Not another Review!!

Not another review! What makes this different? Well, for starters, the person(s) reviewing stuff here are people who grew up in a world thats far removed from "the Reviews on Gruyere cheese and Asparagus..." In other words,
1. We love Amul butter - the salted yummy thing better than all the 'sophisticated' imported butter in the world!
2. We love the gooey, drippy sweetness of Indian sweets
3. We have, at some point in our lives, ate spoonfulls of Milkmaid conensed milk - right out of the can
4. We understand food and wine pairing (Courtesy the persistent lecturers in Hotel mgmt college), but would rather have chilled beer or the exotic looking potent cocktail with our spicy chicken tikkas or fish fries
5. Prefer to use words like 'delicate' for silks and 'sharp' for tools... NOT food!
6 Are dying find product which make lives easier for working mothers, wives, girlfriends or considerate (also read that as hen pecked) husbands and boyfriends!

So go on... pour your heart out about stuff you liked or hated!

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Surprise

The best love stories are the ones that stay in your heart, reminding you that when all is lost, you still have stolen moments of life with each other. My appreciation for life has been shaped by two very important people in my life.
Perhaps, of all the precious metals found on earth, Platinum, the strongest, the purest and the rarest of all, would be a representation of their love. This is a tale of their Platinum Day of love.

It was almost dawn. Time for his walk, which he knew was an essential part of his routine – a routine which kept him sane in the worst of times. It was cold for this time of the year, but he liked winters.

She was fast asleep. He adjusted the sheet around her a little more snugly, shut the blinds a little more tightly, and tip-toed out of the room. No need to wake her yet, he thought.

He walked to the little grocery store outside the compound walls, and smiled at the waiting shopkeeper. “Helllooo Saar!” the grocer was excited. “I have all the stuff you asked for. I am sure Maydam will love the pastry saar! I told the bakery to get the exact same flavor you asked for.”

He knew it was not exactly the kind of fluffy sponge cakes that she liked, but this would have to do today; they were miles away from a good confectionery shop. He would have to make the best of the situation - and he would do that!

He took an inventory of all the things the shopkeeper had handed over to him, while ticking off from a list in his wrinkled hands. “Paper plates, paper glasses, paper napkins, candles, balloons, pastries, and Sprite………Okay” He mumbled while putting the list away.

As he walked back into the compound, he met a few of the new friends he had made here. They were all happy for him, and promised, yet again, that they would be with him by 10 o’clock – just a couple more hours left.

He left all his edible purchases with the housekeeping lady, who promised she’d keep it in the fridge till they needed it. The balloons he gave to the guard, who was only too glad to get it ready to be put up before the party. Both of them were very excited with the little celebration that was due to happen in a couple of hours.

He looked at his watch, frowning. Only an hour before she would be awake! He needed to hurry up and visit the barber and be back before she woke. He all but ran out of the building, and went into the barber shop, which was still getting ready for customers.

*                             *                             *

Before she opened her eyes, she made the same wish she’d been making every day for the last few days. “Not here. Not today. Not anymore.”

She was not alone. He was right there, grinning from ear to ear, just as he would every morning. Being here in this place, did not change that. But he looked different – she couldn’t place it, but there was something about him that was not the same.

“Happy Birthday!”….. they all shouted in unison, smiling at her.

That’s when she noticed the balloons stuck on the stark white walls, the streamers on the doors and the platter full of her favorite pastries. Her room was filled with people – some of them in white uniforms, some in uniforms like the one she wore – pink and grey. Some even wore the same grey scarf that she was clutching tightly around her head.

Her eyes watered up, as they searched out the pair of eyes that were filling fast with tears too – his. She finally discovered why he looked different when he bent down to kiss her.

The cap he was wearing had now disappeared, and she touched his shiny head, his lovely salt and pepper hair shaven off completely. “Happy Birthday darling…… Surprise!!!” he whispered into her ear, while wiping away fresh tears from her eyes. “We’ve won again – and we are going home today.”

She laughed now, her attention drawn away from the grey scarf, uncaring that it slipped off her own bald head, unmindful of the tubes and wires around her cancer-ridden body, and completely, absolutely in love with the man in front of her. They had been married for over two decades now, but this was truly their moment of love…… Pure, Rare and Eternal.

This is the story of my Mom and Dad, and the love they shared, which triumphed over each time, for over a decade after my mother was diagnosed with cancer.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Our rendezvous with snowfall - Shimla

We are besotted with snow. The whole family. And the fact that in spite of bone chilling winters every year, we never get any snow in Delhi makes us even more obsessed with the idea of it. Hence we did the unthinkable during the coldest months of the season - we went to a hill station!!

As is the usual style when my family (read that as a research-obsessed hotelier husband, a finicky mom and food and fun obsessed kids in tow) plans for a vacation, we went into critical analysis mode on this as well.

Firstly we wanted to travel by train. After two or three cancelled train trips (blame it on two careers and two school schedules) we were really looking forward to this one. So plan on train we did! And this is what the itinerary looked like:

1. Delhi to Kalka by Howrah Kalka Express : An overnight train starting from Delhi at 9.45 pm  (ideal for working people, as you wake up in your destination)
2. Kalka to Shimla by the much spoken about toy train (a must experience for kids, more so because it has a lot of historical importance too)

Kalka - Shimla narrow gauge railway line
But all planning can go fly its proverbial kite when God disposes, right? Trains were getting delayed by more than 20 hours due to the fog, and this called for some intelligent decision making (yup! time for the research crazy dude to step in again!). So we decided to cancel our train tickets and take the Volvo instead. (But we retained the return tickets, keeping our fingers crossed for better weather during our return a week later)

That turned out to be a life-saver. There are atleast two operators for the Shimla Volvos. One is the Himachal Road Transport and the other is Himachal Tourism operated. We (err..... he) researched and found that the HPTDC (tourism) ones were better. We boarded the bus at about 10 pm, and it was a warm, comfortable journey (with two stops) to Shimla, while the outside temperature was close to zero. We reached Shimla at 7.00 am, to a beautiful mountain sunrise.

While we have seen many hill stations nothing quite prepares you for the beauty of the summer capital of British India. The well inhabited hill station has all the quaintness that one associates with the erstwhile British Raj, while being surrounded on all sides with wondrous sights of the mountain ranges.

No snowfall yet, but there was excited jumping up and down when we saw frozen icicles of water on little waterfalls all through the road. Good start for us city dwellers.

A strategy that has helped us get the maximum out of our vacations have been to avoid staying in the primary tourist destination, and go to a lesser known, more pristine location which is close to the tourist destination. Thus, while we were in Shimla, we did not stay in Shimla town, but a little away from the crowd in a little town called Mashobra, 12 kilometers from Mall Road (the tourist hub in Shimla).

The drive from Shimla to Mashobra, on the famed Hindustan - Tibet highway (takes approximately 45 minutes due to the hairpin turns) is a breathtaking experience in itself, and we had many squeals of excitement when we spotted monkeys, horses, and icicles on the way.

We stayed at Club Mahindra Whispering Pines, which warrants a separate post (which will come in a little while).

From Mashobra, it is just 15 kilometers to Kufri, the mecca for all snow lovers. It is a fun filled location for skiing, sledging and other hazardous sport like slipping and falling on frozen ice (which I can assure you, is much more painful than it sounds). Enterprising young boys and girls of the local population (yes girls too!) are willing to act as your guide and teacher for a small fee, and I fully recommend that you take in that experience. Though Kufri is more popular, we decided to take on the higher up Narkanda for all our frolicking needs (Yeah, yeah, we are collectively courageous). More challenging, but more fun.

We had a young girl of 15 who coached my daughter and my son on sledging (or tobogganing, which the correct term, apparently). She was a fun person, who also helped my over enthusiastic son trek to the top of the snow clad mound (we were huffing and puffing, and refused to trek with him) and then slide down the way we've seen Calvin and Hobbes do. (Had to admire the little fellow's courage). I contributed to the whole excitement by slipping and falling on ice a couple of times, nursing my bruised bones and ego. (Word of caution - the trek from the taxi drop off to the actual site of all the fun is quite long and treacherous - on ground with slivers of frozen ice. Wear sensible footwear.)

While Kufri has many hotels and restaurants, there aren't as many choices in Narkanda. (There was a hilarious moment when we banged on a good-looking hotel door for lunch, and a rueful guy comes out to tell us that as all the water pipes had frozen, they had no service that day!!) But we did discover a fine Himachal Tourism hotel with a good restaurant and bar (called 'The Nest') in Narkanda, which we almost missed. The service may be a tad too slow, but the food is worth the wait.

The Nest - Narkanda

The Mall Road in Shimla is much like the Mall Road in Nainital or Mussoorie. The difference, perhaps is in the buildings. There are beautiful buildings (now either a museum, or a theatre or the municipal office) which have survived from the British times. Add that to the throngs of people walking on the streets, and it feels like Christmas week all the time. (A word of caution. The mornings, even in winters are quite sunny. But the moment the sun starts setting the cold winds set in - quite a sudden transformation of the weather. Remember to carry enough clothing, even if you are warm in the mornings.)

Mall Road Church (Pic courtesy
The Mall Road is where you can shop for Fruit wines (we got back 6 flavors - yummy!!) or other stuff like Himachal stuff like shawls, caps, wooden walking sticks etc. There are lovely bakery shops too (a British influence no doubt), and some must visit places. The fact that no vehicles are allowed into mall road is a boon to all the pedestrians, who can walk about without any worry - especially when kids are running around. This is also the place to stop and ogle at the fantastic fruits (and gorge on them too) like strawberries, cherries, kiwis, apples....

The Mall Road also has a beautiful Church, with traditional stained glass windows, wooden floors and beautiful old world paintings. If it weren't for impatient kids wanting to run off behind the next trotting horse, I would be content to spend a whole evening just looking at the paintings!

More on the snow and the hotel later.....