Backpacking through the country, young chef Saransh Goila sets off on a culinary trail through India, wherein he discovers the various nuances of local cuisine. From rural villages to barren deserts to freezing mountains, he unfolds the flavour of his destination by meeting local villagers or erstwhile royalty and picking up a tip or two to use in his kitchen. Wherever he goes, he makes sure to visit the famous eateries of that place. Through him, the reader can vividly smell the spices and taste the dishes that are described. The recipes given also present ways on using locally found ingredients. From having steaming Murthal ke paranthes to savouring tasty street food in hometown Delhi, from cooking on a boat in Varanasi to cooking dishes using a bamboo hollow in Assam, Goila does it all and presents his adventures in a lucid, flowing narrative peppered with humorous anecdotes.
India On My Platter is the account of a chef’s endearing journey across the vastness called India and picking up bits of food and culture from various states. Coincidentally, I had first glimpsed at chef Saransh Goila at the 2014 show Roti, Rasta aur India, where he traverses through the country in 100 days and explores the variety of food. I liked Roti, Rasta aur India as it was a simple and honest show where a rookie chef’s exuberance was so palpable and enjoyable. Saransh Goila had won a culinary competition and the show was his first as a television chef. There was some naivety and over simplifying stuff, but it was still a good show for such a young chef, a protege of Sanjeev Kapoor.
Growing up in India, statues or sculptures always meant commemorating historical stalwarts and landmarks that we can add later to our postal addresses. In all seriousness, I had never heard of modern art/installations in public places in India while I was young. For us Calcuttans, the biggest statue is the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose one at a five point crossing in Shyambazar. I even doubt if it was installed for the sole purpose of creating a landmark for the important crossing of five roads. Much later while I lived in Pune, I’ve often heard people doling out directions like – “Turn left at the Shivaji ka putla.” It took me a while to figure out that the mentioned ‘putla’ is a bronze statue, installed at the corner of a bridge, while wondering if it was a shop selling Shivaji inspired figurines.
Europe, on the other hand, has been much experimental with statues/sculptures/fountains and I have been fortunate enough to be able to visit and admire a few of them in awe. Surprisingly, Prague turned out to be a haven of sculptures, even while it is called the city of a thousand spires. The main reason behind this revolution is sculptor David Cerny. Frankly, I learned about him only recently, after having seen photos and videos from people visiting Prague. There is no disagreement on the fact that Indian visitors to Europe were sparse before the EU and Schengen visa for 28 countries happened. And now there’s a boom! So, here we go, my pick of the five must-see statues in Prague.
Sacred Games is the first Netflix India original series. It is in vogue now, so you couldn’t have missed hearing about it. I recall purchasing the book many years ago for my birthday. It had almost become a tradition to gift myself these voluminous books – from Sacred Games to A Suitable Boy, and borrowing Shantaram from a friend, around my birthday too. While Shantaram was an elaborate but great read, Sacred Games wasn’t in the beginning. Having grown up in Calcutta, I was pretty used to and I used (not prettily) Bangla curses. But when it came to the Hindi ones, I winced a bit. There resided, probably a little Sanskaari me within, who felt uncomfortable. Years pass by and I laugh at my hypocrisy now. It feels like those memes – “If you can’t take me at my Hindi C word, you don’t deserve me at my Bangla B word.” True.
Spring. Just the mere mention of it invokes a riot of colours in blooms and a clean slate of a sky to rejuvenate the year. It’s the season of rainbows and unicorns, daffodils and fresh blooms. What if there is a blue forest somewhere? Imagine walking past a valley in a forest lined with a carpet of blue and not the usual green. Imagine the entire expanse of your sight awash with blue and purple, slightly swaying in the spring breeze, the bells of the flowers making a silent noise. Well, if you are in Western Europe, do not waste time on imagination and head straight to Hallerbos forest in Belgium which turns blue every Spring.
How blue is my valley?
I haven’t been to many forests, but this one tends to welcome you with its open arms of beeches and sequoia, their young tender leaves imparting a serene hue of green all around. The leaves have just sprung up at the advent of spring, their colour and density changing by the day. Their transparent leaves filter the sunlight and spread their warmth upon the bluebells.
The blue in Hallerbos hits you right at the start of the trail. There’s a simple theory – the bluebells start blooming somewhere from April and last till mid-May, depending on the weather. The large beeches also begin their sprouting season almost simultaneously. Their young green leaves filter the sunlight that reaches the bluebells on the ground and determines the growth and shade of the flowers. For instance, we were in Hallerbos in the third week of April and the sunlight was fairly abundant, helping the bluebells bloom and retain their bright blue hue. In the subsequent weeks, the beech leaves have increased in density, filtering very less sunlight, resulting the bluebells to turn into a greyer shade of purple and start wilting.
In the wake of strong dissent expressed by Indian Taxi drivers, it is worth asking whether the aggregator model is one which can keep both the customer as well as the supplier (the taxi driver, in this case) happy? As we speak, numerous taxi unions are on an indefinite strike in major cities like Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi with an overarching complaint- India’s two most popular on-demand cab companies are not helping drivers earn enough; in fact the daily earn for some cab drivers has plummeted by 80% over the last 6 months.
The Customer vs. Supplier Conundrum
With the intense competition in the on-demand taxi aggregation space, the two key actors in the eco-system viz. the driver as well as the customer are often left dissatisfied due to diverging demands – one party is simply not earning enough while the other party is asked to pay an exorbitant amount for a ride. Given that on-demand ride hailing has become a habit, customers are forced to accept the fares displayed on their screens under the guise of the ‘going-rate’ or the ‘price that you pay for comfort’. And there’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever- demand drives prices. Why would a company not want to charge a customer, a certain something, a premium, if there’s a demand for that service?
The problem becomes a little more complicated when it comes to the drivers. In the early days, aggregator companies invested significant capital into acquiring and retaining driver partners by incentivizing them with lucrative payouts, even if they were losing significant money on every ride. With the focus increasingly turning towards profitability, the companies are forced to cut costs. And the drivers are suffering in the process because of the sudden decline in their incomes.
When I login to Netflix each day, a troupe of amazing ‘Netflix Original’ films await for me, but none from India. I kept wondering why Netflix wouldn’t invest in a few interesting films that are still made in the country. I still wonder why it took a few years and a Valentine’s Day to release an Indian film on Netflix worldwide before it came out commercially. There are controversies around this as well since critics claim that Love Per Square Foot is not a Netflix ‘Original’ as it wasn’t commissioned by Netflix (just acquired from the producer), but it should be labelled as the first Indian film to be released on the platform. Unless, of course, you consider ‘Brahman Naman’ by Q last year, which was carefully sided as an Indie film and not a commercial one. Setting aside these intricacies, Love Per Square Foot is officially the first Indian film to be released worldwide on Netflix. And that, I hope, would start an era of good, relevant, and necessary films on this virtual platform.
I watched Love Per Square Foot on a cold, depressing evening, probably wishing for some warmth from my comfort zone where it is set – Bombay. I can’t say it wrapped me in an incredible duvet of emotions but it did replace some of the chill with a warm, fuzzy feeling that is so indigenous of seaside Bombay.
In the past few years, India has been plagued with diseases that involve unique and less known viruses from around the world. We’ve always been wary of mosquitoes that are part and parcel of our sub-tropical climate. They are the carriers of most viruses and have been wreaking havoc since decades, mostly without being detected. Dengue, kala-azar, yellow fever, Malaria and the likes have taken away several lives when treatment was sparse in the early 20th century. Growing up in West Bengal, we have been using a mosquito net since forever and while it is irksome to manage, it has probably prevented quite a few diseases. But the usage is getting rare these days as it is an inconvenient and confined measure to prevent the mosquitoes and more families are opting for other convenient methods.
Zika virus : The rise and spread
I wasn’t aware of the Zika virusuntil a few years ago but now I know that it was discovered long ago in Africa, though it also has an Asian strain. It was limited to Africa until 2007 and began spreading in Asia post that. Zika virus is transmitted through the mosquito species Aedes aegypti that also carries deadly viruses of Dengue, Malaria and Chikun guniya. The mosquitoes bite an infected human and then a non-infected one to transmit the virus. While it has always been prevalent in Africa, only a few cases have been recorded in India yet. But don’t let that fact deter you from gathering prevention from Zika virus as there is no vaccine invented yet.