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:
It was love at first sight when I saw my yoga mat for the first time at Decathlon, Banerghatta Road, Bengaluru. It was pretty in purple, dark on one side and light on the other, and double purple is never too much.
The moment I stepped on that beauty, I knew we were a match in Yoga heaven – the mat just wouldn’t slip. It stayed steady and sturdy as I tried Warrior 2 and Downward Dog, much to the boredom of the salesman, and within a few minutes I decided to buy it. The beauty, of 2150 INR, was available at a discounted price of 1800 INR, although I would have gladly paid even 2500 INR for it.
And so it began, my affair with the mat extraordinaire. The first time I did Chaturanga, the mat held me steady, not letting me go. The time I tried a variation of Chakrasana, the mat held me firm. It stood by me when I came to class on Yoga Day on 21st June 2016, and I loved it when it held me tight during my attempt at headstand, not slipping at all. It had lines all over it, including in the center, which made sure my posture was aligned when I practiced.
Yoga Poses I can do (kind of)
I grew into practice, and it showed on the mat. People would come to me and ask where I bought it from, and while I readily told them, I was just a teeny-weeny happy when Decathlon India stopped manufacturing it. My purple mat and me were exclusive now, we were one of a kind.
As my practice advanced, the mat took the brunt of it. The threads starting coming off a little, but no damage, for it came with a guarantee of 2 years. I would leave it with other mats in the yoga studio after my practice, which has a separate place for daily practitioners’ personal mats, and I would smile seeing it sitting like a princess, the special purple mat in the sea of ordinary PVC mats.
In October I became a little irregular with my practice, but the mat waited for me patiently to come and try Kaakasana one more time. So when I went to class after Diwali, I was excited to reconnect to my lovely mat; I knew it would be lying at the same place as I kept it before I left for home, tucked comfortably in a corner.
But it wasn’t there. Maybe someone kept it elsewhere, and so I searched, knowing that my purple beauty would be easily recognizable, I had branded it with my name “SANJEET”, so that everyone knew who it belonged too. But I couldn’t find it. Class was about to start and I didn’t want to miss my session, so I moved on and took one of the mats kept for common use, the one brown in color, and oh so ugly and smelly. But the yoga practice must be beyond aesthetics, I told myself sternly, and continued to practice, scrunching my nose each time I did Ashtanaga.
After the class, I rushed to the personal mats’ holders, and I asked my colleague, who also comes to the same studio, to help me find it. But it wasn’t there! I looked everywhere but it was nowhere to be seen, someone had flicked my beloved yoga mat!!!!
I told the receptionist, a little angrily, that my mat is missing. I told my teacher, he said he would ask the morning receptionist too. THE YOGA PRACTICE IS BEYOND AESTHETICS, and so the next day I took with me another mat, this time with my name all over it, so that no one touches it even by mistake. I continued the practice, but the new mat was nowhere close to my purple love. It would slip even for Downward Dog, and I would often have to lay a smelly tattered common mat over it, to give me the required grip 🙁
I kept looking for my purple beauty, my lovely mat that had Vanished into thin air, hoping it would turn up one of these days – maybe some innocent newbie would return it, apologizing for attempting to use the “bae” among all yoga mats.
But I also had to find a new mat, which I did this Sunday, when I bought a nice sturdy mat from Isha Yoga Foundation. It felt sturdy and firm too, and it is of fabric so perhaps more eco-friendly. I purchased it happily, hoping to continue my practice, although the loss of my purple bae still felt raw.
As I stood outside the practice room in the studio today, waiting for the previous class to end, I saw that the Creepy Weirdo. Mr. Creepy Weirdo embodies the worst stereotype among Indian men – middle-aged, rich and awful AF. He is a businessman based in Gulf, and has a huge house in one of the poshest areas of the neighborhood. He has an 11-yr old son, but isn’t ashamed to flirt with women closer to his son’s age than his own. I was glad Mr. Weirdo was in a previous class than mine, I wouldn’t have to deal with the unnecessary innuendos of “Shall I drop you home?”. But wait, what was the Weirdo doing his Shavasana on?
Brain-fuzz engulfed me as I realized, the mat on which Mr.Weirdo was resting his unholy bum, was my purple princess!!!!!!! I was shocked, I didn’t even know what to say. I turned to the receptionist and said “That man in the white T-shirt over there, he is using something that looks exactly like my lost mat.” She looked at me with a surprised smile and asked me “Are you sure? Wait, I will ask him today.” “Yes dear, I am pretty sure”, I replied, still a little baffled by what I just saw.
The class got over and Mr.Weirdo came out, smiling and waving Hi to me.I did an awkward half-smile, my eyes not leaving the purple mat in his hand, with its threads hanging out..Oh My God, that mat was mine!!!!!
The class was going to start, but I just couldn’t let that rascal get away with the mat he had clearly stolen. Mr.Weirdo, owing to his travel, hardly did 2 classes in 3 months, and he would usually use a PVC mat, a blue one that too. Even if he purchased the mat new, there was no reason it would look so..well-used.
“Hey, I had a mat exactly the same as yours.” I mouthed the words dryly, still staring at the purple mat, looking for my name, or an indication.
“Of course you did, it is from Decathlon.” He replied, with a cunning smile, like he knew what he had done, but he also knew he was about to get away with it.
“Yeah but Decathlon doesn’t make it anymore”, I was talking to him, but stealing glances at the mat, hoping to see my name, even if rubbed or faded.”
“Oh it does, it does, you should check it out. And if you want this, just give me 100 INR more than the MRP” He winked at me, and laughed.
And at that moment, I knew that this man, the Creepy-AF-Weirdo, had bloody stolen my mat, and was getting away with it. I had no choice but to smile and carry on to the practice room with a heavy heart, wishing there was some way to not let my purple bae go. I don’t know when I am going to see my lovely mat again, but that man stole it, and there is nothing I can probably do 🙁
P.S : After the class, I told my teacher that this man had stolen my mat. Even he remembered that guy using a blue-colored PVC mat, and told me that he would try to check out with the guy to figure out where he got the mat from. My heart says that mat is mine, and now it is with that rich, possible kleptomaniac idiot, perhaps in his car, gathering dust till he comes next time to the class after months.:-/
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.
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.
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!
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.
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…