Thursday, June 21, 2012

Coffee Tales Poured Fresh!

So a couple of days of working out of coffee shops and don't I have tales to share with you -

This post therefore will be in the form of three vignettes - quick shots like nicely brewed espressos...


So there I was, trying to race towards a deadline - at yet another coffee shop, the one at makes you go Brrrrr at their pricing and even worse iced-offerings...but they have comfortably spacious nooks where no one absolutely disturbs you and so I think I like a few of their outlets.

The target was a piece of roughly about 800 words.
The time available - half a day.
The time flippantly wasted on Facebook, mails and assorted menu dilemmas - 1.5hours
Time wasted pouting over a very very very bad Iced Italian Lemonade - 30 minutes
Time left - Roughly 2 hours (that is if the project needs to be in the blue and not red as per cost against time calculations!)
Words finished 1.25 hours later - 250 ( Brain Freeze from Yucky Lemonade, Content Constipation from not  healthily ingesting the concept before beginning to abuse the keyboard of my netbook and general I'd-rather-just-walk-about-doing-some-absolute-velapanti!)

Each time I look up from chuckling over a cheeky Facebook post or a lovely blog post I strayed over to read, I'd see a pair of eyes watching me - kind of like with that 'where do I know you from' familiarity! So, highly immodestly, I must admit here, that I do (very very rarely of course) get these looks  from die-hard news fans or from people who think I look like a certain hook-nosed, slightly obese Hindi actress! And there I was thinking, Oh ho, my cover is blown, he must be wondering where he knows me from...Continuing to look busy, I pretended work!

This had been going on for about the first two hours that I'd spent at the Brrrrrrr....aaaa...with just about half an hour left for me to finish the deadline, a voice piped up from over my head -

Excuse me, can I disturb you?
I look surprised, as if I hadn't registered the presence yet, as say Yes?
Are you busy?
Yes I am, but go on, tell me
(Here the cue is, where do I know you from? or something along similar lines)
Ehhhh..see, I'm basically getting tired of waiting and I don't know till when I have to wait. You have been here for a while and I thought I'd ask you if maybe I could come over there and sit and maybe talk to you?
(* really?! goes the brain...he was all this while looking at a nice intro-line to start smarmy-talk?), I'm sorry, I'm swamped with work and a deadline. (*nose earnestly back into the document and fingers fly over the keyboard. Constipated content jam eases miraculously, thoughts flow in a straight gush straight from the brain kind of via blue-tooth onto the screen)

In under ten minutes - the remaining 550 words were typed, checked over and dispatched to the client and confirmation received too of the receipt!)

Bags are packed and out of the Brrrr....aaaa - who wants a smarmy chat up after an awful syrup masquerading as a Lemonade??


The second snippet is kind of gushy...its about how impressed I am with Cafe Coffee Day's The Lounge concept. I was at their The Lounge recently, which has a plush, relaxed plump sofas well spread out look. And the best part was their food menu. For once, your choice is not one pre-packaged mayonnaise dunked sandwich over another, that appears shrivelled within the glass cases that separates the coffee bar counter from the seating area. What you get is a cute tick-and-you-get menu filling form, along with the Menu itself. So if you are feeling adventurous, like I always do, to make your own sandwich or roll, then they let you feel good about yourself.

So I had a chance to say NOOOO to the bane of my life- icky mayonnaise and also got to choose a nice crusty multi-grained baguette, with a spicy mustard dressing for some Oriental Chicken. Clever cooking and even better idea, I say, of giving the customer, the option to choose their meal the way they want! For roughly just 20 per cent more than what you pay for a shrivelled, pre-packaged, ketchup-mayo smothered sandwich, here is art on a plate. I was so impressed that my greed got the better of my usual instinct to photograph my plate before I sink my knife and fork in. This is however, the remains of the day! :) A splendid working morning spent in a comfy sofa, overlooking a busy road - occassionally looking at harassed looking IT employees in and out of a techno-park nearby and chuckling at my relaxed work-day!

(Psssst, not an advertorial..just a happy tummy, yummy coffee - happy customer, ting ting ta ding)

When I was a fly on the wall - and can't help overhearing the earnest conversation -

Three wise men, sitting at a table near mine discuss health problems - one has hovering close to the danger-line blood-sugar levels and the other two believe the cholesterol menace is a far more dangerous existential angst. The common solution is cutting down on rice and potatoes!! None of them can remember how many weeks it has been since they have touched rice or indulged in potatoes. The sardaar in the group reminds his two friends how it is more difficult for him since Punjabis have 'aloo' in just about anything they can conceive of as a 'well-balanced' meal. Predictably, the discussion veers to age and it turns out one is 28, the other 34 and the third just touching 30!

And to think, you'd have thought these were post-forty cribs if not of those in the decades after that!

And now, here's the LoLoLoL bit - as the discussions continue, the boy at the coffeshop approaches their table with two creamy cold coffees, one suspiciously topped with cream or ice cream and two slices of double chocolate cake!!! Rice and potatoes are OUT, but who said anything about chocolate, cream, butter and tons of sugar??!! Right?

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Coffee Shop Culture

I am the generation of Doordarshan and Chitrahaar that evolved into DD Metro and MTV and then embraced cable television wholeheartedly... When I was in school, it was phone numbers that were exchanged, emails weren't all that common and computers were the luxury of a few ( ahemmm, I'm one of the few who did have a desktop at home that had Lotus on it. I also practised my fledgling DOS commands on it and felt thrilled when the machine responded to my commands with the 'right' answers that I had been taught to expect. Dad soon brought back MS office software from the Gulf for us and soon enough, I felt much like a computer geek, ready to conquer the world ahead of my peers.)

 By the time I was doing my post-grad, the in-thing was to share email ids, re-draft resumes with our email contacts added to our address and phone numbers. Any incoming mail into the inbox made us felt wanted, cherished and remembered. Mails would be checked every alternate day and the sense of immediacy we felt then was something to be cherished. Today, my mails are delivered to my phone, moments after the sender dispatched them. And today, I marvel over how people still do send postcards and letters to keep the craft of writing intact. In fact, I can't remember writing anything longer than a few words on a cheque in months if not years. I digress as usual..So getting back,  Greeting cards got replaced by FREE e-cards...Clever messages could be sent for free and the roaring business that Archies cards had at a relatively huge shop near our college kind of took a massive hit to its business.

Till then, going to an ice-cream parlour was the idea of spending time or treating friends. In Kochi, there was the Caravan ice cream parlour - the first one to serve sophisticated ice-creams and sundaes. It was a treat to receive permission from my mom to go there with classmates for someone's treat. It meant being an adult, taking a bus from where I stayed, getting down at the stop nearing Caravan and walking with my head held high and money that Amma had given me earlier in the morning, jiggling in my purse. Asking for the bill and then taking money out of the purse is a rite to adulthood. Much as I hate to have to go through that ritual now that I am a 'fully-matured' adult, while growing up - being allowed to behave like adults held so much thrill. Having the bus conductor, the waiter treat you the way you have seen them treat your parents makes you feel like you have finally arrived on the social scene..

McDonalds was our dream treat while in college and I'd often pamper the kid in me by ordering the Happy Meal. I must say I had a fancy collection of Happy Meal soft-toys and other collectibles. I couldn't be bothered to feel embarrassed about standing in line behind a bunch of kids, scrambling for those very toys that the twenty year old me was eyeing. I don't think the concept of stepping into a coffee shop for coffee existed in my lexicon till I began working.

I was talking about visiting coffee-shops with a friend, when she told about how her mom refused to have a seventy-bucks coffee at the newly opened Barista near her house in Delhi, more than a decade ago. Her brother had just received his first appointment letter as a new graduate and taking his mom to the swank new Coffee Shop was his way of declaring he had arrived and how. But a horror-stricken middle class mom refusing to touch the scaldingly priced coffee would have been a personal nightmare.

While growing up, the Indian Coffee House and its other local versions were our ideas of coffee shops. The liveried waiters bringing us cutlets and coffee in chipped cups and saucers was a great idea of eating out. It was a treat reserved for my birthdays. By the time Baristas and Cafe Coffee Days arrived on the scene, we had learnt that coffee-shopping was a mark of sophistication. The ability to differentiate between an espresso, cappucino and latte was a declaration that you are worldly and a force to be reckoned with among your peer group.

However, the truth is, most of us knew the cheapest priced burgers on the McDonald's menu and on the Barista boards. The idea was to be able to talk about having a McDonald meal or a Barista coffee. It didn't really matter that you had the most expensive one.In fact, by the time Costa Coffee made its presence felt in India, hanging out in coffee-shops had become a rite of passage for school and college-going kids. The bakeries of Kochi now wear a tired, shabby look. On every other corner, there is either a coffee shop or an ice-cream parlour. Most offer free wi-fi and the luxury of whiling away time without being asked to vacate like from your nearest busy Udupi hotel. Unlike the Udupis, where the number of customers served translated to profits, coffee-shop chains made money from frequented patronage and as hangout joints.

Today, on a Monday morning, I'm seated in a cozy Mocha, waiting to catch up with a friend for lunch even as I get some work done in the three hours before I meet her. The fact that there is no wi-fi currently available at this coffeeshop is a downer, but I'm armed with my own internet dongle. We cannot afford to be disconnected from the cyber-world for long. So we make our own provisions for wi-fi now.
Someone gets me a beautifully brewed cup of chai along with some bun-muska. As I munch on breakfast and compile my to-do list for the day, I realise ek post toh banta hai. After all, life as we have known it is changing fast. One chronicle of the lost times and the new life we are forging is necessary. However, I am one to embrace change. There is little that is not good and lots that can be bettered. So here is to Coffee Shop Culture and working out of them and not being bound to stuffy, cribby offices... :)

Have a happy week my bloggies ( shortened version of blog buddies ;)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Travels Again!

So travels begin again...

Hopefully not a long break, I should be checking back in by next week.

By the way, talking of travelling, how do you spend your time during your travels??

I must admit I haven't travelled by train since the initial days of my career. Then train was the only viable option for the pocket. A few years down the line, the weighing of options began - Air travel won hands down - anyone who has worked in the media or as a journalist would know, how difficult it is to get leave. So travelling from Mumbai to Kochi by train would mean losing at least 50-52 hours of precious one- to at most- two weeks of leave. So then my air travels began.

I think I would have travelled more by bus and plane than by train. Having an NRI father meant, we were weaned on air travel. As a child, I remember being scared of planes crashing over the vast vast ocean my little eyes would see from the plane window. I think this was around the time of the Kanishka crash ( if my memory serves me right!) Imagine the plight of my mother, travelling from Kochi to Cameroon, when I was just one and later to Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, with a precocious seven-year old, a fidgety, highly clingy two-year old old and loads of luggage. Amma still shudders at the thought of what trauma those flights would turn out to be. Keeping the ever-bored older brat and snivelling younger one in check. Amma had one rule - never to allow her kids to be a nuisance to fellow travellers.

Every time, I travel in flights filled with kids, I think back to those times. Parents these days are so indulgent. On my flight from Mumbai to Bangalore recently, there was a little rascal sitting behind me ( sorry about sounding completely non-maternal, but the kind of kid that makes you wonder why people are so dying to procreate!) The kid did not have a low register, everything needed to be said at the highest pitch. The parents were like character actors in his personal drama. The kid would not stop talking for thirty seconds at a stretch. I am usually the kind who loves kid banter and can engage them in conversation for hours on end. But give me a kid like this and I'd hunt out socks and stuff it nice and tight to keep them quiet. So well, the parents didn't believe in any form of censure. So there was the brat, shouting at the top of his lungs to just about everyone, talking about everything from the seat-belt to when they would be served, to his nursery rhymes. The father didn't have enough clout to get the child to be seated before the take-off and could be heard pleading with the steward asking him to use his toughest tone to convince the boy to sit down!! Need I say how the rest of the trip went?

But the best time to travelling is late night flights. I can rarely sleep on flights. On long international flights, I watch back-to-back films - in fact, it is my most favourite passtime. I look forward to long haul flights for the chance to catch up on several films. Though I usually have a book or two in hand, I find myself rarely reading on international flights. So much to do and there's always a steward or stewardess coming up, offering you a drink or a snack. However, on domestic flights - with mostly only those stewards turned vendors to turn to - I normally seek refuge in my book. Mine is often one of the few reading lights that remain on, much to the irritation of my fellow travellers. There is however one thing that can keep you entertained, if the book you are reading is not entertaining enough!

The most hilarious part for more, about taking a late night flight is identifying the various categories of snorers around you...

Some are gentle gurglers - you feel like going awwww, they must be really tired and want to get them a blanket to keep them snug and warm.

There are the robust hooters - you can't miss them, its a shrill hoot and travels across aisles and windows and pierces your ear drums at regular intervals.

Then I have identified the steam rollers - a bit imaginative of me to think that if they were to be a machine, there would be steam emanating from all that mechanical energy being generated..

And finally, my favourite - the sleep musicians - the hardened snorers, who have perfected a medley of tunes - a range of wind-tones that go from the gurgle of the stream to the wheezing of the car engine starting every morning in your neighbourhood.

The only kind I'm scared of is the one where the person appears to be choking in their sleep, as if someone has a couple of fingers pressed to their throat!

Do you have any favourite mode of entertaining yourself while travelling?? Tell me, tell me, I'm all ears...:D

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Clearing the Clutter....

Mere Pyaare Blog Saathiyon,

This letter is to you, you and you, who read my blog faithfully - whether I'm spouting the inane or the profane or the profound. Don't worry if you don't follow me all the time, I don't either. (Shhhh..but that's a secret, let's keep it between us, shall we?)

My poor blog has been moaning and groaning, whining and pining...but I, like the heartless, cruel Cinderella's step-mother left it, untended - without even a notice.

I think that is the problem with being your own employer and employee...I can't crib about my Boss because that's me. Bosses are meant to be cribbed about, because it is usually their inefficiency that creates the pigeon-statue situations in life.. You know what I'm referring to, don't you?? Sometimes you are the pigeon, other times the statue situation! Bosses get to play pigeons more often than the employees...But then, what if you are the Boss..Unsavoury thought! So for now, let's leave that aside...

I can't crib about my commitments being neglected by my inefficient employees, because that's me too...I'm the peon and the maid and the content-writer and the accountant...And occasionally, just occasionally, when someone asks, I proudly don my BOSS hat..they don't need to know that the peon, maid, content-writer and accountant of the company hats have been neatly hidden under the BOSS hat, do they??

Last few weeks have been a flurry of hectic travel-  dal-roti ka sawaal and thodi si masti.....Ohh, and have I mentioned I have somehow turned into a para-dropper in my own life - which means, there is little slack time cut for emergencies, so when an unplanned travel or a hard-to-say-no-to assignment comes along, I'm usually just sweeping everything off from my cluttered table, making a mess of the floor and then sitting pretty on the desk, looking like I have all the time in the world for that task!!! Yes, I agree it is not the way to go, but I have been planning to get myself a time-day-week-year planner, which I haven't gotten around to..More importantly, once I buy the planner, Murphy's law is likely to ensure I have little to do..and empty pages on the time-day-week-year planner might mock my vella-panti or jinx my rather pretty flow of work/assignments...See, sometimes superstitions just sneak in!

So now, I have decided I won't make lofty announcements like Life 365 ( eating humble humble pie!) but shall try to implement a Life 365, without any baand, baaja or announcements!!

Talking of clutter, this afternoon - my first free one in about two weeks, I sat down with two of my favourite handbags - the ones that travel with me the most. I upended the first one and my bed looked like a disaster zone. And then I thought what the heck, and turned the second one inside out too...Here's a small list of what you could find in my bags -

  1. Mobile phone charger
  2. Camera/phone transfer cables
  3. Earphones
  4. Portable music player
  5. A 4GB flash drive
  6. My bulky sunglasses cover with the sunglasses and cleaning solution and cloth in it
  7. A notebook ( Yes, I still carry one around all the time, throwback to good old days of journalism, when I'd worry about having to take down a number or a quote and not having a piece of paper)
  8. Three assorted pens - (two I have no recollection of how they sneaked into my bag, I swear I don't steal...By the way, one does not have a refill in it!)
  9. A Book for the road...Currently it is Confluences ( For those interested in History and research, its highly recommended)
  10. Body Shop Body Butter tub
  11. Asda Hand Sanitiser - really possessive about my last bottle of cheap Asda maal! 
  12. Two pairs of earrings
  13. One broker bag-chain
  14. One stole ( For those times in the theatre, when you suddenly feel cold and there's this stole to save you from freezing to death)
  15. An invite for a wedding long over ( Don't know why I have it in my bag)
  16. Three boarding passes ( they serve as book-marks. All my book-marks sit pretty in a drawer at home)
  17. Two strips of tablets - Oakcet and Paracetamol ( not much of a medicine person, so must have forgotten them there after buying them!)
  18. About ten receipts for purchases ( note to self: Store them in a shoebox. Second note to self: Maybe no, why tally it up and get heartburn?)
  19. My battered wallet - the innards of this one is a disaster zone too, but can't be bothered to clean it up today!) 
  20. A tampon bag ( must in every girl's bag, I say, you don't know when disaster strikes you or those around you!)
  21. Two assorted half-empty sachets of tissues ( When I want one, I never get one..but they are there somewhere, now I have proof)
  22. One tub of Orbit chewing gum
  23. Two buttons - (one of a long-forgotten coat- I remember searching in vain for the extra one when the button popped and now, I realise, it had been kept here for safe-keeping)
  24. Assorted keys on one key chain. ( Keys include those tiny ones of locks for suitcases too..Can't figure out where the locks are though!)
  25. One bag of chana - ( I was munching on it on the plane and left it in the bag, half open - so three fourths of the content are loose cannons rattling about one the bottom of my purse) 
  26. Assorted ticket stubs - of a Malayalam movie seen last week, passes to Turkish monuments and a scribbled upon ticket - Im a meticulously note-taker, only to forget about them five minutes after the notes are written!)
  27. Maps - Istanbul, Aberdeen and Edinburgh ( This means the handbag hasn't completely been cleared out since September 2011!
  28. Toothbrush - ( Ahemmm, less said the better about how many I unearth after every other travel!)
  29. A bottle of perfume
  30. Hairclips and assorted hair ties - ( never find one when you look for one, now I know where they were hiding)
  31. A pack of tired looking wet-wipes
  32. A hand-mirror ( my most favourite one, because it is my Eiffel tower memorabilia)
  33. A packet of ear-buds ( Don't ask me why they were in my bag, beats me!!)
  34. A bracelet that has lost one stone ( so can't be worn till I replace the stone obviously!)
  35. The swipe-card to a hotel I stayed in Istanbul ( Guess I never returned it!)
  36. About fifteen battered visiting cards of people I met - ( I haven't carried one since August 2009, but I never refuse to take one, if someone so much as places it on a table next to me)
And now you wonder why they say a woman walks around with her life in her handbag! 

( On travels, I usually also have my little netbook, fondly called Reddy because it is Redddddd in colour and my passport wallet too)...More the merrier I say...

Have fun and I'll write in from the various ports of call,