Friday, April 25, 2008

We're moving!

We're moving to California. My husband got his dream job so we are packing our bags. Looks like I am destined to be an eternal traveler. Which in my case, is a very welcome thing. Let's see - Haverfordwest, Wisbech, Kolkata, Scunthorpe, Hull, London, Switzerland, Berkeley, Chicago, and now...San Francisco. These are all the places I have lived in for a significant amount of time. Not traveled, lived. I am so excited about this new and fresh start in our lives. And more so by the prospect of finding more fodder for this aptly named blog of mine. I should be reporting from my newly-adopted city during the end of June.

There are so many things to research - what are the best places to live in the silicon valley? What are the best school districts? What are the best kept secrets when it comes to fine dining? Can't wait...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

At Savera's...

I was a tomboy until 30, but only when it came to saris. I dreaded social events for fear of having to wear one. I could not even dress myself in one. Whether it was the prospect of baring un-toned flesh or having to manage balancing myself, it simply was not a prospect I relished.

However, one fine day, that changed. I developed a growing interest, and a desire to find the most beautiful saris ever made. I learned to dress myself, and to my mother's delight, showed an interest in accompanying on sari-buying trips.

As most of you know, the sari is a traditional Indian garment. It is basically around 5 meters long, and could be handwoven, hand-printed, or manufactured by a machine. Obviously, the former options create unique and more expensive saris. Saris are rarely the same, which adds to its charm. Not only do they come in different fabrics (silk, crepe, cotton etc) but in styles unique to a state or region (South Indian, Benarasi etc). The price range of saris extends from about $10 to $10000, depending on the quality of the fabric and the intricacy and uniqueness of the design.

My family's favorite sari shop in Kolkata is Savera. Situated practically opposite St. Xavier's College, it is an institution for all sari enthusiasts. They have a wide repertoire to suit all tastes and extremely knowledgeable (and persuasive!) sales staff.

They have a knack for remembering repeat customers, and show their appreciation by offering you complimentary drinks and Indian snacks! This age-old marketing technique works wonders with the customers (well I bought quite a few after being satiated with their free offerings)!

This is how it works: You walk in, and give a brief description of what you are looking for (color, fabric, type of design if you have a very specific request). They ask you to take a seat, and start showing you a wide range of saris, which roughly tallies with your requests. You either accept or reject from the ones shown. This helps the salesperson to ascertain your taste more specifically and refine his catalog. Even if you walk in and say you have no idea what you want, that's fine! The same technique is followed, only more time may be needed.

Apart from the bevy of salespeople who show clients the saris, there are also usually a few 'apprentices' who fold away the saris after it has been shown, ready for the next client. Their job is just to fold the saris. But while they engage in this fairly mind-numbing job, they are expected to observe the sales staff and learn from them. If they have the knack and the desire, they might be promoted to sales one day.

So that's sari shopping in Kolkata in a nutshell. These pictures were taken in Savera in February 2008.

Savera 95, Park Street, Kolkata - +91 33 22261695

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Kolkata...a city like no other

I was just watching the opening gambit of one of Anthony Bourdain's (the noted celebrity chef-turned-travel writer) Travel Channel shows featuring Sao Paolo, and it struck a chord with me.

I have never been to Brazil, but according to Bourdain, it is a city where "one needs to know people". It is not a pretty city by any means (allegedly), and where one could be stuck in traffic for hours on end. It's dirty, polluted, frenetic and full of contrasts. He said he hated it the first time.

But then, he managed to make a lucky acquaintance with several locals, who showed him how exciting the city of Sao Paolo could be. Through them, he learned about the resplendent food markets, the captivating night life, the people with substance and character, and the glorious restaurants. He saw a side that no outsider could see. The city made sense to him.

Kolkata in Eastern India, is one such city. It is the city where I grew up, and the city which formed me. Polluted, overcrowded and dirty it is. But there is an underbelly, and I use that word in a most positive sense, of optimism, culture and energy. You have to know someone here to understand that this city is just as exciting as New York or London. I've lived in the latter, and can vouch for this. Glorious food, intelligent people, a love and thirst for knowledge, a fanatic following for soccer and cricket, that's Kolkata. And of course, the obsession to entertain and be entertained. Kolkatans love 'adda' (casual conversation about anything under the sun) and eating. Being invited to each other's house for a delicious and comprehensive meal is the norm. So if you ever need to or want to visit Kolkata, see if you there is anyone you know who could give you a taste of the real thing. The genuine warmth underneath the conspicuous sheath of corruption and despair.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Friday evening in Mumbai

It's Friday evening in Mumbai. The sunset is spectacular and the temperature is just perfect. What could be a better way to unwind and reflect on the week than gazing at the Arabian Sea, while the world passes you by? Nariman Point is when people from all walks of life assemble, be it with a lover, family, friends, or alone. The frenetic city carries on behind as you seek out a cozy spot and people-watch. Or simply gaze at the 'Queen's Necklace', the name given to the section of Marine Drive lit gloriously in an almost semi-circular shape.

In the short video segment above, you see people of all socio-economic strata rubbing shoulders together and taking in the buzz. Mobile vendors sell beverages and savory snacks which you can enjoy without losing your spot. The sound you hear among the voices is the stiff but refreshing wind blowing in from the sea.

Mumbai is an interesting city of extremes. A place where within minutes of each other, you witness Porsche sports cars gliding along Marine Drive and underprivileged children selling you Nokia phone chargers while your car is stopped in traffic. Dire poverty and obscene wealth are both on display. You may hate it or love it. But it's worth experiencing.

If visiting, it is probably best to stick to the international chain hotels dotted around Nariman Point and Kolaba. That way one can still enjoy the comforts of a western destination, explore the surrounding neighborhoods which are rich in history and character, have access to various modes of transportation, and of course, be close to the beautiful Nariman Point and Marine Drive.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Busy Chefs...

This picture was taken at the 'La Cucina' restaurant, which is part of the epicurean Hyatt Regency Kolkata. The classy interiors with its neutral shades and Carrera marble will make you forget that you're not in Europe. We ordered the staples of pizza and risotto, all of which were immensely satisfying. Service was as expected in a five-star restaurant. If you prefer European food while visiting Asia, the cuisines offered at these high-end restaurants are your best bet. Personally, you should really try the ethnic fare instead, also at these locations. The Hyatt Regency also offers mouthwatering fare (both European/American and Indian) at its 'Waterside Cafe', which is open 24 hours, and tradition Indian and Bengali specialties at its 'Guchhi' restaurant. I haven't actually dined at 'Guchhi'; perhaps you have and would like to share some comments?

If you can't make it to the grocery store...

Let it come to you. This picture was taken on a mild January morning this year in Kolkata, India, from our second floor veranda. Scenes like this are common everywhere in India. Shopping for produce in India is a pleasure worth experiencing, but it's a whole lot more fun doing it from the mobile vegetable cart.

A fresh start

The weather today in Chicago held promise of a fresh start. A new season appeared to want to stay this time . A lot has happened since I last posted. Turmoil ensured for a whole week and I lost my baby. However, time has passed and my greatest comfort has been my husband and my family. They have given me the power to move on. On this note, I hope to revive this blog and breathe some life into it.