Invitation

ConfRm-BLR-1st Floor – Tanjore

It is 8.30 pm in the night. You are at office, working on that issue customer reported two hours ago. It was a small change in configuration, and you have emailed the customer, keeping all the required people in CC. It is Thursday, and you really want to head home now. The cook didn’t turn up today, and so tonight’s dinner is going to be Barbecue Chicken Pizza, your flat-mate has messaged.

You are about to shut down your laptop when you see a meeting reminder from Outlook. The meeting doesn’t have a subject, but it says “ConfRm-BLR-1st Floor – Tanjore”, starting now. You are surprised, you don’t remember accepting any meeting invite for this late in the evening. You check for the email Invitation , but you can’t find it. You are annoyed, but you might as well go and check once, isn’t it? So you head to the 1st floor from your cubicle at 6th Floor, taking stairs of course, to compensate for the beer you would be having later with your pizza, and reach the conference room.

The room is dark, and there is no one on 1st floor. You switch on the lights and decide to wait. You fool around with your laptop, look for the email again. And this time you find it, it is from project@company-name.com . But that is an alias for automated emails, how could an invitation come from it?

15 minutes pass. The meeting is officially over. You decide to leave, you need to ask the IT guy about this tomorrow. You go to your cubicle, taking the lift, pack your laptop and leave for the parking lot. Once you reach the ground floor, you hear some commotion. A lot of people seem to have gathered outside the office. There is a tempo standing outside the parking lot, but you don’t know what is that for. You come out of the office gate, and ask the security guard who is standing at the outer edge of the crowd, “Kya hua Bhaiya?”

“Arey Sir, that tempo was over speeding and came from opposite direction in the one-way street, ramming into the tree. Fortunately no one is hurt, because had someone been leaving from our parking lot 15 minutes back, they would have died on the spot.”

You freeze. You think about that invitation. Or was that an intervention?

Image courtsey : Outlook

 

Free

It had been a tiresome day

It had been a tiresome day. She was up since 5 in the morning, out on the roads. She had been struggling with a photographer’s block from past 2 weeks, and so she clicked everything and everyone in her sight. She absolutely had to finish the photo assignment by tomorrow, and she was short of one last “magical” picture. It was already sunset, she would have to figure something out later. She booked a Uber from Nariman Point – going to Malad would easily take her 2 hours in the evening rush.

“Kamal? You in there?”, she spoke as she opened the door to her humble abode, a 2-bhk with a posh builder in the city, something her father gifted her on her marriage with Kamal. It has been 7 years since they married – he worked with a talent agency and she was a photographer. Their friends often marveled at their compatibility – no one remembered them arguing about anything. They understood each other perfectly, they supported each other through all thick and thin. Due to crazy demands of their respective jobs, they had mutually decided to not have children. Of course their families and friends weren’t happy about that, but they had made their choice, and didn’t have regrets.

As she stepped into her apartment, she knew something was amiss. The house seemed – disturbed. There was a three-quarters’ full bottle of Jack Daniels on the table, and a glass with a last sip left. The sofa rug was lying on the floor. And their picture, the one they took while holidaying in Seychelles last summer, was lying face down.

“Kamal? Where are you?”, she didn’t even bother to put down her apparatus, and rushed to the bedroom, her camera flying across. The closet was open, and half of the hangers, were empty. Kamal sat at the edge of their bed, face down, staring at the packed suitcase in front of him.

“What’s wrong? Where are you going? What’s going on?” All the questions ran through her mind, but she knew better than to ask. She stood at the doorstep, waiting for Kamal to speak.

“I called up Dad today, told him all about us.”, Kamal spoke, not even looking at her.

She waited for him to go on.

“More like me, I told him all about me. He was shocked, I hope it is not too much for his weak heart. I was fed up of hiding it from everyone, and I felt too guilty when you lied on my behalf to all. I feel so… unburdened. Is it wrong to feel so?” He looked at her, and there it was, her cue. She took several pictures, all close-ups. Her photographer’s block finally freed her, as she captured the glitter of freedom.

 

Featured Image : 3rd Perspective Photography

Him

 

I saw him today. He had come for the evening Aarti. He looked just as I remembered him – unassuming, quiet, unremarkable. The kind of man you wouldn’t give a second look in a crowd. He is dutifully religious, he comes for Ganga Aarti every full moon day and Ganga Snaan on Thursdays. It is hard to believe he is the owner of Rajshree Jewels, he bears no airs of a rich man.

They say he started small. His father had a small shop in the old market area, but he made what Rajshree Jewels is today – opulent, regal and one of a kind. Apparently, Bollywood stars specially order jewels from his shop; his daughter’s wedding graced by so many VIPs was a testimony to his powerful network.

His daughter, they say, is a splitting image of his wife. His wife was the daughter of his gardener, and she was so beautiful that he fell in love with her the first time he saw her. He fought with his traditional family to make sure he married her; his parents gave up in front of his strong will. They were tied in a wedlock in a quiet ceremony, and were blessed with a daughter within a year of the marriage.

Nothing is forever though, isn’t it? The wife died in a terrible incident 10 years ago, she was on her way from her morning walk when she was shot three times in the chest at point-blank range. Paid assassins, the police said. The motive was to kidnap her apparently, to seek a ransom. But when she resisted and fought back, she was killed. The police, despite all sorts of political pressure, couldn’t find anything about her murderers. People speculated that they were foreign nationals, who ran away to their respective countries after the killing.

The man was bereft at her funeral. He turned to religion to overcome his grief, and hence began his faithful evening ritual at Har ki Paudi, followed by feeding orphans and beggars.Today is his wife’s birthday, so he will distribute Moong dal halwa with Matar Poori. My dinner for tonight is already fixed. Sometimes I feel guilty though, shouldn’t I let him know how his wife stopped screaming the moment I fired the first shot into her heart?

Featured Image : 3rd Perspective Photography

via Moody . My dear friend at 3rd Perspective Photography asked me to write something for this photo and though I have been crazy upbeat post the dance showcase on 17th (more about that later!), this picture made me write something very dark and melancholic. Maybe I had a not-so-discreet mood swing 😀

The Conundrum

If you had a choice, what would you pick?

He moved through the tunnel gingerly;  a flaming torch in one hand, and the other numb from rubbing across the cold walls, looking for some support for his tired hands. The water was knee-deep, he had no choice but to do this. He continued his cautious walk, startled once or twice by strange noises that were probably rats scurrying around, or so he hoped. There was no time or place to rest for a while, the water made sure he had to keep moving.

There was a flicker of light, in distance. He blinked hard and fast, to check if the flicker was his imagination – but it stayed. Hope started to grow in his heart, the end was near. He quickened his pace, and began to move faster , oblivious of the splashing water and darting bats.

As he moved faster, the source of light grew brighter. He had a spring in his step now, his exhausting journey was drawing to a close. The dark walls had finally began to get illuminated, the water level receding. He ran, to touch the warmth that proliferated the confines of the tunnel.

He had finally reached, he could see the sunlight coming inside. But he realized he was behind a gate, of glass, that allowed him to see outside. Suddenly, a melodious voice spoke.

“Hello! You are about to enter your land. Please do the last task and you will be free to go.”

Pumped with adrenaline, willing to give his best to the last challenge, he asked ,”What is the task?”

“Please watch one of the movies from the list below. The gate shall open after the closing credits roll off:

1) Mohenjo Daro

2) Ghayal Once Again

3) Housefull 3 ”

via Conundrum

Featured Image: Pixabay

Piyaar Khaan Leyi – III

For the love of food.

Two strangers, two separate nationalities , one thing in common – their love for food. Can food conquerth it all?

Taj Palace Hotel, Dubai is located at one of the most sought after locations in Dubai. It overlooks the famed Burj Khalifa, and boasts of 296 extravagant rooms. One look at the hotel, and you know why is it a called the Taj “Palace” Hotel, for its lavishness and magnificence was no less than that of a palace befitting of an Arab prince.

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For the first day, the kitchen interns were to report at 8 am sharp, followed by which they would be guided through paperwork, and their various responsibilities. But Agamjeet arrived at 7.30 am itself, awestruck at the marvelous sight of the palace in front of him. For a minute, he forgot his surroundings, for it was only him and the Taj, and how close he was to fulfilling his dream of being a chef there. His reverie was broken by a husky voice in Punjabi “Kinna sohna h, nahin praaji?”(It is so beautiful, isn’t it, brother?). He turned around to find a handsome, fair, tall boy staring  with the same reverence as himself.

It was not the first time that Aahil was seeing Taj. Unknown to his friends, he would often steal visits to it, whenever his rigorous college hours permitted, and would stand there as long as time permitted, reveling in the beauty and majesty of the hotel. It was his dream to work here, creating delectable gourmet for its various connoisseurs. And finally, his hard work paid off. He was among the 10 interns selected for an internship, out of which though, only 1 would be selected after a demanding training of 6 months for an apprenticeship, and the others will carry the glorious experience of Taj Dubai on their resume, to become the most sought after possible apprentices around the world. He had to arrive early on first day, there was no way he would ever miss gawking at his dream, but he was pleasantly surprised to see a Sikh, slightly heavy boy already there, mesmerized by the first sight of it. Dadamiyaan often used to talk about Sikhs, his school time best friend was a Sikh and his next door neighbor. They used to spend hours together, running on the roads, eating choley kulche from the street corner, and drinking the legendary lassi his friend’s mom made. They had even gone to Delhi once together, and stayed with his friend’s uncle for 15 days, roaming around Old Delhi and its by-lanes on a cycle, watching in awe the British ladies in their finery in Lutyen’s Delhi. And then, partition happened. One night later, his friend and the entire family was gone. Some said they went to India, while others said they were killed in riots. No one knew what happened, and the communication channels in those times weren’t reliable enough to know the truth. Dadamiyaan still missed his friend, even after 70 years of Indepndence.

“Han sohna tey bahut jyada h, tussi Punjab tou ho?”(Yes it is very beautiful, are you from Punjab?), asked Agam of Aahil, curious. “Haanji Punjab tou, lekin Pakistan wala”(Yes brother, but the one in Pakistan), smiled Aahil, waiting for a change of expression from a smile to apprehension. To his surprise, Agam smiled even more broadly and said ,”Oye hoye, fir toh tusi Bhuna Mutton de expert hoge!!”(Oh then you must be an expert at Roasted Mutton!) Aahil beamed at this unexpected turn of events and laughed, “Main tey ni, lekin Dadi expert hain!”(Not me, but my grandmother is!)

And hence began a beautiful friendship between Agam and Aahil, united by their common culture and their mutual love for food. They spent hours together slogging in the kitchen, sometimes spending 14 hours altogether, butchering meat, chopping vegetables, making stews or listening to chefs and sous-chefs, hoping to skim at least the surface of their enormous knowledge about food. Every single night, they passed out on their beds, exhausted, and yet would be the first interns to reach every morning, sharp at 8. Aahil was used to waking up early, thanks to his cricket training, and he would make sure that Agam would wake up too.

Time flew and suddenly it was time for the final assignment. All these six months, the interns were being trained for the New Year’s event, to be held on 31st December’s evening. Each of the interns was required to create an absolutely astounding dish, all by oneself, in a span of 2 hours, which would be tasted by a special team of 6, the identities of which would remain undisclosed till the results were announced. The winning dish would feature in the special dining experience on New Year’s eve and its creator would be rewarded with a prize money of 2000 AED and an opportunity to be a part of the Taj’s team of chefs.

Aahil and Agam were very excited for their final assignments. Agam wanted to replicate his idol Reynold of Masterchef Autralia Season 7’s signature dish – The Forbidden Fruit. It was a dish that was amazingly tough even for a trained chef to make, but Agam had his heart set on it. Aahil was, though confused. On one hand he wanted to go to his roots, make something that reminded him of home, which he badly missed, but on the other hand, he didn’t want to come up short in the competition. The thought kept him awake for nights thereto and he filled the waste bin with his discarded ideas on the paper. But just a night before the competition, he had sudden stroke of inspiration, and he knew, what he was going to submit as his final assignment.

mc7_rx06_invention-test_reynold-1_001

What would Aahil make for his assignment? Who would win the competition? Agam? Aahil? Or someone else, whom we don’t know about yet? Watch out this space next week for the next part of the series – “Piyaar Khaan Leyi”, a.k.a, For the Love of Food!

Image Sources : Taj, Forbidden Fruit, Featured Image

Piyaar Khaan Leyi – II

For the love of food.

Two strangers, two separate nationalities , one thing in common – their love for food. Can food conquerth it all?

“Run Aahil run! What are you doing? The ball is right there!!! Oh God, how could you miss this?”, screamed Aahil’s father from the benches of the cricket stadium of Aahil’s school in Lahore. Every morning it was the same rigorous ritual; Aahil was dragged out of the bed before sunrise, made to run 2 kms, followed by cricket practice at his school stadium at 6.30 am. He hated it, but had no choice but to comply to his father’s wishes. His father was a province-level cricket player, now working as a lawyer at Lahore District court. He couldn’t make it to the national team due to politics of Pakistan Cricket Selection Board, but he was determined to get his son into the team.

Aahil was the only son, born to his parents after 7 long years of marriage. His mother, due to the pregnancy complications, died soon after. He had been raised by his loving grandparents. His grandfather was a retired Military officer, and Aahil loved his grandfather the most. He too, was apple of his eyes – his prince, his “Aahil”. Aahil spent all his childhood in the lap of his loving Dadamiyaan, listening to umpteen stories of his school days, college days, partition, wars with India. He always wondered how different his father and Dadamiyaan sounded while speaking of India – his father was always bitter, cursing their cricket team each time they won over Pakistan, and his grandfather was always compassionate, regretful of the Partition and wars, the troubles between the two countries; fuelled by ISI and corrupt leaders.

Little did Aahil’s father know, as he trained his son to become a world class cricketer; that though Aahil was naturally talented, he despised cricket. His cricket ensured he could pass each class with bare minimum scores, under the pretext of various camps he attended. but his real passion was standing next to his Dadi in the kitchen, taking in the aroma of her delicate spices mix as she cooked Bhuna Mutton Masala (Mutton Roasted in Indian spice mix) with Naan (Flat bread). Aahil loved cooking, he found it to be an art – a skill that could be mastered only with practice, knowing how much salt to put and when. As his Dadi’s vision grew weaker due to cataract, Aahil went on to assist her, putting the various herbs as instructed by her, admiring her talent of determining if something is cooked just by the aroma.

When Aahil was 16 and preparing for under-19 selections of the national team, he heard about a show called “MasterChef Australia” from two of his female classmates, talking excitedly to each other about it. He looked for it at YouTube and before he could finish the fourth episode of Season 3, YouTube was banned in Pakistan. But Aahil had found his true calling in life – he wanted to be a famous chef with an established chain of restaurants across the world. He wanted to bring the secrets of his Dadi’s cooking to the world, and more importantly, he wanted to open a restaurant in the heart of New Delhi – his Dadamiyaan spoke a lot about the amazing food he had in the streets of Chandni Chowk on his delegation visits. He wanted to go there, eat their street food and be able to visit the Taj Mahal he had only seen in photos.

He inquired more and got to know about International Center for Culinary Arts, Dubai. He was scared, he wanted to join ICCA, but was worried about his father’s wrath at his disinterest towards cricket. But his Dadi-Dadamiyaan encouraged him to talk to his father.

“Abbajaan”, he entered tentatively in his father’s room.
“Oh, you are still up? It’s 11 pm already Aahil. You will be late for practice tomorrow”, his father lifted his head from his legal literature in surprise.
“Abbajaan..there is something I have to t.t..t..tell you”, he stammered.
“What is it Aahil? Are you alright? Are you nervous about the selections day after tomorrow?”, his father spoke as he called him closer and stroked his hair.
“Abbajaan..I d..don’t want to be a crick..crickter. I want t..t..to be a chef. I w..want to g..go to I..CC..A, in D..D..Dubai”, he spoke, shit scared of the severe lashing he was about to get.
“Are you out of your mind? Do you even know what you are saying? Please tell me it is just your fears speaking. I think it is the result of that stupid YouTube and that show that you used to see. Thank God they banned it. Go to your room, there is nothing called chef. You are born to be a cricketer, not a khaansaama ( a male cook/servant) at a hotel!!!”, his father yelled.
“What’s going on? Atif, why are you yelling at Aahil?”, Dadamiyaan came, limping slightly in the absence of his cane.
“Your beloved grandson wants to become a khaansaama Abbu, can you believe this nonsense?”, Atif cooled a little in the presence of his father, but the anger remained.
“Yes I know. And I also know that you love cricket, but he doesn’t. I think it is time you let him make his own decisions.”, Dadamiyaan replied quietly.
“Abbu do you realize how much money I have spent on his cricket training? And how much more we will need to send him to Dubai? Your love for Aahil is making you blind to all practicality!”, Atif lost his temper again.
“I have it all planned Atif. You need not worry about it. We shall sell a portion of our land in the village to your uncle. Anyway, we haven’t been there in years and he takes care of it as it is”, Dadamiyaan replied.

Atif didn’t know what to say. He knew his Abbu, if he had thought of something, he was going to see that things fell into place. He always had a feeling that Aahil didn’t enjoy cricket, but chose to ignore it. It took him two weeks but finally he relented, and Aahil applied to ICCA, Dubai. His application was selected and two months later, he joined the class of extremely talented students, some of whom even knew how to use those fancy kitchen gadgets!

It took a lot of grit and hard work for Aahil to make his mark at ICCA, cricket didn’t seem so tough! But he did well. And his ecstasy knew no bounds when he obtained the much coveted internship at the Taj Palace Hotel, Dubai. Little did he know that this experience was going to change his life forever.

Featured Image : Andie Mitchell

Piyaar Khaan Leyi – I

For the love of food.

Two strangers, two separate nationalities , one thing in common – their love for food. Can food conquerth it all?

Kota, a sleepy town in Rajasthan, is an important junction on the Delhi-Bombay route. Around a decade ago, this city became famous as the “Coaching Junction” of India, with coaching institutes for Medical and Engineering mushrooming at all corners. The phenomenon started with a couple of teachers taking tutions for high school students and soon manifested into a full fledged business. Every year, lakhs of students from all parts of the city come to Kota to try their destiny at the most prestigious competitive exams of the country. These young kids, merely 14-16 year old, stay miles away from home, study 12 hour a day under immense pressure, to crack these exams and become their parents’ pride note in front of all neighbors and relatives. Many crack under pressure, they start drinking, smoking, give up on studies and merely languish their parents’ hard earned money. Some thrive in it, they become better and better and become the faces of their alma mater when they clear the exams- AIR 20, AIR 50, AIR 200, so on and so forth. And in between them, is the clueless crowd, pushed into this hugely competitive scenario by ambitious parents, too scared to tell their parents that this is not what they wanted, trying to fight the losing battle.

Agamjeet was a classic example of this middle range of people, he had been mediocre all throughout his life, except in 10th, when his love for Social Studies and English made him one of the toppers at his prestigious school at Delhi. His father, a doctor at Delhi Health Services and his mother, a Delhi Development Authority employee, were ecstatic and decided to enroll him in Bansal Coaching Classes at Kota, just like their neighbors, the Kalras. The reluctant Agamjeet was packed off with clothes, tons of books, stationery and dozens of his Mom’s snacks in the Jan Shatabadi. 15 days later, he came back, with only his clothes in tow, he couldn’t take the high pressure classes and indulged into binge eating on a regular basis; the snacks that were supposed to last him for 2 months, got over in 10 days.

Agamjeet decided to pursue Arts; his parents were disappointed but gave in to their only son’s seemingly unreasonable demands. He loved his subjects, and continued to do well. Just like that one day, he stumbled upon season 3 of Master Chef Australia, a world acclaimed series of amateur cooks battling against each other to become the country’s top chef. Agamjeet was not interested in the competition, it was the dishes they prepared that interested him. The use of ingredients, herbs, meats, vegetables in unique ways seemed mindbogglingly amazing to him. He knew then and there what he wanted to do with his life – He wanted to be a famous chef with his own established chain of restaurants. He started following numerous food bloggers and began his stint as a cook in his Mom’s kitchen. His mother was pleasantly surprised to see him at her side everyday, observing what she did; his father showed no qualms in expressing his displeasure,”Sadaa eklauta munda khanaa bnaauna sikhna chaahunda hai? Lokki ki kehendenge, Dr. Chhabra da munda dhabaha chalaaunda hai?” (Our only son wants to learn to cook? What will people say, that Dr. Chhabra’s only son runs a Dhaba(roadside eatery)?) “Tucche college toh engineering karan toh better haiga ki main apna dhaba khol levaan, Keshar da Dhaba wala kinna kamaaunda hai twaanu pata haiga? (It is better to open a coadside eatery than to do engineering from a third class college. Do you have any idea how much does the famous Kesar da Dhaba of Amritsar, Punjab earn?), pat replied Agamjeet.

It took 1.5 year of incessant bickering, cold wars, and Mrs.Chhabra’s intervention (“Sadaa ikko hi baccha hai, karan do onno jo vi karna chaahunda hai, twaanu ki lodh har chiz icc bhasudi paan di? (We have just one child, let him do whatever he wants. Must you crib about everything?)), but finally Agamjeet reached Indian Institute of Hotel Management (IHM), Mumbai. He battled it out against the likes of cutthroat pixie competitors, tough lessons and long hours to earn a coveted internship with The Taj Hotel, Dubai. Little did he know that this experience will change his life, forever and for good…

 

Featured Image : Andie Mitchell