70 years of Independence but no freedom for women

India completed 70 years of independence on 15th August, 2017. But so many of her women are still confined to home and hearth - rarely given a choice or opportunity to grow any wings beyond being 24/7 housekeepers, cooks and cleaners. And yet, so few raise a voice. So few protest. Most are content to let the status quo continue, under the garb of 'tradition' and 'culture'. Let me say it out aloud - Indian culture, you've had your time in the sun. Now, please make way for the egalitarian and free society that women here truly deserve.

I used to think that the country has changed; that my life would be no different from a man's. After all, our ancestors sacrificed their sweat and blood to wrest control from the English. And the best freedom fighters weren't just men - women, children and the elderly; everyone joined the fray. Everyone believed it was a cause worth dying for. And look where we are today. Many women in smaller towns and villages still don't study beyond school and even if they do, their degrees collect dust on ornate shelves while they don saris, jewellery and sindoor, sacrificing their lives to nurturing their husbands, children and in-laws. Maybe that aunt who makes perfect rotis could also draw up fool-proof building plans. Who knows if that sweet sister-in-law has skills beyond laundering and pressing her family's clothes? Developed countries have compromised with ready-to-cook meals, modern gadgets and the aide of other agencies wherever required. It's not like women there don't care for their families or have children. It's just that they do a lot more than that - they do what makes them happy and brings them professional satisfaction too. But we Indians remain loyal to our home-cooked food and maa ka pyaar. And guess whose dreams, abilities and potential remain crushed under mortar and pestle? All the women in our families - able, sensitive human beings who have committed no crime other than to be born with a different set of reproductive organs.

To men, please stop expecting perfect, elaborate and lavish meals thrice a day. It's all right to take shortcuts as long as you're eating healthy in the long run. Please recognise that you are no better or worse than the women in your life and you both deserve to be equally happy, whatever the route to that may be.

To women, please stop pulling each other down. Be nice to your daughters-in-law and don't groom your daughters to be perfect wives. Groom them to be great human beings and to contribute to their families and society at large in whatever way they deem best.

To everyone, freedom means little if we don't have it in our own homes. All change is not bad. And we don't have to adhere to traditional gender roles. Women can lift heavy bags too. And men can also learn to cook. Exchanging skills and sharing in responsibilities will NOT lead to the breakdown of households. And happiness means more than order or perfection. In fact, it means everything.

Here's hoping that the current generation fosters a fairer India.

A taste of Thai at Sofitel Mumbai BKC

The chef in conversation with the staff

Thai food is my favourite among international cuisines (though I do love the Japanese sushi, Cantonese and Mediterranean dishes as well). Coconut-based gravies, a tendency to steam rather than fry (except when it comes to snacks) and the wonderful flavours of lemongrass and galangal have always endeared Thai dishes to my hungry soul. Last month, I was lucky enough to sample some great vegetarian Thai at 'Taste of Thailand', a food festival at Pondichery Cafe, Sofitel Mumbai BKC. Pondichery Cafe routinely hosts thematic culinary events that allow diners to experience the best of regional and international cuisine. So be sure to inquire whenever you have a free Friday evening!

Sweet and sour papaya salad

The menu featuring delicacies like Larb Chicken, Lamb Shank Massaamun, Panang Salmon with Red Curry and Vegetarian Pad Thai had been curated by Chefs  Sorataj and Teepanon, flown down for the purpose of the festival from So Bangkok - Sofitel. Chef Teepanon was manning the papaya salad counter and at my behest, he agreed to tone down the traditionally spicy version and prepare a sweet and sour salad instead. It was one of the best papaya salads I've ever had and the peanuts added just the right amount of crunchiness.

Bubble iced tea

I feasted primarily on the Thai green curry and steamed rice - a meal that for me, is as soothing and satisfying as dal chawal (actually maybe more). The kind of vegetables used in green curry, such as baby corn, zucchini and bamboo shoots, have always appealed to my taste buds. But I made room for a bowl of coconut soup, the salad and sticky rice with milk as well. My husband, who loves his staple Indian food, tried the Indian dishes and they did not disappoint. The buffet spread at Pondichery Cafe always features an Indian counter, salad bar and desserts counter irrespective of the on-going festival. However, when there are festivals, there is always an interesting live counter. And for the Thai food festival, we were able to taste bubble tea prepared from condensed milk. It was supremely delicious and we went back for seconds.

Chocolate fudge cake
Lastly, the desserts at Pondichery Cafe are exceptional. So there was no way I wasn't going to make a beeline for the chocolate fudge cake and other heavenly delights even though I was stuffed with my hearty meal. However, I saw something healthier - fresh fruit juices in cute, small portions sitting pretty inside a refrigerator on the way. Well of course, then I had to have both. I've written so much about Sofitel and Pondichery Cafe in the past but for those not in the know, Sofitel is a luxurious five-star hotel in the heart of BKC with a variety of fine dining options. Click here for more.

Growing up is too hard

If all you had to do was cook and clean and wash and dust
Then why were you born?
Why did the Rain Gods whisper in your seven-year old ears
Of great times to come?
Why those goosebumps at mountain tops and that feeling
Breathless -
Of one day being drenched in the light of the Universe?
Why did the books and novels let you dream
Why did they let you hope
That your life would mean something?
All those hours spent soul-searching
And admiring the colouring of little barbets
They hang framed, in the hallowed halls of your memory
Sweeter times of the past
For now you must work.
You must work.
There's always more work.
You were so sure, that you'd amount to something
But growing up has been much too hard
And much too hollow.

Maybe in another life

I remember your face
As freshly as if
I outlined it just yesterday.

We missed the bus each time
Sometimes it was you
And sometimes it was my own folly
And yet, for no reason or rhyme
I still hope
We might be the only ones
Under a starry sky
On a moonlit night
And I'd know again
What your presence felt like.

I need to hold on to the poetry.

Cole Thomas, Home in the Woods, 1847

What happened to that house in the woods? The one forever fragrant with a forest breeze and cakes in the oven? The one where I'd write endlessly and watch the sun go down in your luminescent eyes?

Nothing has changed, really.
The trees are where they always stood (but for the ones cruelly hewn)
The clouds drift much like they did before, carelessly strewn
Across a patchwork sky.
The songs you sang
Remain wrapped even now, around the cockles of my heart
Nothing has changed even if this does seem, like an unbidden new start. 

I arise, I breathe, I dream
Just like yesterday and the day before that, it would seem
Then why is it I feel - the scent of my favourite books have faded?
Young I may be (relatively) but this old soul of mine feels jaded.
The monsoon wind rages beyond my shuttered window
But I want to open all the windows in the world - that's all I know
And let in every single drop of rain.

From the fifth floor.

A healthy breeze
And a lofty view
Of the young city
And the older hills
Of vehicles zooming by
And a sun-sparkly sky.
A dwindling green
And clouds that seem
Touched by a golden brilliance.
Of far-off people
And far-fetched dreams
Fluttering above the streets
Like birds yet to be identified.

South African food festival at Sofitel Mumbai

Last night, I ditched my diet and threw myself into the exploration of South African cuisine and culture at the on-going South African food festival at Pondichery Cafe, Sofitel Mumbai BKC. The festival kicked off on 27th April, which is South Africa's Freedom Day, with a grand celebration of ethnic music and dance. I missed that, but I was glad I made it before the end of the festival (7th May). You should do, if you like food adventures and bunny chow.


I've experienced so many food festivals at Sofitel Mumbai BKC but every time, the entrance looks different. They have a really stellar decoration team who make you feel like you've entered South African territory. Two wonderfully made animals guarded the entrance and on either side, visitors could take a picture using an already set-up background and props like hats and binoculars. You can see one of the pictures I clicked at the start of this post.

That's Mavis Netshituka, one of the three South African chefs that Sofitel has appointed to whip up all the delicacies at the food festival. I found her posing with dishes such as Sliced Lamb Shank Bredie, Cape Town Smoked Fish Pot Pie, Chicken Frikkadels and Vegetarian Bobotie. Being a vegetarian, what I managed to taste were the mashed potato with green bean (delicious), braised rice cooked with cherry tomato and herb (a wonderful accompaniment to the vegetarian ratatouille), butternut feta (sweet, soft squash), vegetable wraps, carrot soup (with generous amounts of chopped carrot), eggplant coated in a sour batter and fried and a round South African fried bread, that can also be stuffed with meat and served. Here's a look at some of the dishes served at the festival.

Butternut feta

Vegetarian ratatouille

Green beans mash
Visitors could even try African style hair braiding and face painting at specially set-up stalls. A stack of brochures provided information on tourist attractions in South Africa. What I really liked about this festival was that it provided a holistic glimpse of South Africa as a travel destination. Be warned, if you have a meal here, you might just find yourself on a flight to Johannesburg next month! Oh and Sofitel is also running a contest where you stand to win a free night's stay in the country.

Face painting - a hit among the kids!
South African cuisine is an interesting melange of Malaysian, Indian, Dutch and Indonesian flavours, all of which found representation at Sofitel’s unique food festival. I enjoyed my dinner in the familiar luxury of Pondichery Café. They now have a coffee booth as well, and the dessert spread remains as impressive as ever. On that day, there was a live deconstructed white chocolate mousse counter and of course, I had to try it. The creamy white mousse wedged between two slabs of chocolate cake topped with white chocolate crumbs and cream was sheer perfection.

Details of the festival:
Date: 27th April - 7th May 2017
Time: 7:00 pm onwards
Venue: Pondichéry Café, Sofitel Mumbai BKC

Something has gone seriously wrong.

If you're reading this, please do so with a pinch of salt. Because it's that time of the month when hormones range and every other thing seems justifiable cause for tears. Or alternatively, a post like this.

Let's cut to 2012, when I was working in a Hindi channel (obviously, it wasn't the right place for me) in an insignificant job with no interests except finding love, getting drunk and occasionally writing fiction and poetry. It was a scary period in my life because I felt directionless. Then, I found a better job in a better place and at the end of the following year, I found love as well, though I was lonely otherwise. I was still drinking, writing and having spiritual epiphanies now and then. Life wasn't all that bad.

2015 though, was a euphoric year. My job wasn't living up to my expectations but I discovered travel writing. It ignited every recess of my soul and the few readers I had, encouraged my humble, dreamy travelogues. Then, I went on a trip where I met many 'professional' travel bloggers and my perception of the vocation changed. I discovered possibilities that could possibly turn my little blog into a career and leave me free of the obligation of having an unsatisfying job. The sad truth is that jobs rarely make you happy. At times, you have an enjoyable work culture and colleagues. At other times, you have a job description that is supposedly everything you ever wanted to do. But the indisputable truth is that you will always be following orders. And at some point or the other, there will be a dissonance between what you want to do and what you are expected to. For some people, this kind of discord is matter of course. For me, it causes deep-seated and long-lasting anxiety, bordering on depression.

As a child, I was always sure I wanted to be a writer. I also wanted to be a novelist. I thought I'd find great success and live with love and nature around me. Today, I find myself devoid of the motivation and inspiration required to be a novelist. The readers of my blog berate me for having 'sold out'. And my job is in jeopardy for reasons I cannot reveal. My personal life is all right but that was never the focus for a driven introvert like me.

I was a topper throughout my student life. I've heard a lot of people say it's only about rote memory but I thought I was intelligent, not just in the scoring marks kind of way (please indulge me). The impression I usually left, was of one who'd pursue success. But I haven't, have I? Success for my soul means writing only the good stuff. And that's not going to pay the bills. To be paid for writing the good stuff, you have to be f***ing brilliant - path breaking journalism, talking to the locals, delving deep - that kind of thing. Me - I'm only good for waxing eloquent about the light between the leaves and the sweet curves of a ravine. The worst thing about all this is that I'm not even free to vent on the world wide web. We're all being monitored. I always thought that was paranoia earlier. I know better now.

In spite of all that has gone wrong, I know deep down that I'm responsible for most of it. And I do believe in guardian angels. They keep us afloat even when we make bad decisions, fail to listen to our hearts or see the big picture. Best of all, they remind us that change is always possible. I could remedy most of what has gone awry. But many questions remain. And I've begged the Universe for guidance.

District Lounge, The Shalimar Hotel, Mumbai

I just read through some of the reviews for this restaurant and I’m wondering how on earth did these people manage to eat so many dishes at District Lounge! Because the portions at this bar and restaurant are really, really generous. And if you’re only two people, you won’t be able to have anything more than one starter, mains and dessert with a couple of drinks each. Apart from the portion size, the taste, service and pricing of this restaurant are major USPs, despite being situated in the premium Shalimar Hotel, an iconic landmark of South Bombay.

The hotel is at Kemps Corner and a twenty minute cab ride away from CST station. Walk straight ahead from the reception and you see the ornate ochre and brown door with floral carvings. Inside, the bar looks small at first but then you see the extended seating space and the array of bar stools and you realise there’s much more to District Lounge than meets the eye. We wanted privacy and quiet, so sat at one of the tables closer to the entrance. Inside, there were some boisterous regulars who were gracious enough to apologise about the noise. We didn’t really mind though.

The waiters at District Lounge are humble and quick to meet your demands. We scanned through the menu, an exact replica of what’s available online. Like always, I already knew what I wanted. The papad paneer rolls had looked quite interesting in pictures so we went for that. Unfortunately, the cocktail I wanted (Sazerac) was missing a key ingredient (absinthe) so I went for my usual favourite, a sparkling wine spritzer. My friend had the long island iced tea, which turned out to be quite special. Later, we ordered good old paneer masala with roti and were quite stuffed by the end of it. But our server insisted we ought to try dessert and recommended the Dutch truffle. Who can go wrong with that, right? It was classic chocolate pastry elegance.

All in all, District Lounge is complete value for time and money. The service is quick, the drinks are competitively priced and your final bill should be around Rs 2500 for two with alcohol and Rs 1500 for only food. My only recommendation is to pay more attention to the lighting and music, to create that pub-like ambience. Now for those of you who are interested, here are the details.

Starter: Papad paneer roll (Rs. 375)

Four gigantic papad rolls came to us, each generously filled with chopped paneer and an extremely spicy masala. The dish was tasty, attractively presented and filling, but the chef could go easier on the chillies and masala. Having two of these was like a meal in itself!

Mains: Paneer tikka masala with roti (Rs. 415 + Rs. 95)

I loved the paneer tikka masala with its faintly sweet and creamy gravy and large chunks of paneer. The paneer was soft and fresh and we mopped up most of the gravy with the warm rotis. 

Dessert: Dutch truffle (from the next-door bakery)

There are no desserts on the District Lounge menu but there’s a bakery next door with an attractive array of the sweet stuff. The Dutch truffle is known for its perfection and we weren’t disappointed. It was the perfect end to a satisfying meal.


Aperol spritzer (Rs. 695)

A delicious concoction of sparkling wine, aperol (a kind of liqueur) and soda, this bright orange cocktail came wedged with a thick slice of orange. I loved its fizzy goodness but felt that it wasn’t very potent. I may have been wrong though, because the next drink had me really tipsy.

Long island iced tea (Rs. 445)

Every bar does its own version of this classic favourite but District Lounge really aced it. The seductive dark concoction of vodka, gin, white rum, tequila and triple sec was served in a beautiful tall and curvy glass and the drink felt super smooth on the tongue.
District Lounge - The Shalimar Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

You could also try their creative new-age cocktails while you’re there. The ‘hookah pots’ might be a good option for larger groups. Beer starts from Rs 165 and wines from Rs 295 per glass. There is a decent variety of mocktails as well on the menu. Food options aren’t too many but the non-vegetarians have slightly more to choose from. If you live in town, make District Lounge your Friday haunt. And if not, make the trip for a special occasion.