Sunday, 14 August 2016

A Tale of Two Restaurants

At the start of a long weekend, I decided to dine out on my own, as always. Since the palate craved something South Indian, I thought the nearest restaurant offering a reasonably OK fare should be my first choice. So, off I headed to Adyar Ananda Bhavan, popularly known as A2B, to savour a South Indian Thali.

At the very outset, I was disappointed to find that only one of two floors was operational that weekend. The management had decided, for some strange reason, to keep the upper floor locked/closed. The lower floor with limited seating arrangement was already full, but I was soon led to a table for 6, which I was to share with another lone diner - a lady who was about to finish her meal. I thought it would be all right as it was a no-frills eatery. However, what annoyed me was that as soon as the other lady got up, a couple of thug-like guys was asked to occupy the same table. One of them immediately took out his smartphone and was holding it ON the table - all which was very suspicious and made my antennae stand up!

I decided to get up and leave. I did request the management and waiting staff to see if another table was available, but obviously, an eatery like A2B was only interested in larger groups and not a lone diner, that too, a lady. I paid just for the coffee I'd managed to gulp down and left - having sworn never to step into this awful place again! In the while I'd been there, I saw a couple of young working women also turned away from the place as also a family. Surely, this is not the way to run a restaurant?

Still, I was not discouraged in any way for Koramangala is a diner's paradise! This time, I opted to head to a Fine Dine Restaurant just a few meters down the road from the above-mentioned dreadful eatery. I walked up to Bayleaf, on the ground floor of Raheja Complex. The welcome was so good and I was made to immediately feel comfortable. What a refreshing change...The serving staff was attentive, made suitable suggestions about the food choices and the best part was their music playlist! So many of my old favourites from the 1990s and early 2000s...

Since I cannot consume alcohol, I opted for my usual Fresh Lime Water, which arrived promptly and was spot-on. Bayleaf serves complimentary roasted papads with a divine mint chutney for diners waiting for the food to arrive...I opted for Aloo Chaat Chandni Chowk Wali as my starter, and was I hooked to the flavours or what! Hot, tangy, spicy and delectable...It took me right back to Delhi in one spoonful. I couldn't wait to have more of this...
For my mains, I ordered a Butter Naan and Nizami Handi, a mildly spiced dish full of vegetables in a thick gravy. While the naan was flaky and hot off the tandoor, the Nizami Handi had plenty of carrots, peas, beans and other vegetables. Again, the taste was near-perfect, the beans were not stringy, and the extras served along with the Mains were mango pickle and Pickled Baby Onions.
And finally, to finish off this wonderful meal, I decided to got for a Dessert Platter - their Mithai Sampler. I chose Gajar Halwa, Pista Gulab Jamun and Sondesh Aur Gulkhand Pasanda...Needless to say, this was the highlight of the entire meal (or, was it the starters?)...The desserts are heavy and surely not intended to be consumed by one person. However, I could not help but eat as much of these flavourful desserts as I could.
Bayleaf matched ALL my expectations - and then, some more! I will surely be back for their weekday lunch buffets and their Lunch Boxes. More than anything, what was endearing was their treatment of and attention to every diner. Surely recommend this place to all! It is an oasis of calm in the midst of the hustle and bustle of traffic at the Forum signal. The interiors are tastefully done up and nothing jars the eye.
In brief, a perfect meal for a lone diner!

Saturday, 23 July 2016

My Experiments with the Indian Workplace

For a long time now, I’ve wondered if ALL companies in India that work on language-related projects act in a certain manner? When I first relocated in 2011, I tried working in-house.

At the very first company, I was taken in for Quality Control of created content, but was soon made to “create content” – the same job that recent graduates were doing. To add insult to injury, a sleazy manager insinuated I was “eating too much at lunchtime” (company provided food to make up for low salaries). I QUIT in 5 weeks. Heard the news a couple of years down the line that the sleazy element had been sacked. Good for the women in the company!

The second company where I accepted a job claimed to be a publishing services firm. The set-up was so fraudulent, the CEO one day proudly told me he hadn’t even paid the Export License Fee that year. I was horrified. Capacities were vastly exaggerated when sending proposals to prospective clients. It had just a handful of employees at that time and even fewer freelancers. I QUIT in the fourth month.

The third one, where I was taken in as a French Language Expert (and this firm was later taken over by Big Name Group!) wanted me to “Just use Google Translate, Copy and Paste the results on a Word document, Edit here and there, Create a summary and Submit.” I had to show up for work at 8am even on Diwali day, had work between 8am and 10:30am, then again between 3pm and 5pm. What did I do in the meantime? I ate THREE plain cheese grilled sandwiches every single day at the cafeteria upstairs – for a mid-morning snack, lunch and evening snack! To make things worse, an incompetent little pest who claimed to be fluent in BOTH Spanish and German was paid much more than I was, sitting right next to me and asking ME to help him translate – when I proved he didn’t know jack shit about the Spanish language and/or culture, and my sample summary of Spanish>English translation was better, the HR Manager defended the pest. I only have an Ab Initio certification in Spanish, but have an MA in Translating and a PhD in Translation Studies from a British university. I also completed 2 levels of Japanese and 1 level of Arabic. I QUIT in my second month at this particular company. And I had the last laugh when I found out through LinkedIn that the pest had also QUIT the firm 2 months after I did…So much for HR policies! My immediate manager at that firm told me to be patient as I’d “easily reach managerial level within 6 months, given (my) capabilities”…I told him I wasn’t interested as using Google Translate for work goes against ALL my ethics.

Then, I started freelancing.

The very first firm paid me peanuts – EIGHTEEN INR per page of font size 10, with up to 200 footnotes in even smaller print for legal journal articles! I QUIT as soon as I bagged a good firm that was looking for freelancers. To get a rough idea of rates in India, 67 Indian Rupees = 1 US Dollar as of today. 

Then, I started with a company that was reasonably good – at least initially. I took offense to my works being handled later by a certain Project Manager who could not even speak grammatically correct English. When we finally met at the office, he said something something along the lines of “Sorry, we could not be able to meet earlier”…Now, CAN = TO BE ABLE TO. You CANNOT use the two together. And he should’ve known this as a PM in a publishing services company! I refused to work with him, and stand by my decision till date.

I freelanced for them till a couple of months ago. What made me see red was being sent negative feedback on my last assignment for them, when clearly they had not put it through a QC stage at their end. Now, this is very common in Indian workplaces – several of them CLAIM to put all processes and checks in place, including through “a stringent QC/QA process”, but alas, that is seldom the reality! If anything goes wrong, they find a scapegoat – in this case, it was to be ME. The manuscript in question was by an Indian author who clearly didn’t know how to write! As someone paid only slightly more than half a US$ per page, I cleaned it up as much as I could. Why did I accept such a low pay? Because I DO believe in some kind of loyalty to clients for as long as the work is reasonably interesting and I am paid promptly…Clearly, in this case, time to let go. I QUIT!

Another firm also sent me interesting titles to work on during 2012–2013. What started off well soon went downhill. At one point, instead of the 250–275 words per page that is the industry norm taken as forming ONE page, these people were cramming up to 425 words into each page. I QUIT!

A couple of other companies also sent me freelance work between 2012 and 2013. One sent me fiction which was so bad, the uninterested author herself forgot the name of one of her main characters! This firm mainly dealt with self-publishing authors – and no thanks to Chetan Bhagat, we have HUNDREDS of wannabe writers in India now. Most of them send their work to this particular firm…I gave up after having almost REWRITTEN every single line in the first eight pages of an awful manuscript that should’ve never seen the light of day! When I sent it back to the publishing services firm, saying “Author needs to look at changes suggested in the first eight pages and revert with a cleaner version”, I never heard from them again! Do I regret it? Absolutely NOT! I QUIT!

Now that we’ve seen the Bad and the Ugly, let me come to the Good ones…In Nov. 2013, I was contacted by a wonderful Bangalore-based company…and I still work for them. Touch Wood. The ONLY problem I had with them was when a new PM came on board a few weeks ago. That minor hiccup has since been dealt with successfully. Or so, I’d like to think.

A Mumbai company has been sending me reasonably well-paid work, but the assignments are few and far between. At this point in time, it does not serve my purposes, though I am still on their list of freelancers. Another firm dealing with similar jobs got a taste of my temper when they messed up the online time scheduling system. The notification to me clearly mentioned 12:30 the next day, not 00:30. Obviously, I had intended to work on the small piece after 11am that next morning and send it before the 12:30 deadline. Got a nasty shock when I received an email, saying I had breached the deadline. So, I kindly pointed out that 12:30 generally means thirty minutes after 12 noon, not thirty minutes after 12 midnight. There was no AM/PM to distinguish the scheduled deadline either. To that, the Editorial Manager sent me an email response, pointing out my email to the team was rude in tone…Really? I can sound WORSE than that…This one didn’t even see me taking on the first assignment. I QUIT!

I’ve been trying out something new lately – Quality Control again! I was told I’m being extremely thorough in my work and I was an asset. Yet, not being paid 25 days since my invoice was raised (when the contract said payment would be within SEVEN days) means I do NOT take on QC work for them again. This is because their vendors carry out such poor-quality editing that almost EVERY manuscript that comes to the QC stage needs to be looked into thoroughly, a Line Edit – making it almost a Re-Edit stage in the workflow process. FOUR pages during the QC process are treated as ONE page of edits and rates offered accordingly in INR. I QUIT! They want me on a freelance basis with a higher rate. I am giving them some time to redeem themselves. THEY are on trial; not ME!

So, the above have been My Experiments with the Indian Workplace. All the above in the last 5 years. Please pour in with your comments! I’d enjoy reading every single one of them, for sure…Have I given up? Not yet...Always an optimist. I am a dreamer and would still like to believe in silver linings, and lights at the end of every tunnel and a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow!
PS: I've not mentioned the company name in even a single instance. Kindly do not contact me asking for further details.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

A Village Trip

From afar, we saw them –
Cheerful, gay and clothed in various hues,
The women were waiting outside their second home.
The eldest among them opened our bus door
To welcome us warmly
And embrace us with their collective love!

We bent our heads down
To enter their humble workplace
Rows upon rows of near-rusty sewing machines
Yet, on the walls hung their vibrant creations –
Bags, pouches, gift baskets, iPhone cases
Short of imagination they weren’t, for sure!

The sharp contrast hit the visitors
For how grateful these women were
For the little nothings they possessed!
The children, more than happy with an old tricycle
Donated by a mother whose child was now a teenager.
Sometimes, it’s the small things in Life that matter…

(Composed in Panchgani, October 2015)

Where Are The Children?

Winding along the narrow road up the hillside,
On the right, an amusement park –
But wait! Where are the children?
A little further, a near deserted village
With cows and stray dogs roaming about…

In the third house along the road,
A family of three – just seated for lunch,
But hey, where are the younger ones?
The three at the table ate silently.
The grandmother peers at her son,
Who was taking a break from the farm
To mourn his young child’s passing
In the accident along the busy hillside –

The school bus taking the village kids
To the town school nearby
Had crashed into the hillside,
Wiping away an entire generation
From the now silent village!

(Composed in Panchgani, October 2015)

Vagabond - a poem in 7 minutes

Searching, researching – for a lost soul
Where could she be hiding
After all these years?
She left one sudden morning
While the Dal
Was still simmering on the hob…
The main door left ajar
For the maid to come in
And discover she had left!

Vagabond! Be the vagabond you’d always wanted to be,
Said someone to her one day
At a café, where she was going through travel books.
Her mind was made up that very instant –
THIS wasn’t the life she wanted to live.

She wanted to run, to be free,
To escape, to be a Vagabond.

(Composed in Panchgani, October 2015)

Friday, 11 September 2015

Iyer Mess in Malleswaram - What a Let Down!

Being a true-blue Tam Bram, and wanting to eat a traditional meal in Malleswaram, I had Googled for ages and decided to hunt down Iyer Mess for a delicious Friday lunch. I was quite familiar with 7th Cross and 8th Cross Roads, and was confident of finding the place in a jiffy...Little did I know I'd be going round and round for well over 20 minutes!

Finally, I had no option but to pop into Sri Krishna Sweets, an old favourite, and enquire there. They very kindly offered to show me the exact location...and so, I trudged along till I spotted a large board pointing to "Iyer Mess". Turns out it is at the very end of a really small (as in less than 3 feet wide throughout) passage. I was wary and apprehensive on seeing the dimply lit passage...As I neared the entrance to the passage itself, a large black dog bounded up from another gate and was hastily shooed away by people around...Not a Good Omen, I said to myself!

I entered a small, not very clean room, about 10 feet by 10 feet, and at one corner sat the owner lady with her cash box. Dour-faced, unfriendly, she stared back at me as I neared her desk. I requested one meal and she turns to the side and barks at one of the serving staff, "Are the vadas still available"? Then, she says it would cost me 60 INR. She then thumps a plastic token on the table, points out to a  2-seater table and tells me to "Go, sit there". I crossed the small room and plonked myself on the rather uncomfortable steel stool, then proceeded to unfold the banana leaf, splashed a few drops of water on it and wiped it clean - all set for what I'd come here - LUNCH!

There were 4-5 other lunchtime diners, at various stages of their meal. I waited, and waited some more. No action from the owner lady? And then, the power goes off! Our lady gets up, only to shout at someone to "Switch on the generator"...A loud noise and a whiiiirrrrrr, and the stench of diesel fills the air, the lights come back on. And I am still hungry...It was sheer determination that made me sit tight and hold on to the thought of a good Tam Bram meal. I was as close to the entrance (exit?) as possible, next to a  window. The urge to flee was very strong indeed...

And finally, one of the serving staff comes to my table and plonks a Masala Vada and a bowl of White Rice. Another comes along to place a small plastic container of Yogurt by the side. Another wait...Then come the Pickle, Carrot/Coconut Dry Curry, and Drumstick Sambhar. I quickly started gobbling up the food as I realised I was being stared at in a rather uncomfortable manner by the idle serving staff and some hangers-on (I guessed, from delivery services)...The sambhar was the typical "arachuvittai sambhar" (with fresh ground spices and coconut) one gets in Tam Bram households. Halfway through this course, someone places a Fried Papad on my banana leaf. Half of that goes in too...

Again, another wait for a few minutes till someone comes to enquire if I wanted more Sambhar or Rasam. "Rasam", I mumbled, by now, totally freaking out and wanting to run out...The place was getting creepier by the minute! Rasam was nothing to write home about. There was then just the Yogurt to consume, and then I could be out of this place, I told myself...A few more people had come in by then, and were also being served slowly. I hastily finished my "Curd Rice" and found out diners had to proceed to a rather dirty hand basin, next to a trash bin, to wash their hands. Not a very pleasant experience...

As I ran out of the little passage and made my way to the afternoon sunshine, I thanked my lucky stars I was not as desperate as the regular diners of Iyer Mess! Once was enough in this dingy, unclean eatery - never would I make my way to it again for as long as I live...To all those who CLAIM to be foodies, please STOP recommending Iyer Mess as an option for Malleswaram! The location is hard to find, the place itself miniscule, hygiene dubious, food very ordinary and service poor...As a single diner, and a woman, I would not suggest this eatery to others like me.


Friday, 7 March 2014

'Being Stalked' - A Short Story

Being Stalked

Her name was Misha, meaning ‘smile’. Yet, much as she tried, she could not bring herself to smile anymore. It almost felt as if Life had passed her by lately. She deliberately chose a new city to move to when she returned to India, her home country – a place she had not regarded as ‘home’ for several years now. She was homesick for the life she had left behind. She missed everything about it though she had been there for less than five years – five years of total bliss, peace and quiet, with no one to trouble her. Her last home had been in the English countryside and her last winter had brought in a White Christmas! Her life was her own to live as she pleased…

All that changed within two months of her moving to India. She had desperately searched online for groups that would put her in touch with others who had left foreign shores to reclaim their land of birth as their own once again. She heard from some young man called Nihal, a charming person who soon called her regularly. Yet, every time they were to meet, something or the other occurred to prevent it…Suddenly, one day, Misha realised Nihal had been lying to her all along – he had accidently let slip something about his profession, using which she found out (thanks, Google!) that his real name was Rajiv and not Nihal. She found this disturbing and decided to investigate deeper.

She had an inexplicable feeling in the pit of her stomach that there was more to this than met the eye. She deliberately started mailing him at the id he had given her (with the fake name, of course). Eventually, he turned up outside her workplace and she knew who he was the minute she laid her eyes on him! However, Nihal made no attempt to speak to her or confront her. What transpired subsequently was rather strange – no, downright weird, if you ask anyone…Nihal got into the habit of following her every day from her home to her workplace, every single day, without fail, be it rain or shine.

It was scary at first, but as she got to observe him from close quarters, Misha decided it was all some harmless following by a guy who was plain curious about her life, which was so different from that of most people around. However, as the days went by, it got even more surreal in that he soon got others (Friends? Colleagues? Workers? Who knows?) to follow her too. Some days, it was like a mini convoy of bikes or cars that followed her! All very funny, very ‘Indian filmi shtyle’, she thought and figured she had been out of the country for so long that she no longer could understand her fellow countrymen and their mindset!

Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and soon, it was festive time all over the country. Every time she questioned him in an email about his real life, she would be met with silence, but the silent ‘stalking’ continued unabated…Once in a while, she would get a nasty text message from Nihal, saying she was so desperate so as to communicate with a total stranger despite no replies. Other times, he would send her a text message, asking her to meet someplace or the other…Soon, these invitations stopped. Yet, the stalking continued. Since Misha was new to the city and knew no one, she let it be as it was all harmless. She continued with her struggles in readjusting to life in her own country again. She had a new career to forge, new dress codes at work, new weather patterns all over again…she soon started feeling safe in the presence of the stalker. From ‘Nihal’, he became her ‘friendly stalker’, as she now liked to think of him. ‘Friendly’ because he did not seem like a threat, just a silent admirer, who often seemed to pave the way to a smoother life for her – or so it seemed.

Soon, Misha, who once felt so lonely in the new city, felt like she had a ‘real’ friend around. For the stalker seemed to always be in the background, be it night or day. He and his friends often rented a nearby apartment to make sure she was all right. He often stayed around till about 11 at night and then would zoom off on his bike or drive away in his car. Did Misha know this was going on? Of course, she did! She was very observant and often did not let it on that she was aware of what was going on around her. Others to whom she confided in about this stranger in her life thought she herself was a bit crazy! So, she soon learnt to just ignore what was going on. Misha figured it was all right, just ‘All right’ to let someone be, just ‘Be’. What was the point in confronting this person, who has patiently tolerated everything from mosquito bites to pouring rain to heavy traffic – all to just make sure she reached her workplace or home safe? Who was she to tell him to mind his own business? She soon started treating him as a friend, mailing him about her day, her plans for the weekend and so on. Was this madness? Misha surely did not think so. She knew of several people who had successful and happy online friendships going on, and she took this to be another such similar experience. She found nothing wrong in this at all!

Yet, the one thing that kept troubling her was the stalker’s reluctance to meet her face-to-face or speak to her again, now that she knew his real identity. She kept tabs on him by occasionally Googling him and was satisfied he was no Boston Strangler or Jack the Ripper. He was the son of a prominent businessman in the city, a textile merchant, and therefore did not have anyone to report to at work. His time was his own for him to do what he felt like. She did not think he was married and was under the impression he was just a footloose and fancy-free rich kid who had lost his way in Life…The one thing unwavering was his interest in her life and his determination to make sure he knew everything about her current life. Misha often found him funny – she had once seen him nearly falling off a neighbour’s terrace when he realised she had spotted him! Another time, she had taken over some freshly baked goodies to her neighbour’s home and handed them to him. He seemed so young and immature at close quarters and she found it flattering indeed that he was still around – after nearly two entire years!

Yes, the stalker had now been a part of her life for nearly two years. He and his friends were familiar faces not just to Misha, but to her entire neighbourhood as well, she was convinced. And then, one day, just like that, when she Googled him again, she came across a fresh photo of him online – a group photo taken officially, where he was clearly wearing a wedding band? Misha was shocked to her core as this was not something she had ever expected! She took the sensible route and immediately contacted her former neighbour, at whose house she had often seen Nihal and his gang of friends. The neighbour insisted the person she had met was not the stalker and had, in fact, left the city due to recurring complications from an appendicitis procedure. He said the person with the big Labrador was not a stalker, but a co-tenant who was very much single? Misha was still unconvinced and sent a clear email to the stalker, telling him to stop the stalking as he was ‘married’. Yet, this had no effect on the stalking activities and Misha had no choice but to just Let Things Be…For isn’t that what happens in India? Sab Kuch Chalta Hai

However, after one particular festival, Misha decided to get on with some persistent Googling…She checked out dozens of pages and came across his company’s details, which were (Surprise! Surprise!) in the name of a lady who could only be his wife, for she carried his surname! Misha researched more online and found out this wife’s social media page and sent her a detailed message…

Why did Misha do this? She felt she owed it to the wife to know what was going on. Misha also felt a bit sorry for the wife and any possible children of the union. Misha wanted the wife to put a stop to the stalking as she had gotten fed up of being followed everywhere. She craved her former independence. It was now nearly three years since she had moved to this new city and it was now her ‘Home’. Misha’s own friends were divided about her actions. Some felt she was wrong in taking off the wife’s rose-tinted glasses; others felt she had done the right thing and her conscience was clear. It was Misha’s attempt to Right a Wrong – she had not done anything wrong herself; she had not encouraged the stalking; she merely needed a new friend in a new city.

However, there were no replies to Misha’s message. She sent another one…and a third after a few days. And then, she thought someone else in the family needed to be informed. Misha was now getting desperate as she did not want to be in the midst of a marital issue. Jeez – she had better things to do than counsel couples whose marriages were falling apart! Yet, she felt she owed it to the stalker (who was probably a bit disturbed in some way emotionally) to make sure he had help to overcome this compulsion to follow some strange person when he should ideally be spending time with his own family. She felt sorry about the stalker’s emotional disturbances…but felt even more sorry for herself as she had practically lost all independence! In her initial years in a strange city, it felt good to be looked out for by someone she had come to know, but at some point, it gets to be too much…Misha was followed everywhere – to the supermarket, to her gym, to coffee shops, to her library…and even to a nearby city along the motorway?

Misha, in her desperation, messaged the stalker’s brother and gave him a gist of the story, imploring him to help her stop the stalking…She truly believed this was someone who would be able to help her. But, imagine her surprise when she received a nasty reply, calling her a ‘f****** b****’, threatening her with dire consequences if she so much as sent him another message? Misha was truly gobsmacked – is this how people behave in the New India? All she had been trying to do was save a marriage, nothing else…Yet, in a way, this ploy worked as the wife was made aware of the situation soon by the stalker’s brother!

Did this stop the stalking? NO…everything continued as before…Misha soon gave up on her attempts to stop the stalking and got busy with her own life. Nihal was a good person at heart, just terribly misguided – of that she was sure! Some day, one day, she wishes she no longer has to look over her shoulders and see a familiar face or a familiar shirt following her…Some day, she will be on her own again…Some day, Misha will be free again…free to live her own life and be with the one she was meant to be with…Some day, the stalker will realise marriages are worth fighting for…Some day, the stalker’s wife will thank her…Some day, the stalker’s brother will send her an apology…Will he? Ha…that’s for Fate to reveal!

Misha still believes in the inherent goodness of people…