Thursday, April 28, 2011

What Maggi tells you about Stalkers!

Most of us grew up on Maggi Noodles. We have many fond memories associated with it. In childhood, it was cold, comforting and in tiffin boxes. In boarding school, it was floating in spicy chilli garlic paste and was made in an improvised hot water from the tap way, not to mention eaten slyly without the feared House parent noticing. Now it is dinner after a long day at work, when your brain has been omleteered by the nitty gritties of commas..

In the late nineties, something very frustrating happened. Maggi Noodles had what they thought was a bright idea and changed flavours. My beloved Maggi Masala Noodles didn't taste the same for the next few years and I wondered why they would commit such a marketing disaster.

I was, even by then, used to brands responding with eager quickness to customer tastes and problems.

I am reading a book called Niche by social forecaster James Harkin. Largely, it talks about how our appetite for broad concepts (Super market, a "family movie" ) has vanished. How in this world, we cannot be all things to all people.

So, coming back to the question of Maggi and how it didn't respond to consumer needs, it makes me realise how our habits are always under scrutiny by larger forces. Data companies now have systems that process complex data about how we eat, think, shop and behave . One such system in the UK is Mosaic which maps people street by street house by house twice a year. At the end , it takes 21 million bits of data and divides it into 155 kind  of people, 67 household types and 15 social categories.

This helps political parties and companies understand the way we think and the way we buy and in turn they respond with their marketing / election strategies to lubricate the course of consumerism.

Coming back to Maggi Noodles, in the early 2000s I think, the packet said 'Your favourite is back' and I jumped. Those long forgotten Maggi Masala tastes of my childhood were finally available again. I despised Maggi for having such a bad marketing department, one that took years to get rid of  a flavour  that no one likes. I expected them, in other words, at the age of 14 to have surveyed our private instant noodle eating habits.

And yet, it is disturbing this idea.  A store like Westside entered India in the early 2000s. They had an audience in mind- women looking for practical, generic clothes. They had the typical 'ethnic' prints on Kurtas with a neckline sized spot of originality. They had plain Tshirts that every girl who had too much self respect to wear bling would buy. But now, the practical generic idea is a Westside person.

The definition deletes all the nuances the idea originally began with. Tide, the detergent in the UK has many many versions that play on ideas of Freshness, April, Spring, Clean etc. They are all essentially the same product dealing with the "image" of what people want to be.

The image, one feels, dominates everything in a world where you can manufacture it, and you are also encouraged to by buying a product that is associated with an image.

It is really a world of smoke and mirrors where it is impossible to separate image from substance.


I wonder sometimes with great fear indeed if politicians too are just images. Obama wrote a speech . ...aaaah next time but they are nooo

PS: there are soooo many ways to make Maggi. Most recent twist is to dunk in fresh parsley, coriander, chilli flakers and crushed garlic in the end.  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Of flirtatious parakeets and cockroaches

The best way to identify a "just arrived firang" in Paharganj is to look at their clothes. I saw a girl with grey jeans, and a tight grey sweatshirt, fresh from the funeral chic  camouflage of Europe presumably.When you arrive in Goa, Paharganj,Dharamshala the works, you have to loosen up, shed your jeans and let go. I love that. 

That's what we (Sou, PP, N and I) decided to this weekend, take our bags and go check into a hotel room at Paharganj to spend the weekend there. We are too broke and too busy to go on holiday but Paharganj is far enough from Delhi and the tranquil domesticity of CR Park. We arrived at 10 pm and checked into a dirty little hotel (Rs.500 for a four bed room) where there were about 15 cockroaches and the bathroom was for all practical purposes impossible to engage with. But the thing that I have finally realised as PP  has been advising me to is that Paharganj is very dirty and cluttered but you just accept it and let yourself loose in the rush of chaos and muddled geographies and idealistic hippies with delusions about India. 

Anyway, we went to My Bar, which is wonderful, really the Leopold's of Delhi and less racist too. It had a wonderful energy and cheap beer. Sometimes that's all you need in life. 
We managed to sing loudly and not be heard and mostly shut the crowd out. After a while, Sou and I suddenly realised we were the only women in a huge bar full of 
at least 60 customers so we thought it was best to leave. Then, we bought omlettes very matter of factly in the backdrop of a street fight. The night extended after we navigated the maze of streets romanticised in Dev D to reach our one night cheap hotel. 

We woke up to have the loveliest long (3 hours) breakfast - potato cheese omelette, fried mushrooms, hash brown potato rendered in a delicious sczhewan meets mild masala style, toast and the best chai in Delhi, I had off.  (At Diamond Cafe, you should go.) 

After breakfast, I entered a leather store lured by the kinkiness of the outfit the mannequin was wearing and there I met Mithu, the darling of this weekend. He was a self confident and flirtatious (hanging around in a kinky leather store!!) male Alexandarine parakeet who climbed on to my shoulder as soon as I met him even kissing me on my lips. We chatted a while in garbled Hindi and parrot talk(mossheee frumples froootlooooooooooooooopssssss fruit fry) . Believe it or not, this has made my entire week. I have an abnormal love for parrot family birds, they are so bright, and soooooooooooo cute. 

I also bought the beautiful huge white framed mirror of my dreams to assist my delusions of living in a villa near the Mediterranean somewhere.. I simply couldn't afford it but who cares, I can skip lunch for a while .. 

And now I am back and filled with love for all of us mad chimpanzees and for you too. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Move here.

It is the middle of the night. Mols is asleep. Sou has gone to get more food (even though we've eaten Somalia's share of global food produce tonight). And the three of us who have known each other for 15 years were talking about the same things, the people around us and in our lives have changed but its amazing how we are fundamentally so similar. And it's really something to have friendships like this, unchanged despite living in different cities, leading different lives for years now. Where you (at the risk of sounding cliched) pick up where you left off. I think that's a boarding school thing. We were young enough for midnight feasts in the bathroom - eating aloo bhujia with tomato ketchup. At other times, we squeezed ourselves into the already tiny lockers to bunk PT in the mornings. And lived through the seemingly small things that changed our lives - a theatre workshop in college, one farmhouse party as lost 18-year olds.. There's also Ablong in Goa now  but he reluctantly murmured sentimentalities on the phone. My current project is to get everyone to move to Delhi. 

(Please move to Delhi, thanks.) 

Speedy generalizations ahead

Since the Mumbai vs Delhi debate never goes out of fashion though we sometimes descend to excessive romanticization (I don't believe anything is excessive btw) I want to join in. 

Recently, I was on the metro with Tulip and there were no free seats. We wanted to ask all the women there where they were headed to so we could plan our future seating according to when they got off. This is normal behaviour in Mumbai where three women can be in line for a small seat to accommodate the edge of your bum. The corporate Gurgaon girl we asked had a bemused expression when we asked her but we reserved our place anyway. 

Bombay is a city where you constantly have to make reservations, you have to be prepared for life. And what is interesting is that this enterprising spirit colours everything about life in the city, prized lines are recycled for every customer. Two examples illustrate this best, one in dreamy Chor bazaar, where they sell Bollywood posters and beautiful (but inane) trinkets, framed coca cola ads from the 50s, kababs etc. The other in Bandra : altey, Bollywoody and nice boutiqued, also old Catholic housey. 

(Are you screaming Susan George aka gossip girl?) 

So, way back in 2008 when I was still young and fresh, I went to a little clothes store in Bandra. I picked up an eraser (grey)  uniform shrug that I practically live in. So I tried it on and the gold chained shopkeeper said with great earnestness , "You will look like the sweetest girl in college tomorrow." Naive (old) me was more flattered about the college part than the sweet part. He thought I was a student. I love people who think I am a student so I loved him. 
Now, I went back there in 2010 to buy another inane shirt. I tried it on and walked out of the trial room to get the discerning opinion of  beloved bombay fag and the same shopkeeper goes " You will look like the sweetest girl in college tomorrow." 

What's worse is that Susan George and Monu Singh Dhillon, my blackberry babes claimed to have gotten the same "compliment" in the same store! 

Lets move away from the yuppiness of Bandra to the bustle of Chor bazaar. Chor Bazaar is very bit like Paharganj but kinder, more authentic and  less aggressive and MUCH more charming. Show (my room mate)  and I rabidly sought exoticism away from our corporate (media) jobs and we would often spend lots of money buying obscure photographs taken in Poland, Coke ads from the fifties and depressing novels among other things. In an attempt to make our staid suburban apartment more elegant, we thought about buying antiques. Like everything else in Bombay, even antiques are manufactured and  brand new "1745 English Docks" plates are placed on them, as if some British John of the East India Company got it as part of his wife's dowry when it was actually manufactured in some Ghatkhopar sweatshop by Bihari migrant labourers. 

So, Muhammad, the henna haired store owner lures me into the shop by telling me he's got the perfect thing for me. I don't remember any details about this antique but I remember that it had a Robert Frost quote inscribed on it. " The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep." 

I went back to the same market a couple of months later and he lured me in the exact same manner. "I have something for you that I just get a sense you'll like, " and offered me the same Robert Frost antique. (new piece)

Either he throws this at every self absorbed lost looking person who walks by or just at every person who walks by but the uniformity of this amazes me. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Delhi Daredevils

On my way to an awesome new Nepali restaurant I saw an old Maruti Esteem parked at the corner of the road. 
Two big men had gotten off and when I saw them, there were BEATING up a paapa looking nubile North Eastern boy who had been driving a large lorry. He was wearing a grey vest and shorts. The men were standing on the road and punching him even as he just took it quietly. 

They were just continuously beating him up. Cars passed by uncaring. 

Can we just deconstruct this for a second? Why is this not the most abnormal thing in the world? To casually be beating up someone on a Sunday evening. Someone defenseless? Even if he had hit their car, they could take him to the police station, respond in a less savage way. 

I have surely seen more men beating up men in my one year in Delhi than in the other (more than two decades)  of my life. 

PS: I feel like the IPL team names have some sort of a marketing angle to it. This is pure speculation and half joke of course. But Delhi daredevils- because being macho seems to be the driving force of this city. Hmmm What else? Chennai super Kings. It's hard to explain but it's very Chennai, the whole Super King, Super Hero, Rajnikanth business. Bangaloreans want to be considered individualistic and be Royal Challengers. And Mumbai - we are all migrants and we are all Indian as long as we are united by the corporate world. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Quotes from here and there

A woman's trauma is much more than a launchpad for male machismo. 

How can I stifle the enormity of all that I feel into an airport sentence. I'd rather not say anything at all.

Poetry is against the interests of capitalism.

Monday, April 11, 2011

I am hungry.

I am the sort of person who eats only for pleasure, I have realized. Today, for instance, the average monstrous Monday. I have to do a checklist of all that I have eaten. 
3 cups of tea
1 cup of coffee (75 f****** Rupees)
1 bar of snickers (Three people have gifted me chocolate in the last week, exquisite lindt type also, a friend has a job there, that would really be my dream job.) 
3 biscuits
8 Gudang Garams.
But I am not hungry and feel no need to eat instant noodles at home. 

This is awfully unhealthy, I know and yes , I am sure I am not on a diet and never will be. Food is pretty much what matters to me most in the world though my fine dining life has been on a decline since December due to multiple reasons. 

However, while I wait at office for my pages to be cleared, I will fantasize about some of the best meals of my life. No, that is way too much digging into the past, best meals of recent times is better. 

1) Pasta tossed with shit from the kitchen : The best meals in life are really the simplest ones- an oily, spicy, red blood fest is not my idea of a culinary orgasm. SO, pasta with crushed garlic, olive oil and chilli flakes. So simple, and so flavourful and comforting. 
2)On days when your food philosophies and Sattvik ideals simply don't cut it for you,contradict yourself and head to the CR park market and indulge in cheap Indian chinese food - there is nothing more comforting to a dejected soul than MSG laden fried rice, and manchurian floating in come consistency sauce. (Forgive my reference, I am not this vulgar, it is copied.) Your stress is counterbalanced by the assault of flavours.
3)Rajasthani Thali at Dilli Haat - I believed till pretty recently that everything in DH tastes like wet cardboard but this home style thali was a pleasant surprise. Since Rajasthan is a desert and nothing fresh grows there, these dudes have had to be real innovative with just besan, onion, cauliflower and such desert substances. Yet, the soft gheefied roties, the subtle yellow dal, the besan ki sabji and the cauliflower pickle. Beauty.
4)Yesterday, I was as usual craving for cheap and exotic food. It's been a while since I went to a dirty place to eat because I am constantly under pressure to worry about other people's gastronomic fragilities. (wait, it's been one year.)However, we went to this rundown basement dhaba in Green Park. ("Hi, I am cholera, how are you." - from somewhere, don't remember.). Gross. Insects on the floor, OCD on overdrive. And yet, I decided as I have learnt now to suspend disgust, I did and the flavourful palak and undoubtedly the tandoori roti  baked with sweat and (godknowswhatelse) tasted exotic, and cheap. After these soulless food that South Delhi restaurants serve- (overpriced tex mex with,horrors, paneer, it's really divine to find character. 
5)Talking of malls, it's not always mediocre-globalized , a genre of food I have begin to despise. The Food Chowk at Select City walk offers some interesting street food and regional food possibilities. The Maharashtra stall offers light, peanuty crunchy, healthy sabudana khichdi and exciting Maharashtrian treats like Jhunka Bhakar and pithle which reminds me of lovely Bombay. 
6) What truly takes the cake though is an unlikely dish. Naresh Cafe in despicable Paharganj is a small bathroom sized shack that serves Japanese food. In fact, PP wrote about it for first city,a dish called Okura with egg. The editor snobbishly spilled red ink on 'okura' changing it to 'okra'. PP insisted it was an exotic Japanese dish. Anyhow, when I was actually there, and I ordered it I discovered it was good old bhindi after all. The point is, its just boiled bhindi with plain rice and fried egg over it. So simple and so good and such an unlikely combination. Plain rice offers so many possibilities, good with just fried egg, or blanched spinach and salt. 

Anyway, so I am at office, fantasizing, as mentioned before, thinking of all the food I want to eat and can't. IF after 12 hours of work, I can think about food with such elaborate desire, I 
should go to a therapist. 


Edit: I am home, and I ate instant noodles.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Yesterday, I saw the love of my life

Arundhati Roy. She is so beautiful, I simply couldn't take my eyes off her at the" Free Binayak Sen" cultural event at Alliance Francaise yest. 
I know it keeps going in and out of fashion to love her but I have consistently admired her.
Her poem at the end of the talk disappointed me, it didn't have her usual magical words and she sounded loose. (There is democracy in Greater Kailash but not at Dantewada.) 
And of course, she thinks the nuclear bomb is the heart of whiteness and one feels paaapa for all those neutral countries out there, yet. Love is pretty blind no. 

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Quotes from sleepovers past.

Every morning begins with an illogical superlative.

Vanity needs patience.

Some are pahadi phool's :
How can you be soft and sensitive when you say things like CHEERIO
Do I really talk about Madame Bovary when I am drunk? 

How is life? Is it elsewhere?

The whole world exploits you. You are the most exploitable person I know. 

(Thanks, works for my self esteem..) 


Real life is so difficult after Planet Romeo.

Saturday, April 02, 2011


History might be being made now, in pouring rain, India might lift the world cup after 28 years. All the hopes I had as a gawky teenager for that, before cricket left my life, might be fulfilled or so do 
the orgiastic screams from my neighbours' balconies suggests. But I don't know when the match began and as a storm brews outside, I sit here eating chips and salsa comforting a gay boy about an impending pimple. My domestic help's daughter is sleeping on the mattress below. If there are fireworks outside, I will know. heh.