Thursday 27 July 2017

Cover Story: Asia's Richest Businesswomen

Never say never. When this business story came my way, every logical thought in my head told me to refuse it. It was a hardcore business story, for a hardcore business magazine, which is not my beat. Moreover, it was based on the carefully guarded high-profile lives of Asia's 15 richest businesswomen, all of whom happened to be Chinese.

But I shut those voices out. And I told myself that if any other author was capable of doing this story, why couldn't I. So I did. Racing against a crazy deadline, trying to get in touch with the PR teams of firms who do not even have websites on English or any sort of information searchable on Google (they have cryptic sites searchable on Baidu, China's answer to Google, without translation). The story is finally out, and shall be on stands this week. I couldn't have been happier with it and what gives me even greater joy is the fact that my editor thought it was perfect - a refreshing angle to profiling business giants.

Get your copy now or see the preview by clicking this 

Thursday 20 July 2017

The ruins of this palace town called Mandu

India is a quilt weaving together thousands of hidden gems that together make the country as unique as it is. There is something for everyone... if you like to travel for food or for history, for architecture or natural beauty, there is no dearth of places to choose from.

But places stuffed to the brim with crowds may not be my scene as much as one which yet lies undiscovered. Madhya Pradesh has a handful of these and the crown jewel is Mandu. A tiny town near Indore which is rarely ever spoken about. Yet, if you think Hampi is the ruin capital of India, you haven't seen nothing yet. 

Read more about this undiscovered palace town that lies in gorgeous ruins by clicking here - Mandu. 

Saturday 15 July 2017

Why McLeodganj is my soul town (do you have one?)

McLeodganj holds a special place in my heart. It is my soul town, second only to Bhutan (but I could never pick a specific town in Bhutan). Here's a peek into why this little hilltop holds such a special place in my heart. Read my latest article, published on The Quint by clicking HERE

Monday 3 July 2017

An Underwhelming Brunch at Open Farm Community (Dempsey Hill)

Some places, like people, have so much potential. They mean well, all the tick marks are there, yet the actual experience of knowing them falls short. One such place in the densely packed food-city of Singapore is Open Farm Community. With the farm-to-table concept taking the world by storm, any place that focuses on produce has my interest piqued. Which is why we decided to stop by Dempsey for lunch one sunny afternoon this weekend.

Open Farm Community (OFC) sprawls over a large area, as far as city restaurants go. Most of it is dedicated to the mini farm, where they grow lime and other produce. However, the intention is there but a walk through the greens seems like a stroll through my overgrown backyard. I have seen the extent this concept can be executed, a stark example being the Grounds of Alexandra in Sydney. Oh the joy of spending an afternoon there! There is no restaurant prettier than the garden-feel of this unique factory-converted-space. But unlike Grounds of Alexandra, OFC just doesn't manage to go the whole hog when it comes to the exteriors. The interiors however, are stunning. Bright and cheerful, the dining space is like a greenhouse with tall ceilings and floor to ceiling windows.  

The menu here is very limited, with a few options for starters, a few pastas, a handful of mains and a couple of dishes for kids (categorized as Little Diners). The kids menu is priced similar to the regular dishes, defeating its purpose altogether. We tried the Grouper Burger ($30) which came in a black bun. The fish patty was thick and well seasoned, contrasting with the sour pickled cucumber. The accompanying fries (with a few sweet potato fries thrown in) were wonderfully crisp.

From the brunch menu, we also tried the 63 degree egg ($31) served with toasted sourdough, baked beans and chilli beef rib eye. This was a hearty breakfast dish, the baked beans completely soaking through the sourdough though.

I would have left disappointed but wisdom prevailed and we ordered dessert. Thank god for small mercies. The stunning platter had a carefully placed chocolate mousse, cherry jam, soaked chocolate fudge brownie bits, salted candied walnuts and a delightfully tart dark cherry sorbet ($18). The interplay of textures, temperatures and flavours made this one exceptional dish. If only the kitchen had shown this kind of sophistication in the savoury dishes too.

Open Farm Community has potential but does not compel the diner to return. It is like the child who you know can score top marks but he just couldn't be bothered. Go there for a cheery catch up over coffee and dessert, the bright space deserves a visit for sure. But with so many other options in Dempsey and nearby, I don't think I would waste a meal here again.  

Thursday 29 June 2017

Why Vietnamese Coffee is my new obsession (and how to brew your own)

"...Vietnamese coffee is not just a beverage. It is a way of being, a certain sensibility that denies you the pleasure of instant gratification. It has no place in a life where coffee is a quick fix..."
Read my latest feature on HT Mint here - Vietnamese Coffee.

Sunday 4 June 2017

The Best of Delhi's State Bhawan Canteens

Once in a while, when Delhi's restaurant scene gets too pretentious, I escape into the unassuming world of state bhawan canteens. It is here that sometimes you find a regional feast on your table that is reminiscent of eating at someone's home. The beauty of India lies in its diversity, that of language, culture, landscape and most importantly, cuisine.

However, not every state bhawan serves delicious food. A few, like Rajasthan House, are actually quite forgettable. If you want to know which ones to skip and which to bump up your list, here is the cheat sheet. My latest article, published on HT Mint, gives you the lowdown on five state bhawans that beg to be visited. Read the article by clicking HERE.  

Wednesday 26 April 2017

30 Top Reasons Not to Read This Post

I've been on a burger hunt these last few weeks, trying to sniff out the good ones in town. Like in all aspects in life, when in doubt, ask Google baba. However, when you search for something like this, the results invariably throw up - 30 best burgers in Singapore... 100 best places for a burger...and so on.

30 best. Really??? How can these 2 words even go together. If it is the best, it really won't feature at a 28th spot on a list. Then why? Why would you list out 100 places I can go to for a burger?? My finger hurts with the amount of scrolling you make me do to read the list.. and by the time I reach No.13, you've already lost my interest.

It's not really their fault. I have been there, on the editor's chair, commissioning articles for 10 tips for glowing skin or the best buffet restaurants in town. The SEO team loves them and honestly, that's how Google baba works. Listicles get picked up and rank higher than reviews do. The more number of places listed, the better. But does that really make for good food writing? Or have we merely become a directory?

I don't think listicles are all bad. If I want tips or a list of reasons I should eat a particular fruit, it makes it easier for me to scroll down a list. But in my opinion, a list more than 10 is a list too long. And especially when it comes to listing out the best places for a particular type of food. How is it even possible to have 30 places in Singapore that serve a burger which will blow my mind? It is not...thus, the list is populated with some legends and a lot of above average places. A futile exercise, for a reader. If the topic is as specific as a particular dish or even a cuisine, the number of places listed should ideally be in single digits. No, Google may not like you, but it just makes sense. There won't be more than a handful of places in town that push the envelope so far that it just begs a visit. Yes, if you're listing something like Best Meals in Delhi... then it won't be possible to do a list within 10...the diversity of sub-categories is so large.

But please, writers and food enthusiasts, take a step back and look at it with some perspective. Don't blindly follow SEO orders..I know traffic is king and content structure often suffers. But draw the line somewhere. Use your discretion, pick out the topics where you think a list of 10 is justified and put your foot down when you think it should not exceed 5. No, your editor may not love you too much, but hopefully they will be matured enough to respect your opinion on the matter. As for me? Well I'm off to Google baba, to sift through the list of gazillion places in town that make the BEST burger to find the one I will visit today. And when in a few weeks I finally have the verdict on who's king, you can be rest assured that you won't need to scroll more than twice in my article! Till then...keep eating and keep reading..  

Sunday 16 April 2017

Fast and Furious - Tokyo Drift


The title seems apt as I furiously tap away on the keyboard, sitting in the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) bound for Kyoto. From Japan’s modern bustling capital city Tokyo, to its more laidback but crammed-in-every-corner-with-culture ancient capital, Kyoto. I find myself distracted, as I type. The scenery outside, acres and acres of cherry blossoms, rivers aimlessly meandering by, and oh wait.. is that Mount Fuji? Please excuse me as I pause to gape in wonder.

A week in Tokyo and the country is no longer as alien as it seemed earlier. The subway is my ally, as is Google Map (which tends to be inaccurate here sometimes) helping me explore crevices of this crazy metropolis, some (rightfully) on the tourist trail, and some (thankfully) off it. For a country where English is unapologetically not very commonly spoken or understood, it is not difficult to get around in Japan. Hand gestures, speaking slowly and not in sentences and maps make the world a smaller place.

I couldn’t attempt to put all my experiences this week in this one post. It would be impossible. But maybe, just maybe, I could limit it to food and give you a glimpse of what I have been upto. So here goes.. each one of these an experience, each highly recommended with my stamp:

5 Things You Must Eat in Tokyo
1)   Yakitori

Lucky enough (or rather smart enough) to be staying in a hotel in Shinkuju area, if yakitori is what you seek, head to the ‘Yakitori Lane’ just off Shinkuju station. Do not pay heed to the naysayers, this is neither seedy nor overrated. I have since had plenty of yakitori in much grander envoins, the food doesn’t even compare. We randomly selected one of the places in the lane, which seemed to be popular with locals and tourists alike and where an English menu was available. These places are tiny, with 4-5 tables (usually upstairs) and are crowded with ‘salaried men’ who come here for a couple of drinks after work. The chicken yakitori outshone the pork version and the fried rice was absolutely divine.

2) Yakinuki

The lesser known, yakinuki should be the one food experience you should NOT miss, and save up to splurge on. Much like a Korean barbeque, the meats are grilled on your table. The meats at Jojoen Yakinuki were the star of the show. We were lucky enough to be hosted by a Japanese friend who ordered on our behalf and asked us to ‘trust her’. We needn’t have worried. The ox tongue literally melted in the mouth and the marinated beef was beyond delicious as were the clams. I did draw the line at beef intestines, though.   

3) Ramen
      This one deserves a post of its own so I will keep it for another day. But safe to say, what you have been eating as ramen barely scratches the surface. There are many varieties of ramen, each drastically different from the other. The one I decided to hunt out on a cold rainy day, is called Fuunji Ramen and usually has a waiting line around the block. Thankfully the rain kept (most) people home and we only had to wait for 15 minutes. You buy your order ticket, sit on a table facing the chefs, and are served your soba noodles cold, with a hot, mean dipping sauce on the side. Eat and please make way for the people standing behind you in line. The broth? Oh so good. Salty, murky and full of pork flavor.

      4) Tempura

My journey with Japanese food started with tempura, similar as it is to fritters or even our own pakoda. However, having sampled much greater variety of Japanese food over the years, tempura does not feature high on my list anymore. However, the experience of a tempura lunch is something you should seek out. Looking for the place took me a while, especially as there were no English signages but I recognized it from a photo I saw on Tripadvisor. After you placed your order, and settled on the counter facing the chef, he got busy preparing your food, which he placed one by one in front of you, waiting for you to finish each piece first. Always a fan of prawns, I was surprised with how much I loved Eel Tempura. Smooth, delicate and delicious meat, perfectly contrasting with the crunch of the tempura flakes.   

Oh and Sushi too

Sushi is perhaps the most popular Japanese dish outside of the country. But here, with the variety in front of you, it almost becomes an afterthought. Almost, I say, because when you do get around to trying some sushi, it blows you away and obliterates memory of any sushi you may have eaten anywhere in the world. You won’t find maki rolls too often, sushi here usually refers to Nigiri. I went for the English-friendly conveyor belt Ginza Sushi, well aware that it may be inferior to the best in town (far far below the $300 experience at Jiro), but came away amazed at just how delicious it was. The avocado and tuna sushi begged for a reorder and the tuna mince with spring onions and chilly oil still gives me sleepless nights.

Now, you know what’s been keeping me busy this week? And this was just about the food. Wait till I start about the sakura (cherry blossoms)….


Friday 7 April 2017

Recipe: Orange & Ginger Glazed Grilled Chicken

I'll let you in on a secret. You will usually find some grilled chicken in my fridge to do with as I please, for salads, wraps, pastas or even stir fries. I cook up 2 fillets and use them over the next 2 days. This also makes sure that when I am actually tossing up dinner, the preparation time is absolutely minimal. 

Inspiration struck today and I decided to do an Orange & Ginger Glazed Chicken Fillet for lunch. Now, as you already know, I had a fillet ready in the fridge. So, it was a matter of 5 minutes and I had this mouthwatering fancy dish ready. Here's how: 


For the Chicken (you can prepare and store for 2 days) 

Chicken Thigh (2 pieces) (with bone or without)
Salt/ pepper
Italian herbs (I like parsley, rosemary also works)
Garlic (3 pods, ground into a paste)
Olive oil (1 tbsp)

1) Wash the chicken fillets and pat dry. Make cuts in the meat on all sides so that the marinade goes inside. 
2) In a ziplock bag (or just a bowl, if you don't have one), mix the other ingredients. Add the chicken fillets to the bag, one at a time, rubbing the marinade into them with the tips of your fingers. Seal and leave in the fridge for a few hours (I prefer leaving it to marinate for a day, turning the bag on the other side whenever I see it, a couple of times). 
3) Take a pan and heat it up. Put the fillets in the pan and sear one side by not moving them around for a minute. Turn to the other side, lower the heat (simmer), cover and cook for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat but leave the pan covered (and do NOT peak or remove the cover even for a minute) for another 10 minutes. 
4) Grilled chicken is ready. Cool, cover and store. 

You can use this (as I said before) for salads, wraps, pastas or just about anything. 

For the glaze 

Orange juice (half a cup)
Pepper to taste
Ginger (2 slices)
Mustard sauce (1/2 tsp)

1) In a pan, add all the ingredients, together with the chicken fillet. 
2) Turn up the heat and let the juice boil. Turn the fillet a couple of times so it gets coated.
3) In around 2-3 minutes, you will get a thick glaze consistency (almost like a marmalade) with just a lil extra jus for dipping. Serve immediately.  

Wednesday 15 March 2017

Easy Wok Tossed Noodle Recipe (with step-by-step pictures)

Half a yellow pepper, two mushrooms, quarter of a carrot.. I had a whole lot of vegetables left in my refrigerator, but only bits of them which I needed to finish up before I headed to the supermarket. My solution? Easy wok-tossed noodles with plenty of veggies, to keep both me and the baby happy tonight.

The recipe is super easy. Try it out:


Time Taken- 20 minutes
Meal for 2

Half a carrot (julienned)
2 mushrooms (I used Swiss brown mushrooms, you can try any others, sliced)
Red, yellow and green peppers (half each, julienned) 
Grilled chicken bits (leftovers of any chicken you may have lying in the fridge)
1 small onion
Egg Noodles (one packet)
Oyster sauce - 1 tbsp
Soy sauce - 1/2 tbsp
1 egg 


1) Chop up all the vegetables as mentioned in the ingredients list.

2) Heat 1 liter water in a large container. Add noodles when it comes to a rolling boil. Throw in some chopped beans too, if you have them. And the onion (whole). When done, drain and hold under cold water. 

3) Heat a wok and scramble the egg in it. Remove and keep aside. 

4) Add a tsp of oil in the same wok and heat. Add the mushrooms and toss for a minute. Now add the carrots and peppers and toss for a minute on medium heat. 

5) Add noodles, onion (cut into 4), chicken and the sauces. Gently mix. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste. Add the egg, toss a couple of times and remove from heat. Voila. 

- I like to use light soy sauce as I don't like it overpowering my noodles. If you prefer it stronger, use the dark one.
- Instead of oyster sauce, you can also add in black pepper sauce or black bean sauce. 
- The trick about the onion in the water is something I learnt from Kalyan of Finely Chopped fame. Credit where credit is due. 
- I keep oil to a minimal, for health reasons. You can also experiment with other types of noodles (I tried these amazing organic beetroot noodles with this recipe that came out fab too).   

Monday 13 March 2017

10 Healthy Eating Tips You Need to Follow to Lose Weight - NDTV Food

As a food critic, I am often asked how I maintain myself. Truth be told, it is not easy. It is a combination of regular exercise and a conscious reprogramming to make healthier food choices for everyday meals. 

Here's me spilling the beans on how you can make healthier food choices too. Looking to lose weight? These tips will do wonders...and they will keep the weight off too. Better than any diet you may have tried. 

Read the article here

Thursday 9 March 2017

The Indian girl who suddenly doesn't need to 'watch what she wears'

As a girl who grew up in India, my sense of dressing and idea of appropriateness stems from the environment there. Thus, I have a certain idea of the kind of clothes I should wear inside the colony, what clothes to wear to a mall, what I shouldn't wear when driving alone at night and what I should layer up so that it is not too revealing.

I do not grudge these, as they are the way of the land. However, when you think about it, these categories exist for one reason and one reason alone- to avoid unwanted male attention.

I have done a fair bit of travelling outside the country, but it is really in the ten odd days that I have spent in Singapore right now that show me just how liberating it is to not categorise your clothes such. No one stares, no one could be bothered. In fact, everybody dresses so well that you would only be embarrassed if you dressed shabbily rather than if your hemline is too high.

I find myself readjusting to this alternate reality. I look at my wardrobe every morning and try to decide what to wear basis what will look best on me or how the weather is, and not so much depending on whether I plan to take the MRT (train) or the bus today. It also makes me more conscious of my fitness levels as everyone is so fit and thus fit into such gorgeous clothes.

It is not a shift that comes naturally. There have been times (just this morning infact) when I went back and changed my top before I left the house. But I give myself time to accept my body, and to accept the fact that I have the right to choose what to wear, this right does not belong to some stranger on the road. And for this single sense of empowerment, I am glad.

Sunday 5 March 2017

10 Best Meals in Bangalore - My Recommendations on NDTV Food

Image Credit: Toast & Tonic
Bangalore has always been an exciting food market. Restaurants often use it to experiment before moving to Delhi or Mumbai. It is an interesting overlap of the legendary and the new.

My recent trip to Bangalore was full of great food. From the new (and exceptional) Toast & Tonic by Manu Chandra to beer that I actually liked at Windmills Craftswork, there was plenty to write about.

My latest article on NDTV talks about 10 dishes in Bangalore that you must try. Regardless of whether you live there or not, these are must-haves.

Read the article by clicking here.

Saturday 4 March 2017

Week 1 Lesson: Do Not Judge

Week 1 in Singapore has been eventful. Settling into the new house, getting it painted, internet enabled, phone numbers changed and all the small jobs that pyramid into one seemingly-unsurmountable mountain. Thankfully, everything is getting sorted slowly and hopefully Week 2 or atleast Week 3 should be easier.

One of my biggest challenges has been to adjust to a life without the five helpers I am used to, back home. Someone to wash the dishes, someone mopping the floor, a cook, a nanny, clothes washer, car washer, gardener, clothes ironing person…phew.. Ok, we’re a spoilt bunch. Thus, when Week 1 involved days filled with cooking, washing, cleaning and babysitting, it is but obvious they were fairly frustrating.

But this post is not about that. It is about food choices. I used to pride myself on my ability to make sound and balanced food choices, which helped me maintain myself and yet keep me nourished and healthy. I can go on to say that subconsciously I may also have judged people who did not make good food choices, and then would lament about how it is tough to stay in shape.

That is till I moved here. And I realised the value of my cook back home. Let me explain.

Since the scandal last year about bread and the preservatives used in it, I almost completely switched from it. Breakfast would either be parathas (with barely any oil but some malai atop) or poha, etc. These, my friend, are VERY labour intensive recipes, and ones that I really am not in the mood to cook early in the morning. So, I find myself at a loss when I cook breakfast these days. It doesn’t stop there. Cheese is something I only indulged in when I ate out, same for butter. I would try to avoid processed meats like salami and sausages after WHO classified them as carcinogenic. Preferred phulka over white rice. No ready to eat foods for their obnoxiously high salt content, no cereals as they were full of added sugars, no ketchup for the same reason and the list goes on. So, my daily food was fairly healthy, well balanced and full of nutrients. Having said that, I never kept away from any type of food and ate everything from chole bhature to deep fried samosas. Just not on a daily basis.

NOW, it is a struggle. Pasta doesn’t taste half as good unless you put in copious amounts of Parmesan. Bread is difficult to avoid, so I try to buy wholemeal and from a small bakery which wouldn’t use preservatives. There is no way on earth that I am gundoing aata so there go all the parathas and chappatis. 

Thus, it would be safe to say that eating healthy is a struggle when you don’t have the luxury of a cook making it for you. I will no longer be so quick to judge. Having said that, it is still possible. You just need to spend more time in the fresh section of the supermarket and give the frozen aisle a miss (as tempting as it is to pop a pizza into the oven for dinner). Let’s see how long my patience lasts. Till then…I’m off to the kitchen to attempt making dal in the rice cooker (but that’s for the next post). Until later….   

Tuesday 21 February 2017

7 Famous Dishes You Must Try in Delhi

As I wrap up things in Delhi, the city I have always called home, I realise that there really isn't much to wrap up. Places have lost their meaning, people have moved and thus, in a way, I'm not really sure what it is that I am saying goodbye to. Yet, there is a heaviness in my heart, not the spring in my step that I would expect. It is after all, a move that I had wanted, to a city that I quite like, closer to my best friend too. But when people ask whether I am excited, it is a smile that I force on. I'm not yet. Hoping that I will be, when I land there, but for now, it is not excitement that fills my heart.

So when I am all complexed out, I do what I do best, I write. My latest article on NDTV lists out 7 dishes that Delhi is quite famous for. I even list out my favourite places to go try these at...and spill the beans on those that I find (grossly) overrated. Read the article by clicking here.

This one is only a trailer though. With (surprisingly) not too many people to say goodbye to, I find solace in food. And thus, for the last week or so, I have been ticking off my list of 'Best meals in Delhi'. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the epic list that you should look out for. A list that you can follow at your own pace, a list which will help you understand the city as I know it. This is as real as it gets, as personal, as honest. Watch this space for more. In the mean time, go read my article on Famous Dishes of Delhi...I bet it'll leave you hungry for more.

Sunday 4 December 2016

Best places to eat in Sydney

My latest on NDTV is a snapshot of some of the amazing food I ate in Sydney. Read the feature by clicking here.

Caution: Side effects may include drooling and intense cravings.

Thursday 24 November 2016

Demonetization or Demonization of Modi?

Disclaimer: I am not an economist. These are my personal opinions, as a citizen of the country, a logical one at that (or so I think). 

The recent demonetization announcement of Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes in India has thrown the public and the media into a tizzy. I have spent this time absorbing what has happened, talking to people in the food industry as well as common people standing in queues, driving cars and others. I have read strong opinions supporting both sides of the coin and I have heard heated discussions, both on social media and over dinner tables.

And here is my opinion.

Somewhere, opinions regarding the move are divided solely into two - Modi supporters and Modi haters. And that is where opinions become biased and illogical. So, I have attempted to keep the prime minister outside the picture and look at the policy solely as a standalone issue.

The word on the street, atleast in the sample set that I spoke to, is positive. Yes, people have to stand in line to withdraw puny sums of their own money. Yes, it is extremely inconvenient. Yes, industries and trade are being affected, for example the street food vendors or sabzi mandis. But when I spoke to people from these groups, each believed that this was for a greater good. People are ready to go through a little inconvenience for the larger picture.

So what is the larger picture? I urge you not to use corruption and black money interchangeably. This is a move to target black money and make the economy more compliant. How will that happen, you ask? My mother always told me that if I was doing something that I couldn't tell anyone about, there was a good chance it was something I shouldn't be doing. Large amounts of cash lying with people at home or in lockers got there through unscrupulous ways. I am not talking about amounts upto say 1 lakh, which a normal household may keep for a rainy day. I am talking about the people with sofas full of cash, people who take bribes full of suitcases, people who do transactions half in cash and half in cheque, so as to save tax repercussions. Suddenly all that cash lying with them has become paper.

How will that stop people from taking bribes in the future or doing cash transactions when the money situation eases up, you ask. No, just this won't. But a move like this will put the fear of god in them. Modi said, and I do believe, that more such measures will be put into place in the near future, which will make it difficult to use or invest unaccounted-for money. All the loopholes that we have been using in the system are slowly being plugged in the backend (I have seen a lot of tightening in the Income Tax processes, for example) and all these will play a role in increasing penalization.

What about all the black money in Swiss banks and others, you ask? Yes, this is only a trickle and a large amount of black money lies invested in gold, offshore accounts and others. But the noose seems to be tightening for them as well, with Swiss banks being slowly forced to release names of account holders (in the news only yesterday) and other such measures.

Here are 4 things I find commendable about this move:

1) Forced digitization: Dhaabas have Paytm barcodes, home delivery services are now coming home with card machines and even sabzi walas are going cashless. Each of these is a step towards a progressive nation. I just got back from Australia where I managed with spending exactly $80 in cash over two weeks and the rest everything on card. That is the benefit of digitization and this situation seems to be forcing small vendors and businesses to do so.

2) Increase in bank account openings: Many, many people don't have bank accounts. Household help, manual labour, and even housewives. Some stay away to evade tax and some don't because they can get away without one. This parallel cash economy costs the government in terms of taxation. With more bank accounts opening and money flowing into the system, the Indian economy can see a widening of the tax base.

3) Increase in compliance: For my article on demonetization and it's effect on the food industry in India (read it here), I spoke to many restaurateurs. AD Singh, one of India's most respected restaurateur with names like Olive, SodaBottleOpenerWala and Fatty Bao from his stable, spoke about how he welcomes this move to bring a level playing field into the industry. Many businesses run on cash, evade tax and thus are able to offer unreasonable discounts which compliant businesses can't. This makes it difficult to run an honest business and also results in tax loss for the country. A move from currency to digital payments forces businesses to get more compliant. Yes, this may be true only in the current situation and things may flow back into the earlier ways, with the new currency notes. But perhaps future measures to discourage cash payments will help this cause.

4) Real estate woes: There is buzz that Rs.2000 notes will be limited in number and the currency will move towards lower denominations. This will make high value cash transactions difficult. In today's India, buying a second-sale property involves atleast 30-40% black money. With cash drying up or becoming more difficult to access, people will be forced to sell and buy with white money, hopefully stabilizing an inflated real estate market, making it a level playing field for professionals and businessmen.

The point is not that Modi has a magic wand, he doesn't. This move is not going to solve all of our black money issues or eradicate corruption. Many other measures are required for that to happen. But this is a step in that direction. Yes, it is extremely inconvenient and I myself have stood in lines to withdraw (my own) money. But everyone in that line seems to understand and empathize with this inconvenience. The line moves smoothly, almost as if we're all in this together.

I hated the odd-even campaign. It was inconvenient. Yet, I supported it for the greater picture of it decreasing air pollution. No, it did not do that, but we tried. It did give me fabulous traffic-free roads though. I am happy to look at the vision behind this move, and pray for even 10% good to come out of it, instead of looking at all the woes and holding my breath for it to fail. There are plenty of issues with the implementation strategy, but it is so easy to point fingers, so difficult to actually do something.

As I said, this is not about Modi. This is about India. And they are two separate things. I am happy to be a part of the change. And if this doesn't work, I will be happy to support the next initiative. We curse India for being dirty yet pee on walls, think the air is terrible but still burst crackers, lament corruption but try to bribe cops instead of paying chalaans. If you want India to change my friend, I suggest you suck it up and applaud anyone who does even a little thing to help it do so. This is our country...where we take it is really up to each one of us.

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Pardes vs Desh - Must it Be a Battle?

I just got back from Australia after a much-needed break. A wonderful trip in many ways...but this post is not about that. It is about that inexplicable feeling of belonging that I felt, when I reached home.

Growing up, it was always an occasion when relatives from abroad came visiting, with suitcases full of gifts. 'America' and all western countries were 'the blessed land' and we looked towards them with starry eyes, atleast I did.

And then I grew up. In India. Started earning and establishing myself in my career. Got married. And we started travelling outside the country. The first time I used my passport was when I went to Bali for my honeymoon and that was just the starting point. 10 years and 13 countries later, my perspective has slightly changed.

Over these years, many of my closest people, family and friends, chose to move abroad and settle there. Each did so for their own reasons, each seems happy with their decision. As I am with mine.

Yet somehow, I find mine questioned time and again.

I chose to stay in India. I still choose to do the same. I love travelling, within my country and outside it. I love exploring, experiencing new things, seeing new cultures and tasting different food. But I also love my life here. I'm not sure at what point it became unfashionable to do so. I find myself defending my decision to live in India more and more often. Which is ironic, considering it really is my default setting. I might choose otherwise somewhere in the future, or I may not.

I am not going to launch into a list of reasons why I love India, that would defeat the purpose of this post. The point is, I do. I think it is a chaotic, crazy, mad but wondrous country. It is dirty, corrupt, polluted, but it is mine. Yes, there are many things I'd like to change in it. But I'm part of the change. And I like that.

I think it is possible to appreciate a place without comparing it constantly to another. For one to look good, the other doesn't necessarily have to be proven bad. Every country that I travel to has its nuances, some are expensive, some inconvenient and some racist; some are polluted, some have language issues; work culture is terrible in some and others are a stagnant economy. Each is wonderful in its own way. It would be such a shame to constantly compare them with India or pit them against each other. Like people, it takes all kinds to make this world. We should celebrate our differences rather than highlight each others flaws. With the world being almost border-less now, it would be so much nicer to do so, don't you think? 

Thursday 29 September 2016

Sonam Kapoor Busts the Myth About Actresses Looking Naturally Beautiful

        Source: Instagram

Sonam Kapoor is known for her fashion style and ability to carry herself with aplomb. Her acting skills may have critics, but you will rarely find a person who doesn’t believe that she looks like a Diva. But as Spiderman said, “With great powers, comes great responsibility.”

How many times have you caught yourself staring at a magazine cover, wondering how a certain celebrity looks so incredibly stunning. Have you stood in front of your mirror, critically evaluating your body from every angle? Ever left that bikini in the closet and packed yourself a one-piece swimsuit, just because there is no way you can possibly look good in a bikini (‘good’ defined by the image we have of Alia Bhatt or Katrina Kaif in a bikini). Body shaming is when somebody else points fingers at your natural self, but what about when we are our own biggest critics? When we forget how to love our own bodies?

In a recent article for Buzzfeed, Sonam Kapoor makes some powerful statements. She shatters the myth that actresses wake up looking pretty, “Please know that nobody wakes up like this. Not me. Not any other actress. (Not even Beyoncé. I swear.)” Further, Sonam offers a sneak peek of what goes into making a celebrity look so good – “Before each public appearance, I spend 90 minutes in a makeup chair. Three to six people work on my hair and makeup, while a professional touches up my nails. My eyebrows are tweezed and threaded every week. There’s concealer on parts of my body that I could never have predicted would need concealing. I’m up at 6am every day and at the gym by 7:30. I exercise for 90 minutes and, some evenings, again before bed. It’s someone’s full-time job to decide what I can and cannot eat. There are more ingredients in my face packs than in my food.”

The concept of beauty has stopped being subjective. More and more young girls are looking at celebrities, models and actresses in awe and then at their reflection in the mirror with disdain. Instead of celebrating their own body and trying to look the ‘best they can’, they try to ape these stars and end up with complexes and issues. And these complexes are not particular only to regular people like you and me. Sonam confesses that actresses are under tremendous pressure to look ‘flawless’ and end up stuck in a spiral of bad diet choices and an unhealthy view of themselves. What you see, may not necessarily be the reality. Critics argue that Sonam’s statements are hypocritical, she herself having lost 33 kg for her first film, and now a brand ambassador for beauty brands that promote ‘flawlessness’. But credit must be given where it is due and a celebrity coming out and busting the myth that all models/ actresses look effortlessly gorgeous, is commendable.  

Perhaps it is important to remember that the concept of beauty is relative and that it changes with times. Marilyn Monroe, still regarded as one of the sexiest women who ever lived, had curves and a soft belly, not washboard abs. As did Indian actresses like Parvin Babi and Zeenat Aman.

As Sonam says “The ball is in the media’s court to celebrate fit bodies rather than thin ones, and to know the difference.” At some juncture down the line, thin became synonymous with fit and healthy became another term for plump. Instead of focussing on celebrities and their supposed ‘flawless’ bodies, it is important for us to eat healthy, exercise regularly and be the best version of ourselves. Only when you truly believe that you’re beautiful, will your inner radiance shine through.

Monday 19 September 2016

Pink - Movie Review

I was silent as I walked out of the cinema hall yesterday, after watching Pink. The din around me seemed muted, as if I was insulated in a bubble of my own thoughts. Thoughts which were interrupted by my cousin who chirpily asked - So, how did you like it? How do I answer that, I thought. How can I put all these emotions into words. Instead, I just turned to her and nodded with a smile, and said - I liked it. 

The ride home was quiet too. The husband, concerned about my pensiveness. It was only when we got home and spoke about the movie for almost an hour, could I make sense of what I felt about the film. 

So, to put it in words, it left me unnerved. With an uncomfortable feeling. Unsettled. Perhaps these words can help you understand how the movie - Pink, made me feel. 

The movie itself is fairly well made. Good acting by the young cast, Amitabh Bachchan and all other actors also played their roles well. Great direction. Gripping, never sluggish.

But this movie is not one that needs to be seen for its cinematography or special effects. What stayed with me when I left the hall yesterday, was just how real the story was. And how easily believable. We've all done stupid things growing up. Things, which in retrospect seem so terribly risky. Never quite understanding how quickly things can spiral out of control.

The film also questions a lot of preconceived notions we have. I come from a very progressive family and have been married into one equally so. Even then, there are subtle perceptions that worm their way into the basic way we think, without us realising it. And that, to me, was what the movie was about. How a girl is perceived in certain situations, vis-a-vis a boy, only because she is a girl. How even in well-to-do homes, we still have an understated way of differentiating between our girls and boys. Different rules for both genders. Timings, freedom to live apart, relationships, parties, clothes... As Bachchan says in the film, a girl's character is tied to the clock..what time she comes home. The feminist in me (and many of my close ones) will rage at the above statement. There is no difference, they will insist. But we can not turn from it. 

Why do we not let the men in the house clear the table after a meal? Or sweep the floor if the maid is on holiday? We give our boys so much importance that their ego can not handle it when they are refused something when they grow up. Why is it that when a 20 something boy goes out with his friends to a pub, it's ok, but when a girl does the same, parents feel uncomfortable. Security is only one part of it. When you dig deeper, you realise it is also their innate belief that it is not 'nice' for girls to be seen out drinking so late. 

Why is it, that when we see a young woman drinking, we assume that she is approachable and you have a greater chance of 'scoring' vis a vis one who doesn't visit pubs. The basic premise of this perception is utter rubbish. Girls in B-towns or lower middle class families are also intimate with men...the only difference being that they will not be open about it. 

Why are girls from the North East considered 'easy'? Because they wear more revealing clothes? Has it maybe occurred to you that they come from matriarchal societies where the women are more empowered...are safer. Thus, they don't have to hide behind 'what will people think'. 

Two dialogues in the movie touched a chord with me. One was when Amitabh Bachchan says that maybe we have been raising our children all wrong. Instead of teaching our girls to be careful and compromising, maybe we should focus on raising our sons right. Teach them respect, boundaries. Our daughters will automatically be safe. 

Lastly, but importantly, the crux of the movie. No means no. It does not mean maybe. It does not mean I'm considering it and you can keep trying. It means no. And when someone says no, whether it is a girl or a boy, you need to stop. She could be a stranger, your girl friend, a sex worker or even your wife. No means no. You need to stop. 

Pink - a movie that makes you think.      

Tuesday 13 September 2016

Mud Fort Kuchesar: An Idyllic Weekend in Rustic Surroundings

Things have been a bit crazy in my family for the past 7 months and thus my writing and my travel were both impacted. I can't really say that things have settled down now, but perhaps we are all trying to find a way to live this new 'normal' better. As a consequence, the travel has started again, albeit in short bursts and much closer to home.

Last weekend, we drove down to this lovely property called Mud Fort Kuchesar. Set amongst green fields and basically nothing else, the Mud Fort is merely 2 hours from Noida by road. This is a blessing, especially when you do not want to spend half your day in transit. The fort itself is 200 years old and belongs to the royal family of Bharatpur. It's quite a wonder that it is not more popular.

With a massive moat surrounding it, the fort has been divided into two, only half being used as a hotel. Our room overlooked the central dining courtyard and had a lovely shared verandah outside, where a drink or two kept me company as the baby slept. The room was large and airy, much like the high-ceiling(ed) rooms in my erstwhile ancestral house in Ludhiana. The AC provided welcome respite from the humidity and heat that is typical of UP.

Now let me put a disclaimer. If you like activities and amenities, you may be better off at a five star property elsewhere. This is a heritage hotel, in the middle of a village. And thus, to fully enjoy it, you need to be open to new experiences. I rediscovered the fact that I could ride a cycle (I haven't ridden one for 25 years, since getting grievously injured from one). What could be more exciting than riding along well maintained roads with green fields on both sides and the only traffic, a stray fellow-cyclist? We did pottery with a local potter, and made some not-so-perfect diyas for Diwali too.

Another great adventure was the bullock cart ride. Done in style, the cart had mattresses for our comfort and took us deep into the owner's lands towards mango orchards. The baby learnt how to climb trees and breakfast was picnic-style on a khatia. Post breakfast indulgence? We climbed atop the tube well and dipped our feet in the freezing cold water, watching leaves float by like sail boats!

The service deserves special mention. Nothing was too much to ask for. The baby always had 2 people running around her, trying to get her to cycle or play carom or just catch peacocks (did I mention the gazillion peacocks who live there?). The food was exceptional and homely. I only wish they did a few local dishes too, and a couple of chutneys to take it a notch up.

The weekend was idyllic and perfect. But perfection is relative. If the good ol' country life excites you too (and yet you like your comfort), Mud Fort Kuchesar makes for a great weekend break.

And for me, a reminder of how I really need to move away from the city :)   

Wednesday 25 May 2016

One year at NDTV Food

I just completed one year at my current job. A year back, I moved from Bombay to Delhi, a bit like opening a door blindfolded and walking in, with no idea of what lay on the other side. From a stable and extremely enjoyable freelance career as a food and travel writer, I was going back to an office job, something I had voluntarily walked away from. 

But my concerns were unfounded. The biggest thing I feared then, was how constricted I would feel with a routine, an office to go to. I didn't. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that my job is fairly flexible, allowing me to manage my life. Maybe its because the nature of the job is so exciting, being a food editor is exhilarating stuff, I can never get bored of it. Or maybe it is just the amazing bunch of people I work with. 

I usually take a bit of time to get to know people, and allow people to get to know me. But these girls, my incredible team, are each so amazing, that I could not help but fall in love with them. They are talented, quick on the take and work brilliantly together. I needn't have worried a year back. I was in safe hands. And yes, the most important part, they love food as much as I do. So office is usually one big party! 

Life remains as unpredictable as always. But maybe it is me who has stopped evaluating it so often. I don't plan beyond 2 months now, live pretty much in the moment. One year down the line, from the day when I walked into the doors of NDTV, I can look back and pat myself on the back for having the courage to do so. For moving cities, shifting back to an office job and for doing work that I can look back and be proud of. 

Happy anniversary to me :)  

Wednesday 27 April 2016

The Fine Art of Dining Alone in a Restaurant

Some articles are so much fun to write. Like this one...about dining alone in restaurants..

Have you ever done it?

Here's how to dine solo like a pro - Click Here 

Sunday 27 March 2016

A day well lived

Yes, it has been a very long time since I have blogged. What was second nature to me, became the one thing I ignored. I could partly blame it on my 9-5 job which provides an outlet to my need to write and express. But the truth is also that either I learnt the art of letting an experience remain just that without feeling a desire to share it with the world, or more realistically, found it within myself to share my thoughts with those I love and have slowly allowed myself to trust.

But today, after many many months, I felt a burning desire to write. Not the mundane traffic-directed writing many of us are relegated to, after a point. But the kind of writing that urged me to change my career, 6 years back. 

Mountains do that to me. Somehow, they always urge me, to find the voice of my soul, the voice that cities so well suppress. Every time I travel, I feel more alive. And it is not hectic city travel that I am biased towards. It is that where there is nothing but me and silence. This moment, for example. I am sitting here, in the patio of a stunning cottage in the hills above Bhimtal. There is no sound, but that of birds chirping, crickets making a racket and an occasional axe cutting a log of wood somewhere far away. I may love dancing and house parties and restaurants that have a ‘vibe’. But if you want to know the me that I hide, you will find her here. The girl who can sit on this chair and read a book for hours, or she who loves waking up early and going for a walk along the jungle-trails that villagers frequent. You will find her at peace. Unquestioning, content and with no plan in place. And if the thought of this girl doesn’t bore you, she may allow you to glimpse the thoughts that run through her head, or the feelings that she hides well in the crevices of her heart.

But I digress. What urged me to write was a perfect day today. I started the day today doing something that would normally freak me out – jumping off a cliff! I went paragliding. I’m not a very ‘adventurous’ person in the context of such things. But when I was wondering yesterday if I should try paragliding or not, I surprisingly found no fear in my heart. What is the worst that could happen? That is what I ask myself when there is terrible turbulence in flights these days. And when I think of the worst, it doesn’t scare me anymore. 

If you haven’t tried paragliding yet, I suggest you head here the next weekend you can spare, and give it a go. The joy of flying through the air is inexplicable. You feel alive. Real. There is nothing else in that moment but you and the wind that steers you. Many people I know have discovered a similar joy in deep sea diving or snorkeling. For me, it will always be flying through the air.

And when I thought nothing could compete with a morning like that, our cottage’s caretaker arranged for us to visit his home in the nearby village on my request. We trekked down, children in tow and found ourselves welcomed with open arms by the women in the village. 

They had laid out a plastic table for us, with a gorgeous red flower set in the center. I found myself wandering into the kitchen in the hut. Mud walls and a spic and span mud floor, covered by a slanting roof. Usha, the eldest, placed a low stool next to the choolah for me to sit on as she and her sister prepared food for us. And the food. What do I tell you about the food. Delicious, honest flavours, which did not need to hide behind garam masalas and chilies. The saag was perhaps the best I have ever had, with tempering of onion and ghee and the rajmah different from the version popular in Punjab or even Kashmir. They grew their own produce, palak and garlic, wheat and onion, amongst other things. Organic produce, that we city folk like to switch to. The good ol’ ways that people have been living by, the healthier way to eat.

A morning of soaring among the clouds and birds. An afternoon marked by smiles and acceptance. Such was my day today. A day unlike many others.

Thursday 31 December 2015

The Rediscovery of Magic

I was the girl who believed in Santa Claus and Harry Potter. Not just when I was little, I grew up into that girl too. I loved the excitement around festivals, loved gifting my people stuff on Christmas and loved dancing with complete abandon. 

Then I grew up. 

The thing about growing up is that you lose your rose tinted glasses. It's not a fab thing. 

But this year, something happened. Something incredible. 

Something that made me believe in magic again. 

Not the hocus pocus kind of magic. But the goodness of people, of warmth. 

I joined a chain on Facebook called #GiftaBook . The idea was simple enough - you send a book to a specific friend of a friend and get 6 more people to join the chain. The concept works such that if everyone does it right, you can get back as many as 36 books. 

Ever the skeptic, I reasoned that even if I got back 2 or 3 books, it would be fun to be a part of this. So I sent off mine, Miss Funny Bones by Twinkle Khanna, one that I loved reading recently. 

And then it happened. Books started pouring in. Literally pouring in. And it wasn't just the fact that people sent in books. It was the fact that people took time to think of what book made a difference in their lives and sent that. Some even went to the extent of finding out my wishlist and sent me books from that. One realised that he sent me a book I already had, so he sent me another! Complete strangers, whom I do not know, neither will I ever have any other interaction with them, took time out to make my day. Some wrote little handwritten notes and wished me Merry Christmas. Told me what the book meant to them and hoped I would enjoy it too. 

This is, undeniably, one of the most incredible experiences of my life. 

Santa Claus may not be an old hefty man in red. This year, my Santa or rather Santas were people like you and me. Sprinkled across the web of Facebook. Weaving magic, one book at a time. 

Don't listen to the cynics. Magic exists. I found it this Christmas.  

Sunday 18 October 2015

What is it like to be born a girl in India?

I read a very well written editorial piece yesterday in the Mint titled 'What is it like to be an Indian Muslim?'  A fairly well written piece, the writer had me do a double take when he concluded with the following:

"..It is a fine thing to be male, middle class and Hindu in India. Even in a deprived part of the world, one is privileged.."

I did not think too hard into that until last evening when I was driving back home. But to explain that, let me rewind a little.

The very fact that I am writing something titled thus, seems inappropriate to the hilt. I consider myself lucky and privileged, to have been brought up in a family that does not differentiate between boys and girls. They actually wanted two girls and we decided to fulfill their wishes. We grew up with equal opportunities, being told we must make a mark in the world and with freedom that millions don't have.

Unfortunately, this differentiation is so deeply entrenched in our belief structure that it shows up when you least expect it. When I was driving home at the extremely respectable time of 9:45pm, I found myself urging the car to go a tad faster, lest I receive an sms asking where I was and when I would get home. I usually make it a point to get home by 10pm if I am driving alone or else try to get a friend or a friend's brother/dad to follow me home.

Take a minute to think about that. I am 33 years old, yet I or my family does not have the confidence that I can spend a languid night out and come back when I want to.

I do not remember any guy I know being asked a similar question, with the same intention. If a guy is asked what time he will get home, it is either from a logistical point of view (does he have the keys to enter?) or that you'd prefer him to come earlier to spend time with you. But it's never he 'should' be home by 11.

'Should'. The connotation that I tried to understand one day.

Now that I work in an office set-up again, I get free to go out only by around 7:30-8. Take Delhi distances and traffic, which means that wherever I wish to go, I will only reach by 8:30-9. And I should be home by 10...which means I should spend only 15 minutes at the place I plan to go to?? Ridiculous much??

To understand this 'should', I sat down with my parents recently and asked them why they felt so uneasy if I were to come home late. Safety was the obvious point, which I agreed to and said I'll keep something in the car, download an app, msg them where I am, when I leave and be followed if it is beyond 10:30. After a little hesitation, my extremely-modern parents also let it slip that it doesn't seem 'nice' if girls are out in the night. Ok then. Let me reiterate. I am 33, fairly balanced a person, have friends who are equally so and whom my family 'approves' of, when I go out, if I go out, I'd probably go for dinner or to a new place opened up; yet, if someone saw me out with my friends (in an extremely respectable place) at 10pm, it would not seem 'nice. I wonder what those people would be doing there if it is not a place I should be at. I also wonder if the same point would have been put forth if it were a guy who was out for drinks with his pals. It wouldn't.

I am extremely privileged. I do believe that. However, if such an incredibly deep bias rests inside us without us even realising it, imagine the unseen shackles other girls live with, girls born into families that are not even a fraction as modern as mine is. Ponder on that as I make plans for a movie in the afternoon today...because you see, a night show is out of the question.