The Art of Laughter

September 4, 2012 § 2 Comments

(I loved this installation I went to recently, and thought about writing a review for it, except I don’t know the first thing about writing Art reviews. Well, here goes nothing.)
I don’t think there’s anything more fulfilling than being in a room full of laughter. Not the horrific “laughter club” version, which often sounds like something between a pack of hyenas and victims of a medieval torture device. What I’m talking about is unbridled laughter, something that results from pure joy, absolutely unabashed and free from restraint or embarrassment or judgement. There’s a point at which laughter is hesitant and controlled in deference to propriety, as I was reminded of once by a teacher who reprimanded me for laughing loudly, saying that “women should be seen and not heard”. I learnt that you can maintain that propriety for a while, but beyond that point, laughter is all that there is – you sometimes forget why you are laughing in the first place, and even if you don’t understand what everyone’s laughing at, it is so infectious that you just cannot help yourself.
Lafeteria, which can best be described as an Installation, conceptualized and executed by Aravind Murali and Jaishankar Iyer, is an actual tribute to laughter as it really and truly should be. If you are based in Chennai, it’s up at the Ashvita Art Gallery and there will hopefully be similar installations in other cities as well. There’s nothing much to see unless you truly fancy reading an endless trail of letters climbing up walls and stairs. The letters are the common representations of the comedic – “ha ha”, “he he” and the like. But that’s about it – and rightly so, because the plain surroundings let you just concentrate on what this really is all about – the laughter.
You could possibly try identifying all the forms of laughter that these guys have managed to capture and edit and sting together – there are chuckles and giggles and guffaws and snorts and gasps and there are points at which the loud cracking up trails off…only to be rekindled again with a vengeance. There is nothing forced about the sounds you hear, and therefore there is no monotony. It’s candid laughter, and not canned. If you want to, you can lean back and try and identify each voice for the age, gender and temperament of the person it belongs to. Or you could just sit in wonder about what is it they are laughing about. But what you should do is just sit, and enjoy laughter for laughter’s sake, different voices and reactions hitting you from different angles. Sprawl on the floor, grab a bean bag, a sofa chair – and just be.
This is a work of Art, and Art impacts different people in different ways. As I walked down the stairs listening to these sounds of what can only be described as absolute joy, I remembered evenings with my Father, the funniest man I will ever know, where he would go on and on with his narratives, feeding off our laughter, encouraged by our holding our waists and begging him to stop, while he would up the ante and all of us at home would be torn between rushing to the bathroom and sitting on lest we miss anything even more hilarious.
For me, my life’s most memorable moments have been those where I just could not stop laughing. And that is where Lafeteria took me.
P.S: Yes, I have moved to Chennai. This is a long story that I will probably never post on this blog. So use your imagination.
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Why, Tehelka, why?

April 7, 2012 § 9 Comments

Let’s be clear here. It’s no surprise to anyone that the people handling matters concerning law and justice are often victims of their own morals and prejudices. As a practitioner of Criminal Law, I have seen this at every stage – from Lawyers to Cops to Judges presiding over various levels of the Judiciary. My own experience (which includes a Cop telling me that my Client shouldn’t get upset over her husband hitting her every now and then since he himself hit his wife very often – these things keep happening in a marriage, after all) apart, I doubt the revelations of the Tehelka expose surprised anyone. Disgusted, yes.Repulsed, yes. Angered, yes.

The Article itself surprised me though, at its complete and utter callousness towards long term repercussions of deliberate and detailed “naming and shaming”. The Article nearly opens with an attack on the Superintendent of Police, Noida, for a violation of Section 228-A of the Indian Penal Code. Then, however, the Article goes on to discuss the opinions of Investigating Officers in cases which are sub judice. All in the name of Tehelka’s aim to change the system and root evil out of society and save the world, one sexist Police Officer at a time.

Which would be fine but for the fact that the Investigating Officer himself is a witness in every Criminal Prosecution. Every Officer who has investigated the case is under obligation to depose as to the manner in which the investigation was carried out, the recording of witness statements, the seizure of articles and forensic samples, pretty much everything until the filing of the chargesheet.And like every witness, the Accused has a right to cross examine him. And the right of cross examination extends beyond merely the investigation conducted.

Unlike the United States, there is no clear jurisprudence in India compelling an Investigating Officer to disclose material which is in the favour of the Accused. One of the possible reasons behind this is that there is clear legal provisions mandating the Investigating Officer and the Public Prosecutor to be neutral and so they are empowered with the ability to close cases in the event that adequate material does not exist against an Accused. In case a Defense Lawyer comes across material exonerating his Client, he waits until the Investigating Officer is examined and then produces the material before him for his reaction. Of course the I.O. will deny the authenticity of the material and claim that they did not find it relevant.

But what happens when the I.O. is confronted with his statement, nay, his opinion that the Accused is innocent? A clear statement by the Officer who oversaw the investigation and his finding that there was consensual sexual intercourse, the most common and crucial defense in a rape case? A statement made apparently voluntarily and on camera? The I.O. could very well deny it, but the production of these statements are extremely damaging to the Prosecution Case, as they discredit the entire investigation. I’m not even looking at the possibility of a Judge having read the news report and noting the observations of the concerned Investigating Officers. One may argue that the chances of this happening are too remote. A Defense Lawyer using these statements is a definite possibility, and unless all of the Accused in these cases appoint extremely incompetent Lawyers, I don’t see how this report could really work to anyone’s advantage.Except for Tehelka, I suppose.

It’s a sad day when you hope your rant catches the attention of the Chairman of the Press Council of India.

A little bit about netiquette

May 28, 2011 § 2 Comments

The internet exposes you to a lot of people, and while most of it is fun, you do sometimes find yourself wondering why certain people exist on this lovely planet of ours. This list is, in no particular order, a collection of no-nos that I have accumulated over the past two years of internet activity. Now, I must admit that I was never a part of the A/S/L generation and so I probably am a little harsher than most people when it comes to what could be natural gaffes. I am sure that there must be ultra sensitive psychopaths like me out there, and so this is dedicated to all of you:

The 7 things I wish people on the Internet would be more mindful of:

1.  Respecting Anonymity: Some people like to be completely anonymous. Some people, like myself, prefer to be partially anonymous. Whatever it is, respect that. Some people have been very proud of themselves in their efforts to find out people’s identities. In my case, people have gone to great lengths to find out even my family background. This shows that you are very resourceful. So good for you. You know what else it shows? That you are a sick asshole with no regard for anyone’s privacy and someone with way too much time on your hands. That’s what you were aiming for, I hope.

2. Avoiding Public Displays of being privileged: So maybe someone doesn’t want to display their real name on twitter or blogger or whatever. Sometimes, however, they do meet people offline and obviously you become acquainted with the person’s real name. Sweet. Then, one day, this happens:

PersonIMetOffline: @MumbaiCentral Hey A, what’s happening?

Using someone’s real name may be abuse of privilege enough, but referring to the person by one initial is worse. You know how? One, you are creating a fake nickname for someone, which is really unnecessary. Two, you are obviously toying with other people, implying that you know someone personally, while others don’t, and you’re trying to keep them guessing by the use of the first initial nickname. You are of course working on the mistaken presumption that other people envy you for knowing another person’s real name. Don’t tell me I need to delve into what is so horribly wrong with this scenario.

Having said that, don’t refer to people who you meet in real life by their twitter handles. If you’ve forgotten their names, just move on.

3. Stop assuming that people who you’ve never met in real life will recognize you by your voice:

This really happened.

Someone passed on my number to another person on Twitter, hereinafter referred to as DB, “for some work”. Fine. One day, I’m just getting out of Court, and the phone rings.

Me: Hello?

DB: Hi!

Me: Who’s this?

DB: Hey, don’t you know who I am?

Me: Obviously not.

DB: Come on, guess na?

Me: Listen, I have no idea.

DB: Arre guess na? Take one guess no?

Me: Hey, guess what, I’m hanging up.

DB: Arre no no no…

4. Stop mistaking online comfort for physical comfort

It’s understood that the internet is full of psychos and that meeting someone offline is a bit of a leap of faith, and at the back of your mind you hope that the person won’t turn into an insane stalker.

Assuming that one is entitled to a hug on your first offline meeting is not a good step against this.

Men and women both please note.

5. Stop trying to force yourself into the Private Domain

“Follow me please,  I need to send you a DM”

“Can I have your email address please, too long for DM”

“Can I have your real email address please? I know this one is just for your blog”

Seriously guys. Take a hint.

6. Stop assuming every one is as publicity hungry as you are.

Some professionals on Twitter are prone to getting a lot of technical questions and most of them are willing to reply to those questions. Some people also use Twitter to look for work. However, not all of these people want to use Twitter to gain publicity because no one wants to be the douchebag who uses Twitter to gain publicity. For instance, no one wants to be known as the “Twitter Doctor” who diagnoses people on the basis of 140 characters. Professionals use Twitter as a venting space. So if you need a “byte” or an “opinion” for a Client of yours to be posted in the mainstream media, don’t assume everyone will jump at the opportunity. If they decline, leave it at that. You are not doing anyone a favour here and all you are achieving by trying to force yourself on others is becoming material for posts like this.

Your Client will be unhappy but at least you’ll have your dignity.

7. Intervening with relevant material:

There’s no privity of conversation on the internet, surely. But suppose you and a friend are talking about the Star Wars original Trilogy. You’re really engrossed in this conversation and suddenly a third person comes in and says “Oh man have you seen The Star Wars Holiday Special? It’s awesome!”. Now while both these movies may be part of the “Star Wars Universe”, you’re not going to make that connection. You’re just going to roll your eyes and say “whatever”. If you want to talk about the Star Wars Holiday Special, start the topic on your own, am sure someone will come and share your enthusiasm.

Snigger.

And we march on, towards the path of internet righteousness.

See also: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/twitter_stop

A Goan Summer

May 14, 2011 § 8 Comments

A different version of this article appears in the Mint travel section dt. 14.05.2011. 

Growing up in Goa, summer holidays in Goa were never much fun. The perils of studying in a “Central Board” school was that all my friends (who were the progeny of non-Goans who were in Goa to do the unthinkable –work) would head back to their “native place” for month long family visits. In desperation I would have to turn to the neighbourhood kids to include me in their games. My friends came back from their holidays, recharged (especially those who came one week late into the term – God, how I hated them) while I was, well, still there. As I grew older, and more mobile, I found to my dismay that May meant the beginning of the end of the tourist season, though that never stopped us from sitting on the beaches till we got dizzy in the heat.

It was really only later, when Law School decimated the concept of “summer vacations” with its trimester system, that I truly understood what an idiot I was for underestimating how awesome it really was to have grown up in Goa, especially during summer.

Food is a great part of the culture of Goa, and summer is when things reach a mindblowing crescendo. After all, while they’ll tell you that the Mango is the King of fruits, very few people will tell you that Goa is the Castle. Goa has over 100 varieties of mangoes, many of them lovingly created by Jesuits who brought the technique of grafting with them from Portugal. Each time a new mango came into being, it was christened with the name of its grafter.  So don’t mind the cannibalistic feeling you may get while eating mangoes with names like Fernandin, Colaso, and Xaver.

The varieties are plenty, but the mango schedule is so precise that you could probably predict the date by identifying the mango on your plate. The arrival of the mango is announced by the blossoming of the tree in the beginning of the year. You can predict when the tree will bear fruit judging from the date on which the tree blooms.

Raw mangoes begin to surface in the month of March. On most days you can enetr Goan households to the aroma of mustard and asafetida roasting in oil and poured over finely chopped raw mangoes, (aamblis) which have been treated with salt and freshly ground red chilies. Other days ladies can be found stuffing a lethal spice mix into the carefully crafted hollow of a raw mango. And then of course there is the “sick pickle” – seeded raw mangoes in salt brine, which is served as a side to pez, a simple rice congee, and the cure for most ailments. March also sees the overburdened trees of the Bimbla  or Bilimbi fruit, notorious for their sourness, which also end up in a pickle jar. These sour fruits, along with other seasonal goodies like starfruit and ambades (hog plums) also turn up as souring agents in prawn curries and other coconut based gravies, like udidmethi. The flesh of the fruit is to be smashed into the gravy for best results, and if there is a seed involved, gnaw it with all you got.

At home, our Panha and Kokum Sarbat would wow friends who came over. The concentrates would be refrigerated for easy access after a hot day, and would be soon joined by neero, or the freshly extracted juice of the cashew apple.

After precious cashews are harvested, the attached cashew apples are cut and crushed in a stone apparatus, and the juice collected thus is neero. Neero is perfectly nonalcoholic but gives a mysterious kick to young children who drink it, having no idea of the process of distilling. It is after the first distilling that this juice becomes Urak, and two more rounds of distilling produces Goa’s most vile export, Feni. Families keep a few handfuls of cashew apples from their orchards to eat – either raw (with a sprinkling of salt and chili powder to cut through the sweetness of the fruit) or cooked in a coconut based gravy, not the most popular dish in my book. While Urak is relatively easy to find in season in Goa, you might have to follow your nose to a Cashew farm to get your hands on some cold refreshing Neera. Cashew apples are notoriously bad travelers, with their thin skins, so you’re chances of scoring some are best at a farm.

For the many Goan families, mango season has its own rituals. Soon-to-be-ripe mangoes are identified and twisted off the tree branches, carefully, breaking it away from your body – or else the blasted deek or tree sap ends up blackening your hands until it slowly peels off along with your skin. If the deek falls on the mango, it leaves a black stain, reducing its market value. Keep your eyes peeled for the prized zhadpiko, a mango ripened on the tree itself, which apparently tastes the best amongst its peers.

The mangoes are lovingly taken indoors to ripen. In old Goan houses, whole rooms devoted to mangoes brought from the bhaat, covered with newspaper and hay. Some dunk their mangoes in barrels of rice. My parents consulted many experts in the field who have devised a combination of hot and cold water baths for each mango as the best method of treatment, followed by a thorough towel dry. Mangoes are pretty high maintenance!

While some mangoes are sold, none are ever at the cost of the family’s appetite. My grandmother would inspect her room of mangoes daily and pick out the ready ones to be served at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and any time in between, which was actually traumatic for me during my teenage acne phase (I was willing to believe that a mango could cause me harm. As if!). Even now, when I’m having lunch “in season” at my granny’s, a cut up mango is placed on the generously served thaali, which goes surprisingly well as an accompaniment to sol kadi-rice. If there’s no sliced mango on your plate, it means that sansav is on the menu: an aromatic dish featuring skinned mangoes floating in a gravy made of coconut and ground mustard, which gives the dish its name.  If a son-in-law was visiting, there is probably aamras and poori.

Family members used to eat 18-20 mangoes a day without blinking an eyelid. Mangoes could be sliced in a very civil manner, or they could just have their stems lopped off and consumed in a manner that would make Katrina Kaif blush. No one ever ran out of mangoes in the good old days. The fruits kept coming. You had some from your bhaat, then you’d get some from your family members, then your neighbours, and so on. With recent generations selling off agricultural land, the markets are the places to turn to for the hunt for the perfect mango.

And what mangoes! The arrival of the ripe mango is met with much excitement – false starts, like “outside” mangoes (ripened in “carbate”) are ignored. In many Hindu households, the first mango is presented to Ganesh, and then is devoured by the rest of the family.

Invariably the first mangoes to find their way to the markets are the “ghontas”, a local name for the “bastard” mangoes which are not the product of careful grafting and the like, but are rather just mangoes that grow out of the perfectly natural method of seeds falling to the ground and germinating. Ghontas in their raw form were quickly disposed off into pickles, and when ripened they are cooked, rather than eaten raw. The Alphonso mango, which grafted itself all the way to Ratnagiri where it attained fame under its stage name, Hapus, is repatriated to Goa where it is eaten grudgingly.  The official season opener is the Mankhurad, in April, and it is met with so much love and affection that its natural fibrous texture is ignored. May sees the availability of most other varieties of mangoes – the ones with the interesting Roman Catholic names, and even some visitors from outside, like the Totapuri, which gets its name from the little beak it has.

Towards the end of May, the Musraad arrives. In its North Goa variety, the Musraad’s pulpiness is effectively used to make mango jam – mangoes are pressed by hand to extract all the pulp, and this is slow cooked till the water evaporates and doused with sugar and elaichi. After Chorizo, this is probably the best accompaniment ever to fresh pao from the poder. The Goan version of fruit roll-ups, Saat, is rich chewy mango goodness. This is all in preparation for the monsoon – while the jam bubbled away, dollops of pumpkin and spices are dried on the roof for “wodyo”, alongside sabudana wafers and nests of sweet potato noodles. On another roof would dry mackerels, shark and prawns.

Panic ensues with the arrival of the Neelam mangoes in the market. Neelams are small mangoes which would otherwise go unnoticed but for the fact that they are the last mangoes of the season, beyond which things are very, very bleak. Neelams are acquired and eaten at every meal but all it achieves is the postponing of the inevitable – and one day, it’s all over. The skies sympathize with their outpouring of grief.

If you’re visiting Goa in the summer, take some time off your beach schedule to explore the local markets for the variety in fruits. A stroll through the well planned Panaji market is a great way to evaluate the mangoes on offer. Or, befriend some locals and snap up their lunch invites. For a more real experience, several organic farms welcome visitors – and are well worth a day trip – especially for their famed lunches made with seasonal goodies. Locals jams and pickles are available at most women’s self-help organization offices located in Panaji and Madgaon. In summer, the best Goan experience could very well be indoors!

Disappointingly Dadar

March 8, 2011 § 1 Comment

I’m a little tired of the dining-out options in Dadar West, which is the other side of the bridge to where I live. There are plenty of things that are snacky, but it’s just a mess if you plan of making a meal of the carb-heavy and very noisy (but delicious) all day eating options that Dadar West has to offer.

I think the Awchat endeavors (Goa Portuguesa, Culture Curry and Diva Maharashtra) are best left to the blokes who don’t know any better (I try not to be a food snob but I refuse to have any further conversation with anyone who lists these places in their top 20 restaurants in Mumbai)  So unless you’re prepared to watch your life pass you by on the steps outside Ovenfresh or Gypsy/Nebula, or weep over an extraordinary bill at Tamnak Thai (though they do have an excellent selection of wines), you’re a little stuck.

With a swanky exterior, Dadar 28, bang on Cadell Road, is a sight for our sore eyes. We’ve visited Deja Vu, which is the adjacent coffee/all day breakfast cafe and dismissed it as pretty harmless and a very good option to waste time at. Dadar 28, however, was a “dine in” and thus required a special effort to test out.

Dadar 28 is an upgraded-Udupi in sleek clothing.  You know what I mean. They start off as small innocuous idli-vada-thaali joints, make some money, upgrade to very red north indian curries and naans, make some more money, hire am oriental looking chap to dish out what he thinks is chinese, install an air conditioner in the “AC family room” with hiked prices, make some more money, get Rexene sofas, buy a flat screen TV, install another air conditioner on the bottom so prices can increase some more, serve Non Vegetarian food, get a liquor license and voila – it’s Posh like Beckham. While the predecessor to Dadar 28 is unknown to me at least, this is exactly where it stands.

So we land up on a Sunday night, at 8pm, and the place is packed to the gills by 9. The match-on-the-flat-screen-TV is one consideration, but most tables were occupied by “groups” – celebrating something, or doing the “let’s go out to dinner and give Mummy a break” routine. No one (except us, who were in Dadar 14) seemed to have ventured outside their own pin code to come here.

And why would you?

The guys are earnest, and earnest enough to tell you that the kitchen was limited. Dadar 28 is a very popular home delivery option and we were told that the kitchen was very busy and our Dim Sums would take at least half an hour to process. We started off with soups – I ordered a clear soup, and was served a clear soup FULL OF BOILED VEGETABLES. I got about four soup spoons of soup under the mound of vegetables. What gives? Thankfully, the veggies were done al dente and not a soggy mess. The Manchow was ridiculously thickened.  VFM is a strong point that they are trying to emphasize here.

Dim Sums landed up about 40 minutes after the soup did. They were steamed well (no raw corners) but they had Paneer inside them. Again, why? But it came with a fiery mix of sauteed spring onions and very roughly crushed black pepper which was highly inspired, though very oily.

I wanted some baked/grilled/steamed fish, and I was immediately suggested the tandoori rawas. Now, I am strictly of the opinion that Fish don’t belong in a Tandoor. Think where Tandoori cuisine originated from and is prevalent (clue: North India) and think where fish come from (clue: sea) and that will give you an idea as to why it doesn’t work. I don’t care if it’s Jiggs Kalra doing my fish tandoori. Fish are done in a Tandoor the minute you slide them in. Can you not bake fish? Of course you can. In Goa we have a lovely tradition of basting a fish with feni and baking it under burning leaves. The trick is temperature control which is not so easy in a Tandoor, which averages around 300-400 degrees. Our friend the waiter was very dismissive of my apprehensions and said that it was just made with “tandoori masala”. Any other fish option was either batter coated and deep fried or would take too long. Even longer than the dim sum.

Always trust your judgement. The Ravas was dried out, and absolutely inedible upon cooling. Even dousing it with lemon didn’t help.

The others ordered the “Triple Szechwan Fried Rice”. Hey, when in Chindia, do as Chindians do. TSFR, is, for the uninitiated, a combination of rice, noodles, vegetables or meat, and a szechwan sauce than brings it all together. To add just a little crunch to this possibly soggy affair are fried noodles. It’s a one stop shop. It’s never a classic, but it’s always satisfying, especially if you are a former hostelite.

This one was pretty disappointing. There was an extra helping of chili powder and turmeric. You could taste the turmeric. Yes.

On the plus side, the portions are huge and they are eager to please – drinks come along with boiled and seasoned corn kernels, some papad, peanuts and cheeselings (the latter is also served to the teetotalers). We spent 900 bucks for a meal for three. I’ve been told that they do a decent biryani, which I probably will end up trying some day.  It seems like a decent option for the days you just want to throw health and haute cuisine out the window and have some greasy food coloured comfort food (admit it: we all have those days) or watch a World Cup Match and have a drink (they have a pretty impressive cocktail collection) without paying ridiculous cover charges (unless you are a vegetarian or just want the cheap liquor, in which case you should go to Green. Duh!). But only if you’re in the pin code.

Whose life is it anyway? Euthanasia and the Locus Standi debate

March 7, 2011 § 8 Comments

There’s enough said about euthanasia and the right to life – including the right to live with dignity. The Supreme Court has, today, rejected the plea of Journalist Pinky Virani that Aruna Shanbaug, a nurse who has been bedridden and in a debatable state of consciousness for almost 30 years after a brutal sexual assault, should be “allowed to die with dignity” instead of having to be “force fed” by the staff of the KEM Hospital who have been caring for her since she was first discovered in her traumatic state.

For me, the issue gets sorted out at a very preliminary stage and- what is the locus standi of the Petitioner, in this case a journalist, to ask for this rather drastic intervention of law?

First things first. Who is Pinky Virani?

Pinky Virani is a journalist of repute, having written several books and articles highlighting the plight of sexually abused children. She also wrote a book, “Aruna’s Story”, entailing the life of Aruna Shanbaug both before and after the assault which led her to being in this vegetative state. It is a powerful book and it does leave a reader in shock, and makes a case out for euthanasia, whether you accept it or not is a different story.

Writing a book about this woman is one thing. I’m afraid petitioning the Apex Court for her feeding tube to be removed is a bit much.

Locus Standi, or standing before the Court, is the principle that a Petitioner must demonstrate some interest in a case to justify their seeking judicial intervention. It is, in a way, the reply to the crudely put “tere baap ka kya jaata hai?”. Every time a Petitioner comes before a Court seeking some relief, he has to demonstrate his locus standi.

There are two exceptions to this rule: one, in Criminal Cases, because the traditional position is that Crimes are against the State, and therefore any person has the right to set the Criminal Justice machinery in motion. You can call the cops to lodge an FIR and they can never ask you what right you have to interfere. Of course there are exceptions to this rule in certain cases.

The second, is when there are matters of Public Interest, commonly known as PILs. In a PIL, the less interest you have in a case, the better – PILs are often thrown out when it is found that the Petitioner has some vested interest in the outcome of the case. You can’t have any further interest than the greater public interest you represent.

Aruna’s case is neither a Criminal Complaint, nor is it a PIL. The first assertion is fairly obvious, the second is not as much. Think about it. Pinky Virani only asked for Aruna’s feeding tube to be removed. She hasn’t asked for a legislation or policy statement on Euthanasia. There is no public interest involved here. Once you’re asking for something like Aruna’s Case to be decided in the facts and circumstances of her case and her case alone, this won’t automatically be precedent for lakhs of feeding tubes around the country to be removed all at once. Laying down a “law on euthanasia” would be a bit much even for the Supreme Court.

That being said, does Pinky Virani have any locus standi in this case? I’m afraid she doesn’t. Virani’s contention was that she was filing the Petition as the “next friend” of the patient. Here’s a definition of “next friend”:

“Someone who appears in court in place of another who is not competent to do so, usually because they are a minor or are considered incompetent. Often the role is filled by a parent or other relative; it can be any legally-competent person whose interests do not run counter to those of the person on whose behalf they are acting . The “next friend” is not a party to the proceeding, nor are they a formally-appointed guardian. Instead, they are considered an agent of the court whose role is to protect the rights of the incompetent person.”

Can it be conclusively said that Pinky Virani has no vested interest in the filing of this PIL? I’m going to court controversy here and say no. Let’s get real – she’s written a book on Aruna Shanbaug which is nothing short of a heart wrenching biography of the woman. If Aruna Shanbaug is allowed to die (let’s not use the word “killed”) I’m pretty sure that Aruna’s Story will go in for a reprint with a new epilogue.  I think it’s great that Aruna Shanbaug has so many people who surround her, even though her family has long before faded in the background, caring for her interests, including Virani. But considering a. she is not on life support b. she is being cared for by a competent staff of trained nurses in a Hospital c. she is clearly showing signs of life and response to stimuli, “tere baap ka kya jaata hai?”

Though the Judgement is not uploaded yet, apparently the Supreme Court also found the locus standi issue wanting. In my mind, the case should have been thrown out at the threshold itself instead of wasting precious judicial time in the merits of the arguments.

Just a disclaimer: For the record, I am all for the legalization of euthanasia as long as certain safeguards exist.

 

Updated: Here is the link to the Judgement. http://bit.ly/g1pmgI Courtesy http://judis.nic.in

From San Francisco, but not with enough love

February 26, 2011 § 5 Comments

Every special occasion in the small family takes us to one of the ultra expensive restaurants on our to-eat list. A new entrant, who cut the queue, is The Table, at Colaba. The Table has a kitchen governed by a Chef from san Francisco and its progress is being recorded in a blog by the restaurant consultant. http://www.joeyaltman.com/JoeyAltman/The_Table_Blog/Entries/2011/1/9_Opening_Menu.html

So we went, and we ate, and we went: Meh.

Why? How? The pictures on the blog are so pretty!

Let me be honest here. I have no idea what “a Modern San Francisco Style Ingredient Driven Restaurant” is. I haven’t been to San Francisco. This is always the inherent danger of writing a critique of a “niche” restaurant – it’ll always be dismissed as something “you just didn’t get”, which is a convenient excuse. Remember what happened to those who said Meh to Inception? My tongue does know a thing or two about tasty food. And of course we are all free to disagree. That said, here we go:

We’re pretty hungry by the time we are seated (which was smooth, and we had a reservation, which ALWAYS helps. Though the reviews on burrp.com did complain much about last minute calls from the management canceling reservations. Apparently they are over that now.) So we order Gruyere Cheese Puffs as our “snack”…

[OK, a bit about the menu here. The menu is divided into “snacks”, “small plates” and “large plates”. Roughly what to expect is that snacks arrive almost instantaneously, “small plates” are a kind of first course and “large plates” are your mains. The place is very “share your food” friendly and the waiters go out of their way to inform you of the option, which almost seems ridiculous – of course we can share our food you dolts, this is INDIA – we invented the one-by-two. There’s a separate dessert menu, which surfaces after you finish your mains/ask for it, which is kind of mean, because what I usually do is scan the dessert menu even before ordering appetizers and see if there’s anything worth saving space for. What does come with the food menu is the extensive wines menu – The Table only serves wine, no beer, no hard liquor. There’s an impressive collection and even more impressive is the availability of imported wines by the glass and even half a glass. More for the stingy Indian party.]

…and our helpful Steward explains whatever difficulties we have in understanding the menu, and we place orders.

The Puffs are very melt in your mouth, but have a distinct eggy aftertaste. I bought Gruyere once, I can’t say that I can definitely distinguish it from the other fancy cheeses but it doesn’t taste of egg. Of course we are still recovering from an hour long swim, and we need our carbs, so the puffs were wolfed down, eggy aftertaste notwithstanding. Speaking of carbs, a boy with a bread basket stopped by the table and offered us some bread. Three “different” pieces of bread were given to each of us, one of which was a Focaccia with caramelized onions, and two were slices of a white bread french loaf that I couldn’t really tell apart. It was pretty much some bread you could pick up at Ovenfresh (which is a very decent bakery, mind you), nothing to get excited about, not even a patch on what I think is the best bread basket in Mumbai – at 5, the Restaurant. Who needs room temperature bread anyway?

Not much of a wait later, our “small plates” arrive, and both of us have ordered soup. While my partner has ordered the Cauliflower-Leek Bisque with truffle creme, I have opted for the Crab Bisque. Anyone who knows of my Seinfeld obsession would have predicted that order in a second. Unfortunately, it was not a soup that had me buckling at the knees. It was very very ordinary. A bisque doesn’t have the crabmeat floating around, but the flavours do shine through. As if acknowledging its mediocrity, pieces of prawn were thrown in. A part of me wondered if it was meant to appease the possible “seeing is believing” attitude of the consumer, which again left me wondering – why prawns? Maybe the crunchy texture of prawns were meant to be a take on the humble crouton. Whatever. I found myself just trying to get through the soup. The Vegetarian Bisque started off pleasant, and grew on him as he reached the end. I swallowed my pride (which was easier than swallowing the crab bisque) and asked for the last spoonful. The Truffle Cream did add a spark. It was a nice, hearty soup where you could taste every ingredient. Which is the way a bisque should be, you know?

I thought I had got it right on the mains – I ordered the Ciopinno, which is a San Francisco Seafood Stew. “Stew”. Ah. The term, for me, denotes long, slow, loving cooking – resulting in a wonderful stock base, flavours that shine through, and something that is, well, hearty. What I get, is a steak of ravas sitting on top of a bowl of “stew” (we’ll get to that in a moment) and served with “crusty garlic bread” (patience, patience). The Ravas is dry. If they told me a steak was involved I would have told them to go easy on it. The “stew” was prawns and clams in a tomato-onion sauce. The crusty garlic bread was just the bread from the boy’s basket, charred on the edges. I tried really hard, but I just couldn’t eat it. It wasn’t even like I could send it back. It was the nether world of restaurant orders where you don’t know if it is “me” or “you”. The clams and prawns had been tossed into the sauce, the fish had nothing going for it, and that was it. A steward came to us and asked us how the food was. The Pumpkin Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter and Toasted Hazelnuts was very good. I loved the contrast of flavours and textures – the warmth and delicate flavour of the butter, the nutty and crunchy coating of the hazelnuts, and biting into the soft and sweet pumpkin centre. The side of broccoli and capers was also good, but you really shouldn’t be screwing that up anyway. My partner made his positive opinion very clear. The steward turned to me, and my quarter eaten fish, and I looked at him resignedly and told him that it just wasn’t working for me. He shrugged his shoulders, as did I. Can’t blame the guy, He didn’t order this, I did.

Dessert was called for – the almond and fig tart with cinnamon ice cream. The Tart was too heavy – it was too crusty, and the almond filing was always bound to be weighty (unfortunately in this case it was also slightly dry), but I loved the use of fresh figs. What was wrong with the ice cream? There was too little of it.

The decor is stunning, the ambience is wonderful. The place looks so nice that you could actually be led into thinking that the food is marvelous.

I wonder why they didn’t bother hiring a sommelier considering that this is a Vino-Only place, especially since it’s a small menu and it wouldn’t be so hard to work out good pairings. I asked my steward for some help, and he just repeated what the menu said. Having an expert on board would add a nice touch.

In the end, our order of one snack, two small plates, two large plates, a side, a dessert and 3 half glasses of wine came to 4400, inclusive of service charge. In all fairness, we over-ordered, and that is the one thing that I have to complain about the otherwise exceptional staff – they’re so busy being polite that they don’t express their own opinions. That’s where a Joe (Thai Pavilion) or a Johnny (Ling’s) can change a diner’s experience. Especially when the service staff has been trained well in appreciating each dish, which is what the blog tells us.

Word of caution, though: though I think we over-ordered, don’t work on the presumption that a snack+small plate+large plate is too much for one person. I checked our fellow diners orders – some dishes had huge portions, some were absolutely miniscule. Like quizzing in college, there is “no parity”.

As for me, better luck next birthday.

By the by, The Table does make a strong case for turning vegetarian.

PS: The guys at The Table http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/blog/2011/02/08/encountering-the-michael-bauer-of-mumbai/ have responded to the barrage of reviews that they’ve been given in the Mumbai press. I’m not a professional, and I’m not inspired enough to spend another 4k two more times to be able to write a “fully informed” review. You may argue that just by sampling 7 dishes on the menu, I can’t come to a correct conclusion about the place. Let me say something here – when the menu is as limited as The Table has (it’s probably one of the shortest menus in Mumbai), every dish better be outstanding. There’s no reason to keep it otherwise. In case the chaps haven’t realized, South Bombay is very unforgiving when it comes to new restaurants.


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