Difficult Pleasures

Anjum Hasan

Anjum Hasan is definitely among my top 3 favourite authors, and this book only adds to it. But that also means that this is not a thoroughly objective review. :)

The book has thirteen short stories that have a varied set of characters in different circumstances. As the jacket informs us, some of the stories are borderline surreal, but that doesn’t take away from the empathy that the author (has and) seems to be able to evoke in the reader. This is especially commendable because the characters vary in age, socio-economic class, mindset, location and many other factors. Yet, the single common takeaway from each of these (sometimes not-so-ordinary) slice of life situations is how the author is able to drag the reader in and empathise with the character/s even if not completely identify with. More

A republic of convenience

Masala Republic is a Malayalam movie I watched recently. First, my sympathies with those who attempted the heroic task of watching it in a theatre, but to be fair, it did give me some food for thought. No, not about my choice of movies, but things slightly more important in the scheme of things. It talked, for instance, of issues that needed a voice – the changing socio-political and economic dynamics of Kerala caused by a huge influx of people, mostly low wage workers from Bengal and the North East.

The movie begins with the disruption brought about in the life of these folks by a ban imposed on Gutka, which apparently is part of their staple diet! This reminded me of the (real) scenario I witnessed when the liquor ban was announced in Kerala. Almost overnight, I saw an ecosystem disbanded – small shops around bars, auto-rickshaws that ferried drunk guys home, to name a few components.

Notwithstanding the political play that brought about this ban, I was forced to ask – isn’t alcohol consumption an individual’s choice? One might cite domestic violence, decrease in productivity, drunken driving etc, but unlike say, smoking, it does not automatically cause damage to the larger society. Isn’t a blanket ban a bit like banning automobiles because of road accidents? If the justification is that individual choice must bow before collective progress, then can we really condemn Sanjay Gandhi for the infamous sterilisation programme? After all, population control would, at least arguably, have meant progress. What we are debating therefore, (I think) is the means. And means is exactly what an alcohol ban is. Does society really have the moral right to take such a decision? Who decides society’s collective moral compass and what can resist such selective applications of morality?

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(via)

Who decides where the line is?

P.S. Would be glad if you could point out whether I am missing some relevant piece of information or logic here.

The Fatty Bao

On a Saturday, when we wanted to do more than just monkeying around, we climbed a few more floors to get to The Fatty Bao (map) We had reserved a table for two, and even though most of the tables were empty, we were rather firmly asked to take a specific one, just like we were told not to go upstairs because it was full. One of the tables we asked for remained empty until about five minutes before we left. Oh, well. Despite all that, I quite liked the ambiance – fun and relaxed with a dash of quirky.

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While the decor has a panda domination, the ‘Monkey’ flavour is evident in the menu. There are quite a few interesting cocktails to choose from – I asked for the Mandalay Bay, and D wanted a Bora Bora. The jasmine tea in my drink was refreshing and worked really well with the vodka and ginger beer. The other drink was quite a melange – gin, coconut water, vodka and passion fruit – and it was difficult to get one dominant flavour. But that also made it quite a lively drink! More

The Krishna Key

Ashwin Sanghi 

‘The Krishna Key’ has all the ingredients that a thriller needs – a direct connection with history and/or mythology, a James Bond -like leading lady and vamp, a serial killer, and a plot that more often than not, is racing to a climax; and yet, I had a feeling of unfinished business after I completed the book. I think Ashwin Sanghi painted himself into a corner as soon as he decided what the ‘key’ would be because it would be difficult to end it any other way.

The entire plot is built around Krishna’s legacy and its path through the ages. So chapters begin with Krishna’s own story and at many times, one can sense a certain similarity in events, though the characters are completely different. There is a fair amount of vagabonding in space – Kailash, Dwarka and so on and time – Vedic to Mughal to the modern era. More

Penang Post! – Part 4

Continued from Part 1Part 2 and Part 3

The last day of our vacation. Sigh! We only had one item on the agenda, and no prizes for guessing it involved food – specifically lunch! But before that, we had our standard awesome breakfast at Spice Market cafe. They had an awesome Blueberry Crumble and the banana cakes had been fantastic for a couple of days now!

We didn’t have a lot of time to digest it, because we had to leave the hotel by 2 and had very minimal time for lunch. We took a cab to the Living Room Cafe (actually walk-able, but 10 MYR away by cab) which served fusion Malaysian. A small cafe on the main road that also sells art. They had quite a few interesting photos around  – Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin, Muhammad Ali & the Beatles etc. There was also a band practicing. I ordered a Cider, D an banana juice and we waited for what we had come for – Beef Rendang. We got talking to an American lady who had been in Batu Ferringhi for 1.5 years and planned to stay 2.5 more. We wondered what it must be like. Meanwhile, the beef rendang did prove to be an excellent choice.

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Penang Post! – Part 3

Continued from Part 1 and Part 2

We lazed around and barely made it in time for breakfast! The buffet at Spice Market Cafe was awesome as always, and my meal was made thanks to the parfait and bread pudding. I also saw what suspiciously looked like a snide remark on Twitter ;)

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The day was not really packed in terms of schedule, but we were a bit delayed and when I learned that the taxi to Penang Hill would work out only to about 30 MYR, I immediately voted to skip the elaborate bus plan. We reached the Penang Hill station in about 45 minutes  and it actually worked out to 50 MYR (contrary to what the lady at the hotel said) but it was a wonderful ride – peaceful settings with only a couple of traffic bottlenecks. There are a couple of queues to be navigated – one for the tickets (30 MYR per person) and the other to actually get into the train that will get you to the top. The internet suggests that one person should stand in each, since the waiting time could turn out to be quite much, but the line for the latter seemed reasonable, so we stood united! More

Penang Post! – Part 2

Continued from Part 1

The day dawned bright and sunny. Ok, maybe dawn is an exaggeration, and it’s usually so at 8.30. :D The buffet breakfast was at the Spice Market cafe, and the spread was just fantastic. I’d planned on a light breakfast since street food was a major part of the day’s agenda, but I really couldn’t help myself. Given that we were running a bit late, we skipped the original plan of taking Bus #101 and took a taxi to Georgetown, (40 MYR. They all claim to be metered, but ah, well. So ‘negotiate’ the rate before you start.) a UNESCO Heritage Site since 2008. Fort Cornwallis was where we asked to be dropped and the view from there reminded me a lot of Cochin.

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Someone at this fort had a cannon obsession. The damn things were everywhere, and the irony is that the fort has never engaged in battle! We took a leisurely stroll inside and then turned into Pengkalan Weld, to begin our street art discovery.

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You can do this street art exploration in many ways. You could just walk around and organically see the ones on your route, or research, figure out the ones you want to see and make a walking route. We did the latter. There are many resources available – a Google Map, an online brochure (doesn’t have the 101 Lost Kittens series) and the free guide that you can pick up at the airport is actually the most up-to-date one. Our first stops were Louis Gan’s “Two Children playing Basketball” and “Brother and Sister on a Swing”, both almost seemed alive!

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Penang Post! – Part 1

For long, Malaysia has had a transitory presence in our travel itineraries – a temporary and forced stop on our way to our vacation spots. We had actually planned a trip within India, but then I chanced upon Batu Ferringhi, Penang. That led us to Georgetown, its street art and street food, and plans were abruptly changed! Meru, for the first time, gave us a scare, but we were rescued by Taxi For Sure. After a quick caffeine dose at the airport, we were on our way to Kuala Lumpur, courtesy Air Asia.

Based on our earlier experiences, we had expected to land at that glorified bus stand called LCCT, but were pleasantly surprised when we alighted at KLIA2. In fact, we had an abundance of choice for breakfast and found it difficult to settle on one place. Across three floors we roamed, until Ringgits were spent at Alessio, which offered a great value-for-money breakfast. (at least by airport standards)

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A few hours later, another hour long Air Asia flight took us to Penang, the Pearl of the Orient. (that must be the most over used description ever!) The airport had quite a few useful free guides and they should be enough to plan the vacation even if you haven’t done so earlier! We took a cab from the airport pre paid booth to Batu Ferringhi. Our first impression of the place, during this trip, was that it was actually quite peaceful, despite the obvious urbanisation. Drivers followed road rules, there was minimal honking and not a lot of ambient noise at all. The driver got us to our destination in the promised 50 minutes for about 75MYR. The Shangri-La Rasa Sayang has a rather deceptive appearance. A lot of trees partially hide a clean, aesthetically designed yet minimalistic set of buildings. But once inside, you can actually feel the opulence. They were nice enough to let us check in a couple of hours earlier than standard, and a wonderfully refreshing welcome drink later, we were escorted to our room on the fourth floor, overlooking the pool, and the sea beyond.

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Brewsky

First published in Bangalore Mirror quite a while back! I delayed posting it here because I thought I’d be able to taste the brew soon. Last I heard, they still hadn’t solved the brew problem, and it’s almost a year now!

Usually when there’s talk of something brewing in south Bangalore, the reference is to coffee, and when names such as Giltasura or Kamacitra are brought up, you’d be pardoned for thinking that it’s about some new play at Rangashankara. That probably explains the open jaws, quickly followed by excitement, when I mentioned that a microbrewery had opened in JP Nagar. (map) Spread across two floors for now, it goes by the name of Brewsky, and though they ran out of brew samples by the time we visited – and that was a real pity, because they really sounded interesting on paper – there was no shortage of sky.

On one side, the bar stools lining the wall on the lower floor offer a wonderful view of South Bangalore’s skyline – one of the best I’ve seen. On the other side one can view the brewery itself, glowing blue at night, with graphics of the brew characters. The upper floor is alfresco and would be perfect for a brunch. Another floor is planned below soon, with space for live performances – we got a preview and the Viking helmet lampshades and ‘chandeliers’ made of beer bottles all pointed to a hangout with character. Watch out for a few interesting elements of a biker theme too! They plan to serve the full-fledged beer menu in about a month, for now you’ll have to make do with a standard alcohol menu. More