Wednesday, December 19, 2007

 

Movies, Masti and Chandler Bing

Winter vacations are on in full swing. The mercury is dipping day by day making the beloved blanket dearer and dearer. My belief that there is no greater happiness than sitting out in the sun in the day and in front of the heater at night during winter has been reaffirmed, for the umpteenth time. Due to the cold, all natural processes have obviously been stultified, resulting in what appears to be laziness. But is not. I think that winter serves as excellent practice for calamity planning. Take my case right now. I am comfortably settled on my bed, wrapped in a comfy blanket, and within easy reach are- a bottle of water, my mobile phone, the landline, Sam Walton’s autobiography (which I claim I’m reading right now), headphones, the TV remote and several cushions. If need be, I can stay like this, perfectly happy and entertained for hours. However, just when I find myself all warmed up, some idiot rings the doorbell and its back to the drawing board. Plus, mankind is still to come up with a way to keep nature’s call at bay.

The hols so far have been a perfect blend of going out and meeting friends and lazing around at home. I’ve watched 3 movies so far. The first was Dus Kahaaniyaan. I saw it at Priya with some of me oldest and best friends. The highlight of the movie was that we decided to bring our parsimonious selves to the fore and bought front row tickets, thereby saving 50 bucks apiece. The result was that we watched the movie with our necks straining to be at 180 degrees with our backbones, reminding me of the time when I watched Bunty aur Bubli in the ‘special’ section at Ashok at my hometown. More on the hometown later, though. Contrary to expectation, Dus Kahaaniyaan turned out to be decent enough. 2 or 3 of the ‘kahaanis’ were actually pretty good- most inspired by Roald Dahl, Saki and O. Henry stories. I believe all the better stories were directed by the same guy, Sanjay Gupta if I remember rightly. Not worth watching at the theatre perhaps, but definitely at home.

Next up was Hitman. Dodgy dearest and I went to watch it together at Wave, CSM. Naturally, when 2 enthusiastic eaters like the Lazy Labrador and yours truly Lefty get together, the food factor will always dominate. We had a light lunch at McD first, where, to my utter surprise, I found out that LL had never had a McChicken Sandwich. Kind soul that I am, I introduced him to what I believe is McD’s finest offering. I think we also had something at the snack bar before the movie started. Then we managed to fit in the movie between our meals. Hitman is a pretty good action movie. Unlike Dus Kahaaniyaan, it won’t be half as fun if not watched in the theatre. There’s hardly any plot, only the basic setting and stunts are good. The best part, however, was the censorship. It was rated A, leading me to believe that there was probably a smooching scene and maybe some ‘touchy touchy’ parts. The scene cutting started when expected- when the anti-hero (I think Timothy Olyphant was one) and his girlfriend started making out, but then we suddenly got more than we bargained for. The Indian Censor Board, I thought, had matured all of a sudden. Too soon though, as the amateurish scene cutting started again. I had to conclude that they’d overlooked the movie a bit.

Having got the formalities out of the way, LL and I discovered a new Italian place at CSM- Sbarro. Since we’d hardly heard of any of the dishes on the menu, we eagerly went in to give the place a try. I ordered Pasta with Chicken Parmigiana, pronouncing it Par-me-long Ji-yana. Well aware that the best of us can look like utter idiots when it comes to pronouncing Italian words, I enquired of the waitress how Rome demanded the word in question to be uttered. Her ‘Chikkan? Which Chikkan?’ left me in no doubt whatsoever that despite appearances, this was not the horse’s mouth from which I would get a straight answer. We also ordered a slice of pizza (just a slice mind you). When the order came, I was happy to see that the Parmigiana did not include the taste buds in its war with the tongue. The whole pasta had a tomato base with generous doses of cheese and a crisp chicken patty on top. The sauce on the patty was also quite good. Surprisingly, the ‘snack’ turned out to be pretty heavy and I was full, much to the disappointment of LL who’d been looking forward to some ice-cream. Well-satisfied with the meals and the movie, we bid each other a fond farewell.

The next, and till date the last movie I saw this winter was I am Legend. Since the Lazy Labrador was down south, I took Ketan along to play the role of the Geeky guy. I am Legend is easily the best movie I’ve seen this winter. It’s based on the Science Fiction novel by Richard Matheson. The remaining paragraph is going to contain spoilers so, unless you’ve seen the movie, skip to the next one. In I am Legend, Will Smith plays the last man alive on Earth, which has been destroyed by a man-made virus. The other survivors are Dark-Seekers, a brilliant concept. They prey on human flesh. They can be human or animals. Dark-Seeker symptoms include hair-loss, something with the pupil and a fatal aversion to light, specially sunlight. There’s an amazing scene in which the sun is about to set and forms a thin band of light between two skyscrapers. Will Smith is on one side with his pet and 3 Dark-Seeker canines on the other side. The good guys are protected by the rapidly narrowing Lakshman-Rekha of sunlight, while the dogs wait for it to disappear. The photography in that scene is really good and in my opinion, it’s the best scene of the movie.

When at home, my experiments on myself have shown that I’m spending most of my time eating (no surprises) and sleeping (no surprises at all). I’ve also been watching a lot of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Again. And Again. And Chandler rocks. He is absolutely class. His lines are easily the wittiest and his jokes superbly classy. And some of the expressions that he makes make me repeat that particular scene, something I detest otherwise. There’s one episode in which Rachel’s Mom and Dad get divorced and the gang is trying to prevent them from seeing each other at a party. There’s a particular scene in which Chandler, Ross and Joey hop across the hall in order to shield Mr Greene from the Missus and it’s enough to get the sides aching. There’s also the episode in which Monica is hell bent on getting Chandler to go for a jog and he manages to get out of it. Awesome. There are many many others of course. In the one where the apartment is bet, Chandler makes that amazing face when they win. Could he be and classier?

I’m beginning to think that Chandler was the inspiration behind the personality disorder funda. If you’ve seen the episode in season 1 where he’s ‘trapped… in an ATM vestibule… with Jill Goodaker’, you’ll get a fair idea of what the personality disorder can be like. I heard that the makers had initially planned to make him ‘happy’, but the decided to hitch him with Monica. This proves that everything ends well for those who suffer from the personality disorder. So… be my General iPrond… I am your Supreme Commander. Search your feelings… you know it to be true. Join me… and together… we, Commander and General, shall rule the galaxy.

I have way too much free time, huh?


Thursday, December 13, 2007

 

The Quest Endeth?

It is said that every person has a goal that he/she seeks to reach. Many people spend their entire lives looking for their goal or trying to set one for themselves. This, they believe, is the reason for their existence- their small role in the huge Master Plan. Some people are shown their goals by good Samaritans, other stumble upon it by chance. For me, ever since our move to the National Capital Region, the goal has been loud and clear- find a joint in Delhi that serves as good Chinese food as the Tangra Chain in Calcutta.

For those unfortunate enough never to have visited the City of Joy, let me explain in greater detail. If there’s a paradise on Earth, it exists in the narrow smelly alleys of the Capital of West Bengal, home to the Tangra Chain of Chinese Restaurants. The food there is heavenly. Words can never suffice to describe how satisfying a gastronomic experience it is. People (read Lefty) have been known to go without dessert or even breakfast the next day just to preserve that amazing taste. And just like heaven, Tangra is extremely difficult to reach. Only those who possess an unbelievably strong desire to devour Chinese food are allowed into the hallowed portals. The road to Tangra is perilous. It is narrow, dirty and filled with law-breaking ricks. Once you reach the general area, the strong smell of seafood being cooked can knock the best of us out. Vegetarians fear to tread within 10 miles of it and even hearty non-vegetarians can have a trying time. Once in though, it is all more than worth it.

There are various restaurants in Tangra. It is difficult of decide the best one. If my memory serves me right, I have been to Kim-Fa, Lily and Marlboro with Kim-Fa being the first and the favourite. Tangra has had a major role in my personality development (so you know who to blame). It was there that I discovered that my favourite dish was Garlic Chicken. It was there that I had my first Golden Fried Prawns. And I believe that it was in Tangra that I took to Chicken Sweet Corn Soup as a duck takes to water. It was also in Tangra that I, along with everyone else present that day, discovered how much I could eat when I wanted to.

After my goal was made clear to me, I set about, with great enthusiasm, to reach it. I tried 2 Golden Dragons in South Delhi but they fell quite short of expectation. I then went to Bercos Garden in Noida. The ambience there would give one million Tangras a run for their money (not that that’s saying much). It’s a wonderful place for a family lunch/dinner. The music is good, the gardens well kept and the food superb. There’re just 2 flaws- the minor one is that they take too long to seat you and the major one is that it’s just not Tangra. Fortune Cookie in Sector 18 was just a tad above the ordinary- extremely disappointing considering the fame that it enjoys.

After long last, it seemed I had found the best Chinese joint in Delhi, if not equal to Tangra’s impossible standards. Chopsticks in Ansal Plaza and its sister restaurant- Bamboo Shoots in Sector 18. Both these places served by far the best Chinese I’d had in Delhi. For a long time, I would tell one and all who cared for my free advice that Chopsticks and Bamboo Shoots were the Places to Be At. However, these two excellent joints were also surpassed the other day. It was my mother’s birthday. I guess there was a lot I should have written that day for her. I also guess that there was even more that my mother would have wanted me to write about her. My only defense is that this is a public blog. And yes, I am a procrastinator of the worst kind.

Coming back to Chinese food, we went to Tea House of the August Moon in the Taj Grand to celebrate me mum’s happy birthday. And it was then that I realized the quest might have ended after all. The food was superb. English adjectives can never to justice to it and I don’t know enough French to describe it well. The Rice noodles were so fine that the made Hakka noodles look like great coils of rope. Chicken with Asparagus tasted delightfully similar to Garlic Chicken. The asparagus part however, turned out to be disappointing. I’d read a Somerset Maugham short story- The Luncheon, a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, where a waiter in a posh French Restaurant had described their asparagus as being so soft so tender that it was a delight. Ever since that day, I had wanted to sink my teeth into that so soft so tender asparagus. When the momentous occasion did come however, I felt a bit let down. Asparagus turned out to be just another green vegetable, maybe tastier than most. It was soft enough, but I couldn’t see what the fuss was about. Give me baked beans any day.

The high point of the quest ending meal was the Shredded Lamb. They’d been fried to perfect crispness. The seasoning made the outer part crisp and on the sweetish side. The core however, had the delicious taste of well cooked meat. Wordsworth might have written a poem on how scrumptious it was.

Since most of this post is about Chinese Food, I must digress and let you know that there’s an amazing place in Mussourie- Kalsang Friends which serves excellent Chinese and Tibetan food, in gargantuan quantities at amazingly low prices. A testimony to that is that 7 hearty eaters had a huge meal there, soup and starters included, for a mere 880 bucks. The same food in Delhi would cost around 250 per head.

Coming back to the Tea House, it seemed now that my quest was finally over. Here, in the Taj was a restaurant that could proudly boast that it had matched Tangra, maybe even surpassed it. But I found myself unwilling to bestow that mantle upon it. Then it dawned on me that the charm of Tangra was perhaps, not just in the food but also in the memories that shrouded it. Tangra was, after all, the first place that I had such amazing Chinese food. There are certain memories that remain with us forever- the fist visit to a foreign country, the first movie watched in a theatre, the first bite of Ferrero Rocher etc. I guess that Tangra is one of them.

Added to it is the fact that those visits to Calcutta were some of the happiest days of my childhood. They were those visits that made Calcutta my favourite city. Every visit brought something new with it- Nicco Park, Science City, swimming at Tollygunge, the Metro. Calcutta was where I had my first Hot Chocolate Fudge. It was so huge I couldn’t even finish it. Every new visit also meant that my Mami, who I’ve heard used to make elastic rotis when she got married, had made another significant step towards becoming the expert Chef that she now is. The proof of the pudding naturally lay in the eating and I saw to it that I got a lot of that. Calcutta also meant that Mama had chalked 5 more places for us to visit and that my cousin was a bit older and exponentially more adorable.

I have to accept that my quest might have been over ages ago- at Chopsticks, Bercos, Golden Dragon or even at Fortune Cookie. I still persist in maintaining that it ended at the Tea House. And come to think of it, this entire post could have been encapsulated in 3 lines (all credits to MasterCard)

Chinese Food at Kalsang and Friends- 900 Rupees

Chinese Food at Bercos Garden- 1500 Rupees

Chinese Food at Tea House of the August Moon- 5000 Rupees

Chinese Food at Tangra- PRICELESS.

There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.

And it’s accepted at all the aforementioned restaurants.


Saturday, December 08, 2007

 

Listen to the tube

One forms many views after reading ‘The Alchemist’. Like any other of its ilk, there are lots of things in that bestseller which one feels one can relate to. Most of the ideas expressed might be too quixotic to implement but there are some that do make a lot of sense. The line “When you truly want something…” in which there’s something about the world conspiring to give it to you has become so popular that it has been used in both Iqbal and Om Shanti Om. Talking of these movies, Shreyas Talpade is turning out to be quite a brilliant young actor. He was inimitable in Iqbal and has done a pretty decent job in Dil Dosti etc as well. In fact, he’s almost the only reason one should watch that movie, though on second thoughts, it’s not really that bad.

Overcoming these puerile vacillations, let me, as the Magi who presented the baby Jesus with Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh might say, Come to the Point. But again, they might not. And talking of Jesus and Myrrh, if you can endure some not-too-gentlemanly language, do watch South Park’s episode where Cartman starts the Christian Rock band “Faith +1”. Ah, there I go again. The Point then. Paulo Coelho mentioned some stuff about following omens. Good omens. Bad omens. Omens with scary kids in them. Urim and Thimmum. You get the drift. Lefty however, chose to royally ignore these presages earlier in November. Royal Ignore with a capital R and I. They portended that things may not be hunky dory unless something was done, but I just wouldn’t listen. It was the Fudge syndrome. So much easier to pretend that everything was ok. Or Hawk-Eye as I’m fond of saying these days.

At this point, readers should be warned that the remainder of this post will be dedicated to what most of us don’t exactly like- Exams, subjects and even grades. I generally avoid writing on these taboo topics and refrain from expressing my true views regarding the revered CG scale. Here too, there shall be no iconoclasm whatsoever. However, the matters about to be discussed might bring unwelcome memories of unpleasant days gone by to mind. But be of stout heart and steely sinew. After all, the solitary reaper also might have been thinking of worse days when she was beheld, single in the field. If she can continue to reap without anguish, is it too mean a task to read what has been written after hours of sweat and toil?

To omens and grades then. It was foretold to me, though not by Gabriel, that the semester was not going to be a bed of roses. The magically most powerful number, so far considered easily attainable, now seemed a distant dream. Any visions of English equivalents of alpha and beta were rudely interrupted by the 40 other ‘Meta’bolites asking “How dare you even dream?” And it must be said, that by procrastinating at every opportunity presented, I did not exactly help things along. And so it came about, that with 4 days to D-Day, enlightenment finally dawned, and I realized that whatever I did now would be too little too late. It was then that the self made one of its wisest aphorisms.

Every sound is associated with an emotion. A feeling. A message. The bell at the end of class signifies relief. In the days of dial-up-connections, the weird sound made by the modem after the lull following the dial tone would mean success. The cry of a dog is supposed to mean death knocking on your door, and is the much-loved topic of all discussions involving the supernatural. And as the 11th month came to an end, I discovered the deadliest of sounds. It is heard hardly, if heard at all. And to those who have the misfortune of hearing it, it signals an impending doom.

The sound is the buzz of the tube-light. Not the buzz when it’s flickering to life, but when it’s well-on. Readers should pray that the tube remains a source of light energy for them and never takes it into its cylindrical head to try out sound. For when the world seems to have gone to sleep in the dead of the night, when lights all around you are off and the sun threatens to show up any minute, when a pin drop would be enough to rouse hell and when you’re staring desperately at a different book every passing day, the tube-light buzzes loud and clear. You can discern the different tones changing with time. And in various tunes, in various ways, in various languages, in various melodies, the prescient tube has only one thing to say.

You’re screwed.

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