The first time!

For the first time in all the years I have lived here, I visited a place that can call itself a permanent fixture in Chennai’s night life! Yes, I’m talking about Zara – the Tapas Bar, the bar that never fails to feature in the stories of the well-heeled.

Zara’s is so loved, and has been here for long enough, that I’m not sure what fresh opinion or perspective I can give. I suppose I must mention at this point, that I had all the enthusiasm of a first timer (who was also appropriately dressed). The cohort entered the much hyped bar, and was taken to its table. (We are the cohort, by the way. And we were a measly group of three, though we do like to think of ourselves as important.)

It is LOUD. And DARK. You will make yourself hoarse, by merely attempting to converse with the person sitting next to you. You will not be able to read your menu. When we pointed out our difficulty to the attendant, he asked us to switch on our cellphones. “It is supposed to be dark madam, please read with the light of your mobile.” The music is typical of Top 40 playing on any American radio station.

Once it was established that this table, tucked into a dark corner next to the DJ was our spot for the night; we turned our attention to the matter at hand. We quickly proceeded to order a mocktail, a margarita and a sidecar. I particularly enjoyed the citrus-y mocktail, very refreshing and ideal for the summer. However, my friend did complain that his margarita had a little too much salt on the rim. I do not consider myself an expert on these matters (I feel more confident criticizing the food!).

Since this is a tapas bar, we started off with three small eats, in addition to the complementary bread – mushrooms in red wine (unanimously voted delicious!), cheese stuffed chilli peppers (merely molaga bajji with cheese – please eat this at Marina Beach), and vegetable nachos (I found this to be closer in flavour to papdi chaat). These dishes quickly disappeared (we were hungry!), and we moved on to the main course – fusilli pasta in an arrabiata sauce, and penne pasta in a creamy-mushroom-sauce. Pasta was served with a slice of garlic bread each. Portions were large, the pasta was served hot – nothing to complain.

The service was wonderful. There are many who are regulars – arriving single, as a couple, large groups of friends, even family. My friend tells me that the mood becomes more upbeat as the people get more inebriated – it is normal to see them dancing in their aisles (compensating for the lack of a dance floor).

Other details: Valet parking is available. It cost us about Rs. 3000 (NOT easy on the wallet!). I believe there is a popular brunch option with an extensive menu. I would like to see if it is as dark during the day as well! 😀

Armchair travelling – Malaysia in Chennai, at Newtown Cafe

Newtown Coffee House on TTK Road beckons you with its bright outdoor seating and cozy interiors, while promising fusion as well as Malaysian street food. I visited Newtown with my cousin and we were given a small table for two – a compact space which seemed like part of the wall. The first thing I noticed was the small dome shaped thing on every table – with three buttons that said “Cancel”, “Bill” and “Call”. (As an aside – I felt like a mean person, when calling for someone using a button.) :-O

Available at Newtown is a confusingly wide variety to choose from – they have soups, salads, starters, burgers, pasta, even Biriyani (!), some Malaysian fare, conventional desserts, coffee shop staples like the cold coffee and milkshakes – the menu is a book!

We started our dinner with Roti canai+veg curry and Nasi goreng (veg). I would describe these dishes as a subtly different parotta and fried rice. Very familiar flavours, yet slightly unfamiliar. For dessert, we tried the orange chocolate mud cake and an apple crumbled tart. I would not call the desserts spectacular, but they satisfied our craving for something sweet to finish our meal with.

The service at Newtown is friendly and quick (all the buttons work!). It seems to be a popular destination for those in the area and the seating serves groups both large and small. The valet parking makes your life easier too!

I am not sure what Newtown considers their strength. Their fare seems to be an odd combination of Malaysian, continental, Indian and fast food – maybe an attempt to cater to all tastes.

Where: Next to the Levi’s showroom on TTK Road

How much: Around Rs. 1000 for two

Revisiting Thevar Magan

I watched Thevar Magan for the first time in 2003, almost ten years after its release. I remember my mother asking me not to watch that movie, she didn’t think it was appropriate for me. I also remember not paying attention to her and watching it in full, completely riveted, unable to take my eyes off the television.

I have seen it several times since, and it still continues to hold me in its spell. It is hard to pick out what I like about the movie – there is so much to say!

Should I mention the acting or rather the living-in-character by all the actors? Should I mention the wonderful songs, each one competing with the rest for a place on our lips? Should I mention the lines of dialogue, which are now immortalized? (Aana vedhai, naan pottadhu.) Or the beautifully depicted relationships? What about the dilemma – working for the people who made you who you are, or going in search of a better life?

Some scenes that I enjoy revisiting:

Kamal Haasan and Gowthami returning from London, having completed their education, with their demeanor and clothes screaming foreign.

Kamal’s attempts to project Gowthami as a suitable daughter in law of the family, hoping his father approves of her.

The dreams Kamal has, of becoming an entrepreneur and opening a chain of fast food restaurants; and the subsequent altercation with his father.

The magnificent aura of Sivaji Ganesan, and his exhortations to Kamal, asking him to do something for his land and his people.

Sivaji Ganesan passing away, but not before sowing the seed of doubt in Kamal’s mind.

Kamal’s transformation, no more a carefree youth, but the man responsible for the welfare of his people. It is not easy to forget the image of him stepping outside his house, dressed as his father used to be, and the villagers looking at him with wonder and pride.

The marriage to Revathi, who manages to hold a special place in my heart with her portrayal of this character – a woman quick on her feet and quicker to smile, accepting of the man she ended up marrying in a twist of circumstances, and loving him in a way that leaves him no choice but to love her back.

The awkwardness Kamal faces with Revathi, and the gradual shift in their relationship, when he comes to love her as his own (and the song Inji iduppazhagaa..).

Gowthami returning and finding her man to be wedded to someone else, the heartbreak that ensues. Watching Gowthami breaks my heart a little too.

Nasser as the menacing enemy, out for vengeance and looking to put down Kamal at every opportunity, making sure the audience dislikes him immensely.

The events leading up to the climax, where a fight between Nasser and Kamal ends with Kamal beheading Nasser and mourning that finally, he too was made a murderer. The hair on my hands never fails to stand up.

The police taking away a handcuffed Kamal, who knows he will be back – as a contrast to the time he arrived by train at the very beginning: the younger Kamal thinking he will be leaving as soon as he can.

I think I replayed the movie in my head now. I am sure I missed out on many other scenes, each time I watch the movie I find another moment to relish.

Thevar Magan, directed by the late Bharathan, is a mesmerizing movie, which deserves repeated viewings, each time for a different reason.  It feels as though everyone who worked on the movie wanted his or her contribution to be spoken about the most. At times, I do not know where to look, what to give my attention to.

It is time for me to refresh my memory.

Weddings these days..

  • Disclaimer: Written from a Chennai point of view

Now that everyone around me is either busy getting married or trying to get married, I have been lucky enough to notice exactly what goes on at these weddings.

I believe a trend has emerged – if the wedding is not ostentatious, it may have never happened!

As an observer of this increasingly popular trend, allow me to recount some must-dos:

(Of course, you are free to improvise, to make your wedding look even more like the set erected for a song in Shankar’s film.)

All guests are to be served refreshments on a try as soon as they are seated. This could be a chilled drink or something for them to snack on while they take in the proceedings and continue giving their expert opinion. Young men and women in colour coordinated uniforms do the needful by walking around incessantly.

[Note: Costumes may range from pavadai-dhavani to miniskirts for the women; in comparison, men are always in boring attire.]

Imagine the wedding extravaganza happening on the same scale as the Chennai Sangamam (which takes place in several open venues over a span of 2-3 days). What this means is: the event is to be orchestrated like a carnival.

Make sure there are stalls to cater to all tastes. Some of the lesser spoken about spectacles could barely come up with one chaat stall, while others stepped up to the occasion and added a mehndi stall, a bangles stall (attempting to imitate the charm of buying accessories from tiny shops on the pavement, no doubt), a live pasta counter (continental food for the adventurous Mamis?). Maybe if you are feeling especially generous, you could add a book stall, where book lovers could while away their time.

A photographer with a strong presence on social networks (and a fancy camera from another country). This way, fake-candid and not-posed-for pictures can make their way to your networks, complete with a watermark, 265 likes, and 120+ comments giving mundane verdicts along the lines of: “Aawww… so pretty babe!” or “Hot! Where did you get your dress from??????”. At this point, remember to include the name of a designer, however little known – they may become famous thanks to your word-of-mouth publicity campaign! As a bonus: if you are a friend of the bride or groom, maybe one of these pictures showing you in very flattering light could be made use of when you create your profile on matrimony websites!

Once you have thoroughly understood the basics, you may move on to organizing more complex programmes:

A portfolio shoot featuring the bride and groom in an exotic location (if pressed for time, resort to the Saalai-ora Poonga in Adyar, if you foresee no constraints, take a cruise to Andaman & Nicobar Islands, with your entourage!).

Even if you may be South Indian, it appears as though your wedding cannot be complete these days without a Mehndi; and sometimes, a Sangeet as well. I am unaware of the origins of this fairly new tradition. However, I remember being taken to one such Mehndi function when I was 14, and back then, I remember the adults whispering to each other that the bride had spent far too much time in North India while she was still a student.

Some other things I just thought of:

Do follow Band Baaja Bride to help you with the planning. You can watch the bride being pampered by her fiancé, handcuffed to her fiancé, spoilt for choice with diamond jewellery and Sabyasachi outfits, being asked to straighten her teeth and broaden her forehead(?!) so as to look like the perfect princess bride on her big day.

Oh, what about the wedding gala (or mela?) organized at the Chennai Trade Centre once a year? An entire convention space dedicated solely to meeting all your wedding requirements, and letting you realize all those requirements you were not aware of previously!

I suppose I will just not invite you to my wedding, it is going to be fairly dull in comparison! 😛

The grass is greener on the other side (or whatever)

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For close to three years, I lived away from home, on the other side of the world. During this time, I completed my Master’s program, searched obsessively for a job, worked for a year, searched for a job again, and finally returned home. If I can remember one thing that was constant throughout those different phases, it is the yearning I felt to come back home.

I missed the whistles of the pressure cooker I tried to block by pressing my head in between pillows.

I missed my mother waking me up in the morning – again and again (I have always been notorious for not waking up on time).

I missed the smell of karuveppalai and jeeragam sizzling in ghee, right before being dipped into the rasam boiling away.

I missed the quiet and strong presence of my father, who always understood me without me ever having to say much.

I missed the chaos, the two thousand things happening at once if you looked up from your phone.

I missed driving my scooter everywhere I wanted to go, relishing my independence and speed.

I missed the friends I mostly spent time with, the spots we used to frequent, and the laughter that was always present.

I missed everything I took for granted, the life without worries, the chores I never did; it was all taken care of.

Now that I am back to all of that, it turns out I yearn for different things.

I miss being able to take decisions – I no longer need to think about practical difficulties – Is this a safe area to rent a house? How much will I have left after all my expenditures this month?

I miss the feeling of not being accountable to anyone – I cannot just walk out the door and come back when I please, 9 pm or 2 am.

I miss the sense of accomplishment I felt on having navigated my way and solved my small troubles in a faraway place.

I miss the adult life I was slowly getting used to – somehow, it feels like I moved back a few years, not a few thousand kilometres.

I miss the friends I made, the long conversations into the night, the family-of-sorts that was with me through everything – trivial or otherwise. After three years of living away, it seems like almost everyone I once knew here has left for someplace else.

I miss my experiments with cooking, and the joy I felt when I made something that tasted as though Amma made it.

I miss the little bit of travelling I became used to, visiting my friends in new cities. (I must relearn that nothing is too safe for parents to feel safe.)

Maybe, wherever we are, whatever we choose to do, we will always yearn for something we no longer have or wish to have. I wonder if we just spend all our time waiting. Either we wait to come back, or we wait to go back. If we are where we want to be, we wait for something we don’t have.

A fine dining experience at Benjarong

Benjarong has been around for so long, that I don’t remember what that spot looked like before the restaurant opened up. I don’t know if it is just me, but I feel like we always visit last those places that are closest to us!

Having never tried Thai food in Chennai, I was excited to explore the lingering taste of Thailand! Benjarong is a warm and cozy dining space, where the lights are still bright enough to see your food. (This is important! There has been an influx of restaurants which intend on letting you eat in the dark, all in the name of ambiance.)

At the very beginning, you are offered a tray with an assortment of little cups and big, green leaves in the centre (Thai-vetthalai?). In the cups were coconut shavings, finely chopped onions and chillies, a sweet and sticky sauce, ginger pieces, peanuts, and finally lemon slices. The way to eat this is to stuff everything in your leaf, squeeze lemon juice over the stuffing, roll it all together and place it in your mouth. This is meant to act as a palate cleanser and appetizer.

I tried the crispy vegetarian spring rolls (Poh Pia Je) to start my meal with. Stuffed with glass noodles and shredded cabbage, and served with an accompanying dip; I couldn’t stop eating these spring rolls! If I remember right, these spring rolls are a signature dish. For the main course, I had the mushroom fried rice with a generous amount of ginger thrown in (Khao Pahd Hed Khing). I enjoyed this dish immensely, but if you are not a fan of having to chew pieces of ginger hidden in mouthfuls of rice, I would suggest you try something else. There is an enormous amount of variety at Benjarong – their menu is divided into vegetarian and non vegetarian sections; with soups, starters, curries, rice and noodle dishes in each section. Sipping my hot tea (delicately flavoured – Is that a hint of lemon? Or was it ginger?) and eating my fried rice, I kept wishing I had room for dessert!

The staff is courteous, observant (never failing to refill your water or lemon tea), and proficient at pronouncing every Thai word on the menu. Next door to Benjarong is French Loaf; so if you are in the mood for different desserts than the ones available, you don’t have to go too far.

Other tiny details: Spring rolls and fried rice cost about Rs. 650. Portions are generous, dishes can be shared comfortably. A steady stream of diners can be seen at Benjarong, it is best to reserve a table.

I would love to go again, there is so much left to try!

The beginning

Motivated by few who believe in me, and inspired by all the blogs I see, I have finally created my own!

What shall I write?
It could be an anecdote, if you think I’m funny; advice, if you think I’m wise; a story, if I think I’m good enough; an opinion, if I’m feeling indignant- I hope to find out!

If you have come to this page, thank you! In the meanwhile, please read other blogs to help you pass your time.