Thursday, February 07, 2008


Black granite, shiny, names on a wall
Slain heroes of a forgotten war who once stood tall
Black granite, shiny, letters written in blood
Visited by many, remembered by few, like crosses in hallowed mud.

We shall triumph, the President swore
A generation decimated in a futile war
Wives widowed, families shattered, mothers wept
Brave men one and all, they eternally slept.

Memories are all that remain today
Weeping yellow roses that the faithful lay
Each name, a pain in someone’s heart
Little has changed, life affords no restart.

Black granite, shiny, names on a wall
Of soldiers fallen answering a nation’s call
Black granite, shiny, names etched in stone
Sons, husbands, fathers and brothers: remembered silently alone.

Black granite, shiny, the Vietnam memorial
Valhalla for the fifty-eight thousand, a swollen wall
Black granite, shiny, proud stars and striped
A nation grieves in silence, many a tear wiped.

Sunday, February 03, 2008


Silver sands caressed their bare feet, late evening on the beach
Tequila sunset, the sky ablaze, almost within reach.
Fingers intertwined, their souls were one
Alone together with a carmine Sun.

Silhouetted black, the palms swayed
They danced while the music played
A heavenly orchestra was on song
Beat for beat their hearts matched, nothing went wrong.

Into the cool waters they waded
Ultramarines, cobalts and azures, in the dim light colours faded.
He held her tight, never would let her go
A pang of fear, banished, too base to show.

The sky craved the sea, the touch of the froth
He craved her, like a flame-seduced moth
The heavens stooped and kissed the sea
He longed to taste her, and it set them free.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


Darkness descended like a roosting raven
Blackness engulfed our human haven
The Moon was resplendent, floating like the Mary Celeste
Rudderless to shores unknown.

The night was calm. It was cold.
I was alone, growing old.
Wish you were here, this beautiful night
You, me and the Moon: Behold the sight.

Dewdrops glistened, little diamonds for you.
Delicately sitting atop fragile blades, brand new.
The horizon lightened, and I was still alone
Wish you were here, this beautiful dawn.

Soft golds, reds and yellows, a canvas on show
The darkness dispelled, the sun began to glow
Like a soft-boiled egg, it hung low, frowning
Wish you were here, this wonderful morning.

Wish you were here, from now and forever.

Monday, July 30, 2007


Its that time of the year again when you wake up to the smell of freshly mowed grass and the referee's whistle and the fans' roars. Thats right its time for European football to awaken from its slumber and get the ball rolling again.

For us Gunners, these are long summer worrisome summer days and sleepless nights. Valium, where art thou? A string of departures in the summer window has left behind a largely inexperienced squad brimming with youthful exuberance. With FC Barcelona prising away the talismanic Thierry Henry with the lure of continental silverware and West Ham's Magnusson moolah landing a surprise coup in the shape of the Swedish attacking midfielder Fredrik Ljungberg, its time for the youngsters to rise up and answer the call.

Jeremie Aliadiere also left for pastures green, adding nip and bite to a Middlesbrough attack that lost Viduka to Toon. Fabrice Muamba and Sebastien Larsson, were sold to Birmingham after a rather productive loan spell that saw the Blues win promotion. Muamba, a DR Congo born youngster could well be mistaken for Vieira for their lanky, ebony musculature and commanding midfield presence are so similar.

Nicklas Bendtner, the young nineteen year old striker is back with Arsenal after a year long spell at St. Andrews, having hit the back of the net with frightening frequency as he terrorised Championship defenders with his pace and skill. A lot is, needless to say, expected of this blonde teenager as he steps in to fill the enormous vacuum left by Henry.

Eduardo da Silva. Eduardo who? He moved from relative obscurity: from Dinamo Zagreb to the bright lights and glitz of London. All of fifteen when he left his native Brazil to play football in Croatia, he has developed into one of Eastern Europe's most feared strikers, shattering scoring records in the Prva Liga. Granted Croatian citizenship, he has featured recently for Croatia and also found the score sheet as the gritty Croats scalped England. One hopes he will not the way of another famous Croat who donned Arsenal colours not so long ago but faded into oblivion, Davor Suker. Wenger, ofcourse, is a man who chooses players like a jeweller diamonds. Infact, he even carves them into masterpieces. Take Henry for example, from warming the Bianconeri benches to the world's best in a matter of years and Vieira, Rossoneri reserves to Gunners captain and now a Nerazzuri lynchpin. Bacary Sagna, a tough tackling, no nonsense defender arrives from Auxerre to provide some steel at the back. Havard Nordtveit, a seventeen year old defender is one of the latest arrivals at the Emirates from FK Haugesund along with Polish goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski.

Money has been flowing freely from England this summer with the big name arrivals heralding another super season for the most popular league. Chelsea have been surprisingly thrifty while Manchester United have splashed cash on young foreign talent. Liverpool and Tottenham have strengthened their squads.

With the Stan Kroenke takeover looming large and the David Dein walkout still fresh, Arsenal have made a promising start winning the inaugural Emirates Cup at home, recording victories over PSG and Inter Milan with a depleted side. Robin Van Persie looks sharp as a tack, back from injury and Bendtner has shown oodles of promise and a sure sign of future greatness. Sagna too looks solid at the back.

With Arsenal taking on Fulham on the opening weekend, they go into the game obvious favourites but writing of the Cottagers would be folly as under the tutelage of the wily Lawrie Sanchez they have grown resurgent with plenty of grit and courage. The summer's catch has been especially bountiful for Fulham and the one to watch out for will be Northern Ireland's David Healy as he ties up with his former boss once again. With back to back hattricks against Spain and Sweden,yes, you read that right! he will be the dangerman. Diomansy Kamara, another proven goalscorer with Premiership pedigree has also arrived.

Thus, with the young Fabregas taking on the mantle and Wenger's future still in the balance, it sets the stage for a very interesting season start. Eduardo too will be holding his breath for so much is expected of him but is it too soon? It's time for Hleb and Rosicky to pull their game up a couple of notches, banish mediocrity and embrace brilliance. But Tottenham are already smelling fourth place and Champions' League football.

Not just yet I say, not just yet. They may be young but they make up in talent and perseverence what they lack in years. This could be the season in the sun for Arsenal's young guns.

So be warned.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


I could barely believe that our month long stay in the USA had come to an end. It felt just yesterday that we had arrived. The entire last morning was spent in shopping for gifts and other things difficult to find in India. By afternoon, Jamma had come back from work and was frying luchis that we greedily gobbled up with goat curry. The bags were all packed and I could feel the hours ticking away. I felt sick for I didn’t want to go back!
Shintadidi arrived in the afternoon with my favourite painting that I wanted to take back with me to India. We spoke to Miguel and Mintadidi on the phone and everybody had a last tea together with those awesome sweet rusks from the Indian store. I walked out on the cool grass of the lawn for the last with the tiny green insects jumping about my toes in resentment. The houses, the road, the woods at the end of the road, these were my neighbourhood for the last one month and felt like home. 27, Cobblestone Lane was what was home to me away from home. I just breathed a lungful of Ramsey air for the last time and thought when I would be back here again.
“Come on, let’s get going. It’s already six.” I could hear Jethu say having an umpteenth rusk and brushing the crumbs away nonchalantly. He had actually come back home with his toothbrush sticking out of his pocket to everyone’s surprise.
Papa was already getting impatient as we began loading the hulking suitcases into the boot. Soon we were away; driving towards Newark Airport for our flight was due at 2120 hrs.
Parking is a big hassle so the goodbyes were restricted to short and quick ones done in front of the big revolving door. Our trolleys barely moved with all the luggage piled up and groaned and creaked as we pushed them. We all had had such a great time in each other’s company that it was painful to part. I had had a fantastic bonding with all my cousins and I was going to miss them like holes in the head. The last goodbyes said, we moved in to the airport while the silver Camry leapt down the road homewards.
The flight back home was nondescript but lack of space on the runway at Mumbai Airport resulted in the plane circling for almost half an hour. Finally we touched down in Mumbai, we were home.
The luggage had a twist in the tale for one of our suitcases had been beheaded when the handle had come off and with it the tag and had ended up with the unclaimed luggage adding to our harassment. Couple of phone calls later, we retrieved it much to our relief.
It was drizzling when we stepped of the airport and the first rains to the city had brought much needed relief from the oppressive heat of the raging summer. I still could barely believe that I was back home in India, how I missed everybody!
It had been amazing odyssey for us. I had thoroughly enjoyed it and actually couldn’t get enough. Damn, since hindsight is always 20/20, I think I should’ve given my SAT and gone abroad to pursue my education. Sigh!
But the trip was more than marriages and carriages of duty, it was about family, the fact that the ties of blood don’t thin out even with the passage of time, was about bonding, love, rediscovery, and about the fantastic journey that some lucky and privileged Indian sweets get to make to grace a wedding half the world away to end up in the stomachs of people they have never seen!!


The morning was spent in quiet exploration. We visited the Pentagon which was out of bounds because of security reasons. We took the subway to the Arlington Cemetery. I was totally fascinated by the acres upon acres of gravestones and the fabulous marble mausoleum dedicated to the Unknown Soldier and witnessed the half-hourly change of guard. Robert Lee’s palatial mansion has now been converted into a museum but they have recreated the 19th century feel to the house with the rooms all done up in old style. The memorial to the Civil War dead stands close to Lee’s house. It was a day spent in quiet remembrance of all those fallen heroes.
It was a hell of task getting all the “tottos” across to Maryland and Jethu actually had to hire a mini-van to get everything inside. Saturday, the 17th of June, was the “boubhat” at the Martin Crosswinds. The feeling was quite mixed for us because our stay in the US was drawing to a close but the evening was totally fun-filled. Mejo Jethu was again the star of the show as he burned up the dance floor with his funky dance moves. The food was good, but the after party was even better as we hung out till early in the morning having a good time.
Washington DC has tons of things to see and we epitomised the intrepid traveller. We visited the vast Smithsonian Museum but only managed to go to the Air and Space Museum which was great. We systematically saw the Washington Memorial, the White House albeit from far, and the newest World War 2 Memorial. The WW2 memorial is an artistic tribute to the fallen heroes of the second World War which a fountain in the centre. The wonderful Lincoln Memorial was next as we paid homage to the great man and his noble ideals. The Vietnam Memorial was perhaps the most emotional of all, which has a huge wall with the names of each of the 58,000 dead engraved on it. People still come today to pay their respects and cards and roses lay strewn and people wept on the walls. The Korean War Memorial was the last of the day after which we had quite a time walking to a subway for we were tired and hungry by then.
Monday morning yielded quite an adventure or should I say a misadventure. Rinididi and I decided to go and check out the Holocaust Museum and she kept the subway passes with herself. The Museum was a dampener for we had little time on us and the shows were due to start only later. No sooner had we reached the station than we found that a train had arrived. Assuming it to be a blue train, we hopped on after confirming it from a lady who was talking on the phone who, seconds later changed her mind and as a consequence, Rinididi skipped out of it just as the doors slammed shut. I was dumbfounded for she had the tickets with herself and there was no way I could exit the station. Luckily with patience, I rendezvoused with her at Pentagon City Station having endured a crazy 20 minutes. She was livid at me for being hasty.
Monday lunch was again sushi for us at the Café Asia. We finally left Arlington in the evening, endured heavy rains and safely made our way back to Ramsey. Tuesday was spent with Seuli Aunty and Bachchu Jethu at their Staten Island residence although most of the time was divided between the ferry cruise and then a fine dinner where again sushi dominated proceedings along with a crunchy soft-shell crab that blew us. Tubai joined us only for dinner having started work following his recent graduation. It was a great day but we were slowly facing the truth that we had less than 24 hours left in the USA as we drove down toward Ramsey.


Grand Island was where Nikhiles Jethu lived and he is the official host of visitors wanting to visit the Niagara Falls, for it is very close to his house. The 400 mile journey to Grand Island was covered in a mere 6 hours as we travelled in the Cadillac to upstate New York. It is a quaint, peaceful neighbourhood where they live, under the shadows of a crooked cherry tree that is always lopsided with fruit. Their speed boat lies parked on the driveway.
The first evening we were mesmerised by the beauty of the falls at night for the Canadians light it up with multicoloured neons resulting in a colour changing display that captivates. The thundering could be heard miles away and the spray could be seen far away rising up like thick volcanic ash and smoke. The Canadian side that lay just across the river glittered testimony to its tremendous economic exploitation with thousands of hotels that woo customers with Niagara view rooms. That night I didn’t sleep for Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Namesake” had me hooked. I was up all night and got the rare opportunity to observe a beautiful sunrise and the next morning we were away visiting the Niagara Falls making the most of a bright and sunny day.
The Niagara River plunged 170 odd metres to provide one of nature’s most spectacular sights. The Maid of the Mist was the boat ride that we took first up and it took us almost into the thundering Horseshoe Falls. Even the raincoats provided to us weren’t enough to keep the spraying waters away. Nearby the gulls were squabbling and squawking over the dead fish that floated in the waters, killed by the deadly plunge. The powerful, untamed beauty of the Falls is unparalleled. We were awestruck by the gushing white waters, 675,000 litres of which flows by every second.
The Cave of the Winds was unique because after a descent through an elevator, we walked to the point right behind the Bridal Veil and American Falls. The waters were within touching distance as we walked past massive colonies of nesting gulls. The fetid smell of putrefying fish was heavy but the sheer beauty of the Falls at such close range was dizzying. Again raincoats offered little protection from the rapacious waters that assaulted us. We were drenched in ecstasy at the might of the Falls. Crisp rainbows girded the river near the Falls. The azure skies with cotton clouds made it difficult to discern where the sky ended and where the waters plunged from.
A wonderful day was capped by a lovely evening barbeque on the portico with plump drumsticks and juicy sausages. Bliss!
Next morning, we boarded the Amtrak and braced ourselves for a ten hour journey. Much like the Caltrain, it was decent but terribly boring. We reached New York’s Penn Station late in the evening. Penn Station itself was quite an architectural marvel with intricate relief and carvings. Jethu took us around New York, and we got a glimpse of Central Park and Columbus Avenue. After a quick dinner at a Lebanese restaurant, we went up to Brooklyn’s Montague Street and got breathtaking views of Manhattan across the Hudson.
Early next morning, Jethu dropped us off at the Hoboken ferry point and we took the waterway to Manhattan. The free shuttle dropped us at Battery Park. The ferry to Liberty Island was packed as usual and soon we were on the island itself, jostling for space and ducking as everyone was taking photos. The Statue of Liberty looked serene in her sea green hue oblivious to the fact that people come from far and wide to catch a glimpse of her. We also touched Ellis Island on the way back to Manhattan.
The Subway took us to the heart of Manhattan and to the Air-India office for we had to change our return tickets, before walking on to the Empire State Building where we clambered upto the 86th floor to get panoramic views of all around. It was incredibly windy and the elevator was the fastest one I had ever seen.
Shintadidi and Miguel picked me up from the ferry wharf and we went out to Iguana’s for the night and Babandidi and Rinididi joined us a bit later as did Frank, Miguel’s close friend. It was a fun night out, for Miguel was a relieved man now that he was sure that Shintadidi was, in fact, carrying a son. We came back home pretty late that night and Friday was the “bouboron” ceremony at Shameek’s parents’ Greenbelt home. A close get together as the married couple stepped in to the groom’s house for the first time with blessings from near and dear ones. We put up the night at Mintadidi’s wonderful apartment at Arlington, although getting there in the dark from Maryland was a quite an effort.


Christina got working pretty early on the 10th for there were so many ladies in line and so little time. She churned out some pretty extraordinary styles with the hair and Shintadidi sported a spectacular retro styled bouffant, while Rinididi’s Rapunzelian locks were fashioned into something spellbinding. With the wedding hour round the corner, the ladies trooped away to the Sheraton Parsippany where the wedding was scheduled. We leisurely joined them later on.
There was already another Sindhi-Gujarati wedding in progress that got over before ours got underway. All of the “borjatri” turned out in blue kurtas and Dave’s switch was complete when he joined his brother and cousins with the members of the Ghose family. Shameek looked great in a cream coloured sherwani with exquisite embroidery. I wore a shiny maroon and white kurta while Papa stuck to his favourite grey and blue one. Mintadidi, who was wont to turning heads on New York driveways, looked gorgeous in a red “benaroshi”, with fabulous zari work and looked the demure bride complete with the sparkling white tiara. Shintadidi put her artistic talents to great use for she was responsible for doing everyone’s make-up. Christina was tired by this time having done up everyone’s hair. She looked nice in a black dress.
The tension was palpable was everyone had been seated in the large banquet hall and Jamma was waiting to welcome Shameek in the traditional manner with to the blowing of conch shells. Mintadidi’s friends from Washington DC had the responsibility of carrying her in on a tiny “pire” and then go around Shameek seven times in order to complete the marriage before the priest recited the mantras and completed the auspicious ceremony. It was a really high-tech marriage for the priest was a computer engineer. Swadesh Mukherjee, a bespectacled man conducted the ceremony but the mantras he chanted were a bit awry but then what could he do for the marriage had to completed within an hour.
Shameek and Mintadidi sat on the stage and the ceremony began, finding it a little difficult to follow the Sanskrit slokas. Babandidi compeered the ceremony and explained to the guests the significance of each of the steps. I had the responsibility of giving the “chire” that is dropped into the holy fire. “Chire” being unavailable, popcorn was substituted. Ultimately the ceremony ended and they were declared man and wife. Of course, there was no kissing the bride and stuff over here.
Photo sessions followed for close family while the guests proceeded to the cocktail hour. Catering was done by the best Indian restaurant in Jersey and they did a fantastic job and served up some delectable tidbits. The party was just getting warmed up and people were definitely in high spirits with an open bar till midnight.
A French lady, who was attending an Indian wedding for the first time was really surprised at the sheer elaborateness of everything from the ceremony to the attires of most of the other guests who had turned out at their flashiest best. She asked me to pose for a photo with her for she had never seen dresses as gaudy and garish as the ones some of us were wearing. I was glad to oblige. The food was fantastic at the cocktails and it was a pity that the reception followed within a couple of hours for people, having gorged on the kebabs and tikkis, couldn’t do justice to the lavish dinner buffet.
We all changed into western formals for the reception and the Master-of-Ceremonies, Pia Sen, announced the names of family as they entered and took their places on the stage. We had all been allotted tables and I was happy to note that I was sitting with the young group. I met with Doonie for the first time who had come down from San Francisco with Sarah. Shameek and Mintadidi danced for the first time as a married couple and then the speeches followed. We raised our champagne glasses to toast the newly married couple. Dinner was followed by the formal cake cutting by the couple and then the dance floor was opened by the DJ with some great music. Of course with the night still young, everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves as they literally drank the bar dry.
We drove back home later the next day, and caught the World Cup that was already on in full swing. Mintadidi and Shameek drove into Ramsey later in the afternoon as Mr. and Mrs. Ghose (though Mintadidi didn’t change her surname). Dave and Babandidi took some bare essentials and decided to shift to their Waldwick home while Shameek and Mintadidi were busy checking out all the gifts that they had received.
In the meantime, our Niagara plans had ripened and we were to tag along with Nikhiles Jethu and come back on our own by Amtrak. Bags packed, we were ready to depart for the pilgrimage to Niagara the next day.


We had a fantastic outing on an otherwise wet and gloomy day when we did the fantastic American Museum of Natural History and thoroughly enjoyed the many exhibits that the museum had to offer. The evening we went to Greenwich Village, close to NYU and tucked into some authentic Mexican fare at Burrito Loco.
Papa arrived on Wednesday, 7th June for he had just a fortnight of leave from office. After enduring some terrible heat at the Paris stop-over, he landed at Newark somewhat wilted. The wedding was now just four days away. The meticulous Mintadidi was on the phone ensuring everything went just the way she wanted it down to the last detail. Papa the perfectionist dazzled everyone by peeling mangoes. Boy, those Mexican mangoes sure were sweet.
Friday we had a party at Mony and Gavin’s Morristown mansion to celebrate the upcoming union of Shameek and Mintadidi. It was a family affair with a few close friends in attendance too. We all went back early for Christina, the hairdresser had to be picked up from the station because she would be doing up all the ladies’ hair on the wedding day.
“She’s cute but a bit crazy. So watch out, diesel!” Miguel told me.
“Oh really, I can’t wait to get back!” I quipped.
She was actually interesting for she was in her mid-thirties and now she was heading to Hungary to pursue masters in International Politics. I was disappointed to learn that she had a Bosnian boyfriend. That instantly conjured up an image of a big, burly, scraggly bearded hulk. She sure had beautiful, silky hair. She had been hairdressing for almost a decade and was really good at it. Jethu and Mintadidi rehearsed their father-daughter dance in the living room to the soulful voice of Louis Armstrong. Saturday was the big day. The day got an early start for the “totto” started coming in bright and early from the “borpokkho”. Inspite of knocking back several beers, Sunny came in with the first of the gifts, followed by Gavin and Raj. The decked up fish in crimson with a beautiful little white headdress was fascinating and soon the whole Chattopadhyaya household was stirring. Dave had come back really late from a business trip decided to switch sides and quickly exited the house to help out Sunny with some of the gifts and entered the house again with them as part of the “borpokkho”. A token “gaye-holud” ceremony was held where the ladies smeared Mintadidi with turmeric. The “totto” had all arrived by now and lay neatly arranged all over the floor of the room like plundered booty.


New York City, from its humble beginnings as New Amsterdam in the 17th century to the cosmopolitan magnanimity that it is today, has weathered many a storm and floods of immigrants and ofcourse the infamy of 9/11. One couldn’t possibly come to America, and not take a bite of the Big Apple. Miguel, with quite a reputation of being a fantastic NYC guide, took us out to savour the sights and sounds of downtown Manhattan. Manhattan was a concrete rainforest, skyscrapers everywhere as we drove towards Ground Zero. We drove past the Intrepid, now of course a maritime museum and the old meat market, and past all of Donald Trump’s constructions.
Ground Zero was poignant and it is mute testimony to all those who perished in the brutal attack on that fateful Tuesday. It is all rubble now and construction work has just begun on a 1776 feet high Freedom Tower that will stand tall where the Twin Towers once stood proud. The posh and opulent World Financial Centre was just next door. The memorial to 9/11 listed out all those martyrs of the tragedy while street hawkers tried to make a quick buck by offering postcards and photographs of the burning towers for sale. It was touching to see a marine being re-enlisted at Ground Zero. Thousands had perished that day but it had stirred a resting eagle and today Al-Qaeda forces are facing wrath of the eagle’s talons in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We walked on toward the Trinity Church and its incredibly ornate altar where George Washington once offered his prayers. The streets teemed with hawkers and hand-carts vending the famed New York hot-dog. Wall Street was just round the corner and after posing with the famed Merrill Lynch bull; we strolled about the NYSE and admired its fabulously carved façade. A stars and stripes fluttered gently, draped over the building. Opposite was the hall where George Washington had been sworn in as the first President of the Union. Further down, was bustling South Street Seaport, with its pubs, cafes and bistros where people could enjoy a refreshing pint and tuck into some seafood too. The Manhattan, Brooklyn and Verazzano Bridges looked hung across the misty waters of the Hudson.
We were enlightened by Miguel’s astute commentaries about every place and finally it was time to head back to the Bronx where there was dinner at the Grandas. The warm welcomes and Serrano ham was followed by some chilled seviche. Home-style Latino cooking with Cuban and Ecuadorian influences was food for the body and soul. Roast Turkey, salsa, onion salad, black beans and steamed rice was the order of the evening, rounded off with some smooth Boniato. Alejandro was the star of the evening, as he contentedly suckled milk alternately between his mother Cecilia’s arms and uncle Miguel’s oblivious to the hullabaloo around. Some traditional liqueurs went around post dinner before Mrs. Granda sang and played the piano to everyone’s delight and pleasure. Miguel too joined his mother in a duet that raised eye-brows for he was so good and usually he restricted himself to the bathroom or the car. Miguel’s aunt was a pianist par excellence and she serenaded us with some of her pieces. It could well have been at a concert.
The next evening, Mr.Granda arrived at Ramsey in his Ford Focus, focussed to show us around NYC at night, the beauty of Times Square with its blinding lights. We set off in the evening and traversed the underwater Lincoln Tunnel and arrived at NYC. Times Square is stunning at night with the huge screens and shining lights. The CNN Tower, Empire State Building and Chrysler Building stood tall and imposing. The shining lights of Broadway were alluring while Madame Tussaud’s beckoned. We were spellbound by the glowing brightness of Times Square whose neon lit beauty we had only vicariously enjoyed through the television.
A fabulous evening spent he headed back to Ramsey. We stopped by at Jersey City to get a view of the neon lights of Manhattan from across the Hudson. Mr. Granda was overjoyed at being able to take us out to enjoy the wondrous sights and marvel at a bejewelled NYC at night. It was certainly an evening to remember.


After a crazy couple of weeks, we finally breathed easy as there still was two weeks to the wedding. Jethu’s study was in fact a treasure trove that yielded not only some fantastic back issues of The Geographic but a plethora of great cookery books. Ratna Maima and Rinididi were back at Ramsey and when the former wasn’t fattening us up with delectable Chicken Makhanis and Malai Curries, the latter was enchanting us with her mellifluous renditions of old Bengali numbers and wonderful piano playing, not to mention a phenomenal sister act in bharatnatyam with Babandidi. An astute cook, Ratna Maima dished out the choicest delights for lunch and dinner daily with Mejo Jamma chipping in with some of her specialties.
Mejo Jethu was his usual reserved self, happy to sit in front of the television watching the news while Mejo Jamma kept prodding him all day long about a variety of things. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Food Network and all the interesting programs on it about cooking and eating.
Dave and Babandidi had just homed in on their dream home and soon got done with the legal formalities and were ready to move in. The new home was very close to Ramsey, at Waldwick and they celebrated the possession of the same with a Korean lunch with Dave while she had made some feijao for us which we relished with some bacon.
Miguel and Shintadidi dropped by once and I made Miguel’s favourite spaghetti alla carbonara which is exactly how Shintadidi described it: heart attack on a plate! But Miguel loved it no end. We also saw X-Men the movie and enjoyed it.
It’s a big house and was bustling through the summer and often reverberated with Babandidi’s shrieks when I put ice on her back but she made sure to get even with me on the next given opportunity. Jethu and Jamma of course left for work in the morning and weren’t back till evening. An attempt was made to catch the sunset at Hoboken but was rendered unsuccessful by cloudy skies though we got a view of the NYC skyline across the Hudson. A trip to Bottle King was tipsy enough due to the sheer variety of liquors and liqueurs on sale, not to mention the cheeses from Norwegian Gjetost to Greek Feta.
Butternut squash was a vegetable I had ever tried and seeing the shapely orange Guatemalan exports in the supermarket, Babandidi decided to make some soup out of them which turned out to be delicious. That very Friday I made my maiden trip to the Bronx to Shintadidi and Miguel’s, a nice apartment overlooking the Hudson Parkway and opposite a quaint little church. I had some delectable sushi and miso soup from a Japanese restaurant nearby and some terrific unagi. That was officially my first tryst with sushi and those rolls of marinated fish and sticky rice were stuck on me for good. And I didn’t know freshwater eel marinated in teriyaki sauce and grilled could taste so good till I had unagi. We tried all sorts of ethnic liquors from Korean soju to Greek ouzo. The latter was a potent anise flavoured colourless liquid that delivers a sting down the throat and a punch.
It was raining heavily when we youngsters drove back from the Bronx late on Friday. Saturday was the nandimukh of Mintadidi at Bridgewater. Jamma and Jethu had made all preparations for the ceremony. There was a little evening do planned at Dipen Jethu’s house later on Saturday.
It was thus a comparatively sedate week for us after a maddening fortnight of activity and binging. The ladies enjoyed relaxed rounds of shopping while I devoured “Joys of Cooking”, a very thorough and thoroughly informative giant of a book.
The number of footwear continued to increase around the staircase and the house had a distinct wedding feel to itself. The creek outside of course was still the same and a family of ducks paddled away unperturbed with a line of obedient ducklings in its tranquil waters. The drake kept watch from the banks. Little boys sometimes came hunting crayfishes. Externally, 27, Cobblestone Lane was still the same but inside there were churning changes and Jethu and Jamma couldn’t help but feel those subtle changes… feelings of anxiety about the pending marriage, sadness at her departure and relief at the completion of their final duty as parents. With Babandidi’s shifting imminent, soon Jethu and Jamma would be all alone but for now all they thought about was the marriage and only the marriage.
I felt distinctly at home at Ramsey and my bonding with Babandidi was phenomenal and I thought I would really miss everyone once we went back to Mumbai. We were the thickest of cousins, teasing each other playfully and I just loved playing with her hair which I think is the cutest in the world, especially the ends. She gave it back in kind, tying braids in my hair Red Indian style.
Dave arrived late on Friday so we decided to give the nandimukh a skip and join the folks directly at Dipen Jethu’s Summit residence. We were also able to pick up the ouija board that we were trying to get for a long time to do a planchette. We drove down to Summit in the evening after a late lunch and joined the party. It was a wet evening but the evening was far from a dampener. Everyone was happy and satisfied for the nandimukh had gone off well, according to plan. People were helping out in the kitchen as we were slowly getting into spook mode. Miguel, a devout Catholic, didn’t believe in such things and I, had never tried it myself although had read a lot about it. Trina and Mintadidi were plain curious. So, we got the board out, darkened the room (this was a glow-in-the-dark version) and decided to give it a try. The pointer was barely touched by us and as soon as Babandidi called out to “spirits” in the room, inexplicably it started to move about. Then, shockingly, “it” made strange revelations that left cold. I still don’t know about the validity of these intercourses but it sure is something that shouldn’t be trifled with. Even Miguel wavered in his staunch beliefs, even if it was for a brief instant. We chewed over the proceedings that blurred between the frivolous and the paranormal. Nandita Jamma had served up some amazing Italian fare with her Chicken Marsala being the piece de resistance. The Key Lime Cheesecake sharply ended the meal although the Hazelnut Fudge Cake was absolutely divine. Everyone was in the mood for paranormal discussions and the stories flowed from everyone. Ratna Maima has had several brushes with the paranormal within the safe confines of her own home, but she is by far, the last person to get spooked. An interesting Saturday soiree to say the least. In fast, we did the planchette under the auspices of the very experienced Babandidi, in Trina’s room. Poor thing, she was robbed of precious sleep that night I’m sure because it difficult to shelve such disturbing thoughts once one has switched off the lights, for under the garb of darkness our mind plays games with our senses or are they merely games?
Finally, the Chattopadhyaya entourage left Summit for base camp a.k.a. Ramsey under the cover of darkness but with a steady drizzle that threatened to disrupt our proposed plan of touring New York on Sunday. Mintadidi also stayed at Ramsey, for with the wedding a week away, there was lots of things to take care of.


27th of May, the household was preparing in earnest for a trip to Boston for the wedding of Abir and Monica. One regiment was to leave in the afternoon while we were to leave the day after along with Dave, Babandidi and Aunt Dolores. I was baking my trademark gooey chocolate cake for Babandidi and Dave. Jethu and the group left for Boston post lunch on Friday. It was threatening rain when they left. My cake was already in the oven baking away merrily when Babandidi and I sat down and decided to make a special dinner.
“Lets decide what we wanna make. I’ll make my summer salad with mandarin oranges and blue cheese. I hope you like blue cheese.” Babandidi said.
“Never tried it. You mean stuff like Roquefort?”
“Yes, it is a bit strong smelling but will nicely offset the sweet and nuttiness of the salad that I will be making. I will also make a Vodka sauce with some fancy prosciutto tortellini.”
“That sounds great.”
So off we went to the supermarket to get whatever we needed to make it a special dinner. I picked up a bag of calamari rings to make my piece de resistance: Butter Pepper Garlic Squid. So we churned out some delectable dishes and dinner was ready by the time Dave arrived with his mother.
Dolores Aunty is quite a cook herself and we talked long about world cuisines and she thoroughly enjoyed my squid. The salad was refreshingly nutty and crunchy and was amazing and the drunken pasta sauce was delectable. We rounded it off with the cake and some fresh cream. Some late harvest New Zealand Riesling just added to the occasion for it was some of the best dessert wines I’ve had, almost like Eisswine.
The cards and bouquets crowded the table and Dave had brought home a huge bouquet of red roses. A great day in all and I was glad to have been able to bake the cake for Dave and Babandidi on their 5th anniversary. We were to leave for Boston the next morning. Man, it was almost nomadic!


Jetlag was thankfully absent and after a good night’s sleep I woke up to a new day in a new place in a new country in a new continent. Whoa! The palatial bed with an unbelievably soft and springy mattress had certainly been soporific. The kitchen was where all the action was and I went down to find Babandidi all set to take us out to the supermarket. Jethu and Jamma had gone out to work as usual and after breakfast we decided to hit the gym. It was after all the 17th of May, and the Champions’ League final was due between Arsenal and Barcelona, and a die-hard Gunner myself, I was praying for a victory that would not only be the only silverware for the season but would probably persuade the talismanic Thierry Henry to stay on.
Jamma had in fact taken a half day and we went out and picked her up from 70, Hilltop which was her office and drove down to the immense Paramus Park mall. The health conscious Babandidi of course made herself a sandwich at home with her favourite baby spinach, ham and Munster cheese with some Hellmann’s Lite Mayo slathered on.
Paramus Park is a monster of a mall very close to Ramsey and the first thing that strikes an Indian is the sheer vastness of the parking lot. Brand names, salons, customized t-shirts everything is available for a price. The food court was what captured my imagination with almost every kind of cuisine available. We stuck to Chinese but not before we had almost had our fill of the tasters being given out to passers-by on tooth-picks by buxom belles.
Next stop was Bally’s Total Fitness, where Babandidi worked out and was a fair drive away from Paramus Park. Another enormous hulk of a place, where lay treadmills side by side as far as the eye could see, where people of varying girths sweated out. The weight’s section was almost a dungeon where some of the biggest men squeezed out reps. There too, was quite a smattering of nationalities and I had a good workout with a Pole and a Korean. Babandidi, as usual, had miles to run before she rested and went about her business on the treadmill but intermittently came to check on me, her little brother. In the meantime, Arsenal had taken the lead over Barcelona inspite of having been reduced to ten men. People exercised, eyes glued to one of the several overhanging televisions as the match slipped into the second half. The supermarket was where we headed next to pick up supplies that I needed to make dinner. Ugly tomatoes, brobdingnagian Vidalia onions, chic chicories and tons of fruits and vegetables lay along with all sorts of meat and fish products, a well stocked cheese and dairy section and much more.
“This is Dave’s favourite”, Babandidi said to me pointing to a yellow bar of chocolate that read “Butterfingers”. Peanut butter was as ubiquitous in America as ghee is in India. Somehow, the crunchy peanut butter, chocolate and caramel combination had me hooked!
Armed with all of the stuff we headed back to Paramus Park to pick up Mamma and Jamma who did a bit of window shopping in the meantime. It took us a while to get back and no sooner did we come back than I got busy in the kitchen for I was making dinner that evening.
“Good to see you here, Riju!” Miguel bear hugged me and sat down with a Corona and tucked into some tortilla and salsa. Shintadidi too was astonished to see just how much I had changed in 6 years. With a playful tug at my ponytail, we hugged, only then it being apparent that her bump was in fact growing with a little Granda inside.
This was the first time that I was meeting my Chhotojamaibabu for I had missed the Kolkata reception in the winter of ’04 due to college commitments. Miguel was a charmer. Warm, exuberant and effusive, he was a show stealer and a crowd-puller. As fanatical about football as he is about baseball, he eats. Sleeps and drinks Yankees and the Ecuador national team. Shintadidi was pretty much the same only that her hair had thinned out but looked pretty as usual.
I had elaborate plans for the evening, starting with Tom Kha Kai; there was some Lasagna on the menu and finally finishing off with a quick Chocolate Mousse.
The onions sizzled as I sweated them in fat while the chicken hissed away in the giant pressure cooker. Jamma’s exquisite set of Oneida knives was wonderful to work with making short work of tall orders.
“Did you see the match today Miguel?” I inquired as he let out another cry of anguish as the Yankees made a hash of an easy run.
“Oh yes, Barcelona won 2-1.” I was crestfallen and sad for Arsenal lost having taken the lead and virtually ten minutes had cost them the trophy as Barcelona scored in the dying moments of the game to claim their second European Champions’ Cup. I sensed tears welling up in my eyes but that was probably due to the onions I was chopping.
The meat ragu was bubbling contentedly as Jethu arrived from work looking prim in his golf cap. He poured me some Cognac which was rather strong as he caught up with everyone else. Miguel and Shintadidi had had their ultrasound a few days back and had just received the tape and were visibly ecstatic. Jethu too, was ebullient, for he was just a few months away from becoming a grandfather. I popped the lasagna into the oven just as everyone was getting hungry. The soup was simmering and presently Dave arrived rather early by his own standards of office hours at Samsung.
Finally dinner was ready and it was time to eat. It was my special dinner and we uncorked a full-bodied and unctuous Rioja that went beautifully with the meaty and cheesy lasagna.
“Ummm….this is so good Riju! So you didn’t use Ricotta cheese and eggs?” Babandidi asked.
“No, I prepared a Béchamel sauce which is pretty much like a white sauce and alternately layered the meat sauce and the Béchamel sauce over the sheets of lasagna and topped with shredded mozzarella.” I explained between mouthfuls of gooey lasagna and sips of the Rioja.
Everyone loved the food and I was only too happy to have been given the opportunity to cook for the family. Miguel was disappointed and surprised out of his skin that I hadn’t seen the X-Men movies, not to mention LOTR and the Matrix trilogy.
“Riju! How can you not see these great movies? We will watch them here at home and we will go out and see X-Men 3 after that” he declared.
It was pretty late by then but we all got a glimpse of the baby from the ultrasound tapes. It looked like a little squirming mass in the grayish haze. Miguel and Shintadidi drove back to the Bronx while we started packing for our flight to Los Angeles was the next day that too at 0530 hrs. Another crazy day in the pipeline for we would have to change planes at Atlanta. The tickets sure are cheap but hell you just pay with your sleep!
We were going away for a week and were about to embark on a whirlwind tour of California on a shoestring. It sure was going tobe fun albeit a bit hectic and tiring, the prefect antidote for some Mumbai monotony.


One could almost taste the excitement and expectancy that hung low and heavy over the Chattopadhyaya family residence in Mumbai. After all a trip to the USA does but materializes frequently, in fact this was going to be our maiden trip westward. Time was ripe too, Mintadidi’s marriage had been fixed for the 10th of June and being the last NJ Chattopadhyaya being married it was important for us to be present as flag-bearers of the Chattopadhyaya family from India, taking over from Shejo Jethu who had been a fantastic ambassador not only of the Indian Chattopadhyayas but also of Yoga and had enthralled one and all with his refreshing camaraderie and affability, not to mention his wondrous beard that won him legions of fans.
Mamma was determined to make the most out of the trip and began burning the midnight oil scourging the net for the best hotel and sightseeing deals for she had already chalked out grand plans of covering parts of California before everyone got into shaadi mode. Papa, as usual, wouldn’t be able to join us because of his worldly attachments (read “office”). Calls from Cobblestone Lane became a nightly affair as Jethu kept a tab on our preparations and constantly updated Mamma about the practicality of her plans in a manner that was almost pedagogic. The emails flowed too, with hotel bookings, tour packages and the like.
The tickets finally arrived, putting to rest absolutely all doubts surrounding the tour and after halcyon May days, the date was almost upon us and we began packing in earnest for a month long extravaganza. We nearly emptied out our wardrobes filling monstrous suitcases almost to the point of non-closure. Digicam batteries, video cam batteries, medicines and other small details were all taken care of as we all sat down to dinner on a balmy evening on the 15th of May…. I could barely eat having had my fill of the excitement already.
“I think everything is packed. Riju, I think you should carry some of your law books so that you can flip through them in your spare time over there”, Papa continued between mouthfuls of mutton curry and roti. I just nodded, seething inside. Damn, who wants to study on a vacation?
“Everybody pack up, it’s already late. We must get up really early tomorrow because we must leave by three thirty”, Papa announced as he sat down to do his after dinner asana that courted sleep. Mamma, as usual, was doing last minute packing, filling her make up bag that probably contained half the world in it. I had other ideas of course; played some music on the computer and scrapped away on
The hours ticked away and I worked out for sometime and got ready just when everyone else was stirring from slumber. Papa came soon after, sleepy eyed, “You are awake?”
“I didn’t sleep at all!” I quipped.
Nonetheless, we finally were ready to head to the airport and after wrestling the baggage down to the Chevrolet Tavera, we were away, only the neighbourhood dogs still awake and barking away. The streets of Mumbai wore a deserted look and were bathed in the yellow street lights. The driver turned out to a Bihari who had lived in Kolkata for a while and kept chirping away as my parents tried to catch up on some sleep. I was wide awake and was savouring the breezy drive to the airport. It was drizzling lightly as we finally reached Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.
It was about 4:30 am but the amount of people belied the unearthly hour. The Great Indian Vacation was getting underway and there were people everywhere dragging luggage, waiting for relatives, some teary eyed others happy. Our flight was due to leave at 0720 IST and we checked in our luggage amidst relatively less activity and came back to spend the last hour with Papa. Clad in a tee and shorts, I epitomized the carefree traveller. Jethu called again informing us of his mobile number.
Finally the boarding announcement was made and we trudged towards the plane. Blonde airhostesses cheered up the prospect of a 23 hour flight that loomed, and soon after a few minutes of taxi, the airbus groaned as it prepared to take off and soon we were amidst the clouds and Mumbai could have been mistaken for Lego land. I settled into my seat and prepared for slumber that was so crucial to counter the tedium of a long flight.
Paris was still a good three hours away when I woke up, hungry. The chequered fields materialized as the French countryside lay sprawling and then the timeless buildings of urban Paris. The stop at Paris was a good hour and a half. Fluorescent jacket clad French appeared cleaning the aircraft and checking luggage.
“Bonjour! Is zis your luggege?”
“Oui Monsieur”, I replied to the gangly wire haired man who also checked our passports.
Paris to Newark was going to be another painful twelve hour flight and with many seats empty, several passengers stretched out. Watching movies was all one could do till sleep came and when I woke up we were almost there and soon after we landed at Newark Liberty International Airport. The lady next to us in the plane turned out to be a Gujarati who was coming back after shopping for his son’s wedding in India. She stayed at up market Allendale, so she claimed.
We were in America, yes, America, the place where everyone wanted to go to lead the good life. We were finally there, the US of A, the land of the good stuff, the place which my favourite uncle called home for the last 40 years. Yeah!! We were there.
The flight sure was on time and it was a tad cloudy outside but even a drizzle wasn’t enough to dampen my high spirits. We were surprised when we had to shell out 3 dollars to get hold of a trolley and were even more surprised to find that all of our luggage sitting beside the conveyor belt. We grabbed our stuff as a policeman casually strolled around with his sniffer dog eagerly nosing the bags. Immigration was a piece of cake with no less than 40 counters and customs was an apple pie.
“India eh? How many mangoes?” the burly officer boomed
“None”, I replied.
“No pickles.”
Those guys were mighty surprised that we weren’t carrying any of the typical things. That was it; we slowly made our way to the outside. Alas, we had no change to call Jethu. Fortunately, a good Tamil Samaritan allowed us to use his phone to make a call and Jethu said that he was on his way.
I strolled about the airport, checked out the Starbucks kiosk, the magazine store and other places. I thought of Jethu, Jamma and my cousins whom I hadn’t seen for years. Jamma arrived and presently Jethu driving his Camry. Jethu looked fresh and youthful in his golf cap and red jacket and soon we were driving down NJ Turnpike toward Ramsey.
The sheer variety of cars amazed me as Acuras, Saabs, Volkswagens and numerous others shared the road. It was a bit chilly as the New York skyline appeared hazily over the swampy wastes and tall reeds. We caught up on all the news as we passed through Allendale. Yeah, it sure was up market. A big clock tower stood in the town centre with little bistros and shops around. The municipal pool went by and finally around the bend was Cobblestone Lane which for so long had been a mere address was going to be our home for the next month or so.
It is hardly a lane; almost a road that too a cul-de-sac and not a single cobblestone is present for it is well paved. Beautiful single houses each with a lawn and plenty of greenery stood impassive side by side as we drew up. Jethu’s house had a finely manicured lawn, hedges and fancy red sawdust and an incredibly spiny pine tree lining the steps leading to the house, which kept pricking me. It was ominously grey as Jethu broke the bad news of Jamma’s accident that cost them the new Lexus but it was God’s grace that Jamma came out of it all unscathed.
Whew! There we were in Jethu’s house which was well; almost a mansion. A backyard with a little creek and a maple clump just added to the charm. Lots of bric-a-brac adorned the living room besides a piano and a well stocked bar. We all sat down with pina coladas while Jethu made trips to the sprawling basement bringing the dinner up dish by dish for reheating. We all lent a hand and soon enough around nine Dave arrived immaculately turned out in his blue pinstriped suit. Babandidi had gone to a fundraiser and would be home only later.
The refrigerator was intriguing for it doubled up as a scrap book. It had all sorts of paraphernalia clinging to it from business cards to marriage dates to pictures of a baby Neil and a newborn Alejandro and in the gap between the refrigerator and the cabinet were plastic bags hanging as if in suspended animation. The larder was enormous but Jethu’s study was amazing because of the sheer amount of things that lay there from back issues of the Geographic to even a microwave (?). The fireplace was well known for it had hosted a raccoon family that had been news even back in India. The basement was cold and had practically another world down there. White sheets covered what seemed like corpses turned out to be neatly packed “totto” for the wedding.
From our little interaction with Dave we knew that he was reticent. We later found out that he eats very little for dinner.
We began talking about the impending California trip for some things still remained undone. Dave updated us about San Francisco for his brother Doonie is based there. Dinner taken care of, Jethu began calling up the respective hotels to check on the status of bookings. Presently, Babandidi arrived looking absolutely luscious in a lavender number.
She was surprised out of her wits seeing me for she was seeing me after about 6 years.
“You are so big now! So glad to see you guys here!” Babandidi exclaimed.
The San Francisco leg of the tour was still shrouded in uncertainty when Jethu came into the room armed with the cordless. He put it on speakerphone and we all listened as he dialed Travelodge By the Bay.
“Good evening, Travelodge By the Bay. How may I assist you?”
“Could you tell me what is your cheapest room rent currently available?” Jethu continued in his usual measured and calculated manner.
“That would be $89 plus taxes with breakfast sir” the voice crackled.
We were all sitting on the dinner table in various states of inattention barring Jethu and Mamma. Babandidi was busy telling me about the virtues of “progressive dining” and just how bitterly cold it could get in San Francisco even in summer.
It was sealed and Travelodge it was going to be in San Francisco.
“Oh we had so much fun in California. You guys aren’t doing the Wine Country?” Babandidi inquired.
“Wine Country is fascinating and the best part is that you can get drunk for free. We tasted wine all day and ended up buying several bottles. We were so tipsy by then. You must have the clam chowder in San Francisco with the sourdough bread.”
I just nodded in agreement, too sleepy to even follow all that she was saying.
“Tumu, it is unbelievable that for the last few weeks at office I was thinking about your trip all day. I hope everything works out smoothly. And I learnt so much about the internet websites from you.” Jethu remarked as he stood up, mission accomplished.
“Dadabhai, only you made all this possible!” Mamma exclaimed in Bengali.
Jamma was putting finishing touches to the day by putting in the dishes into the dishwasher as we slowly made our way upstairs to retire for the day.


Squinting at the shimmering gold waters of the Hudson, I could only marvel at nature’s intoxicating beauty. The sun was a bright orb of amber brilliance that gilded the walls and flooded the surprisingly cold hall with warmth. I looked out at the metallic waters. The shadows were lengthening, the sun’s puissance was on the wane and it drove home the hard truth that it was the end of another day in the USA for me and the inevitable was another day closer!
It had been a long day for us. Hell, we had just come back from Niagara Falls the night before and we set off early on Thursday for a bite of the Big Apple. We sure had had our fill of this maddeningly marvelous, magnetic metropolis. We sat reflecting, as the ferries metamorphosed from specks on the horizon to rectangular barges with bellyfulls of people. Jethu’s mobile rang. It was Babandidi. Papa handed me the phone.
“Hello…” I said expectantly.
“Hey Riju” Babandidi began in her usual chirpy tone that would hold the attention of even the most bored bloke. Her voice, it was like a salsa dip, you know, one of those chunky ones with plenty of peppers, “we’re going out tonight to the city to party. Me, Babs, Miguel and Shinta. What I would suggest is you stay put over there and Miguel’s gonna come and pick you up because coming back to Ramsey makes no sense. Tell me where your shoes are and the clothes you wore at the wedding because they are a little strict in the clubs.”
“Ok, sounds good” I affirmed.
Papa and Mamma looked at me quizzically when I told them the plan for the night. The kids were going to let their hair down. Oh yeah, I had plenty to let down too. Papa gave me the usual gyaan about not drinking too much and yeah, offering to pay. He handed me forty bucks and suddenly I realized that how haggard Jefferson looked on the bills. Too much of black booty banging perhaps?
Hoboken was across the river and my parents hopped on to the ferry and suddenly there I was in the Manhattan ferry wharf alone. Buxom blondes, ravishing redheads, beautiful brunettes, ah women, we men just love ‘em. I had the cell with me for that was the lifeline. I admired them from afar, it was a buffet. Now where is that Giacomo? Ferries came, ferries went. Shintadidi called to say that they were leaving the Bronx and I told them my co-ordinates. The Intrepid was a block away and I drew courage from its presence.
Evening descended noiselessly in a riot of colour in the sky’s canvas. Even Van Gogh paled in comparison to the seductive mauves, lavenders and blues that bordered on the ineffable. It was like one of Dadu’s oils, mellow and soft, only this was nature’s artwork. The evening brought respite from the sapping heat of the day; the joggers were out in numbers wired to their i-pods. The lovers kissed and the poets dreamed, it was a starry, starry evening. I soaked in this dreamy atmosphere. Then my cell rang, I fumbled for it.
“Riju, start walking toward 13th and 9th. We’re almost there.” Shintadidi spoke with a sense of urgency for traffic in NYC was crazy.
I started walking and presently a black snazzy machine drew up. It was Miguel and Shintadidi in their Celica. A svelte beauty, I was finally getting inside her. Miguel maneuvered the car adroitly and she purred.
“Ecuador won! They beat Costa Rica and they’re through to the next round.” The delight was quite evident in Miguel.
Babandidi called again complaining that she wasn’t able to find my shoes.
“I hope you have your passport Riju. They are going to verify your age.”
“Damn, I’m not carrying it.” Miguel thought for a while. “Frank’s coming too, don’t worry we’ll think of something.”
“Riju, this place we’re going to basically a restaurant that converts into a club at night and plays Latino music mainly.” Shintadidi explained to me.
The narrow roads of Manhattan were abuzz with activity as people crowded the little bistros, cafes and bars to unwind. Parking is a prick in NYC but we were lucky to find a suitable spot. We walked towards the club. Iguana, I was told was one of those smallish yet nice clubs that played great music. A neon lizard on the board tried in vain to wiggle away as we entered the place. The bar was overflowing with people making the most of the happy hours were booze was dirt cheap. The crowd was mainly executive, chilling post work over a beer and finger food. The restaurant was operational too at this point.
The bartenders were both women. I was starving and I ordered a plate of nachos with salsa, guacamole, sour cream and beef. Miguel didn’t allow me to pay saying it would be my turn when he came down to Mumbai. I later found out the cause celebre. Shintadidi was carrying Miguel’s son and Miguel was only too relieved to hear that. The lady serving us was a Latina and she was busty. She brought us the nachos but I could’ve scooped up the salsa and guacamole from her rack! They were like juicy GM cantaloupes. Her falling neckline gave me a view of the grandest canyon. The nachos were terrific and cold, crisp Heineken was awesome with it. Miguel had converted me from a beer-hater to a beer-lover. Shameek too played his part in this conversion. Frank arrived soon and settled with a mojito. Shintadidi had to be content sipping cold water for obvious reasons.
Frank was another fun guy who was actually the man responsible for the events that followed. After sometime, Babandidi and Babs arrived in full party mode. Hassle free parking is as rare in NYC as a blonde in Timbuktu. Babandidi fed quarters to a parking meter and even then was apprehensive for the police were the biggest mofos everywhere. And tickets burn holes in wallets too.
We all toasted to the newest Granda, who floated in the amniotic fluid oblivious to all this. The dance floor was downstairs and it was just about getting warmed up. Babandidi and Babs did some scouting and the news was grim. The bouncer was going to be a tough nut to crack for he was insisting on IDs. The drinks flowed. The mojito was particularly good, fresh and crisp with the perfect amount of tartness and minty infusion to offset the rum. The bartender was certainly eye-catching, but thankfully she didn’t verify the patrons ages. Moreover, she had quite a booty, bubble butt apart from her luscious pair. Her brown hair was streaked gold and looked sexy. I loved the way she would prop on her elbows on the bar and seductively ask, “What should I get you Sir?” her boobs threatening to pop out as she bent over to take the order. Voluptuous vixen with some dangerous contours. The other bartender was a little older but attractive, tall and leggy with a pleasing demeanour, sweet smile and cute hair.
It was getting late and soon it was time for Miguel and Shintadidi to leave. We trooped downstairs. The bouncer was a hulking man, just the kind of man you don’t want to walk in on you when you are screwing his girl. Babandidi and Babs were let in after he checked their IDs. Frank was a smart cookie, and his idea of going down with a drink in hand worked and we were let in, no ID, no nothing. He merely asked us to transfer the contents into disposable glasses. We sure had the last laugh.
The music was blaring and it was dark and very dimly lit. People lounged about on the couches while a few people were already grooving. I am as bad a dancer as there is and I had no inkling that this was going to be my dance lesson. Babandidi was all enthusiasm but I was initially a bit skeptical about it the whole thing.
Babs is a fantastic dancer with some hot moves. Yeah, and it was only imperative that she would attract attention. It arrived in the shape of a tall Indian guy who was dancing with clients I presume. It was too loud to talk so he whipped out his card and handed to Babs and then sat down and tried to chat her up. For Babs, of course, sky was the limit, and she negated his overtures by showing her engagement ring. We inspected his card later and Babandidi couldn’t help but crack up at his name. There was a Korean guy who was too enthusiastic and friendly about Babandidi but he left all of us in splits with his unique dancing style that would give mine a run for the money. The music was good but they were hardly any people around and sadly, no women. It deflated my enthusiasm but then learning some hot merengue was fun and some salsa too. Babandidi tutored me in the intricacies of these soulful dances which was crazy fun. Babandidi then danced with this lanky, bald dude who sure had the moves. I was kind of tired at the end of it all. Frank was at it too with his own crazy moves. But I sure learnt all about dirty dancing and the slick moves to sweep a girl off her feet, how to turn her and losing oneself in the rhythm divine. The fast paced, foot dragging merengue was the one I loved best but the moves are quite risqué too at times, while the street salsa was fun.
The bar was again where the action was with the single men trying to woo the women. A last Captain and Coke rounded off the night for me. Weary after a long day, I longed to sleep tight. Finally around two we decided to call it a night and exited the Iguana. The neon reptile glowed bright as we walked out of the doors past a bouncer with an expressionless face. The sky was red and the heavens threatened to part any moment. The streets were semi-deserted as we walked towards the car.
Ha, there it was, no ticket thankfully in sight. The night of the Iguana had ended rather tamely. But it afforded us no respite from the crazy traveling for we were to leave for Maryland the next day which was quite an ordeal without the AC and a sleepy Dave on the wheels.


Nashik is a mere 183 kilometres north-east of Mumbai, nestled amidst the undulating contours of the Sahyadris. A rather arduous five hour journey by road is worth the pains for the gains are two-fold: wines and worship. The lure of Nashik is differential; for some it is the draw of the almighty for Nashik is one of the holiest places in India, the source of the Godavari River and one of the four places which have the honour of hosting the Kumbha Mela. Legend says that in the eternal battle between good and evil viz. the Devas and the Asuras, this time over the possession of an amphora of the nectar of life, termed, “Amrit”, some drops of the elixir fell in Nashik rendering the place holiest of holy. For us lesser mortals, Nashik entices one with the promise of some of the best domestic wines produced in India courtesy the numerous wineries that call it home.
Sula Vineyards may not really ring bells outside India but it is infact, a behemoth in the nascent Indian wine industry. Set up in 1996 by a maverick entrepreneur, Rajeev Samant, it has rapidly metamorphosed into a highly profitable venture holding the lion’s share in the Indian wine market also exporting decent, inexpensive wines around the world. Rajeev Samant, a Stanford graduate, gave up a high-paying job at Oracle to set up Sula to give flesh and blood to the entrepreneur in him. People scoffed at his seemingly preposterous idea of producing wines for back then, the average Indian barely knew what wine was. Whine!
Nashik has always been the grape capital of the country but producing solely table varieties like the Thompson seedless. No one had heard of Cabernet Sauvignons and Zinfandels….let alone spelling and pronouncing them! Having spent a lot of time in California’s sunny clime, he felt the time was right to introduce the joys of wine to India. He boldly planted India’s first ever Cabernet Sauvignons imported from Napa Valley in January 1996, followed by batches of Zinfandel, Merlot amongst others. The cool, sunny climate of hilly Nashik was just perfect for these grapes to prosper and the first batch of Indian wines hit the market somewhere in the late 1990s.
Today, the quantum of acreage under viticulture in Nashik is mind-boggling: 300 acres owned by Sula themselves and 800 acres of contract farmed grapes. The Gangapur Lake in the vicinity cools the area and the dam on the lake produces power. Sula’s prosperity has spilled over to the nearby villages and they are electrified today and every villager owns a two-wheeler!
We hit Nashik over the weekend, a welcome getaway from the monotony of urban Mumbai life. A half hour drive from the city centre brought us to India’s wine country. It’s amazing for on either side of the road and as far as the eye can see, vines stretch out interspersed with mango and other fruit trees. Luscious bunches of grapes hang invitingly, calling out to passing cars! Most are protectively covered in plastic bags to keep out excess heat and roving gangs of birds.
After a brief tour of the estate and some insight into production techniques, we did the tasting of the estate produced wines. Decent wines to say it with brevity, not too much variety, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, Zinfandel, Merlot, and Chardonnay. The winner was certainly the Late Harvest Chenin Blanc dessert wine, the first of its kind in India. We sure have 32 sweet teeth, I sometimes think! Enthusiastic people thronged the place for the sheer novelty of the experience all for the princely sum of Rs.100 which let one taste 5 different wines! Quite a fun experience on the whole.
Now of course we have several wineries in India but almost all are concentrated in the grape belts of Pune, Sangli and Nashik here in Maharashtra in the west of India. Apart from Sula, Grover and Chateau Indage are the big names here. Goa, with its rich Portuguese heritage produces some very good ports too.
All in a weekend spent in winery finery!!

Sunday, July 22, 2007


500g minced red meat (preferably coarsely minced)
500g ripe beef tomatoes, pureed
2-3 large onions, chopped fine
Bay leaves
6-8 cloves garlic (add more if you like), minced
Salt, sugar to taste
Fresh basil roughly chopped
Half cup red wine
Oregano, dried (to taste)
Please feel free to add vegetables of your choice if you so wish…like chopped carrots, mushrooms, baby corn etc.
Little Tomato sauce
Olive oil

Heat the oil in a thick based pan, pop the bay leaves followed by the onions. Sweat them in the pan, once they soften a bit add the garlic. Don’t allow the onions to brown too quickly, once they start to colour, add the sugar and caramelize the garlic and the onions. Add the meat and nicely brown it. Let the meat cook for a while on medium heat, stirring frequently. Add the pureed tomato and continue cooking. You must continue cooking till the wateriness disappears and it starts getting thick and gooey. If using vegetables, add them after the meat gets half done i.e. before adding the tomato puree. The whole process will probably take you about an hour because the more you let it simmer on low heat, the more luxurious the ragu gets. Feel free to add sun dried tomatoes too for that bite. If you like it hot then reach for that jar of habaneros!! Pour in the wine because it will have gotten pretty thick by now and turn up the heat ever so slightly and revel in the heavenly aromas…Add just a bit of plain ketchup before taking it off the heat, it makes a difference. Add the basil finally and the oregano and give it all a nice stir….needless to say that salt must be added to taste!

50-75g flour
350-400ml whole milk, warm
Grated nutmeg
Sugar, salt, pepper to taste

Brown the flour. Don’t let it brown too much or it will taste burnt, rather get it golden and make a roux with the butter. Slowly add the warm milk little at a time and vigorous mix at the same time. Continue till you get a smooth sauce but not too watery. Don’t let the sauce thicken too much. Check the seasoning, add a bit of the grated nutmeg. You may need to add a little more flour incase the sauce is too watery. The consistency will be somewhat like that of light cream.

5-6 sheets of Barilla Lasagna
Mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese

The reason why I use Barilla is because their lasagna doesn’t need pre-cooking and can be directly used. That is exactly why the béchamel sauce should be a bit watery so that the sheets can soak. Pour some of the béchamel sauce in the bottom of a heat proof glass baking tray. Put a lasagna sheet on the sauce; put some of the ragu on the sheet, top with some more béchamel and some mozzarella. The more cheese you put, the more luxurious it gets. Continue the same way for about four or five layers. Ensure that the edges of the lasagna sheets are wetted by the sauce béchamel. Any leftover ragu can be conveniently spread around the sides of the tray, topped with béchamel and cheese just like the rest. After the last layer which will end as usual with béchamel and cheese, cover the entire top with lots of mozzarella and a bit of parmesan,
Bake at 200`C for about 20 minutes.

The top should be golden brown and bubbling.

Hold on to your horses cause it’s very, very hot when it comes out of that oven! Wait a little while, before cutting into portions and serving.

Serve with crusty herbed bread and a glass of robust Barolo for La Dolce Vita!!!!

Serves 3 comfortably as part of a meal or 2 by itself.

Buono Appetito!