Thursday, December 31, 2009
I am still in Paris. My daughter has a soiree lined up for tonight in the Bois. Of course, she has nothing to wear. And neither do I! The weather has been so bloody beastly, one has to bundle up in layers and layers of clothing. The wind manages to bite through regardless. Plus, the rain. I spent the day in Passy, an upmarket district, one metro stop away from Tour Eiffel. There, amongst all the fancy brands, boutiques and labels was a store called 'Darjeeling'. Why Darjeeling? Was it a tea salon? Main non!! It was a clothing store that had nothing to do with the hill station.
But the newly opened 'I Love Jaipur' section at the very chic and traditionasl Bon Marche had the most fantastic display of products from India, and of course, Manish Arora's funky, eccentric garments were the piece de resistance. I also spotted his wine\champagne covers for Champagne Pommery at Galleries Lafayette. 'Superbe'! as they say in Paris.
Well, I am joining my daughter for a Taiwanese meal an hour from now. We enjoyed a Korean one last night ( long live Bibimbap!). My older daughter Avantikka has instructed us to get plaid leggings for Arundhati to wear tonight. They are supposedly very 'in'. Wish me luck on my treasure hunt.
And Blogdosts..... let's hang together in 2010. Our friendships are precious and delicate. We are obliged to nurture them.
Have a super fabulous New Year. Blessings from Ma De - my new name for the new year!!
Lots of bubbly....lots of smiles....lots of hugs and kisses....
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
we went to the Grand Palais last night to check out what had been created inside that gigantic space which sees major expositions round the year. it was a children's amusement park, with a huge ferris wheel and all those scarey rides. Unreal and surrealistic. But at least the kids were laughing, and there was so much joy in the air. We decided to walk to Cafe de la Paix, one of my all time favourite hangouts.There was a near full moon in the sky, it was a clear, crisp and cold night. But my daughter's brisk pace wore me out!! By the time we got there, I was ready to collapse. Two glasses of Sancerre and a slab of fois gras later, I was ready to go once more.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Ditto for a lot of traditional French bistros that have been forced to change their predictable cuisine in keeping with new foodie trends. Last night we went to Le Loup Blanc (The White Fox) to find a swift menu change. I had mustard ice cream as a part of my salad ( imaginative and delicious), and noticed there are many more vegetarian options featured on menus these days. That is great news and means veg guys can order more than just steamed haricort vert ( beans). Tonight we are going to the Grand Palais and then to my daughter's favourite hang out. The night before , we went back to one of my old favourites - La Coupole at Montparnasse. It is like a gigantic French Udipi joint - a huge food hall serving the most wonderful, sensibly priced cuisine. But one of the signature dishes here since 1927 has been the Indian lamb curry!! It was served to us by a Tamilian waiter dressed like a maharajah, who spoke perfect French and gave us an extra dollop of curry!!
Shashi Tharoor, the tweet junkie, is at it again! Good for him. Perhaps Ameesha Patel is helping him??
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Earlier, Arundhati and I had changed God knows how many metros and travelled the length and breadth of Paris in search of the perfect Galette de Roi, which is the season's treat and is sold with a paper crown. The trick here is the li'l gift that is baked into the gateau. Kids love it and so do adults. The other X'Mas speciality is the clementine, which is a juicy, tiny orange. Dried figs and marons are two other yummy offerings, along with the classic macaroons ( Pierre Herme macaroons are packaged like haute couture and considered top of the line).
We walk and walk and walk. I have bought a pair of pale blue Uggs, to protect my aching feet. The Grand Palais beckons. There is a cirque inside its imposing interiors. There is also the Dali exhibit, this one featuring the master's work in gold. My darling daughter is being super patient avec moi. Let's hope I don't wear her down.
Friday, December 25, 2009
meanwhile, i am struggling to walk around in knee high boots that kill. the wind chill factor will get me if chillbains don't. it is bitterly cold, but the delicious vin chaud sold at street corners can warm up anybody. i love it! as we strolled past some of our favourite haunts on the left bank, sipping wine and chatting about life, i forgot the cold, my frozen toes, all the other nagging problems moms burden their kids with. we were just two women enjoying paris together. mellow and wonderful.
after mass, we went in search of dinner - the heavy police presence around the notre dame was reassuring. but we were hungry and cold, and oblivious to danger. nearly every famliar place was shut or shutting early. but we stumbled upon a real gem , just opposite the george cinq , a little off the champs elysee. an italian restaurant called fendi. it was a brilliant choice buzzing with people in great spirits. over sancerre and sea bass, we bonded some more, before grabbing a cab and getting back to her apartment, where she had generously vacated her comfy bed for me. god bless daughters.
merry x'mas blog dosts.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Goodness gracious me!! As Peter Sellers might have exclaimed at the hullabaloo over Haagen Dazs and its rather silly ad campaign. To begin with, it’s a pretty lousy ice cream. I mean, I find it lousy, over rated and over priced. Upar se, the brand’s entry into India has raised hackles over the tasteless ad campaign that has since been ‘modified’. Are we really that sensitive as to go ballistic over a cup of a hazel nut and raspberry duo that costs the earth? Come on, guys! That corny line about entry restricted to ‘ international passport holders only’ was exactly that – corny! ALL passports by definition are international, remember? What’s a ‘local’ passport?? It was obviously the brainchild of an immature copy writer taking a shot at being extra clever. Clearly, the ad agency got it all wrong, and now the excreta has hit the ceiling. Various groups have banded together to scream, “ Racism’’ and demand an apology if not an immediate closure of the Delhi outlet. My guess is that the person guffawing all the way to the bank must be the marketing director of the ice cream brand. Without spending an extra paisa, Haagen Dazs has become a pretty well known ( or notorious) national name. How easy was that? If one thinks ‘brand recall’ – well, it doesn’t get any better than this.
They say nothing works as brilliantly as publicity that hammers home a message – regardless of what that message is. Repeated often enough, it sinks into our khopdis and there it stays. After a point, not many people remember why they remember it – but the fact remains, they do! Target achieved. So it might be with the Indian consumer and Haagen Dazs – the ice cream with attitude. The one that cheekily and blatantly discriminates against citizens of the host country by excluding them completely. Whether or not it’s true, people fervently believe the brand was serious about banning Indians from its premiere outlet in Delhi. But common sense should tell us this cannot be so. For one, it is illegal. For another, it’s asking for trouble. Big trouble. At the time of writing, public outrage was beginning to snowball into something major. This may change if something juicier diverts media attention, and bloggers discover a new bete noire. But for now, tweets by the nano second are flying around the world mobilizing opinion against the brand’s provocative advertising that got tweeple into overdrive, tearing into the foolish campaign like it was an American conspiracy to keep desis out and destabilize the region. Which , on deeper analysis makes zero sense – I mean which brand in the world would want to keep its main customers out? That’s as good as committing professional hara-kiri. Haagen Dazs is in India to sell ice cream - tons of it - to Indians. I doubt they’d survive if their client base didn’t go beyond the expats of Delhi. They’re here to make us fat on their gooey ice cream – so, why would they keep us out? Make sense??
Excuse me, what’s all the fuss about in that case? I think it is about our thin skins. We have taken offence ( count me in!) at what is seen as a racial slur, a national insult, a crime. Our izzat is at stake and we shall go to any length to protect it. How dare Haagen- whatever from wherever, come into our country and insult our pride? Would this be tolerated by any other nation? Never. But we are all so bloody phus, these arrogant fellows can walk in here and spit on our face. This is too much! It is time we asserted ourselves and told these people where to get off. Haagen Dazs may claim to be the greatest ice cream in the world, so what? We won’t take their barbs and taunts lying down, either. Oh no. We’ll show them! God alone knows what we want to show them. But right now, we have shown them how hyper we are. By over reacting , we have done the brand a huge favour. And made Haagan Dazs into the Raj Thackeray of the ice cream world. It has become a newer, trendier version of the outsider\insider issue. I have watched various people with considerable amusement condemning the ice cream and swearing not to lick a single spoon. This is crazy, considering what a non-issue it is. Haagen Dazs is to India what sarson- da- saag is to America – an acquired taste. We are used to uncomplicated, simple ice creams – vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ( with and without nuts ). Now along comes this fancy brand at an even fancier price and has us frothing at the mouth instead of salivating. Please guys, think ! Haagen Dazs needs our patronage. We don’t need Haagen Dazs. Geddit?
Jaaney do. The latest controversy has led to a free national awareness campaign that would otherwise have cost the brand a huge amount of money. The ice cream is front page news…and a matter of heated debate across channels at prime time. Fortunately for the brand, there is no George Fernandes around to chase it out of India, the way Georgie Boy had chased out Coca Cola. The naara of patriotism and national pride has been raised ( “Yankees go home!”) by alert watch dogs who spotted the offensive line and started a roaring, country wide controversy in a flash ( long live twitter! ). I heard several Dilliwallas holding forth on national television about the audacity of the brand to demand passports before letting customers into the parlour. Someone pointed out India’s fixation with foreign brands and how Haagen Dazs was cleverly cashing in on our weakness by establishing its ‘exclusivity’ and creating an edge over competing products. Frankly, I think the whole hoo- hah is a load of humbug. Indians are bored at the moment. Apart from Sehwag’s performance, there is very little action to distract our attention. Strange that an ice cream brand that chose to launch itself during winter, is generating so much heat. It makes me recall a childhood ditty most of us have repeated at some point : I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. Only this time, we are screaming to throw one particular one out. Chalo – throw it out. But then you’ll have to start looking for a substitute rightaway. We desperately need something\someone to fill the vacated spot. It is called ‘the flavour of the season.’ Right now, the flavour is a bit too bitter for anyone’s taste. Haagen Dazs, hai hai! Kulfi, zindabad!!
About the picture.... it was taken near the famous graffiti wall across Bondi Beach. This is where spray can artists make their name and attract a fan following that can elevate them to overnight cult figures. I am standing in front of a portrait of Chloe - the young Aussie girl who was swept away by the tsunami while she was holidaying in Bali. At least, that is what Marina, our lovely escort in Sydney told me. I was most touched by this memorial and tribute. What a lovely way to remember....
Sunday, December 20, 2009
I DON'T SMOKE!!!
I FEEL VERY STRONGLY ABOUT THIS ISSUE. AND MUST PLACE IT ON RECORD. Smoking kills. I love life far too much.
By the way, that magnificent stretch you see behind me is a part of the Great Ocean Road. And sadly, the famous Twelve Apostles are now just eight. The other four have disappeared.... crumbled into the furious ocean. But.... do check out my teeth!! Ha ha.
It’s really strange how strongly people react these days to a person who happens to live in South Mumbai . First, the eyebrows wiggle,next the expression becomes quizzical, and finally conversation freezes. But why?? This has become a predictable pattern post 26\11, during which a large number of people believed the media extended an exaggerated amount of coverage to the terror attacks only because the targets picked were located in this area. To some extent, this is true. But a year later, that lop-sided sentiment remains unchanged. Even within the metropolis, there is a clear North-South divide, which is growing by the day.The divide exists as much in people’s minds as in reality, and never mind the Sea Link that is supposed to bridge both. I am often taken aback by the vehemence of the reactions, and as an unapologetic South Mumbaikar, my guess is that most of the backlash comes from the vague feeling (frequently justified) that those who reside here live inside a bubble with no real connect to the rest of the city… even less to the rest of India.
At a recent, high profile book launch event hosted by the Taj Mahal Hotel, at which the reticent Ratan Tata himself was the chief guest, a visiting executive from Chennai looked awestruck and in a daze. He said he was attending such a function in Mumbai after a gap of a decade, and had forgotten how things run in this town. His tone was envious. Just then, another invitee came up to comment that there was nothing all that exceptional about the evening, adding smugly, “This is how we do it here.” I looked around the room at the posh gathering and honestly speaking, there were no surprises. Perhaps living in this part of the woods makes one take such functions for granted. And why not?All of a sudden, there seems to be a paradoxical ‘class war’ on, in which the South Mumbai ‘elite’ as they are invariably referred to, have become the main targets of a petulant hate campaign. Is there something of significance brewing just under the surface here …or is it childish carping at its worst by those who feel somehow excluded? And what is so terrible about South Mumbaikars, to begin with? Attitude, maybe the answer. Though, the fact of the matter is, the only people who qualify as today’s super elite are our politicians – India’s biggest landlords. The sort of money we spend to ‘protect’ them is obscene. And as a class, nobody enjoys better perks. South Mumbaikars by comparison, are the underdogs who underwrite those perks!
When it comes to wealth, there are equally rich people spread across India. In fact, far richer! Money is not the monopoly of Mumbaiwallas . Ironically, the sho-sha associated with money is far more brazen in other cities, notably, Delhi. But it is always the Big Boys from South Mumbai’s Billionaires’ Club who hit the headlines, and are held up as prime examples of extravagant living.But ask car dealers of the priciest wheels in town as to who’s booking those amazing one crore plus wheels, and they’ll tell you it’s the sugar farmers in Kolhapur and not just the Brothers Ambani. Travel to Pune and see the lifestyles of the rich and famous Punekars to know what good living is all about. Who are the people putting down serious money for yachts, private jets and other expensive toys? South Mumbai tycoons? Naah. Not really. It’s the guys who hang out in lush suburbs further North. But why crib about these things. The truth is, South Mumbai symbolizes an unachievable dream in the popular imagination. This dream has become so exaggerated it has started to look absurd, even comical. When critics hurl accusations of insensitivity, superficiality, shallowness, selfishness and worse, at South Mumbai residents, it is a total cop out. An obvious and annoying conclusion based on narrow minded stereotyping and deep seated prejudice. The main argument rarely extends beyond, “What has so-and-so done in terms of giving back to society?” This is said with a level of self righteous fury, as if to dismiss that person’s right to continue his\her life without having to periodically justify or defend everything and then some more.
It’s come to the stage, where people will soon be admitting sheepishly, “ Some of my best friends are South Mumbaikars.” Just as it was once de rigueur to make ones position towards the Gay community very clear by declaring, “ Some of my best friends are homosexual,” and more recently, “ Some of my best friends are Muslim.” This sort of polarization is crazy and unwarranted given the bhel puri that is Mumbai, that is India. If I am wearing my exasperation on my sleeve, I ask to be excused this one time! Being a South Mumbaikar used to be fun! Now, it has become a bloody chore. Each time I move out of this space and receive weird looks, I can almost hear people say, “ The aliens have landed, the aliens have landed.” That reminds me – where’s my green suit??
Ran into Smita Thackeray twice in a row, both times at 5-Star venues. One let her gunmen in, the other ( classier and in South Mumbai - of course!), didn't. She is looking like a luscious peach . Leaving the mother ship clearly suits her. Now let us see if Sonia G welcomes Matoshree's abandoned bahu with open arms.
Friday, December 18, 2009
I have been in Australia for ten days....it has been glorious, but it's definitely time to come home. I am in withdrawal and in need of an instant Mumbai fix. Writing this from Melbourne is turning out to be an eye opener for more than just the bad press generated by those dastardly student attacks over the past couple of months. As is always the case, there are two versions and several stories, depending on which person you hear them from. I got here from Sydney where I met and talked to several desi students, most of whom moonlight as taxi drivers. The young man from Chandigarh who drove me from Rosebay to the hotel overlooking one of the world's most iconic structures, the magnificent Opera House, was in a chatty mood on a glorious, sunny afternoon. He'd done his MBA from the Australian Catholic College and is now driving a taxi since the job market is not terribly good for MBA degree holders or even IT professionals. Sunny told me India offers better salaries - more than 25% higher. That was surprise number one. So, why doesn't Sunny pack his bags and come home? Why is he driving a taxi on a 12 hour shift (3a.m.to 3 p.m.), to make a lousy hundred bucks a day ( below the minimum wages guaranteed by law )? He grinned and said simply, " I like it here." I asked him whether he wasn't afraid of being attacked on the streets - was it worth the risk? His response was surprise number two : " The media has played up the attacks so much that young, jobless Aussie men are taking bets with each other and saying, ' Watch me on the telly, mates. I'm going to bash those Indians and become famous'." According to Sunny, it is all about rising frustration levels, especially since desis work really hard, are generally better educated and get superior jobs at higher salaries.
That was one story. The other was provided by a student\cabbie on the Gold Coast. He was from Jullunder and happy to be here. So happy, in fact, he was calling his parents over for the second time in three years rather than taking an annual break back home. He said his folks loved it Down Under, too. And no, they did not worry about their beta getting bashed up. Howcome? " Because I mind my own business, study hard and work hard. I don't annoy my neighbours." All this was sounding too good to be true. There had to be another version. I asked the genial and erudite Mr.Amit Dasgupta, our Consul General in Sydney, for his take and he provided yet another perspective. He has dealt with the crisis and mediated smoothly without talking about it or making tall claims. He believes the worst is probably over and is appalled by the senseless brutality of some of the attacks. But he also pointed out that the manner in which India, particularly Manmohan Singh, responded was firm, tough and appropriate at a time when the Aussies were trying to brush it off and make light of the alarming situation..Another source mentioned that most of the cheating cases the students complained about once they got to Australia, had to do with other Indians!! People running fake schools and universities, duping gullible candidates from India, making them work for lower than low wages, often keeping them as unpaid domestics in their own homes, these were not locals tricking desis, but desis duping desis ! How shameful.
The other side of the coin had to do with intense rivalry between Indians and the Lebanese, to reclaim business turf and protect their commercial interests\ territories in congested areas shared by both. Mr. Dasgupta has taken to meeting Lebanese elders at a Lebanese cafe (strictly no body guards) and keeping communication lines open, just to send out the right signals and set up a meaningful dialogue. Funnily enough, he said our boys always approached him with just one request - they wanted to meet and date Lebanese kuddis! Since there is an acute shortage of young girls in the Indian community, the guys were dying to hang with the lovely Lebanese girls - but the elders would have none of it. Poor Mr. Dasgupta has a really tough job ahead of him!! Perhaps even tougher than dealing with student attacks.
I met a few middle -aged Sikh drivers who have been in Australia for decades and never faced a single racial issue. But they had to acknowledge things had changed ever since the recession, with rising joblessness and a cost index to match. Most of these older taxiwallas have children in colleges across Australia. Of course, they are worried and concerned about their safety, but they shrugged and said philosophically, " What is happening here could also happen in India. My son could be mugged or killed back home as well."
The next few months are key. Both the governments should work together more cohesively, and the Australians in particular must reassure the community that the safety of students is of paramount importance to them. Our student numbers contribute a sizeable chunk to the Aussie economy. Their lives must be protected and their status respected. On our part, desi students cannot treat the host country as their filthy backyard and abuse local customs. One thing I did discover during this trip - from a distance, what appears to be a calamity spinning out of control, is in reality a case of random, freak attacks by disgruntled anti -social elements. They need to be dealt with severely and punished for their assaults. Till that happens, and the Aussie government's tepid response to Indian outrage changes to a more responsive one, our students will remain soft targets.Not on, mates!
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Tiger, Tiger burning bright!!Like countless Tiger Woods fans across the world, I was shocked out of my skull when I received a tweet which said Tiger had been seriously injured in an accident.It seemed plausible – anybody can get injured in a car crash. And the person does not have to be a reckless drunk. But as more details emerged about that crash, the story got spicier. Almost overnight, the golfing world’s God had revealed feet of clay! His perfect family man image lay in shambles, and the sequence of events leading up to the rescue, triggered off a series of nasty rumours involving a leggy blond, an enraged wife, sexting and more. It was just another made-for-tabloids story with shades of the O.J.Simpson scandal thrown in. To a lot of his shocked fans, Tiger had let them down by behaving like any other bratty sports star – what was the difference between him and Boris Becker? But for me, Tiger’s faux pas gave the robotic man a human dimension. I also found his website entries awfully cute and adorably immature. “I am embarrassed,’’ declared Woods, sounding more like an errant schoolboy forced to confess all, while being bashful about revealing intimate details.
At the time of writing, Tiger was still sticking to a vague script and had not made himself available to law makers. Meanwhile, Rachel Uchitel,the leggy blond who got Woods into this mess, had jetted off to consult Gloria Alfred, a top lawyer, after tantalizing the waiting press by stating mysteriously, “ I wish I could say something, but I can’t.” What this probably means is that she’ll first pitch her story to the highest bidder, sell movie rights and then open her mouth! Neat. That leaves Tiger and his club -wielding wife Elin, who had once boasted that the two of them were spared by the gossip press since they are “kind of boring.” No longer! The racy account of their little outing at 02.30 in the morning, ended with Tiger having a lot of egg all over his face, to say nothing of scratch marks and other injuries. The jokes have been flying around the world ever since - “ What were Tiger Woods and his wife doing out at that crazy hour? They went clubbing!” This is a mild one. Unfortunately, people with as high a profile cannot afford to make even a single slip and hope admirers won’t notice. Tiger’s positioning over years has been that of an upright, focused professional, with no real interests outside his game and family. This sort of an impeccable reputation was imperative to a man who made serious money out of his image. Not for nothing had Woods attained the enviable position of being the richest sportsman in history. After this, it won’t be easy to watch his commercial currently playing across our tv channels, without sniggering.Will the present scandal impact his game… his endorsements… his earnings… his marriage ( yes, in that order?) . It remains to be seen. Even though we do live in a moralistic, hypocritical world which hastily passes judgement on superheroes stupid enough to get caught with their pants down, how can we forget Bill Clinton and how smoothly he survived adultery , plus impeachment charges and went on to make even more money as a global speaker? Dented, but never down. That’s America, did you say? No, that’s India, too. And most other countries as well.
Adultery has obviously been downgraded. It is no longer such a big deal. Sure, Tiger’s fans will follow the story breathlessly while it is still hot. But the same people will also applaud enthusiastically if he shows up to compete in the Chevron Thousand Oaks, or any other championship.Though Woods watchers are also warning fans that it may not be such a cakewalk after all. Known for his discretion and reticence, Woods may just go into hiding for a while… at least till the scratches on his face heal. That will leave party organizer Uchitel and wronged wife, Elin, to slug it out. But this is one battle that may cost Woods a packet. If the sleazy story sticks,Elin will have to live on tenterhooks haunted by that old adage – a tiger can’t change his stripes. Tee for two, anyone?
The body count has gone up... and still counting, since this article was written. The lively glossies Down Under were carrying the most tantalising pics and stories on the scandal. Greg Norman's defence of Tiger did not find too many takers, however. But this much I can tell you, when we boarded the Qantas flight back home in Melbourne, my son Aditya, a golfing fanatic and ardent Tiger Woods fan , was carrying a magazine that featured Woods on the cover with the bold headline : 'SEX ADDICT'. Well, at least three men on the aircraft wanted to grab the magazine out of his hands , as they chuckled and gave a thumbs up sign. Tiger Woods - Closet Hero! Think of all the blokes who'd love to swap places with him, and you'll know what they say about men never growing up!!
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I have been in and around Melbourne for the past three days. The reason you didn't find me here was because of a techno hiccup - no internet access! I'll be leaving Amazing Australia and Marvellous Melbourne a few hours from now. But somehow, I know in my heart it is a temporary goodbye. Please note, nobody pays me to say any of this! Put simply, Australia remains one of my top destinations. I have never had anything but the best time here. I find the people disarmingly casual and appealingly unfussy about everything they enjoy in such abundance. The word I keep hearing over and over again is "lucky". Nearly every Australian one meets uses that word after a short conversation - " Aren't we lucky to have all this?" they exclaim , almost incredulously. Indeed , they are. Australia has managed to ride the global economic breakdown better than most other countries, and one sees happy faces despite the recession and loss of jobs, since people have faith in their government and realise it could have been a lot worse.
Melanie de Souza is a Mumbai girl who has made Melbourne her home. Talking to her and Greg Hywood at 'Gingerboy' ,a high concept restaurant featuring robust street flavours of South East Asian cuisine, I got the impression the Premier is tackling the racial attacks on a war footing, and ensuring our Indian students feel safe and welcome. Just as well.... it has been a two way arrangement that was working for both parties till the 'incidents' took place. I have to say this, there was a much more visible cop presence in Melbourne on a busy saturday night than I'd observed in Sydney. The crackdown on binge drinking is underway and I hope we can enforce it as effectively in Mumbai, too.
I have kept the best for last - The Great Ocean Road! The hands down , piece de resistance of our Australian trip has to be this magnificent stretch. It is nothing short of a miracle. I saw it as a touching poem to the pioneering spirit of Australia, that says so much about those World War 1 servicemen who built this 250- odd kms road, starting in 1919 and completing it in 1932. It is as much a moving memorial to those who lost their lives in the war, as an unbelievable engineering feat that was achieved by men labouring with nothing more elaborate than picks and shovels. Today, it rates as one of the most scenic routes in the world, with good reason. The sprawling National Park through which The Great Ocean Road winds its way, is treated as a precious treasure by all Australians, and you won't find a single empty bottle or scrap of paper anywhere. We were 'lucky' - yes, just like the Aussies - Tony Poletto had organised a glorious day, with fluffy , white clouds and mild temperatures.Which was perfect chopper weather for a scenic spin along the coastline in a dazzling yellow helicopter. We took off and hit 1,000 feet above sea level within minutes with Grant Braban,the English copter pilot ( who drives a James Bond style Jaguar on the ground). He pointed out all the main features of the spectacular Twelve Apostles - the world famous limestone formations along the Shipwreck Coast in the South Seas. Unfortunately, the white whales had left for cooler waters after calving here, but that did not take away from our excitement as the chopper soared over the crystal clear, turquoise blue ocean below us.
Earlier, we had driven to what is rapidly becoming a very upmarket, chic destination for well heeled tourists in search of serious pampering. Daylesford is at the heart of Victoria's Spa Country. I was enchanted by the art on the walls of the gourmet paradise, Lake House. Turned out the satirical and witty canvases were painted by the owner Allan Wolf Tasker. His chef-wife Alla is featured on the menu card, and that work is titled 'Rousseau's Sleeping Chef'' - an obvious tribute to the original - Henri Rousseau's ' The Sleeping Gypsy'. This Russian emigre couple is credited with having carved out and created this special destination which is now renowned for its superlative cuisine and also for attracting an artistic community from around the world.
The person I most wanted to kidnap was the gorgeous Tina Binitska, whose Greek parents came to Australia when she was a little girl. The story of how Tina bid for and finally bought an abandoned convent to set up an arts complex aptly called 'The Convent', that is also a top rated wedding venue in Australia, is a story by itself. All I can tell you is with her dancing eyes and dynamic managerial skills, Tina, a Piscean, rules!
Aah well... some good things in life do come to an end.
I bid 'Adieu' to Melbourne and Australia.... but like Napoleon famously boasted, I shall be back.
I have still to sip the Sparkling Chandon. Reason enough!
Friday, December 11, 2009
Like most things Australian, there is nothing pretentious about the superlative and sophisticated cuisine that focuses on fresh local produce and is not afraid to innovate. I am determined to get Mark to Mumbai soon. I can see him making magic with Chef Hemant Oberoi.
I also wanted to kidnap Neil Perry who opened the Spice Temple earlier this year, and patrons haven't stop raving. I went there for a late night supper after watching a fascinating production of Sleeping Beauty at the Opera House, which is one of the most recognised buildings in the world. Why fascinating? The production was a lot like Australia itself - multicultural and innovative. A Japanese dancer as Sleeping Beauty and Banarasi brocade costumes against a set that looked Balinese!The hour was late, but the Spice Temple was packed and buzzed. I was delighted to interact with Baci Moore, the efficient manager who took me through the Spice Temple adventure and philosophy. A menu this inspired doesn't require words. What Perry has achieved is just so sublime, one just has to look heavenwards and thank the Lord for granting such pleasure. As for the unique cocktails, based on the Chinese astro signs ( lemon grass and rose petal soda with tanqueray and citrus falls under the Dragon ), I'll have to come back to Sydney to sample them. But then, any excuse will do to return all over again to a city I adore.
So much catching up to do. I have finally caught up with my own jet lag and am not zoning anymore. But three days from now, I shall have to rezone and get into India mode, after our three day trip to Melbourne and a stopover in Singapore. If only we could somehow pull Australia closer to ourselves ( literally and metaphorically!), I swear, I'd get here oftener. My son Aditya is so completely sold on Sydney, I shall have to drag him kicking and screaming to the airport early tomorrow morning for our flight to Melbourne at the crack of dawn.
For me, our exquisite lunch at the Palazzo Versace remains a delicious memory of the Gold Coast experience. I was back at the Palazzo after a gap of four and a half years. It was as vivid and colourful as I remembered it - you know, the bright and happy, OTT colours one associates with the brand? Yellows and pinks and turquoises?? The Venetian chandelier ( it works!! Yes. Even in that setting!) in the lobby, the sharply dressed employees who resemble Versace models and have great attitude..... it's all soooooo Versace! Well, The Palazzo has brand new plans lined up for New Year's Eve - the theme is ''Unmasked'" and I'm guessing it's going to be edgy and very noir! Good acts lined up as well, including Estelle! More details coming up. But for now, I have to jump into a cab and rush to keep my date at Marque, one of the top rated restaurants of the world, presided over by an award winning chef - Mark Best himself. Watch this space..
For all you foodies out there, keep reading and coming back for more. Last night at Tetsuya's, both Aditya and I, died several times as the most unexpected tastes exploded inside our mouths over a four hour gourmet banquet at what is considered the most exquisite fine dining experience on earth.... inspired by a genius called Tetsuya!Aaaah.... could I possibly grow another stomach??Such excess.... but am I complaining?
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Cancelled flights happen. At least here in Australia, we were offered a free later flight by Virgin, to make up for the inconvenience and given a modest monetary compensation for a snack.But we only had three days in Sydney, now one day was almost gone!! No worries, mate. By the time we landed and checked in, it was close to 3 p.m. and what better time to hit Bondi Beach - yes, the same one. 'Baywatch' anyone?? I met the main guy who heads the Lifeguards on the beach patrol, and was told he is now a big star thanks to local tv stations regularly covering these hunks. He shrugged nonchalantly when I asked him about his star status, and we got him to invite us into the control room. Now, this was seriously impressive. It is manned by four or five very watchful men, monitoring the beach closely on closed circuit cameras and rushing to the help of anybody in distress, miles away. From there to the Trattoria close by ( lovely yellow building built around 1920 like most of the other buildings along the waterfront), for a prawn pizza , followed by a quick chakkar of the world famous Iceberg Bar, run by a mercurial Italian owner. This little outing sort of made up for lost time.
Well, Bondi Beach is all that it is cracked up to be. Then some.This time I noticed many more topless sun bathers, less pet dogs and generally a mellower buzz. The air was cool and clean, as we strolled along the strip before jumping into a cab ( very expensive ride!) back to the hotel. The Aussie dollar is very strong, which is not good news for us desis, since it doesn't take you too far. But it works brilliantly for Aussies on vacations in Obud and other similar destinations.
I was missing my bhaat too much, and had had enough of Baramundi, the local fish. When I ordered a lobster rissotto at Doyle's, I got strange looks from my son, which I ignored. Turns out it was a super choice, since Aditya ate half of it. A glass of well chilled Cloudy Bay did the rest. The elegant lines of the Opera House glimmering across the water, made up for the rough morning. Amit Dasgupta, our very erudite and astute Consul General in Sydney, and his daughter Diya, played attentive hosts. But more than that, it was the quality of their minds and converstaion that made the evening perfect. Sleep beckons.... till tomorrow and more Sydney....
Monday, December 7, 2009
Sunday, December 6, 2009
We managed to see dolphins from the old lighthouse, and sea turtles and sea eagles.... all within the space of a few minutes. They only thing Tim couldn't manage were humpback whales. But it was a perfect summer day in Noosa, and I am sorry to leave at dawn tomorrow morning. But not before popping in at the Australian Zoo to say 'hello'' to the rhinos.
Louise played host at Bistro C by the sea, where the baramundi was done to perfection, and the calamari melted into the mouth at first bite. The crisp and perectly chilled sauvignon blanc helped. Even though Timothy had recommended a gin and tonic.
The Pacific ocean was warm and welcoming, but I passed. I was just struck by how proud and eco-conscious every person here is, and how solar panels and harvested rain water take care of basics. We have so much to learn - we have as much sun and rain in India. Possibly more. What do we do with it??? Very little. It would solve so many of our problems. But who's interested?
As I posed for a picture in front of the gigantic Andy Warhol poster at Bistro C, and read the line 'Pop Art is for everyone,' I found myself smiling....... nice way to end a looooong day. Until tomorrow, mates. I'm having a great time Down Under...
Saturday, December 5, 2009
By the time we drove to Noosa ( two hours, after a fifteen hour flight??), my knees were buckling, and my eyes half shut. But Sean, the spikey haired chauffeur was in a chatty mood, and kept us awake till we got to our destination, the Sheraton , by the ocean. Billed as the most exclusive resort in these parts, Noosa is indeed very special. Very Ibiza. And with desi Gulmohurs in full bloom all over, being summer here. I loved the mainly Italian bistros along the sea front, and the sexy shops selling hot bikinis ( Mallika Sherawat, where are you??). I'm travelling with my son, Aditya, which is a good thing. He is my calorie counter and rolls his eyes each time I as much as look at food. But I am a sucker for Aussie cuisine, which I consider one of the most under rated cuisines of the world. The produce is fresh and the wines, divine. What more does any foodie want??
I'll keep you updated as and when I get the chance. Tomorrow , we are planning a trip to the Australian Zoo - you know the place, right?? Crocodile Dundee's zoo?? Same one that's now run by Irwin's wife and daughter after his bizarre death ( A sting ray went through his heart!!!).Till then...have a great day, mates.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Like millions of viewers across India,I am an absolute sucker for reality shows on television. Especially the ones featuring B- and C- grade ‘celebrities’ making complete asses of themselves (and us!), while getting paid for their monkey tricks. But the one reality show I would love to watch in future involves a creature who is unique and compelling in a way that defies logic or reason. That show would be ‘‘The Search for India’s Paris Hilton.” I’m certain Ms. Hilton herself would gladly play judge if the money is right. For she, more than any human being on earth, has mastered the unsubtle art of playing the celebrity game – and winning! Paris is a cultural phenomenon. Paris parties 24x7. It is a full- time , highly- paid job. Paris makes serious money jetting around the world (from Tokyo to Timbucktoo), attending glamourous soirees thrown by complete strangers.The big bucks she makes exceed the fat pay cheques pocketed by corporate honchos with a string of degrees to their credit. Her party calendar is so over- booked she requires an entire team of social secretaries to sort out her dates. Since she has to make a living out of attending parties, Paris also needs the services of various stylists who create daily ‘looks’ for her. These specialists come at a hefty price – but in the case of Paris, it is her only investment in the multi-million dollar Paris Hilton Industry – which produces, packages and sells just one single product – Paris herself!
What makes Paris special? Is it the bottle blond hair? The stylish frocks? Sexy shoes? Crazy quotes? Size zero figure? It is of course, all this … but that still does not explain the hold she has over her fans spread across the world, who follow her every move in a manic and obsessive way. The minute Paris steps out in public, her pictures are all over cyber space. She is perhaps one the most watched person on earth, along with Barrack Obama, or more accurately, Michelle Obama. That is quite an achievement for a person whose calling card probably states “ Party Girl’’ as her profession. Deconstructing the Paris phenomenon, it is somewhat difficult to figure out why Paris and Paris alone , makes big bucks by merely showing up somewhere. Why does her presence generate acres of publicity? It is said by awestruck Paris-watchers that any host who manages to get Paris to a party, hogs instant international paparazzi attention and ups his\her own glam quotient overnight. It’s a win-win situation for both. So, what has Paris herself done to create such a powerful brand? Analysts say she cleverly used the Hilton name to project a rich-bitch image that appealed to an ever - growing aspirational class across the globe. Through shrewdly-scripted reality shows on television, she capitalized on people’s fascination for the lives of the rich, famous and ditzy. Paris is no dumb blond. But she used the dumb blond platform to promote herself worldwide – and it worked!Today, she can sell anything from perfumes to couture – even though she flopped miserably as a movie star and popstar. And despite sleazy sex videos of Paris with an ex-flame being all over the net at one time. Notoriety did not kill Paris.
In India, the celeb game is being played by rank amateurs. Apart from high flying Bollywood stars and top cricketers, most of the others hankering for a picture on Page 3, are left languishing on the sidelines after an initial burst that sees them getting featured on a nauseatingly regular basis. Their claim to fame can be the acquisition of the latest ‘It’ bag, or a particularly daring designer gown. They thrown open their wardrobes for glossy photo shoots, provide crass details about the lakhs spent on a clutch, pose vulgarly with their labels on display, and boast about their designer gear.The few who had cracked the formula earlier, are the has- beens of today who have reduced themselves to jokes by resorting to silly tricks in order to stay in the public eye. Page 3 photographers have the most amusing stories to narrate about the modus operandi of these aggressive wannabes who court them with designer chocolates, cakes and flowers. Page 3 reporters also laugh over the obvious manner in which they are wooed by desperate socialites who embarrass them on their birthdays and anniversaries. But those who are really, really serious about playing the celeb game invest in hiring p.r. agencies to boost their personal ratings via daily ‘leaks’ and feeds. If readers wonder how reporters happen to land up at supposedly private parties at precisely the right time, there is always a friendly p.r. person providing key details about the venue, guestlist, even menu!! Bollywood stars are brilliant at exploiting this strategy, be it ‘surprise’ birthday parties or even midnight proposals on bended knee. Certain corporate types are also known to chase Page 3 journos and demand why their pictures were not used! The truly desperate stop at nothing – even gate- crashing glittering events armed with gigantic floral displays. Once inside, they stick to the host, making sure at least one picture gets clicked with the VIP. Art shows have become the latest hunting ground of Page 3 chasers. The regulars go from one gallery to the next, drinking free wine and hogging canapés –paintings are the last thing on their minds. There is a whole tribe of these freebiewallahs who preen and pose for the cameras and offer soundbytes to any and every channel. You can see them muscling their way into a venue and standing put next to the chief guest till the camerapersons leave the premises. Often, they time their arrival with camera crews and vanish the moment the all-important photo-ops are over. Fashion shows, boutique openings, fashion weeks, restaurant launches – this is their turf. Publicity is their oxygen.
But till such time as a desi Paris Hilton emerges and the world gets hooked, local celebs will continue to languish as pale imitations of the real thing.
Guys.... here comes a shameful confession. No, not of the Tiger Woods variety, sorry to disappoint you! But.... but.... I missed my flight to Melbourne! And I only realised it when I was five minutes away from the airport last night. It can happen,Okay? I am numbers challenged and I got the a.m. - p.m. thing all wrong. In other words, I got to the airport twelve hours too late. But, you know what??This glitch gave me the much needed breathing time to catch up with myself, and attend to routine, boring, domestic stuff. I'm now leaving tomorrow morning, inshallah. God wanted me to be here for some reason today. Shall let you know as soon as I find out.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Anjali definitely falls into the ‘neighbour’s envy, owner’s pride’ category, even if that format of the idealized desi bahu no longer works for a large number of urban Indian families. Somewhere , at the backs of our minds, we still secretely admire an Anjali for all the qualities that are fast disappearing in our cities. Anjali gave up a career ( she’s a qualified doctor) to raise a family ( two kids). She chose to become a full time homemaker when her generation of educated women the world over were forging ahead aggressively and shattering glass ceilings at the work place. She stayed out of the limelight when other wives ( Posh Beckham there, Sangeeta Bijlani here) of star sportsmen were busy flaunting their privileged status . She has always dressed in sensible, even dowdy garments as opposed to super glam couture clothes. She has resisted walking the ramp for any high profile charity, though she quietly supports quite a few. She, more than any other celeb spouse has lived the role of a modern day pativrata – silent, loyal, caring. The Perfect Wife, who has understood her position in marriage (secondary) and placed her own personal priorities on a back burner. No ego. No conflict.
All hail Anjali.
Even Michelle Obama with all her high ratings ( she consistently scores over her husband in the popularity stakes), is known to hog the show on occasion and play up to the media while pushing her image as a clotheshorse and fashion icon. Being the intelligent, educated, smart wife of the ‘most powerful man on earth’, is a tough call for any woman. Similarly, for Anjali, being the wife of one of the biggest sports icons in the world, is an equally daunting job – what with more than a billion people tracking each move and word. So far, Anjali has not missed a single step. Being Sachin’s wife can’t be easy. For most of their married life, the cricketer has been missing in action. No matter how wonderful a dad\husband he may be, the fact is, he can’t be around like a regular family man who holds down a 9x5 job. Anjali has never cribbed… at least, not in public. Her devotion to the man is apparent enough, when she says she doesn’t eat a single morsel when her husband is batting. Ooooffff! That adds up to a lot of uneaten morsels given his performance over twenty years. She has raised the children with an equally unfussy, uncomplicated attitude. Unlike several brat kids of famous parents, Tendulkar’s two are model bachchas who have obviously been brought up to be seen ( if at all), but not heard. The little fellow plays cricket, the little girl watches cricket, the mom lives cricket, while the dad breathes cricket.
Parivaar ho to Aisa. Biwi ho to aisi. Sachin’s one hell of a blessed guy. He , more than any other icon – from Bollywood stars, sports personalities, politicians, seems to have it all. And a lot of that ‘all’ rests in Anjali – no wonder she is swiftly gathering a fan following of her own. If her fan club needs a president – main hoon , na??
Leaving in a few hours for a longish trip Down Under. Have been writing... and writing.... and writing. Will blog when able. Sure will miss this space and all your lively comments. Bu to quote my favourite hero, Napoleon, " I shall be back!" Cheers, mates. Wish me safe travels!
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Milind called a little later to give me the ‘good news’ and we both laughed over the craziness of it all. Remember, this ad was shot before ‘photo-shop’ took over the business. There was pressure on Milind and Madhu by one of the other accused, to lie in court and say they were wearing skin- toned body suits, and that the pictures had been retouched later in the studios. In other words, to claim they were not naked during the shoot! Both refused, preferring to stick to the truth and fight it out, no matter how long it took, and how hellishly inconvenient it was. Well, they richly deserve to enjoy their ‘freedom from hypocrisy’ now. Thirteen has proved to be their lucky number and tuff times are clearly behind these two hotties. I wonder what happened to that gorgeous python and whether he too was issued summons to appear in court to defend himself??
Admirers and fans of ‘Shantaram’ Gregory Roberts must have been pretty shocked by his outrageous remarks on Arnab Goswami’s special report on 26\11 last week. Roberts sounded unlike himself when he meandered off the topic and the specific question he was asked, and chose to deliver a sermon on extending a hand of friendship to Pakistan. That comment came across as pretty insensitive, given the sentiment on that sad anniversary, when India was mourning those who had died at the hands of Pakistan sponsored terrorists, one of whom, Kasab, is in jail here. Roberts, who is seen as a pretty smart cookie, and fawned over by socialites of all hues during his frequent visits to Mumbai, may find himself in quite a tight spot the next time he comes to the city that inspired him to write his marvelous book.Mumbaikars aren’t mean or vindictive generally, but this time, Roberts may have pushed his luck, especially that one remark where he implicated the Indian army in terrorist activity ! A desi person making such a preposterous charge would be tried for treason. Watch out, Roberts….
So.... 'Sandhya's Secret' will soon be out. But I did extensive press yesterday and was vastly encouraged by the response. I'm off to Australia tomorrow. Really looking forward to reconnecting with an all time favourite destination. The last time I visited was to attend the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. I remember the event vividly... and am holding my breath for ours!
This time Down Under , I'm keen to discover for myself what the hungama over the attacks on Indian students is all about. Am hoping to meet some of the victims, as also members of the desi press. But more importantly, I want to decode the Aussie version. Surely there is another story.... a different perspective?? Watch this space.
Oh... while I was celebrating the arrival of the first copy of 'S's Secret' with two of my children and a girl friend at Hotel President next door, I thought we were entering the world's highest security zone!! The place was bristling with cops, armoured vehicles and other fierce symbols of 'protection'. It all made sense when one of the cops present told me all this sho-sha was for the cricketers staying there! Long live our cricketers!