Dec 20, 2010

OvenFresh - A Vegetarian Delight

I am a vegetarian. That means, finding a good place to eat gets quite difficult. At best, you get the regular Udipi or some fancy looking restaurant that serves very ordinary Punjabi fare. Honestly, I stay away from such food as much as possible. Too rich food and too much oil leads to a sort of party-gone-wrong in my stomach. So, when I find a good place that offers good variety too, I am usually ecstatic. And this was the case when I landed at Ovenfresh.

Where: Shivaji Park, on the road that leads straight from the station to Dadar Chowpatty.

What: An all-veg bakery-cum-restaurant, serving Continental and a bit of Middle Eastern cuisine. Pizzas, Pastas, Sizzles and some Hummus and Falafels.

Ambience: The first thing you see when you enter is the bakery and the crowd at the counter. The croissants, doughnuts, pastries, cakes, tarts and more are all lined up beautifully. There is a glass box behind the counter, which has a part of the kitchen, and you can actually see the chefs in action. I find that bit quite interesting and love to watch them whip up stuff.

The seating area is divided into two sections - one at the front and one at the back. Seating is comfortable, but both areas can get quite noisy and chaotic during busy hours. And when I say busy, I mean really busy! If you are in a group, you may have to wait for a while to get seating. The back area has some fun graffiti, but as a friend pointed out, they could do with some soft music to drown the noise made by people and make the place more pleasant. Overall, it is not fine dining, or even decorated restaurant-like. But it gives a cosy feel and is the kind of place that is best enjoyed with a large group of family or friends.

Positives - Food:
The baked goods in the front area look very inviting. Glazed, golden and generous with fillings. The pastries and cakes look good too, are moist and fresh. Whole cakes are freshly made on order on the same day. The doughnuts are soft and tasty, and the tarts are crumbly and good too.

As for the restaurant, the menu itself is very interesting and varied. They have a variety of pastas from Raviolis to Lasagne to Cannelloni. You won't find the regular Arabiatta here, but you will surely discover many more tastes and flavours in vegetarian continental cuisine. They have pastas in Orange Butter Sauce and stuffed with vegetables too. The Ravioli with sun-dried tomato is delicious with a good dollop of yummy tomato sauce and just the right flavour. The Enchiladas are known to be a favourite. I definitely wish to try every single of their pasta items at least once for sure as I couldn't help but read that section of the menu over and over again, smiling to myself. I just loved the combinations that they have put together.

If pasta is not your thing, you can opt for the Sizzlers or the 'Make your own Pizza'. You can choose your base and toppings and it is served hot, and in a large portion. The thin crust is the winner, with a crispy base and enough toppings. The sizzlers too look decent, but I would prefer the pastas and pizzas any day. The sizzlers too look colourful, are delicious and have good portions.

Besides Italian fare, they also offer sandwiches, burgers and some Middle Eastern dishes. I haven't tried those, but I saw them on the next table and they looked inviting enough. There is not much variety in starters or beverages though and they could do with adding a few more attractions there. But whatever is on offer, is nothing less than delicious. They also offer some parathas and very very limited Indian fare, though I doubt it would be asked for often.

The desserts of course are a cracker. No matter what you choose, it will be difficult to not like it.  I loved their Plum cake and cheesecakes, and the tarts and doughnuts are good too. They have nailed the balance of taste in their food and that works to their advantage.

Negative - Service:
The place is very noisy and seems very small. The service is really slow and lazy, and it can take ages for someone to listen to you. I was crying out for some friendly gesture from my server. And it can take really long for your order to arrive sometimes. The portions are good enough for one main course dish to fill one person entirely, so if you go with people, you get to try more stuff. Another negative it a lot of the items on the menu are available only from 11am to 3pm and 7.30 pm onwards.

Overall, the place is definitely worth a few visits. In fact, it has been known to convert many non-vegetarians I know and get them to appreciate and speak positively of vegetarian food for the first time.
So, this may not a place for a late lunch or early dinner. But it sure is a place to enjoy some brilliant food and believe that even vegetarian fare can be really really good.

The 'Principal' factor

This is not the first time I will be commenting on our education system. But before I begin, a small disclaimer. Whatever is said here, is merely my opinion, and not any attempt to defame or insult anyone. It may or may not be the whole truth, but what I speak about is the side I know about.

So, let me begin.

Recently I heard about a small incident in a reputed architecture college. Well, not exactly small. The college principal has recently been appointed, and since his appointed, has been surrounded by dissatisfaction, controversy and rebellion. And for good reason too.

During assignment checking, the Principal would make the students wait in line outside his office from early morning to midnight and more. Till the checkings finished. Now, I do believe that it is really unethical to make a student wait so late, esp when you are not going to provide him/her transport back home (yes, girls too!) Following this, a parent wrote a complaint to the media, which led to the Principal ending up in the spotlight and being questioned. But would that deter him? No way. In fact he went around threatening students to sign a letter that said that he was innocent, or else he would fail all of them. Older students would still say no. But the first years, fresh into college and scared to death, would obviously give in to the threats.

This did not end here. Many such issues happened. Now we have to understand that in an architecture college, it is not just lectures, there are also assignments that take all day. I have known people slogging over assignments all night and barely getting any sleep, throughout the year. Having full knowledge of this, the Principal still increased lecture timings and kept the college open on Saturdays too. Which led to less time to complete assignments and more stress, pressure and less sleep. Teachers would object, but they had no say either.

The most recent incident happened a couple of weeks ago. Some background. Final year students have a thesis to submit along with other assignments. They spend almost 2 years on this thesis. They also have to spend their final semester at an internship working. The lectures happen, but it is often that they do not happen and are cancelled. Lecture timings are one lecture from 7-11 am, and another from 11-2. The attendance format was changed by the new principal such that attendance would be taken at 7 am, 11 am, and 2 pm, whether lectures were cancelled or not. So if the 11 am lecture did not happen, attendance would still be taken, but at 2 pm, not 11 am. As a result, many students chose not to come and instead spend the time on finishing assignments, thesis, etc. Better than whiling away 3 hrs in college doing nothing right?

Well not for the Principal. The attendance of students in class as a result was not 75% due to the system. In fact, the person with the highest attendance had a total of 74 something %. That says something doesn't it? Well the Principal decided he had to 'show his authority and power' again and forced the students to write a letter saying they did not have complete attendance and scored unsatisfactory marks (even if they didn't) and that's why the Principal had complete right to not send their exam forms to the university. This had to signed by them and their parents or else, guess what? The Principal would not send the forms to the university.

So, in order to get this straight, the students had to write a letter allowing the Principal to not send forms, in order to stop him from not sending forms. It was a lose-lose situation.

So, the students peaceful went to the Principal's office to ask him that why is he doing this. What is the purpose of signing if there are chances of withholding forms either way? And what is to be gained by such an exercise?

The Principal curtly replies that he is the Principal and has the right to do whatever he wants and is not answerable to students. He told them that if they wanted to go to the media, student council, or complain anywhere else, they could do as they wish. They could not harm him. He would make sure their exams forms are not sent. And if they want him to answer something, the most they can do is request him.

So they requested him.

And he said fine, you have requested, I have heard. Now go, and sign the letters and get it. And sent them away! They had to comply, because they had no choice, and nowhere else to go. The trustees turn a blind eye and there is no forum for complaint and action, that the Principal cannot control.

My question is, is it ok for students to be bullied by the education system like this? Is it ok to suffer it like this, because what can be done? There is no one to go to. And the system is so flawed, that if a complaint is filed to the university also, it would take ages to act upon the same. Which means the Principal can get away with blackmail and ill-treatment and waste a poor child's life. Why are authorities allowed to play with lives like this?

I know the students, and I know they slog every single day, staying awake late and barely getting 3 hours to sleep to juggle their internship and their thesis. During college days, it is the same, with a struggle to keep up under pressure. I know students who have been hospitalized too. Is it fair then to behave like this? Is it right to believe that you have the right to play with these children's future? And if this is the case with one of the top institutions, how bad will it be with other places?

While all the long-term flaws with our education continue to exist, it is this sort of immediate and impactful flaw that is much more dangerous and a cause of concern. And while we try to control the stress rate among students, does it help that teachers and school authorities do their best to increase stress? No wonder we see more suicides. No wonder even 11 year olds have killed themselves and cannot deal with the pressure any more.

It is sad, but true. And I don't know what can be done about it. Do you?

Dec 14, 2010

Winter

I love winter. I agree that the little brushes of cool wind we have here in Bombay are not considered as winter by most, but I like to call it that.

It is the only time of the year when I abandon my shorts at home and walk around in my bro's old tee (which is huge for me and I love that) and long pants. It is the only time when I am walking around the house switching off all fans. And when I can wear long sleeves at 3 in the afternoon without thinking twice. I don't have to worry about heat headaches that I often get, or sweatiness.

It's beautiful to feel the cool air brush against your skin, and take you to a dreamland. It's beautiful to feel the sun warm you just enough and not scorch you. It is beautiful to rub your hands together and then warm them against a bonfire maybe. It's beautiful to breathe in and actually feel the cold air rush through your insides. It's beautiful to wake up to a cool morning and clutch your quilt even tighter for a small nap again. It's beautiful to run and not feel sweaty, but feel a warmth that is actually welcome. Of course, it is beautiful to get a nice warm hug from anyone who gives good hugs. Somehow, hugs are always better in winter. They make you happier.

I mean I love the rains yes. But I won't tolerate them throughout the year. But this sort of winter, I will take it any day.

For me, it's the time when fairytales seem real. It's when even though the real world Christmas here may not be as exciting, the idea of Christmas just seems to brighten you up. Winter is the time for nostalgia before the year ends, and new hopes for something ahead. New energy, that is powered by the cool rush you get. It's cosy, it's fresher, it's more homely.

It is like the world has cooled down its temper so that it can let you feel better too. And I say, bring it on because I am ready to feel good already!

Dec 9, 2010

गुलाबों सी पट्टी

Yeh kya hua hai mujhe?
Kaise samjhaaun, ab kahoon main kise?

Ek choti si harkat,
ek lamha bana kahaani,
par alfaazon se bandh na paaya woh,
ek itihaas jiski rachna mann mein hi.

Khwabon ke dhaagon,
Se buna liya aasman,
Jad liye rang birange taare usmein,
Aur odh ke lagne laga yeh apna sa.

Dohra ke mann me,
Woh dhundhla sa pal,
Khushiyon ki silvaton mein chip gaye,
Koi shak, koi gumaan, anchaahi hulchul.

Aankhon par bandhi,
Gulaabon si patti,
Kholne ko jee na kare kabhi bhi,
Isse yeh duniya dikhe kitni madhur si.

- © HAEM ROY

Kahaan chal pade

Galiyon ki mehek mein huye aise mashroof
Ke sadakon ka pata hum bhool gaye,
Fiza ki madhoshi mein kho hi gaye,
ke lamhon ka pata bhi bhool gaye.
  
Saundhi mitti ki khushboo bichi,
Aankhen moond hum kheeche chale,
Oas ki boondon se baatein karein,
Hariyali ki chadar par daude chale.

Patli si sadak bhi chhoot gayi,
Khushi khushi hum gum hi gaye,
Neeli chadar odh, hare bichawan par,
Thake tab do saans late gaye.

Raat ki surrati hawa suni,
Mausam jaise dharti se kare baatein,
Meethi yeh boli mein aise khoye,
Ghar wapas kaun jaana chaahe.

- © HAEM ROY

Khwaab chale jet plane par

(A song I wrote for children.)

Khwaab chale jet plane par,
1st class savari.
Wings ho gaye hain saare puraane,
Yeh hai style kuch nayi.

Khatte se kuch oranges mein meethi chocolate candy.
Bageeche mein chippi mili dekho Santa ki red potli.

Khwaab chale jet plane par,
1st class savari.
Birds ke saath khel rahe hain,
Hum toh chuppa chippi.

Butterflies ne banayi hai darvaaze pe rangoli.
Stars ko bhar diye hain piggybank mein meri.

Khwaab chale jet plane par,
1st class savari.
Rainbow ke peeche chale hum,
Koi nahin hai hurry.

Treasure chest ko dhoondh nikaala pirates ne haar maani.
Fairies ke saath dance kar lein phir ho khatam ye story.

Khwaab chale jet plane par,
1st class savari.
Pakad ke hum bhi udne lage,
Clouds se bani dori.


- © HAEM ROY

Dec 3, 2010

When I have a kid

You know, sometimes I wonder, what will the world be like when I have kids? What will it be like to be a parent in this century?

Imagine the weather, the global warming and environment.

Add to that the internet, television and media exposure that is taking the childhood away from so many kids.

The lack of space which means fewer playgrounds, practically no lawns and very few open areas.

The world growing smarter, which means more stress, more competition, more pressure and more burden. Livelihood becomes even more difficult to earn, and average is just not enough.

And speaking of competition, there is something else that has become an issue of concern these days. SCHOOLING.

Now my mother runs a playschool. So, she is at the beginning of that merry-go-round that parents have to run after. She is in touch with the happenings of the world that I have left behind 8 years ago. And yesterday, that world had another thunderstorm. Admissions.

Parents are running hamper scamper to secure admissions for their children in a good school. Those being rare, the results are heavy unaffordable donations, rigorous interviews of 3 year olds (yes, 3 year olds!), a train rush outside school gates and constant worrying for the parents. There are wait lists for schools from the moment your child is born, and admission is still not guaranteed. If your child is not a bookworm or a geek, or a sports genius, the chances of the poor brat getting through are slim. Average is just trash these days, to put it bluntly.

Today, School X is giving out admission forms from 8 in the morning. To prevent the accusations of making money by giving out too many forms and having only a few seats, the Principal decided she is only going to distribute a limited number of forms. That was hurdle no. 1. That meant that parents had to fight, run, kill and slaughter to just get their hands on the admissions forms, before the interview process began.

That resulted in hurdle no. 2. Panic and desperation. Some parents had god-knows-what epiphany and formed a line outside the gates of the school last night since 8 pm. I am not kidding, 8 pm! When my mother found out at 10 pm, there were more than a 100 parents already in line outside the school as word had travelled quickly. She too informed her students who ran, with blankets, tea and more to camp outside the school. And let me repeat, forms were to be given out at 8 am the next day! 

That really shocked me. I mean, what did the person who came first and formed the line even think? 150 forms and 200 people already in line before midnight. And my mother recalled that it was a similar rush last year too, albeit not so fierce. A few ladies, 7 months pregnant, stood in line for 5 hours (that would be since 3 am!) and did not get the forms in the end. 

All this makes me think, with so much madness in this world already, what is the future? Maybe home schooling eh?

The baggage of maturity

The importance of being mature is often highlighted, for anybody. Teenagers are asked to behave maturely and adults have to make their decisions maturely. And once you are past a certain age, it is mandatory. It is said that being mature helps you deal with the world better, and helps you live better. In other words, it is good for you. It is desirable.

But I don't entirely agree with this. Because for me, maturity brings its own heavy baggage.

Being mature means I can deal with my problems, solve issues and be more patient in order to make the right decisions. It means I can take care of myself. Now, some may ask, how is that bad. Let me tell you how.

When I was in college lets say, if I had some issue, with friends, with guys, with teachers, with family, with almost anything, the first thing I would do is go to my closest group of friends and pour my heart out. Everyone does that at that age. Then it would be a conference with everyone consoling, suggesting, cheering me up and giving collective advice. Whether the advice was useful or not, it was always that conference that helped. Having a few people around you who cared and who were always at hand. You could rely on them to take your stress away, to ease your tension. You could afford to not think at that moment and let them throw in suggestions.

But once you grow older (and I don't mean older by age, but older by mind and experience), you learn to resolve these issues yourself. You can act practically, and not let emotion get in the way most of the times. You don't need consoling or advice to manage your problems. The solutions just come to you and you have to act on them yourself. No experimenting, speculating, trying, like in college. That is what some call maturity.

Now you can see what you lose when you gain maturity? No? You lose that conference. You lose that group of friends who were bonded by misery and adolescent issues. Yes, these friends will always be there when you need, but you won't need them that much. You won't rely on them to help you out. Because you can help yourself very well.

For me, that means losing touch with some of those people. It means isolation. It means that I am happy with myself and that's why I am going further away from these people. I don't meet them every week and discuss my life. I may call them once a week maybe and we may talk what is happening, but they are not involved in my hair fall problem, or the issue of the staining of my white shirt. They are no longer as close to me.

I do believe that isolation and maturity go hand in hand. And you cannot do anything about it. You can try your best to keep in touch with that group of people, but it can never be the same. That bond of misery and whining cannot exist any more, and that always makes the company feel different.

That always makes you realise that grown-ups are so lonely. And why being a kid once in a while is so important.