Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Travelling in December

Two-thirds of January is actually over, and now I’ve begun this post that I promised myself to write before the New Year got underway. Another classic case of procrastination, but then, Aisa hi hoon main…

December of 2008 was one of the most amazing, no wait, legen… wait for it… dary months ever. It started with a twisted delight, led to a brilliantly executed surprise party for mother dear (Click here for details), and continued into some memorable days spent frolicking in the far-off corners of the country. This post should have been about them, had the author not chosen to be so shamelessly lazy. But then, that’s another story altogether. Let my try and stretch my memory to those amazing days, and recollect at least half of the amazing stuff that happened. Here goes.

The South: Sajal, Mittal, Sporty Hunk and Yours Truly, went to the capital of Tambiland to hear great minds speak. The occasion- panIIT 2008, the first time the conference was being held on a campus. Apart from the gyaan that I was pretty sure the conference would bring, there were naturally other reasons. It had been 2 decades since I’d last visited Chennai, and there was no saying why there shouldn’t be 2 more unless I did something about it. Plus, people in the know had raved about the food there, and Lefty believes that there can be no higher calling. The south, ahoy then.

The conference was amazing. It instilled in us a pride we could never have imagined for our and our sister institutes. Seriously, we’re brilliant. Around 2000 people had turned up- over 300 of which were CEOs, 500 VPs, MDs and what have you. It was very normal to see industry bigwigs and corporate honchos, so far only familiar through the yellow pages of ET, walk a bit faster than you to get to that cookie that both of you wanted at the tea table. A badge pinned to their lapels would denote their year of graduation and the insti and lo, the bigshot was one of you. In a panel on Innovation, Kris Gopalakrishnan, CEO of Infosys, asked the audience how many of them had their own businesses or companies. Sajji and I could only watch in awe as more than 80% of the hands went up. There was a TATA CEO panel in which the CEOs of TATA Steel and Motors both turned out to be IITians. There were 6 tracks, most notable of which was a panel on infrastructure dealing with PPPs. And the thing that set this conference apart from its previous ones was that this time there was not just the usual policy setting and talking big, like any other drawing room conversation- people were actually implementing on-ground solutions. There was something concrete being done, and participation was sought.

Chennai, the city turned out to be way better than I’d imagined. The railway station was probably the best I’ve seen in India, and the auto-rickshaw we took from there to the insti has one of the most colourful characters to have driven me around. Parts of the city had a decadent, Raj-time look- narrow streets with old buildings, reminiscent of Calcutta. The insti turned out to be more of a disappointment, however. One can literally say that it’s a jungle out there. On the first night, there was a music competition where the judges were Naresh Iyer and Karthik of ‘Behka’ fame. Both of them are around 25-ish and it was wonderful to see them performing on stage. The kind of energy that they were radiating was infectious. Here were two guys who were genuinely enjoying themselves, not just singing for cash. IITM seemed like home to them, as Karthik even explained later.

The next night, we went to Eliot’s beach in Beasant Nagar. It might be my name, but I’ve always loved the sea. Mountains are great and all, but there’s something about the seaside. Mountains awe you, the sea talks back, as Rapu once wisely said. It was around 10 by the time we arrived and the beach was fairly deserted. Standing there at night, with the wind blowing, the waves crashing on your feet, staggering you every now and then, the silence only being broken by the aforementioned crashing waves and watching ripples form in the distance, only to grow into billows, get bigger and eventually end up in drops of water was magical. How long I stood there, I cannot say, but that is one memory that I can recall with effortless ease. Ultimately, I left to sample some authentic prawns and other fish at the obliging Nithya fish stall.

The Bulk cutely turned up the next day to be our gourmet guide. He took us to some Chettinaad place, sorry I forgot the name, and then to some fruit shop on some road; sorry I forgot the names again. We ended up at Grand Snacks Point where Sajal bought around 5 truck-loads of snacks. The next day, as we were leaving for Delhi sweet Delhi, we had the most loquacious of taxi-drivers- an imminently likeable guy. I impressed him immediately with my supernatural knowledge of Rajni dialogues and we had a great time thereon. He could hardly speak English and I spoke no Tamil, yet we could understand each other fairly well. The power of human expression, eh?

The north: Srishti’s already done justice to this trip, thankfully. Check out her post for details.

The food: Here comes the best part. Those last 10 days of December were a never ending feast. 6 meals and 5 course dinners were the norm rather than the exception. The conference had a 5 star hotel as caterers so my meals were generally such- I would start with some pasta/lasagna and salads, along with something veg that I found interesting. I would then move on to copious quantities of chicken, mutton and fish- different varieties everyday, and follow it up with a helping, sometimes two. After which, the sweet dish and burp, a good meal had been had, let’s look forward to the next one. I had Fried Fish in Tartar sauce, chicken Chettinaad, Rogan Josh, Fish Malabar amongst others. As for the sweet dishes, there were all the ingredients of a sundae, Gaajar ka halwa, pudding etc. Ranga took us to a place called Sangeetha lounge where we had a traditional Tamil Nadu thali. There were poriyaal, special poriyaal, kootu, payasam and the et cetras. Good stuff. The Chettinaad place that the Bulk took us to was a non vegetarian’s delight. Turkey Biryani, Chettinaad Chicken and some very good fried fish.

Naldehra, Simla, Fagu, Barog and the other hill stations were no different as far as the food was concerned. Here my meals were just a wee bit different- start with some variety of soup that I’d never had before (coriander specially comes to mind here). Follow it up with all kinds of salads, Russian salad of which was the most simple. A continental or Chinese course, an Indian course, sweet dish and a bigger burp and a bigger meal over, let’s look forward to the next one again. Over the 3 days, I had some new types of kheer too- made of some himachal grains. Very tasty again.

December is over now, sadly. So is 2008. It was a great year. Hope this one is better. Cheers and more importantly, bon appetit, everyone.

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