Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Tao Terraces

The Tao Terraces has been on my radar ever since this one once commented that they serve a good Khow Suey. On the Diwali weekend, (yes, I know!) we decided to get out of our regular gastroturf i.e. Koramangala/Indiranagar and head to 1 MG, (map) which to me is the new UB City in terms of #posh. The experience at Blimey wasn’t really fantastic, and since then I tend to look at the entire mall with suspicion. But go there we did.

We chose the seating on the ground floor, by the little pool, partly because we’d read that they only served a limited menu in the lounge on the second floor. (though when we asked whether this was true, the service staff said this was only true for the starters, and anything in the main course could be ordered upstairs as well) The seating is comfortable, and this section is dimly lit with a lot of Buddhist/South East Asian decor elements. The music is generic lounge and the overall effect is quite soothing.

On a whim, we skipped the Dim Sum and appetisers and asked for the Spicy Tuna Maki roll, but since that wasn’t available, decided to go for the Nigiri Sushi. (salmon) On a relative scale, we’re sushi n00bs, (both of us have always felt some kind of a strange revulsion!) and didn’t really have a benchmark to compare against. I experimented with the Wasabi paste and soy sauce and found my preferred combination in the third and final attempt. I liked the texture of the fish and the overall dish and am emboldened enough to keep experimenting. We’d also asked for the Laska Lemak Malaya (Chicken) soup. Spicy, tangy, with tofu and chicken, this was probably the best dish of the day. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

For the main course, we predictably asked for the “khau-swe” and since both of us were reasonably hungry also ordered a Wok Tossed Smoked pork and Jasmine Rice to go with it. The Burmese dish was reasonably good, though a tad too heavy for my liking. Also, the coconut flavour seemed to have come from a packet. The pork dish was quite salty with a standard smoked smell that even the jasmine rice couldn’t neutralise.

We would’ve loved to try out the Kafir Lime Tiramisu and the Wasabi Ice Cream but we were too stuffed! In all, except for the soup, it was an average meal that cost us a bit over Rs.2400. The service was reasonably prompt, though they always had an ‘are you sure’ expression on their faces.

collage1

The Tao Terraces, 5th Floor, 1 MG Mall Ph: 9986988444

A new medium

I haven’t taken you outside of the blog in a while, but here goes.

LinkedIn recently opened up its publishing platform, and since it’s a contextually relevant platform to publish my ‘work’ posts, I was immediately interested. Thanks to Gautam, I discovered this link, applied, and soon got publishing rights. It was a harder task to write something though! I have finally managed something that is a differently framed version of concepts that I have written on the blog already. Do take a look here.

The Fiction Collection 2 (Penguin)

This book was a little ‘Inception’ of time travel. It’s been 6.5 years since it was published and commemorates 20 years of Penguin in India. It consists of excerpts from the many works the publishing house has brought out, many of them from several years back. There were a few from books I had already read, a few by authors whose other works I was familiar with, and then there were authors and works I had never even heard of – and that’s why reading this was a wonderful experience – like rediscovering a few old friends and making new ones. :)

In a few of them, I did miss the larger context, but those were a rare few. There are a few translated works too, and I was surprised by the justice they seemed to do to the original work – ‘after the hanging’ by OV Vijayan being a perfect example. The other interesting part was reading a different rendition of something I had read earlier – Indu Sundaresan’s ‘the twentieth wife’ on Mehrunnisa and Salim (the early part of which I could associate thanks to Alex Rutherford’s “Empire of the Moghul”) or Khushwant Singh’s ‘delhi’ (‘nihal singh’ is set during the first war of independence and some of the events I remember from William Dalrymple’s “The Last Mughal”)

My other favourites included works that gave a glimpse of places as they once were – Bombay in Eunice de Souza’s “dangerlok”, (a wonderful piece of work) Delhi in Navtej Sarna’s “We weren’t lovers like that” and more tragic ones like Punjab in Neel Kamal Puri’s ‘death toll’ and Kerala in Jaishree Misra’s ‘from ancient promises’.

The best part is that with more than 50 different works, you are practically guaranteed to find many glimpses that you’d like and might make you want to explore the canvas further. It also took me to a different era of story telling – before IITs, IIMs, call centres, urban angst with corporate backgrounds and cliched marital ‘crises’, packaged mythology and such. For all of these reasons, a must read.

A mind beyond auto pilot

The world we create for ourselves, as I wrote a fortnight back, is a filtered version of all the stimuli we encounter. As we grow older, our stream of consciousness gets more populated because of our experiences and we automatically try to find patterns. That’s the brain’s basic learning process which helps us to navigate stimuli. The world though, does become complex, the navigation more difficult, and that’s probably how we slip into auto pilot.

We think we’re conscious of the things we do, and we are, at a superficial level, but are we really mindful? The simple experiment to do, and I think I’ve written this earlier, is to re-imagine the last hour of your life. How many actions you can remember is probably an indicator of mindfulness. There’s no question that the auto pilot is useful, but I doubt we’re in actual control of the takeover, and that’s where the problem is. Our decisions and our actions become mechanical, and even when they’re not, they’re dictated by filters designed by the auto pilot.

mindfulness2

(via)

But I think there is hope. One of the best 2014 trend reports I’ve seen – by Zambezi – has ‘Mindful Society’ as its first trend. While that is more a take on digital devices and our time spent on them, the JWT trend forecast has ‘Mindful Living’ as their final trend, and talks about a growing interest to experience everything in a more present, conscious way. I also think that we might have unwittingly figured out a way to start out on this. One of the hottest trends this year is the quantified self – self knowledge through numbers – it encourages people to monitor all aspects of their physical, emotional, cognitive, social, domestic and working lives. (via)

At this point, it is more focused on the physiological aspects, and there will most likely be a deluge of devices, services and allied products that would be an end in itself. However, it is also possible that we will truly understand our body, as numbers show the impact of our behaviour and consumption, and as a result, we’ll become more mindful in our actions. And maybe, just maybe, once we’re done with that, we’ll begin trying to do the same for our mind, and the decisions it makes. It’s difficult to imagine how that will work out, I agree, but hey, even five years back, did you think something you wear on your wrist could give you analytics on your sleep patterns?

until next time, a qualified self :)

bon South

Five years have passed since we visited the first version of bon South, in Koramangala. bon South had soon shifted to Malleswaram, and the original location now houses Prost, I think. The new version of bon South is where Ping (#youremember) used to be – the one way from Intermediate Ring Road towards Jyothi Nivas. (map) They have valet parking.

We went there for lunch on a Sunday, and think we were lucky to get a table without reservation. The place was packed! They seemed to have learnt from the earlier experience – there was no cold welcome towel and there is a clear shift from extravagance to value for money. They only have a buffet (menu) – different rates for weekdays/weekends and veg/non veg. Special rates for kids. Smart. They seem to have more space than Ping used to, and while the flooring and walls seem to have been left unchanged (from the previous owner – some multi cuisine placeholder) they have added some decor elements that lend a touch of authenticity to the theme. The old fashioned light shades deserve a mention here.

The live counter items are served on the table along with the choice of welcome drink. (beer/bottled drinks/kokum juice/buttermilk/mocktail of the day) D chose the mocktail which turned out to be a fruit punch, and I had a buttermilk. The fruit punch was strawberry heavy and just okay. The buttermilk was cold but a bit diluted and wasn’t the spicy kind I prefer. The menu differed a bit from what we’d seen on Zomato. The pick of the starters for me would be the podi idly – small, soft, spicy! This would be closely followed by the spicy grilled chicken and the thair (curd) vada. The mutton patties, the steamed fish (raw mango  flavoured and served in a banana leaf) and the uthapizza (I’m calling it that because it was an uthappam served in a pizza-like slice) were also very good. The corn, and the glazed pineapple were decent. The not-so-good items were the paneer, prawns (both were bland) and the veg patties.

collage1

The main course is the traditional buffet style – you have to go to the food. :) The photogenic pickle and podi spread grabs your attention before anything else. In the main course, we skipped the soup options (mutton stock, rasam) and began with the fish, mutton and chicken (all gravies) The appam/porotta/dosa/podi dosa will be brought to the table after you tell them what you’d prefer. A good idea would be to order this just before you pick up the dishes. The fish turned out to be quite bland and D didn’t like the crab masala she’d picked up. The chicken and mutton were both curry leaves based, but differed in taste. I thought the mutton was really good and D favoured the chicken. The appams were very good, as were the podi dosas. (I’d gladly pay for that podi if they’re selling it!) The Kerala Porotta and the dosa were decent enough. In the next round, we tried the chicken biryani, which wasn’t that great. There are enough veg options, it’s just that we skipped them – except for the stew, which was really good.

collage2

We barely had space for desserts but bravely soldiered on. The elaneer payasam is magic and a must try. I had 2 mini glasses. D loved the jalebis as well. The phirni, pastry, pradhaman, jamun and rasagullas were standard fare. We were too stuffed for the gola! :( The meal ended with a filter coffee.

collage3

It cost us Rs.1200 including service charge and taxes. I think that’s excellent value for money, especially given the location. The service deserves a special mention – enthusiastic, pleasant and prompt! I’d definitely drop in again.

bon South, 130, 1st Cross, 5th Block, (behind Sukh Sagar) Koramangala Ph: 2552 6362 / 6363

The overhaul of currency

Back in 2012, in my first post on institutional realignment, I’d written this – “…my biggest hope is that the current currency of our lives – money – will have a better successor, one that will be better connected with our unique identities, and weave in contexts better.” In the two years since, this movement has not only begun, but is also figuring out its own dynamics. I had expected, or wanted, a disruption of money, but it will most likely be a transition. At this stage, I see at least three broad areas to frame this movement -the democratisation of finance, alternate currencies and marketplaces for value exchange.

Democratisation of finance: This is probably where it began, because the internet has a reputation for removing intermediaries who do not add value in this case, financial institutions. From projects in Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe to social investments like RangDe and Milaap, there are now many ways to mobilise funds for me and you from people like me and you, according to personal passions, interests and belief systems. I’ll add more to this in the ‘marketplace’ section.

Alternate currencies: Arguably, money as an institution has built a network involving processes, dependencies and establishments keeping in mind the dynamics of an earlier era. A civilisation connected by the www may find these tedious and irrelevant, and thus it’s only natural that it builds its own institutions. Bitcoin (a good introductory guide) is the one that made this phenomenon (relatively) mainstream, to the point that it even has ATMs. Bitcoin may or may not survive, it is probably the Napster in its domain, it has changed the game irretrievably. While on the subject, do read this fantastic tongue-in-cheek take on how it’d be if the roles were reversed – a cash based mechanism replacing digital currency. Meanwhile, there are other currencies similar to Bitcoin, and then there are completely different thoughts – for example, Pay With a Tweet. Which leads us to the various payment mechanisms that are being built.

Marketplaces & Value Exchange: While the other two are the dynamics, this is where the mechanics play a part as well. In the ‘democratisation’ section, I had referred to several platforms that aid both discovery and action. There are many more stories in this line – from AgreeIt, an app that allows crowdfunding from friends on Facebook to crowdsourcing for emotional advice, ideas and so on to selling one’s reservation at a restaurant/spot in a line through Shout to  a ‘new media company’ Ideapod that wants to “amplify the ideas that shape our world, create genuine and enduring dialogue around ideas and spread ideas that matter through new and traditional media channels.” to ordering food from neighbours, (Eatro in London and Imli – a startup I mentor at the Microsoft Accelerator- closer to home) there are various models of value exchange that are shaping themselves. In fact, the entire ‘social commerce via collaborative consumption‘ route is based on these marketplaces. (a few good perspectives and stats on its drivers here)

But, irrespective of the currency, every transaction requires (another) key element – trust. The social web is also building its own mechanics for this – from relatively generic clout mechanisms (Klout, Kred and the likes) to more context specific ones like LinkedIn or GitHub or even Wiki and review mechanisms. (from Amazon to TripAdvisor to Foursquare to GoodReads to Zomato) We earn trust through our knowledge and actions in these mechanisms. We earn social currency. That brings me to the final portion – how does all of this impact brands and what would be their role?

Brands & the trust economy: Across the ages, corporations have been built on competitive advantages pertinent to the economies they operated in. I found a fantastic illustration in this context here

Economies and competitive advantages

I think relationships are indeed going to be the major competitive advantage in the future, and if so, the currency that would play a bigger role than money would be trust. As in many other developments prior to this, there are opportunities here for brands to weave themselves into the consumer’s narratives and go beyond transactional relationships, and to earn social currency. Many of them are already on it, finding ways to earn consumer trust and helping him/her develop and change perspectives about various currencies and relationships between them. Since we’re talking of finance, let’s use an example in that domain. Fidor bank helps its consumers discover crowd sourcing options, staying true a bank’s generic commitment of excellent wealth management. Yes, it’s still money, but it understands that it can be deployed beyond traditional options. In the process, it also helps the consumer to belong to a community.

Brands actually have an option to join in wherever there is consumer spending. Nike+, as usual, did something back in 2012 – they allowed runners to trade in (running) mileage for Nike goods (I had shared the video in the institutional realignment post too) While this ties in beautifully with Nike’s business purpose, maybe some brands would have to lean a little more towards the consumer side and get into relatively unrelated narratives, and a relationship, before connecting it back to the business purpose. For example, airBaltic’s loyalty program Baltic Miles rewards frequent fliers who jog enough to burn off the same number of calories as miles they’ve flown. One of the aspects of agile marketing would be to enable identification of opportunities early. For example, imagine Coke getting into the act in Beijing’s first reverse vending machines that pay subway credits in exchange for returned containers.

In what might seem like a ‘changing of goalposts’, just as brands are beginning to vaguely realise that their currencies of engagement with consumers need to change, the consumer’s relationship with the common currency of transaction – money – is also changing. The two are very related, and brands need to tackle both to have meaning and relevance in a consumer’s life, because if (as Godin says) “money is a story“, we’re probably nearing a plot twist.

until next time, the end of money’s monopoly

P.S. For another detailed look at the subject, you’d want to read Gauravonomics’ post on ‘The Future of Money‘.

No Full Stops in India

Mark Tully

A book published in 1991, and so the best part about it is that it involves a fair amount of time travel. It’s a collection of 10 essays with an introduction and epilogue that could pass off as mini essays too! While all of the essays are commentaries, what adds that little flavour is the author’s own involvement in it, which he somehow manages to balance with a near objective view. The first essay, for instance, involves the marriage of his cook’s daughter, and his experience at the village. But it also is about how communities in villages have been solving their own problems even better than the land’s relatively new legal system. It thus serves as an example of how we, the ‘educated elite’ make a clamour for egalitarianism without understanding the positives of the caste system.

Cultural imperialism is the theme of the next essay and is brought out through the carvings at Mahabalipuram, and the interaction and friction between British artists (sculptors) and their Indian counterparts, whom they rate slightly lesser- as craftsmen. The essay also touches upon Dalit Christians and how they are discriminated against even within the Church.

The Kumbh Mela is what the third essay is about and is a vivid telling of the massive festival. The author spends time with VP Singh’s brother, and meets the various people who ply their trade in this enormous festival – the pandas and later, the akharas who look to recruit people or get donations. In this, there is a note of sarcasm that creeps in occasionally, but Tully still manages to capture the faith driven fervour superbly. He has also correctly predicted the potential rise of communal parties towards the end of the essay.

One of the most interesting essays is the fourth one, especially for my generation which grew up watching Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan! The author reminded me of the impact of this mega serial long before we had reality TV and TRPs – taxi drivers who knocked on the author’s door asking for permission to watch it in his house, cabinet swearing in postponed so everyone could watch it, and so on. He spends 2 days with the Sagars while they’re shooting the Uttararamayan section (owing to public demand) and there Ramanand Sagar tells him how he has handled feminists and also the story of his own life. There is an amusing part about the filming of a scene – Lakshman having biscuits between takes, reusing marigolds for extra takes, and so on.

Operation Black Thunder is a more serious essay which involves covering the whole event live. This was an era before live TV and omnipresent crews and the author tries to delve deeper into how a section of the Sikhs and the Central and State governments reached this point, with interviews of civil servants and military, police personnel.

Colonialism in Calcutta is probably my favourite essay as Tully takes us through the city where Marxism, industries and religion co-exist side by side amidst bare remnants of an earlier era. In between are interesting anecdotes like the Oberoi Hotel’s origins. This happens to be the author’s birthplace and the affection does really come through.

The next one was a surprise since it dealt with a modern day case of Sati and it has never been proved whether it was suicide or murder. The author gets the varying perspectives of the villagers, politicians, civil servants, activists, the extended family, and it does bring out how laws at the end of day, should be made understanding the minds of the people they are made for.

Typhoon in Ahmedabad also surprised me but apparently that’s the name they use for riots! This is an era before Narendra Modi left his indelible mark and does show that riots existed long before him. The poor – both Hindu and Muslim, seem the most affected in the politically motivated result of a nexus between politicians and the underworld. SEWA’s activities also get some space as does Ahmedabad as a city.

A journey into Madhya Pradesh in what was the national vehicle of the time – the Ambassador, makes up the next essay. The destination is the village of an artist who has made it (relatively) big in Bhopal with the help of a government program. Jabalpur, the inconspicuous geographical centre of India, represents eminently the feel of a tier 3 city in the mid-late 80s. This essay also covers ground on tribals, their belief systems and I also found what could be the precursor to Arundhati Roy’s essays about the Narmada.

The last essay is about Digvijay Narain Singh, the politician from Bihar who also happens to be the author’s close friend. He belongs to an era when politicians had a conscience, and while you could say that the author is biased, much of the perspective is reportage – opinions from others. The politician’s relationships with Nehru, Indira Gandhi are well chronicled and throws light on the kind of politician who took the responsibility of being a public servant seriously.

The epilogue is a note on Rajiv Gandhi, and through this, the state of India as a nation. It ends with the news of Rajiv’s death and the author’s perspective on what this means for a nation.

In essence, a wonderful read that gave me insights about a time when I was too young to dwell on things happening around me and events that ultimately affected the present I live in.

The world we create

A while ago, I had written about the narratives of our lives, a look at various narratives across time – from religions and nations to popular culture and brands to the internet – that have (arguably) tried to fulfill our sense of belonging. All the narratives I had considered were external in nature, though they might be dictated by our choices and preferences.

An excellent comment on the post by The Lit Room made me consider ‘the narrative of individual imagination’. As I answered, it is probably the most important one, as it takes all sorts of external stimuli, and converts it into a unique stream of consciousness. Just when I began thinking of writing a follow up post by including that aspect, I was reintroduced, thanks to Devdutt Pattanaik’s Sita, to the concept of ‘aham brahmasmi‘ – “every human creates his own imagined version of the world, and of himself. Every human is therefore Brahma, creator of his own aham“. I think it is impossible to crack everything that goes into the making of one’s own consciousness, which is probably what led to

Clipboard01

(image via)

But there are at least a couple of perspectives that the book provides in terms of how one can create an ideal ‘world’ for oneself. It says, “stay true to the idea of dharma. Be the best you can be, in the worst of circumstances, even when no one is watching.” I thought a bit about what actually drives our actions, and realised that at the bottom of it is fear. (debatable) Not just one fear, but many, many fears driven by our contexts – some we acknowledge, some we don’t. George Lucas probably figured it out earlier, (see) though we might travel paths different from what Yoda has suggested. The book also states that – Fear is a constant, and faith is a choice. Fear comes from karma, from faith arises dharma. Faith in what, was the next thing I pondered over. In oneself, and a moral code that one adheres to? Or a higher power/cosmic law that governs all that happens? Or is it just a mechanical process with the fittest surviving? There are more options as well, probably, but I like to go with the first, because in the world that I create, my actions can ensure I do not have to fear.

Meanwhile, also from the book – Shiva chooses the path of asceticism and self control to control the aham, and the world it creates. Vishnu chose to live amidst materialism and yet find a way to break free – a middle path. (now I can see why Buddha is assumed to be a form of Vishnu) I think there are several degrees to choose from, and there lies the challenge. I also realise that it if each of us are creating our own worlds, we cannot really answer the questions of the world at large – a universal answer – because it is an aggregate of each of our worlds, which are different from each other and have unique rules. We can only find the answers to our own world, and through our individual paths, find our own version of the answer to the purpose of life.

until next time, muddled path

The Mirage

First appeared in Bangalore Mirror

I came upon The Mirage quite by chance on the web, and for a few moments, when I was hunting for its precise location in Koramangala, I did wonder about the name of the restaurant and whether it was literally that! Situated on the fourth floor of a building, it’s pretty easy to miss unless you’re specifically looking for it. At an eye level, look for the new Corner House. (map – though it has shifted to the other side of the same road) Parking on the street. When we visited, the place was relatively unknown because it’d been less than a month since it opened, and they hadn’t done much in terms of publicity. That probably explains why we were the only group there. Thankfully, the cliché of the service staff attacking as a swarm did not happen. In fact they actually seemed a little intimidated, especially when we ordered wine – they had difficulty finding it, and seemed confused on how to serve it! For now they are serving only wines, (though they plan to make it a full fledged alcohol menu soon) so it might be a good idea to train the staff on it. But once the initial fear of strangers passed, they turned out to be quite helpful and attentive! The décor is functional aiming towards lounge and there’s lots of ‘greenery’ – in the form of lighting, graphics and cushion covers. Marilyn Monroe seems to be quite an influence, appearing in various avatars, the most interesting of which is her quote “I don’t want to make money. I just want to be wonderful.

The menu is a mix of many cuisines – Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Italian and even a smattering of Vietnamese. From the more than a dozen options available, we began with a Sesame Potato Bites in Chili Sauce. On hindsight, we needn’t have ordered this since everything else came with potatoes anyway! There was something funny about the oil in this dish, and it wasn’t the kind that would make you look forward to the rest of the meal. The Fried Calamari served with Garlic Aioli and chips was up next. The squid was well cooked, the dip complemented it well and if you can ignore the general greasiness, it’s not a bad dish. The Highnoons Special Fried Chicken was the last to arrive, and was served with the mandatory chips and a ‘Mayo-Tard’ sauce. The chicken itself was decent, except for a couple of undercooked bits, but the sauce, which was already a cause of much mirth thanks to our juvenile vowel movement jokes, actually had a funny taste, most likely thanks to a mustard overdose.

 collage1

In addition to the standard menu, there’s also a ‘daily specials’ display. Since the idea was to pig out, we decided to try the BBQ Pork from this set. It came with.. Ok, this is getting boring, so imagine potatoes as bodyguards and that no dish arrives on the table without them accompanying it in some form! But the pork dish actually turned out to be the first of the fantastic dishes – a superb mix of spice, tang and splendidly cooked meat. To even out things a bit, we then tried the Veg Dumplings in Hot & Sour Gravy which was served with Butter Rice. This was not in the league of the earlier dish, but the hot and sour flavours were complemented well by the mildly flavoured rice. The Cajun Spiced Grilled Fish with Dill Butter Sauce was up next. The fish was cooked well enough, but it was probably our least favourite, mostly thanks to a strange pungency. The Chicken Roulade turned out to be the dish of the day, with an awesome spinach filling, a mildly spicy herb sauce and butter rice to complete the package. From the half a dozen pizza options, we chose the Pepperoni & Bacon. They weren’t stingy with the meat and the caramelised shallots added a nice touch to the thin crust pizza.

collage2

There were plenty of interesting options but we were pointed to the Brownie Caramel Fudge and the New York Style Blueberry Cheesecake, and thus we had a new benchmark of how meals should end! The brownie was just the right texture and consistency – neither too dry nor moist- and had some wonderful dark chocolate! Good chocolate dishes are always a tough act to follow, and the fact that the baked cheesecake almost beat it is testament to its quality. I wondered whether we should have started with desserts!

collage3

For about Rs.1350, you could share a couple of non veg starters, two  non veg main course dishes and a dessert. (Inclusive of taxes and service charge) The Mirage actually lives up to its name in the sense that the restaurant’s appearance doesn’t do full justice to the quality of some of the dishes. Considering the Koramangala location, it manages to deliver value for money as well. A little more attention to the overall packaging, including some good music (instead of piping Radio Indigo) and it could be wonderful and make money!

The Mirage, #61, 4th Floor, Above Corner House, 7th Block, Koramangala, Ph: 080 65333533/633