Monday, December 31, 2007

Halwa’s (Alwa) of Chennai!

Giving alwa to someone seems to be a nice thing which everyone likes! and ofcourse when I got some alwa from this venue “Raja Alwa Kadai” to those at the duty room of AIR, all of them said this “Ennapa (What) your giving alwa to all of us”. Well anyways this alwa was genuine and the shop here was unique as it sold only Alwa’s (Halwa). About the shop, its rather quaint well lit, pretty clean rather unassuming in its interiors. Perhaps space here is a problem, well you do have space to sit and eat and the Alwa is …mmmm…..yummy. So if you have a sweet tooth thats the place to be. Interestingly on interacting with one Raja, the owner of the shop I learn that everyday they have 10 varieties of Alwa on display. Overall they have around 70 or so varieties of Alwa. That makes it more or less a set of 10 different alwa’s for every day of the week. And if you want to pick and choose from Raja’s exhaustive Menu you need to give him at least 2 days notice. To mention a few of the alwa’s on display were: Fruit Alwa, Semiya (Vermicelli) Alwa, Tinnevely Alwa, Milk Alwa, Pumpkin Alwa, Cashewnut Halwa, Carrot Alwa etc.

And where is this Alwa shop exactly? Hey this one is located on the Beach Road, bang opp. All India Radio and on the same side that the Light house is, in Santhome. And its not very expensive either 1/4kg. of the Alwa is Rs.50/-. So I bet it fits into your budget.

P.S. And hey Raja wants help in getting a menu card done in English. So any helpers out there pitch in now! Of course in return you can demand your pound of Alwa!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Chennai Thetre Scene & Metroplus

A Late Review....yet no doubt Relevant

Just thought I'd start penning down nay reducing all that I wanted to say on the Metroplus Theatre Fest. '07 after the heat and dust simmers down! You'd perhaps say that this is a late bloomer now now lets get thing straight this is not about discovering something within me nor is it just about another theatre festival but it is about something that is now recognised to be Chennai's very own theatre festival. Three in a row and you have done it “Hindu”....and its here to stay. Now as bad luck would have it despite the invites all I got to see were the last three. Blame it on paucity of time, work related pressures or just my inertia anyways thanks to the Metroplus and the Evam team (Pavithra ofcourse) for having taken care of my passes, despite the market demands. Of course I would should thank Mukund (Editor, Metroplus) and Karthik (Evam) for a rather brief live talk on my radio show and there it was in clear terms all about this edition of the festival and thats that.

On the last three plays that I got to see, aha Pegasus, on the Civil Rights movement, truly a period play, a perfect script line played to the utmost perfection for I could see no flaw despite the best a roving eye like mine would wish to. And of course even that which I saw, trust me it was done in style for none could point a finger. Adeptness is not just the word for Pegasus, every actor on stage empathized with the role they adorned and with the audience being transported back in a time machine to another day almost five decades ago to the time and events they perhaps must have read or heard about or witnessed on television, Pegasus did their job. This play was no doubt for the serious minded and definitely not for the jolly go person who wishes to sit through a play and laugh his head off. My only wish is perhaps the organisers should put this in the posters or the list of plays, another column /row on the nature of the play and the target audience that would benefit from this. For instance the column could read: “This is a period play for the serious theatre afficionado and ofcourse for those who want to look at things at a lighter vein be there on the 11th and 12th for Ristorante Immortale and .......” A note like this am certain would be of value for those who are not familiar with theatre being a serious medium of public opinion and on the flip side it is informative and categorizes the play and helps the audience make quick choices.

And now for the hilarious ones the last two: Do Masks have Expressions? Ristorante Immortale seemed to say a big yes to it. Oh my god mime...mime and mime it was, expressions... rich they were. Truly professional entertainers they kept the crowd going for exactly an Hour and then the whole thing slipped into boredom. Trust me this group from Berlin is simply great but they need to feel the pulse of an audience. Mime has its limitations and an hour is notably the max. any audience can take. The last ten minutes did not seem to jive well with an impatient audience, perhaps the group should get back to its drawing board and abridge. That apart it was a perfect rendition of sorts, masks, masks, masks all around with deep expressions, emotions or they seem to speak from their hearts for every character in the play was in sync. The characterisation of human thought process was professionalism class apart. Last but not the least the impressive finale was the most commendable and innovative at its best.

The last play of the festival Vikram Kapadia's Black with Equal on Sunday was absorbing a true comedy of sorts perhaps a reality in some cases and of course as the M.C. said it was the last time that the group was performing the play and I considered myself to be lucky to watch them at close angle. This award winning satire from Bombay definitely takes the cake for it kept the entire audience on their feet, and as one of my pals referred: Quote “.....this is exactly what goes on in our flats, am just reminded of all that goes looks like this happens everywhere.....” Unquote. Definitely that was a true purge of emotions but the play had some masala to it which of course we all like. Indeed an entertainer at its best this play was certainly made a deserving finish for the third edition of the Metroplus Theatre Festival.

But one thing which as an audience I must reflect is the much awaited post performance interactive sessions that a theatre festival should encourage. Perhaps the organisers thought that this is a time consuming exercise but certainly there can be no running away from this and one should face it. It is a well known fact that the success of any theatre festival is rated not just on the impeccable performances but also the post performance interaction that the audience get to have and the debates thereon with the performers on stage. The warmth of these interactions go a long way in bridging the gap between the performers, the wannabe and of course the ever critical audience (of course you can add me in that list albeit am no connoisseur). And while not letting the dust settle on the curtains that have come down for this edition of the Metroplus Theatre Festival must say Karthik (Evam) made a fine M.C., an interesting exercise that he indulged in and am certain it paid off being informative. And for the next edition perhaps a suggestion or two, please consider the extra column as suggested above and for heavens sake the audience have to interact with the performers on stage, so the post performance interaction is a Must. Of course you can afford to dispense with Bose's loud music (nay noise) at the Verandah, perhaps the organisers should think of something that befits the ambience and trust something more “Madrasi.....” is welcome.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Coorg! Club Mahindra!! & a Kingfisher THUD!!!

Ah well guess thats how it all began, ofcourse wudn't have to go into the intricacies of being invited ....blah blah blah...but lets get to see what Coorg was all about. And it began with a big THUD...courtesy Kingfisher Airlines....for a good nay bad nay ugly nay THUD of a land and we almost felt thrown down rudely at Bangalore...(my favourite city and I could'nt care being thrown) perhaps Kingfisher needs to get its act together for its pax....don't wish to land in Bangalore with a THUD (Witnesses ofcourse all the pax in flt-IT411 on 30.11.07 -now thats for the record..tee hee). Anyways am not grumbling and thanks to our host Arun of Club Mahindra and Kiruba of course.

That said must admit that an all paid expenses trip was awesome. Trust I have never felt so important at a resort, Being suave at its best, thats sums up the attitude of the staff at the Club Mahindra Resort in Coorg. Of course Arun need not worry that am using too good words for a description. Nay I can be a nasty critic like Subbudu!

Now for some stats of Getting there:

Getting to Coorg (Kodagu) Valley:

Air: The proximate airport Mangalore (135 kms) and Bangalore (265-270 kms) - we drove down from Blr., Calicut (190 km)

Train: The nearest rail lines are to Mysore, Mangalore and Hassan (146 kilometers).

Road: Understandably from Bangalore, there are two routes to Coorg both being more or less the same distance, and via the National Highway. The one via Mysore, is the usually chosen. After Seringapatnam, Ranganthittu, Chanrayanapatna, the state highway route takes you to your destination. The stretch after Kushalnagar (the Tibetan settlement) is pretty bad however its scenic a drive through the coffee plantations which is absorbing. Alternative route is through Siddupur which supposedly is good.

Commuting Within Coorg: Buses: There are local bus services in Mercara (Madikeri) that connects almost every place in Coorg, except Kushalnagar. To this Buddhist settlement any of the out bound buses including those to Bangalore or Mysore should help.

Best Visited:
From October - May - Through the Winter - Summer. June - September has the monsoon rains lashing and out come the leaches (so take lots of salt with you).

Understandably good
hotels, motels, guest houses and tourist lodges to suit every budget. There are some picturesque resorts like Club Mahindra and Orange County. It's best to book in advance in winter.

Things to Pack
Carry light woolens as the weather is cool throughout the year and walking shoes are a must if you want to explore the beautiful spice and coffee plantations of Coorg. Do always have a torch and antidote for nausea is recommended and salt in your boots if your here in and around the monsoons.

Places of Interest:
Our itenary:
Day 1 - After arriving at Bangalore enroute Mysore to Mercara - chill out at the Resort.

Day 2 - Talacauvery on the forenoon. And Omkareswara Temple, Abbey (Jessey) falls and the Raja's seat i.e. the central park overlooking the valley in the afternoon.

Day 3 - Dubaray elephant camp in the forenoon. And stroll around the resort in post lunch session.

Day 4 - Enroute Mysore, break at the Tibetan settlement at Kushal Nagar.

Ofcourse if you have time at command for those interested in spices the Spice Research Station and the Cardamom centre should be well worth a visit. And the fort in the town of Mercara (Madikere) a stroll worthwhile.

About the Resort:
The Club Mahindra Resort is situate amidst sylvan surroundings, well laid out manicured gardens and all what you can expect
et al in 30 acres plus land. Just over 2 years old this Resort is another profit centre no doubt for the Mahindras. Excellent food, must say kudos to the F & B section there. And rooms left nothing to ask (save a pair of scissors that I wanted the most to get rid of the numerous baggage tags)...spic and span, touching messages on a coffee leaf by your bedside and lots on candle care!

A stroll across the walkers trail along
the rear end, best done early at morn. makes for good bird watching and is definitely a relishing experience. And to be woken up by bird calls and the sound of foliage is something that everyone would relish for lifetime and the Resort has et al. The coffee shop where we had our breakfast was just the right promenade to have your cereal breakfast and sip some filter coffee (authentically Coorgese) overall it had the right ambience to enthuse a bright day. And to top it all a guide who loves his assignment, thats Joy. Joy is one of those rare species whose energy levels are welcome and a company thats summed up as joyous.

Our Trip:
Day 1: After arriving at Bangalore and driving up to Mercara, grueling a drive is not just the word, man you need to have a vehicle with good suspensions and shock absorbers, this is a must. Ofcourse one look and feel of the ambience of resort at Coorg and the smiles that welcome you along with a drink, thats refreshing. Check in follows. And my me while lobbying to get a pair of scissors, for the first time I get myself locked out of the room, eeks thats bad! Well just as I try to hide the folly there's a fellow companion blogger wo ho....she's locked herself out too...Mridula..I have company!! Anyways the staff gets us in again and we refresh and meet up at the Fern Hall for a tete a tete. After the welcome performances and Joy's wonderful introduction and click click it was...too hungry to say No. No doubt the welcome performances gave us an insight into the ethnic lifestyle of the Coorgese and how much of an agrarian society that the Coorgese definitely are. Incidentally any linguist proficient in South Indian language would notice that the terminology describing the various components that formed part of the traditional attire have a sound Tamil background. Perhaps confirming that Tamil was the once dominant Dravidian language in S. India. Now am not getting into a controversy on this, its just an observation. And one must thank all the artists who performed that evening for having patiently waited for us to arrive despite our late arrival and yet honour us. We really felt important after all. That was soon followed by some sumptuous supper its time to digest et there we are at the recreation rooms...thats atop a little hill....of course Mridula, the former ping pong champion has her day! and for me its the shuttle after a long break, thanks to our host Arun, he's a great player, I havent forgotten shuttle cock hey!.....aarrgh and we are all to bed we go, with the next day wake up scheduled for.. hmmm my bones need some rest.....zzzzzz

Day2: Yup! it was great to be woken up by bird chirps and the foliage around. Just too lazy to go around the resort, my cozy king size bed was too comfy to leave and it was tough forcing myself out to the promenade coffee shop(guess that the breakfast point). A little bird watching there....grrr...yeah we were watched by the birds rather! And off we go to Talacauvery as our bright guide Joy gets us on our feet. About 50 km from Mercara and its a winding path up and down. At least two hours, for the roads are ok...but you cant go too fast either. Now if you think we are going up attempting the trail of the mighty Cauvery you should be in for surprises. Enroute we stop at the point Bhagamandala which has a temple under renovation. The temple is a typical product of the Malabar style of construction albeit resplendent of the Dravidian architecture. The wonderful wood work on the ceilings and the long columns studded with wooden pillars and the small shrines are noteworthy.

Incidentally Bhagamandala is a spot where we witness obeisance being paid to the ancestors (shraddh) by the locals. No doubt most perennial rivers do have such spots and along the mighty Cauvery you see that at every important town through which this beautiful river flows.

Yes as she (Cauvery) flows down into Seringapatnam (capital of Tippu, the fort here witnessed some of the bloodiest battles of the late 18th century, until Tippu was vanquished) you will see a spot where the locals consider it wholly to offer obeisance so also after she enters the Tamil region at various points in Erode, Srirangam too. The latter ofcourse being the town hosting the largest Vaishnavaite temple in S. India. And then she flows into the delta of Tanjore before entering the Bay of Bengal off the Palk Straits. (Now you must be asking where to do I get all that info....hmmm that and much more is from the "Scenery of an Indian Stream" by M.J. Walhouse (I.C.S.). Its about the beautiful and mighty Cauvery. If some one can find that article let me know. I have lost it thanks to the foolish wisdom of my sister. This was in a book printed in 1881, was part of our home collection and now its the newspaperwallahs collection). And if your one whose imagination runs riot with the sorta description of Walhouse trust me, what I saw at Talacauvery was a let down. Man its not the same. Its all gone. Anyways today its another tourist destination. Around the spring is a little tank and then came a shrine and a now a temple and its corridors all 20th and 21st century tourist attractions.

Well that said we went round the so called spring....I didn't get to see the spring but we believe it emanates from the mines below. So we trust what we read about and what we see! Of course Joy said it too!..and I believe it!! ...that settles it!!! Now adjacent to the point of origin of the Cauvery is an un-inviting flight of stairs (guess a step for every other day in a year). But once your uphill you get to see a panoramic view of the entire countryside. Impressive! and the photo sessions are in full swing!! Done that and we are hungry...time for lunch...back to the Resort....ooh la la...tis a great lunch am starving you bet! And now for the evening session, the smart junkies drop off for they wanna chill at the pool in the resort and we the hags decide to go ahead to see around Mercara. This time its a 'private water fall' (ever heard of that have you?) its the Jessey falls ala now Abbey (name of the daughter of current owner of the estate where you get to see the waterfalls. Incidentally we learn from Joy that Abbey also means water in Coorgese).

Trust me the falls are a splendid sight to watch and a great place to spend an evening. However since we have little time at command, off to the next pit stop, thats the Omkareswara Temple. A Shiva temple, a neat piece of early 19th century architecture built by the local ruler to atone for his mistakes. Guess the entire valley considers this temple important. And we hop off to the Raja's seat its already dark and nay we don't get to see the views promised but we presume its great!!
ofcourse we miss not the musical fountains in the park at the Raja' seat, and the crowds that go bonkers everytime they get to hear their favourite tunes. And its time for hungry again.....but before that a little get together at Kiruba's room before we all bid him bye on his sojourn to Europa....some rounds of music with wine and other spirits keep the crowd in good mood. Of exception were the guitarists who made the evening Apoorv and Dev Amritesh, indeed that sums up a splendid eve, not so fast hey behind the scenes was Anil and his wife who were really lucky to have caught up sometime that eve for some splendid explanation on Coffee and especially Coorgese, from the blokes at Club Mahindra, I missed it all and thanks Anil you have recorded it so well for posterity. And ofcourse if you wish to know more on Coffee you should read this: 'Coffee with Coorg' on

Day 3:
Trust me we are all pepped up with the salubrious climate of Coorg. A good walk around the resort along the Trail and ofcourse much more made a good start, save for an uneasiness of my restive stomach, which I guess is the case every time am faced with processed food. Anyways couldn't ask for more! Off we are to the Elephant camp - Dubbaray. This camp is about 60 km off Mercara, a hour and half drive and the roads are good winding up and down across the Western Ghats we tread until I ask for a halt tis nauseating amidst the absorbing drive along the coffee and pepper plantations, my poor tummy!! Anyway we reach the camp just in time as the jobless elephants (nay their job is to ferry tourists on rounds in the camp) have their bath and feed, after a road and ferry journey, yup thats a quick boat ride across a small channel (of the Cauvery), picturesque indeed, the shallow waters are cool with a lots of queer islands. The ritual of the elephant bath is mainly to attract the tourists, who are amazed at the docile nature of this pachyderm. No doubt the photo sessions are in full swing and then to the feeding spot where you see them fed with balls of jagerry mixed with ragi and other nutrients which the elephants so vitally require in their diet. A word of caution for those promoting this elephant camp... hmmm this is certainly not as exciting as that in Kanha sanctuary nor does it have comparable the bathing scenes at the Nagarhole sanctuary. The elephant camp is rich in bird species and a stroll around the same with our guide Joy is worthwhile. We relished Joys intricate knowledge of the flora. His ability to distinguish them and describe them so lucidly to a visitor makes him a dear son of the soil... “Mannine Maga” indeed. Just in case you get to have Joy as your guide don't forget to ask him to show you the bubble producing sap plant. The sap of this plant is as viscous as soap solution is and can be blown as bubbles. After some good time at the camp its time for lunch trust me I was sapped of all my energy no wonder I love food and am glad I have a high B.M.R. Later that eve.. a stroll around the resort was exhilarating. The coffee varieties of Robusta, Arabica and anr. I forget, and the manner in which they are grown, the climate, yield and economics et al was absorbing all forming part of a live lec/dem session by Joy! The spicy news of pepper and all that we heard about Coffee added flavour!! The adventure filled sport that we were encouraged in the resort were fun filled sessions. The music, games and dances and the swaying bellies to the Bollywood numbers and the camp fire all courtesy our guide and to which we were treated later that evening made the it an unforgettable evening at the resort.

And hey I forget to pen on the massage I had, wow it was an extremely good massage. Deft hands and a good herbal bath, I felt refreshed can I ask for something more?

Day 4: Time for us to pack up and leave...and that we did faithfully bidding bye and thanking our guide Joy profusely ofcourse our hosts deserve the Kudos. And we are on our way to Bangalore en route Kushal Nagar, the Tibbetan Settlement.

The Nyimgompa monastery is where we stop by after an absorbing drive downhill along the coffee and pepper plantations again. Nothing spectacular its another modern Buddhist monastery akin to those that you may see in Ladakh. What made it special was that the Tibetans took care to bring down their art and culture with them as they moved down to the plains of southern India and that is enriching. A quick tour of this monastery and we were back in our suspension and shock absorber free bus, you know about the ride anyways....we had to head back to Bangalore in time, pretty sad we had to skip Ranganthittu sanctuary wish had time at command, well well speculative city traffic and our respective flights to our material destinations later that evening worry us, so should all good things come to a close.

Some Suggestions Club Mahindra:
1. Perhaps something more than just a Coffee stall/ corner in the lounge would be welcome. A coffee outlet on the lines of a Cafe Coffee Day, of course no loud music please, all the same you need to have a coffee shop that serves you varieties of coffee for your inviting visitors to the Coffee heartland. The coffee stall can be well positioned in this area and would be a welcome value add.

2. The swimming pool perhaps could have been bigger. But it definitely requires a heating system.

3. As regards massages are concerned a counselling session on the various massages and benefits of these is recommended. Your masseurs are good and you need to promote them better.

4. And last but not the least but this is hearsay, there has been a lot of controversy over the initiatives of CM. Trust CM cannot exist in isolation. You need to involve the local Coorgese in your activity. Your Corporate Social Responsibility be it Coorg or Munnar is vital. Perhaps instead of discontinuing of the mock marriage that we heard off at the resort, you should have a marriage hall where the local Coorgese could solemnize their weddings and CM should play host (of course you can charge them for the food and beverages). And visitors may witness the wedding if they are lucky enough. Now thats what you call blending with the local communities. Ideally CM could take the lead in promoting other dying traditions the way Dakshina Chitra of the Madras Crafts Foundation has done over the past decade or so.