Sunday, 12 August 2007

Rain Rain, Don't Go Away...

Just come again at a more convenient time. Not at 9.30pm when I'm on my way back to Mylapore from dinner at Nungambakkam High Road - with traffic roaring in my ears while my friend tries to steer his weathered motorcycle around potholes and bumps.

And since Chennai roads lack pavements and shaded areas, everyone on bikes decide to huddle under the nearest tree. TREE! I thought when we were kids, our teachers in science class told us NOT to stand under trees when lightning and thunder visit. But I can't blame these poor souls...there was no shaded bus stop or shop-porch to take cover under.

Just everyone stand under the dripping, dropping, plopping rain, ok? And mini pools of water that are too big to be puddles and too small to be ponds. Smack in the middle of RK Salai! Talk about an obstacle course.

And finally, making the tail end of the journey I get onto Luz Church Road about 1/2 a KM from my home, and the land is dry. The trees are rustling from the dryness. People are walking on DRY land, and not huddling under trees. Only my friend, the bike and I, looked totally wierd as we were the only drenched objects around on that quiet road. Would not be surprised if people wondered why we looked like we just emerged from under a waterfall or something.

Haha!...Sigh! Ah well, Chennai never ceases to surprise me.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Business Class: Travel At Your Own Risk!

Yesterday I flew into Chennai for my MA (Music) classes, after a break in KL. Travelled on business class in a premium airline. Why? Having in the past, had terrible experiences in economy class on ANY flight to Chennai, I chose business; Somehow, alcohol and male passangers Chennai-bound, create a cocktail of cacaphony and commotion on an otherwise decent economy-class flight. So I travelled business class for the second time in my life, despite being in about 30 flights to date.

Since on my first biz class flight I'd met actress Kushboo's two cuddly kids and had a pleasant conversation with a Malay oil-and gas exec with a taste for Haris Jeyaraj's songs, I waited to see who my neighbour would be this time!

It was a man of about 50 spotting a very unusual hairstyle which I can only describe as "Imuda" hair. Even his glasses and the general shape of his face pretty much appeared like Malaysia's comedic-actor, Imuda's. Of course, the moment you took a closer look, you knew he had distinct Indian features and wasn't remotely related to the Malay actor. But I still could not help thinking "what if" Imuda had something to do with inspiring this man's general persona?

It was at the tip of my tongue to say, "Hey there uncle, are you an Imuda fan?", but of course I made a special attempt to refrain from even making eye contact, so that I would not even snicker, let alone blurt out my impertinent question.

After mentally smacking the funny thoughts and wild imagination out of m mind it was easier to present a decent smile and introduce myself, though I kept it brief - a PIO Indian-music student. No sooner had I made this intro, this seemingly uncommunicative passanger seemed to only too glad to volunteer a lengthy, pause-less, self-intro! Sigh!

It felt like an eternity of words, but the gist was clear; Apparently, he was part of a trio of Tamil cinema producers on his way back to chennai after some deal-making in Malaysia. It seems, he is the COO of the cine production company. He went on to talk about his movies and what business he had in KL. I was surpised that he'd share so much detail with a total stranger. Lucky for him, I'm a responsible blogger and therfore shall not share these interesting cine-news bits unless bribed with ten KJ Jesudas kutcheri tickets, a lifetime supply of Bombaj Jayshree and TM Krishna CDs, and a chance to hold the tambura for Sudha Raghunathan on one of her concerts!

Initially, I remained patient, presuming Mr COO was recently in a sales meeting and perhaps was in the same mode when he got on the plane. But then, he spent a good deal of time lambasting everything in his conversation with me, and did not seem like he had come out of a sales meeting at all...He was irked by Indian movie stars, govt officials, newbie directors...and some other categories of persons that I could not understand...I think he said "skydiving instructor" at one point, but I can't be sure with his unusually heavy Indian accent and low speech volume.

As though it was not enough, he mentioned how everyone from KL was all over him (indicating he was a personality to be reckoned with, maybe?). He kept insisting that I'd seen his movies though I repeatedly said it had been sometime since I watched a Tamil movie that stuck with me beyond it's 3 hours. The last was Vetaiyadu Vilaiyadu. Why he would assume a music student would necessarily be in love with cine-songs is beyond me. Perhaps someday it will dawn on him that there are hundreds of music genres and that cine music is but one of them. And if he thinks music students would spend a 100% of their time glued to cine-music, then his understanding of music education itself falls short of what I would expect from someone of his calibre in the entertainment indistry.

But the icing on the cake was when he asked questions in a volume that is two decibles below audible levels on a plane AND winced when I asked him to repeat his questions! (Come on lah, uncle!)

Whatever it is, just being nesxt to him got me SO frustrated at one point, that I wished I could just jump off the plane and take the next one. Thought hard. What is it I could say to get Mr. COO to zip it?? What? What? What?

Then its struck me - I was not the only one who was a captive audience on this plane! I could always do the "give me a chance to sing in your movie" thing. It may just annoy him if I hard-sell in a captive environment! So I turned off the pleasant disposition that generally enables me to make friends with strangers, and turned on "lil' miss pesky, irritant opportunist". I asked to sing in his movie...about ten times. While he responded, I spoke about how good I was. I topped it up with "Can I bring my friends? They sing too. Not well enough but they'll make up the numbers." I got the guy to recline back into his seat within three mins! Gosh, I wished I thought of this plan one hour back!

Too bad. If Mr. COO was more socialised and had a good head on his shoulders, I may have even politely told him the truth that I am not intending to clinch a song in his movie and was merely making conversation on a monotonous flight. Afterall, I'd never heard of him or his company before, even after he whipped out his card and showed me a logo which he said I "should definately recognise"! Sigh! Sorry mate.

What some people think of themselves, I don't know. I only know that yesterday, I learnt about one charmless person in the entertainment industry.

Funny thing is, I remembered distincly having paid for business class because I wanted the comforts that come with a business class flight. I did not perceive anything else other than uncontrolled alcohol-consumption as providing that discomfort. What I bought therefore, was just perception!

So would I revert to my yodelling, alcohol-filled economy class fellow passangers or try my luck again in biz class? Hmmmm....I think I'll go biz and take a risk. I mean, I figured a way to solve the problem this time and my last biz flight was good. The odds are definately in favour of biz.

And I'll ask to be placed with a kid or half-decent adult, if only agents can start having tick boxes for that too, on a flight booking form. Is that too much to ask?

Sunday, 5 August 2007

My Achan, The Food Critic!

My father. My Achan.

As a young man after Independance, Acha worked as a teacher. He was an avid reader of English Classics and always dressed immaculately. He was "Insurance Man of the Year" sometime in the late 70s. I was less than 5 and could not remember it but the newspaper cutting remains tucked neatly into an old photo album, to date. "Mr. Jan taught me a lot", says one of his ex-trainees who still keeps in contact with our family, 15 years after acha's passing and sheds nostalgic tears while talking about lessons learnt.

Ah, but there is a less talked about part of Acha! :-) ...Acha loved food. Back in the 80s, I remember how acha's cooking preferences were articlulated; The steaks had to be medium-rare for him. Not medium. Not rare. Medium-rare it was.

Prawns were never to be shelled before cooking, "so that the flavours are contained", my father would say. Satay, yong tau foo, biriyani...everything had something of an "ISO" standard to fulfill, where he was concerned.

It drove my mom up the wall sometimes, as it did the cooks at the resaurants he tried out. Sometimes, if the cooks/chefs expressed annoyance at his requests, acha would never patronise their restaurants again. But mostly those who cooked his "special-orders" often came by his table to thank him for his remarks out of curiosity if not to reciprocate the interest he took in their culinary quests. Some of them even permanently modified their dishes to Acha's specifications if they were felt his suggestions packed a better punch in their dish. These of course, were Acha's favourite chefs/cooks. :-)

Though some chefs never know it at first, by satisfying acha's palate, they were inadvertanly tending to a huge client; You see, acha never ate alone. Typically, if it weren't a family dinner out, Dad would at least invite Kinnu and Nanu (my cousins who were in their young-20s), who would then tell cousin Shashi about it. Two days later, Shashi brings his sister Rekha and maybe if they were celebrating something, they'd invite cousin Shreedaran...and the list goes on.

Soon, if the restaurant was good, it finds its way all through my family tree of 18 paternal uncles/aunts and 12 maternal. Their children total 50. And this entire circle completes their visits in a matter of 2 weeks or so. Then someone in the family decides that the next birthday bash or aniversary is to be celebrated and the shop closes to the public for one mealtime, as the premises would have to pack up to 70 customers! Repeat ones, mind you. And all this is minus acha's insurance clientelle, of course.

The thing about Acha's sense of perfection was that it was so acute that family /friends /insurance clients totally relied on his "reviews". At the dining table, Acha's words struck a note with customers and chefs alike. So, it was no wonder that when once I met one of acha's favourite restaurant owners-chefs, this gentleman said, "Your father amazes me ...the way he places his orders - the details! He can taste the slightest deviation if there is one when the food arrives!"

Though his friends, students and colleagues remember acha as a teacher and insurance exec, I for one (as do many of my family members), remember him for his exquisite taste for good food.

Captain's Cabin on Jalan Bukit Bintang in the heart of Kuala Lumpur is my favourite of all his picks. And maybe I've been a difficult customer too though it has been 15 years since Acha passed on and I've had no one to "watch and learn from" since then. But somehow I feel like getting my steak medium-rare when I ask for medium-rare, is something I can't help. Maybe it's just genetic.

Oh, and the prawns - if it comes to the table shelled, it's going back to the kitchen!