Thursday, 9 February 2017

A lovelier world

Everybody has their own definition of Indulgence. For some, it’s busying themselves with their hobbies, and for others it’s about exploring the world and finding their true selves. You know, long drives in their beloved cars! I must confess, though, that there are moments when Indulgence seems like the very reason I wait for the 1st of every month. Pay cheque time! And food, (good food) served at beautiful places brings out the best in me. The best black dress to wear, a limited edition car to transport me, and a most exclusive culinary experience at the end of it. Sigh. Somehow, the mundane makes way for a lovelier world when you accept how divine indulging yourself can be. Here are five fine food places in Delhi for finding it!

1. Tamra, at Shangri-La’s Eros Hotel - Tamra is a ‘world in your platter’ place, offering Asian, Japanese, International and Indian fare, straight out of its five interactive live kitchens. It's fun and vibrant.

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2. West View, at ITC Maurya –The exquisite view and the fine variety of mouthwatering delicacies make West View a must-go. But better be a proper meat-eater if you’re coming here. The European style menu is focused on meat dishes and all you need to do is pick your meat cut and how you want it cooked. For the rest, get here in style lay back and enjoy the scenic Delhi range. 

3. Dakshin, at Sheraton – This one’s for the lovers of authentic South Indian cuisine, and I mean way beyond dosas and idlis. The dishes served are uncommon and from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. Some exclusive traditional dishes which usually don’t make restaurant appearances will make way to your table here!

4. Spice Route, The Imperial Hotel – It’s not just the exotic Thai and Asian cuisine here which will grab your attention. Imagine sitting in a restaurant designed to reflect the journey of spices from the Malabar Coast in Kerala through Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Indonesia to Thailand and Vietnam. Yes! This is an architectural marvel made over 7 years and now serving an exclusive menu crafted by the President’s Awardee Thai national, Chef Veena Arora.

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5. On the Waterfront (OTW), Lodhi – This place is great for lunches and lavish Sunday brunches. The menu is vast and includes kebabs, sushi, cold cuts, curries, grills, soups, stirs, biryani, pastas…yes, exclusively vast. There’s also a jetty here, by the way. 

You know how the finer things are always limited. So I’m wondering if I do manage to get two of them – free time and good food, I may also go a step further in my indulgence and need a car like the recently launched limited edition Dzire Allure, to take me places I desire to go. I hear that its stylish exteriors are equipped with a chrome bumper corner protector, lower lid garnish, stylish body graphics and side skirts. These features add an elegant touch to this beautiful car. Hm. Now that completes the picture of a lovelier world.

Payday, I’m waiting for you!  

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

'Oh! My Name' is fabulous

Children love to own things. (So do adults I know, but let’s not go there!) The little ones want to be proud possessors of things they enjoy, can boast about and later stack and add to their burgeoning numbers. There is always a wish-list on display under the fridge magnet and another one ready to be scribbled after the best friend’s birthday gifts are opened or inadvertently an advert for the latest in children’s goodies watched. (You should have caught the TV remote in time!)

They just want! They know what they want and how they want it. Only sometimes they may know why they want it. Nonetheless, they want and that’s explanation enough. And you, loving parents, need to give, or to put it in the blackmailer’s language, provide. But wanting and getting isn’t always so bad. As a parent nothing makes me happier than my child asking me for books to read, for instance. It is a “demand” I love to meet and never argue against because I always feel like I’m pandering to my childhood love too as I cater to my child’s. Plus, it’s a great first love to have. Books! So be it book fairs or book shops, jumble sales or Children’s Day coupons, this mother hunts for good books with a zeal which she doesn’t even show for good food. Ahem.

So, what is a good Children’s book according to me? One which excites them, frees their imaginations, makes them feel, makes them question and maybe makes them learn a thing or two about their world, about gentle manners, values like team work and Quantum Physics, why not? They grow up so fast! And these days, academic pressure... Sorry. But you get the idea. That’s a good book there for me, minus the Physics, that is.

What is an even better book? A uniquely personalized book. No, not one which simply copy-pastes your child’s name in place of Prince Charming but something like ‘Oh! My Name’ by Nikhil Mittal, which takes personalization to a level beyond mere labeling. It’s a concept which instantly caught my attention and later my appreciation for how it involves tiny readers. 

When I ordered the book online, I was asked to write a Dedication which would actually be printed in my copy of the book.  You could write anything under the sun and over the moon, addressed to your child and signed off with your role of ‘Papa and Mama’, or whatever your relationship is with the kid you are ordering the book for. I thought it was a great opportunity for me to give him my list of Life’s 10 Most Important Lessons but his father disagreed. So a sweet little wish for his dreams to come true it was to be. This idea of creating a dedication not just personalized the book but also added an emotion to the giving of the present itself. The printed words making owning this book even more special. 

But it doesn’t end there, the promotion of a lovely ‘this is my book!’ sentiment. 

Oh! My Name’ makes your child a part of the book. Literally. 

‘I didn’t forget my way, but my name.’

This is the story of a boy/girl who has forgotten his/her name and is looking for it. The name is put together letter-after-letter and page-after-page in an adventurous tale. The wonderful twist is, your child is the protagonist of the story and it is he/she looking for the name. No surprise then that it is his name spelled bold and bright in white at the end of the tale! 

The boy in my book, with a unibrow and wearing a red cape, meets different creatures as he journeys ahead. His friend and ‘ally’ Dabi goes along; a favourite toy magically turned real. With expressions of bewilderment and wonder, he meets some animals that he knows and some fantastical creatures like Ila Pika who he is happy to now know. Everyone gives him a letter to take along, in return for what goes on. What goes on is a secret I’m keeping!       

The story is brought alive with big and beautiful illustrations in a book which is printed on a wide landscape format and is super easy to hold. The story is brought home in a child’s mind with its rhyming sentences and simple expressions. Invented sound words like ‘Ho Ho Hokeya’ make reading aloud fun and some conversations are bold and big to be read even louder, perhaps. 

There are lessons and messages gently tucked inside the story, without making it sound like school curriculum. Each tiny episode of meeting a different creature makes the boy in my book make the boy reading it learn something. Take help when you need it, but don’t forget to lend your helping hand when another needs it more. So if in the first part it’s the boy taking help, in the second he has learnt to help back. Both appreciation and gratitude abound, along with thank yous and awards. Dabi, the magical toy, stands for that magic which shows itself when you most need it. It tells children that friends help. Strangers become companions. The universe comes together to lead you on to happiness. Even a snake can give you something that ‘will help you make progress.’ The important bit is to move onwards. And even more, to know yourself. But for now, your name would be enough.

Oh! My Name’ is great for pre-schoolers who are just jumping into the sea of phonetics as well as early-readers. This book will certainly make them identify the letters of their name, in the correct sequence at that. Of course, adults will have to help them read the rest of the book. It can make for a good first introduction to many animals too! Words like ‘Organic’ and a picture of Shakespeare made my reading session with my five-year-old digress into unchartered territory. Even more fun! The mystery keeps them hooked, even if the older clever clogs realize the spelling of the name rings a bell. So if by the time NIS have been found and Nishad guesses it’s his name, how the rest of the letters will appear in the story keeps him reading on. For those who don’t make an effort to start putting the letters together as they read, well, the book holds a bigger surprise then! Who says being lazy is bad, huh? 

There was one thing though, in NISHAD’s story that caught my eye. The transition from I to S, only, seemed like a jump. If the book is created by stringing letter-episodes together, it should be seamless. ‘The boy was looking at a creature’ could begin ‘Just a few steps ahead…’ for example. That would help maintain a continuity to the journey. However, such nuances are for the adults to notice in their boring grown-up critical worlds. Children don’t have time to waste on such nitty-gritties. All mine had to say when I asked him about it was ‘I don’t know what you mean. I only wish my name were very loooooong’. Request denied, of course.

While ordering the book online I could read the complete thing with just a ‘tap to open’. Just a sample page as preview would have been enough, or it takes away the charm for adult readers who love tales written for children. (Pssk! It did make me create one in my name to read.) I also found out that the same letters in two different names have same episodes in both books. But repeat letters in the same name have different episodes. Which means multiple stories have been created for the many letter combinations. Which also means siblings with common letters in the name will share a little more than just their parents.

What if siblings could become characters in the same book, looking for letters of their names appearing all jumbled up? Fighting to own the first shared ‘A’ or ‘I’? Oops. Sorry. I digress there.   

Oh! My Name’ is a lovely book created with much thought.  It came along with a muppet of Dabi, who has now occupied pride of place in my child’s bed. He felt immense surprise followed by interest and joy on receiving and reading this story which brings together the real and the magical. A real him in a magical story! The tiny adventure in this good-looking book is very personal and at the same time very important too. Because what’s in a name? A lot, especially if it belongs to a child.

'Oh! My Name'  by Nikhil Mittal is self-published (2017)

[Review was commissioned by the author. Views are my own.]

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

A Ball of Wool

Some say there are no random events in the universe. It follows then that there are no random thoughts either. All thoughts have an origin, a place where they come from and a reason they are born. Now, I may not know why I have this gnat-of-a-thought buzzing over me like I’m its gnu, but it’s there. This thought. By talking about it I want to share its buzz. 

Let’s consider our Self as a ball of wool. Soft, bright and snugly wool. Over the years this ball of wool uncoils itself in all eight directions, and then eight more, and more, and so on. By uncoils I mean this self ‘lives’ life. It um ... gives, takes, talks, keeps silent, does, doesn’t do, learns, unlearns, writes, erases, wants, rejects, makes, breaks, grows, plucks, cooks, burns, works, shirks, smiles, keeps smiling, runs, sits still, opens up, closes in, uses mascara, rubs the lipstick, falls, gets up, makes friends, manages friends, switches on, or off, carries on, and on. 

Your Self as you knew it long back when you learnt what self means constantly becomes and unbecomes. But ‘unbecomes’ is no word so let’s just say our Self constantly becomes. It sounds more positive anyway! So when we do all those things (separated above with tiny commas) over our lifetimes our Self becomes. Some would say evolves and grows. Okay. Good. But then what is left of that ball of wool – the soft, bright and snugly wool we began with, after all the slow uncoiling and fast uncoiling and mediocre uncoiling happens and happens and maybe on a very cold, contemplative morning it begs to be noticed? What does it become, really? 


Perhaps the size of the zygote where it all begins. Perhaps tinier. 

Over the years, while the thread of wool spreads around forming a messy maze which may have its own method and past motivations, the ball of wool constantly spins to finally become minuscule at the end of the day. Somehow, without you noticing, you’ve made your Self out of sight! Or to obsess over the metaphor (winters!) uncoiled so much that you’ve forgotten what the ball of wool was about in the first place. It’s barely there now. No magnifying glass, no microscope will make you see what’s left of what was once so … different!

It is a terrifying thought, of this sense of vanishing Self, despite the knowledge that you remember close to nothing of what you once were or wanted to be. This thought shakes the chair you sit on, makes its legs jelly and you sink, heavy with gravitas. All you see are the endless loops and hoops of the thread all around you. So much of it that it doesn’t even seem to be yours! Did it really come from you? Is it you? Was it? Who is you?

Oh boy! I did that? Why would I say that? Oh no that was loony of me. Sheesh! Magenta? No. No. That idea could never have been mine. Are you sure? Positive? Really? It’s okay to not know. Wow, I didn’t know? But I never supported such differences. Oh. I did? Of course I believe in my opinions! I said yes! I said no? Ho! Organic food sucks! I hate that woman. I really hated that woman? Why? Oops! I got drunk? But that’s so not me! Seriously? Why would I close my door on their face? I made a face at her? You’ve got to be mistaken! No? Oh!   

Ahem. Phew. So much.

So on a certain day, the age and stage of which may strike you by surprise, you decide to start coiling the thread back into a ball. Give it some pattern, some semblance of order. Like a ‘this is me!’ moment where the said 'me' may be as unchanging as the sea, but still. Order order. You don’t have to be old and wise. You can be young and wiser and just start pulling back your threads - slowly, sneakily, sassily or sagely. Knit it back. Or just yank it into a hank like our grandmothers used to do using their knees, perhaps never otherwise sitting with their legs so apart but their hands as ever dexterous. I wonder now if by some Jungian connection they had originally thought of this "Self= ball of wool", much before I claim copyright to it some generations down. Would this metaphorical connect explain the passion with which they knit and undid sweaters and mittens and shrugs and shawls with their bony, wrinkled fingers? What were they thinking when they did that? What were their thoughts?  

Winding up our Self into a whole. 

Sounds oxymoronic! Could it mean anything, though? 

Well, you could be honest and straight more often than not. Forget politeness and remember to call a faded sweater a silly, raggedy, useless blot in the name of all sweaters of the world! Choices of yore which now seem compromises to the core can be picked and thrown away like lint on your old fleece. Give in that resignation! If your anxiety has been reduced to a ‘usual habit’ make sure you don’t invite the nitpickers when the next prickly party in the head-heart region strikes. If the tray of sweets was slipped away from right under your nose, don’t bother to serve that gajar ka halwa when your door bell rings next. If your heart says sleep you tell the imp to go fly a kite (but keep away from the boundary wall and wear your sneakers will you!) and you sleep. If they read you to shred you, you make sure you make mental noodles of their books! If they think you talk too much stop talking to them entirely. If they mock those you love then rip open the new set of knives. If someone else wants peace and not your dissent, give them a piece of your mind and then the peace. If another your pound of flesh, take it instead. If they think your hair...  

Lord! I sound mutinous… but I guess what I’m saying is, when you wind up the many loops you’ve surrounded yourself with, knowingly or otherwise, you start seeing yourself better. You recognize what you feel and you give priority to the sounds of your own silent sighs behind the smiles. Because you hear them now. Because maybe sometimes only you will hear them and understand them. 

Of course, you can’t really become a zygote in a fallow tube or some such, so you leave just enough thread out there to know and be known for who you choose to be at that point. Just enough thread to roll back. Just enough to be an extended hand. Never enough to be tugged away. Gradually, you find that lost Self shaping up. May not be a perfect round figure anymore. Nope. But a sphere’s not so bad either.  

And while you wind up your Self into a whole, if you feel like rambling publicly about it in one thousand words without a second look, well, you go ahead and do that too. Self-help, you know!

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