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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

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.

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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

 

How Blue is My Sapphire – 2

How far will you go for what matters to you?

“Buzzingaaa”, yelled Tarang, right at the top of his voice. “Shut up yaar, what kind of moron has a food app sounding like an energy drink?”, Aakaash replied, annoyed. I laughed, “Sure Tarang, let’s call it Buzzingaaa, and “buzz” this nonsense out of Aakaash’s mind. Buzz Buzz Buzzzzzzz”. “You guys are mad, I don’t know why am I even doing this with you. I had to literally beg for money from my dad, do you folks have any idea how hard it is? And he is expecting the money back!!” I could sense Aakaash was about to lose it and decided to intervene. “Ok Ok fine, lets call it EatOrg. We provide healthy meals prepared from locally sourced organic raw materials, EatOrg makes sense.” “Yayy EatOrg!!!!”, Tarang screamed again, Aakaash put his hands on Tarang’s mouth and said “And the first rule of EatOrg – no yelling please!!!”
EatOrg was our dream, our baby. We had spent a lot of our free time in college discussing the problems of farmers – Aakaash’s father was a traditional landlord in the heartland of UP, and he shared with us many tales of the plight of farmers – their struggles with erratic irrigation, apathetic authorities, lack of knowledge about scientific methods to farm, the vicious circle of loans from money lenders on high rates – it was depressing to hear about farmers grappling with such grave problems for years, with no help. Some good Samaritans though, like Aakaash’s dad and grandfather themselves, had taken upon the task of counselling small farmers about their rights and in particular, scientific, organic ways of farming without the extensive use of expensive fertilizers and chemicals for greater produce.
It was while discussing this that one fine day, after Aaagaaz 2011, that Tarang came up with the idea of having restaurant that served food prepared from locally sourced organic ingredients. Tarang was like that, creative, always brimming with ideas, several of which would be crazy. But this stuck with all of us, and we decided to get back to it whenever we could. In December 2014, Tarang came down to Bangalore, where me and Aakaash were slogging in our regular IT jobs, and got us to sit together in a Starbucks to discuss EatOrg. We spent 6 hours together that day, debating everything from name to sourcing of ingredients, office space, designing of website and mobile apps, so on and so forth.

By July 2015, we were live and how! It took Tarang’s relocation to Bangalore, coding marathons nights, shouting matches, and furious pursuit for funding to get EatOrg in the market. But there was stiff competition. All of sudden, everyone was online. We were trying to foray into an extremely competitive space, and the rumors of start-ups closing every now and then scared us. It was then when the first crack started appearing.”Aakaash bhai this is not done. You do know that we have to have organic ingredients only.” Tarang looked tired, but his voice bore a strength. “Tarang listen, this is a business. We have our VC to answer to. How do you think we are going to scale up to NCR and Pune? We have to make profits, else no one will give us any money to run EatOrg. ” Aakaash sounded desperate, and as if to drive his point across, he said , ” Dekh yaar Tarang, let me put it this way. I took loan from my dad to make this happen, Vaani invested all her savings. You on the other hand had no money in hand, because you had taken loan for your MBA and had to pay your monthly EMIs.” “What do you want to say Aakaash, that I have no say in this because I couldn’t invest any money? This is what this is about, isn’t it? Money!!!” Tarang lifted his favorite 3×3 Rubik’s cube from the desk and flung it at the wall in rage. I had never seen him this angry before.

“Both of you had jobs after B.Tech. I had to go for MBA because I didn’t. And don’t forget, it was my brain-child. I convinced you both, else you would have still been slogging in your lame jobs, fighting for the next promotion or an overseas opportunity.” Tarang’s words turned meaner and meaner.
“Tarang say whatever the fuck you want to, the fact remains that this company has mine and Vaani’s hard-earned money and we have to recover our investments back. This is a business and not a charity. The customers are hardly going to know the difference between organic and non-organic ingredients and once we start making money, we will source raw materials from local farmers also. But for now, we have to tie up with the organic farm our VC has suggested. ” Aakaash was trying to keep his calm, but I could see the lines around his eyes getting sharper.
“You know it pretty well Aakaash that the VC is a money sucker. That organic farm of his is a sham and they employ several laborers at pitiable rates to work day in and out in that farm. But since you want to be a businessman, suit yourself. I can’t be associated with you anymore. Vaani, I am leaving.”
Tarang reached for the door and turned back. I could see it in his eyes, his silent plea to stop him, to reason out with Aakaash as always, to take his side and explain things better to Aakaash. “Tarang, I understand what you mean, but Aakaash has a point here. Let’s sit and discuss, shall we? Let me order two chilled beers for you folks, let’s talk this out.”
“Vaani there is nothing left to talk, you seem to have made your stand pretty clear.” With that, Tarang turned the door knob and left, without looking back.