lapped energetically at the shore, I built up a generous appetite by trudging the length and breadth of the almost private beach. Fishermen from the neighbouring village were returning home with their meager catch of the day.
Dusk was already setting in and I wanted to get as much of the sea, although the beach was already being lit in the glow of a couple of ‘street lights’.  With the sea breeze cool enough, I decided to occupy one of the granite seat/table, and indulge…in food, of course.
Here is a sample of food to die for:
  • Stir fried prawns with chilly flakes, garlic, coriander and lime served with a cocktail dip and a mint and coriander dip.
  • Crumb fried stuffed mushroom, stuffed with ricotta and jalapeno served with a garlic mustard cheese dip.
  • Stew of lamb shank with potatoes, peas, pepper paprika, rosemary and wine.
  • Mutton Biriyani.

The menu is endless….and I will have to make repeated visits to this heavenly seaside club to sample the rest of the variety. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Bob Rupani's participation in a German Classic Car Rallye

Bob Rupani writes:

Just thought I would share that I was invited to participate in the 604 Rallye in Germany in June. This event had 50 teams and I was the only non German speaking person there. In fact no Indian has participated in this event before.

My co-driver was Carolin Jackel - a Germany lady who I met for the first time an hour before the start. Ours was the only Indo- German team on the event.

You might want to look at the links below:

Below is a link of the story done by my co-driver Carolin Jackel. Her's is a better story than mine. You may want to look at the various photo galleries where she beautifully tells the story of the entire event through the photos and captions:

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Will this nostalgic experience happen again this year?

November last year was very special in my life. I was going back to my Alma Mater after 45 years of passing out. It was really a nostalgic trip down memory lane for me. And, boy, was I in for a shock!
Let me start at the very beginning. Nineteen fifty three...or was it fifty four? Was I three years old or four? At sixty three years of age, some patches of memory gets obliterated, but what I do remember very distinctly is the kindergarten class, a matronly 'Aunty' holding my small hands in her pudgy paw and guiding me to write a, b, c and so on, on slate! That was the beginning of my tryst with St. Michael's Anglo-Indian Boys High School at Cannanore in Kerala. A student life that shaped my character, my personality, my future.
As I grew up and moved from KG to first and on to other standards, the predominantly Anglo-Indian populated school, with Anglo-Indian teachers and a variety of Jesuit priests, including Fr. Mayer, an American, had a lasting impression on me, my psyche, my education and attitude towards life. Not forgetting the fact that the old school, its boarding and vast playgrounds were located in a quaint cantonment called Burnacherry, or, Burnshire, as many of us 'anglicised' kids would refer it as.

English was not just the language we had to speak, it was also a way of life; even the meals had to be eaten with fork and spoon. Of, course, in language class - Hindi and Malayalam, we were encouraged to converse in those languages so that the nuances could be picked up.

As mentioned earlier, there was a strong Anglo-Indian presence in the school and many of my friends were from that community which not only excelled in education, but also in sports and games like hockey, for instance. Of course, the school excelled in cricket and football, too with many of the school's students playing at state, national and even international levels.

Forty-five years later, when about 120 of us converged on the school campus, it was at the new school premises, where I had also studied for roughly half of my schooling years. But, what shocked me was the non-existence of the entire old school and boarding campus which was now partly occupied by residential units and partly by overgrown vegetation. The only consolation was the existence of some ruins of the old school building and the famous music room where Mr. Crasta used to fiddle his way through our cacophonies.

Walking though the old 'Burnshire' I found that our neighbouring haunt, St. Teresa's Convent was flanked by a mammoth new church and old ramshackle buildings, many of them devoid of the original Anglo-Indian families and now owned by other communities.

Potholed streets and old houses in ruins, indifferently maintained by a cantonment active with army personnel, was all that remained of my good ole Burnshire.

As the day wore on, the 120 of us Old Boys of SMS from batches ranging from 1950s to 1980s socialised, caught up with old stories, brought up-to-date with each person's life and promised to keep in touch in the future.

While there was an eclectic mix of boys from several communities and religions, SMS was what it was, due to the strong presence of Anglo-Indian boys. These are some of the old boys, the ones that gave the 'Anglo-Indian' in the school's name, a true meaning, who made it to the meet in November 2103: Marie Alphonse Merandez, Pinto Aloysius, Condrad D'sylva, Douglas Simcock, Kenneth Pinto, Lester Noranho, Nelson D'couto, Nobert Mendonza, Norman Noranho, Norman Young, Robert Pink, Rodney Castelino, Rogers D'souza and Ronald Rozario and many, many more who I cannot recall.

Whatever be the case, it is my firm belief that it is the school years that lays a strong foundation for a person and most friendships built during those years last longer than the ones developed in universities.

Gently blows the breeze on Windham Hill

About ten years ago I had picked up a CD, simply titled TOUCH. This was released on the Windham Hill label, released in India by BMG Crescendo in 2001. Then, after listening to the tracks for a couple of times, the CD was relegated to my rack as part of my growing collection of music, a result of having worked in the music industry for over 16 years.

Just the other day, I was dusting through my old collection of music, in an attempt to segregate them according to genres, I again chanced upon the Touch CD and slipped it into the player's tray. What resulted was 56 minutes and 49 seconds of sheer bliss. Here is why:

Windham Hill began as a label creating a renaissance of music for the guitar. In celebration of 25 years of the guitar, Windham Hill compiled a collection of exceptional guitar recordings ever since the label was formed. Renowned music producer Dawn Atkinson was assigned the job of selecting the songs to be put on the album. And, Will Ackerman, accomplished guitarist and founder of Windham Hill Records, was requested to provide the liner notes.

Founded in 1976, Windham Hill became a pioneer in establishing a new genre of music whose artists combine classical, folk and jazz backgrounds to create a new sound.The label has always stayed a small and dedicated one and in the 25 years leading to the release of Touch, it had grown in different directions while all the time adhering to the tradition of interesting, ahead-of-the-time, quality releases for which it is known.

Will Ackerman writes in his liner notes:

Windham Hill Records began without the label name attached to it when I recorded a simple collection of guitar solos in 1975 called In Search Of The Turtle's Navel. I followed that with my second LP, It Takes A Year, in 1977. The entire adventure was saved from being a vanity effort when I convinced my cousin Alex de Grassi to record Turning: Turning Back. We then added my Childhood and Memory and Alex's Slow Circle in 1979. Thus began a great journey which includes a wide range of releases by pianist George Winston.

Touch features two tracks by Michael Hedges - Aerial Boundaries and Rikki's Shuffle, two tracks by Will Ackerman - The Impending Death Of The Virgin Spirit and Shella's Pictures, two tracks by Alex Grassi - Western and Turning: Turning Back and Russ Freeman's Larry's World, Snuffy Walden's Who Lives Up There, Steve Erquiaga's Pavane, Sean Harkness's Coming Home, David Cullen's On The Way and Doyle Dykes' Nothing's Too Good.

Says Ackerman about some of the tracks, in his liner notes:

"Engineer Steven Miller and I were in a mobile truck with earphones on when Michael Hedges unleashed Aerial Boundaries and, without exaggeration, the world has never been quite the same since.

The liner notes of Turning: Turning Back and Slow Circle describe me as the producer of those recordings. I have never done less in my life. Alex Grassi always knew what he wanted, how he wanted to get there and precisely what he needed to exact from himself to accomplish it.

While best known for his work in jazz, Russ Freeman began in acoustic finger-style guitar. Larry's World is a wonderfully upbeat piece incorporating a lot of polished technique in a short space of time.

What makes Steve Erquiaga so remarkable is that his arrangements and performances so effectively blend his deep respect for that repertoire with the ability to create a new, personal and contemporary form. In the Pavane by Faure, which was written in 1886, Steve brings the piece wonderfully alive into the 21st century.
Sean Harkness thrives in every musical genre and ultimately it seems as if he, to put it simply, just loves music. Coming Home is a piece Sean wrote while visiting with his family and features him on both nylon and steel String guitars.

A recording artist in his own right, David Cullen has released a considerable catalogue of recordings, both solo and ensemble. On The Way, he describes as an attempt to capture the lyricism of Ackerman in combination with the technical prowess of Ralph Tower. It is a reminder, too, that the trip should be about the journey, not just the destination.

What struck me then (referring to a concert) still strikes me now: there are plenty of technically precise guitar players in the world, but to find someone who possesses that ability and combines it with musical expression from the heart is a rare and wonderful thing indeed. Doyle Dykes is very much that combination."

Touch will help you renew your enthusiasm for the great music that has come to be known throughout the world, a genre that Windham Hill Records has endeavoured to bring to the world of music.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Ban the Bhang?

Can you imagine Holi being celebrated without the ubiquitous Bhang? What is this exotic drink? Culled from the leaves and buds of Cannabis plant, the very intoxicating Bhang helps to escalate the spirit of Holi.
Cultivation of Cannabis is government regulated and illegal without a permit. The derivatives of Cannabis are Marijuana, Hashish and Bhang. In the US, several states have decided to legalise the recreational use of Marijuana; in India, such a similar use for Cannabis, was the norm till 1985, when due to US pressure to stop India becoming a conduit for drugs from Afghanistan and Pakistan, our government notified Cannabis as a narcotic.

A Times of India report says:

It is now medically proven that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. In fact, the good weed has medical uses (as many as 19 US states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes). However, moderation is the key. While excessive and sustained consumption of alcohol can cause severe liver damage leading to death, excessive use of marijuana too can cause some damage, mainly to our sensory abilities. In moderation, marijuana is a gentle mood-altering relaxant.

So, if there is a rational policy towards intoxicants and we allow the sale and consumption of liquor, there is no good reason to not similarly allow sale and consumption of marijuana, hashish and bhang. For years, India has held this position. For 25 years since 1961, it has withstood American pressure to keep marijuana legal. Which brings us to the story of why it was banned in India.

Since 1961, the US has been campaigning for a global law against all drugs, both hard and soft. Given that ganja, charas and bhang were a way of life in India, we opposed the drastic measure. But by the early '80s, American society was grappling with some drug problems and opinion had grown against the "excesses" of the hippie generation. In 1985, the Rajiv Gandhi government buckled under the pressure and enacted a law called the Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act.

(The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, commonly referred to as the NDPS Act, is an Act of the Parliament of India that was assented to by President Giani Zail Singh on 16 September 1985, and came into force on 14 November 1985. The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Bill, 1985 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 23 August 1985. It was passed by both the Houses of Parliament and it was assented by the President on 16 September 1985. It came into force on 14 November 1985 as The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (shortened to NDPS Act). Under the NDPS Act, it is illegal for a person to produce/manufacture/cultivate, possess, sell, purchase, transport, store, and/or consume any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance.)

Twenty seven (now, nine) years later, now that some American states have "shown the way", it is time to revisit the ban. When ganja, charas and bhang don't have obvious medical negatives and don't lead to addiction or violent behaviour (which alcohol may be accused of doing), why then should it not be legal as it was in India for centuries? Especially, when there is no social or cultural rejection of them. On the contrary, it is a way of life in our country. Poorly thought-out laws lead to corruption and the harassment of ordinary people. It also tells on the health of the nation. Instead, the NDPS Act should be amended and soft drugs such as ganja, charas and bhang should be made legal. (End of report).