Banner by Rituparna Chatterjee, a woman with the potential to make it big. It's not that she can't: she just won't.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Hangla's

This post should ideally have been titled Hyangla's. The very fact that the I had to leave out the Y does not please me. I love Ys. Ys are cool. They have three sharp, angular limbs, and they mean business the moment you write or type one out. Y. Y. Y. Y. See what I mean?

***

This story involves around the most primary of human needs - food. About six months back - when the monsoon had taken over in Mumbai, the city of brutal competitiveness, the city that does not spare you an inch - I was rotting in a place called Gokuldham in Goregaon East. I have to admit that it is not exactly the worst place on Earth (Saki Naka will probably be a contender for that), but even then, walking on roads filled with puddles and Marathi-speaking people selling vada-paaw and bhajiya-paaw isn't really my idea of a morale-booster.

I was told that there was a Bengali restaurant called Hangla's (Hyangla's) nearby. I did not believe in it, though. So there was I, strolling idly around Gokuldham - possibly the most boring of neighourhoods in the third planet of the Solar System - considering whether my otherwise sensitive stomach was up to the culinary challenge that runs by the name of missal paaw in Mumbai and is typically packed in huge yellow packets with the word Pedigree written on them elsewhere.

And then, I saw it: it hit my eyes the way Manmohan Singh doesn't hit my ears. It was a rather innocuous-looking take-away joint, located bang on Film City Road. Do not get carried away by the name of the road, though: I was there for a month or so, and all I got to see was Varun Badola. There were rumours that there was a Film City somewhere nearby, though. But let us not get diverted.

I knew this had to be a Bengali outlet. The people of no other ethnicity would name their food joint Hangla's (which basically translate to Glutton's). As I approached it, I saw the words "The Taste of Kolkata" printed unmistakably below the name of the outlet. You simply could not miss it.

I walked closer. The murky Film City Road could not deter me - and neither could the puddles that punctuated the stretch of dust that was supposed to be a pavement. It drew me closer. It pulled me into its arms with the same magnetic charm that Fardeen Khan typically uses to repel movie-goers. I got closer. And closer. And there it was.

A fire. A huge container placed atop. And on it, you could see that Holy Grail of mankind over which many a blood has been shed - succulent pieces of chicken swimming peacefully in a yellowish orange gravy, soaked in rich oil that could easily have been Dalda: it was the food of the Gods.

Chicken Chnaap!

This was it!

Immediately I asked for the menu. And - to my surprise - the frail entity on the other side of the counter smiled non-chalantly and talked to me in Bangla. I was bowled over. A Bangali. In Paawnagri. Speaking Bangla. Selling chicken chnap. In a shop called Hangla's. That smells of biriyani. And rolls. And of Kolkata.

I mean, this was a serious shock. Serious heart-attack material. I doubt whether I would have been more shocked if Rahul Gandhi had made it to the Congress Vice-President based on merit.

Anyway, I had to keep myself content with the double-mutton roll. I didn't even have time to whine over the fact that rolls were obscenely priced on the Arabian Sea coast - almost as much as a biriyani. I overcame this absurdity, and then - I saw it happen. the porota being rolled, the mutton chunks being mildly sauteed, the porota being placed in front of me, the mutton being neatly arranged in two files, the onion and chilli bits sprinkled generously, the entire thing being rolled, and finally being encased in a translucent, greasy white paper: I just saw a roll being made. In front of me. In Paawnagri.

As I took a bite, I knew it was the thing. The real thing. This was the roll over which wars have been waged and people have been murdered over decades. The beauty of Kolkata.

I loved Hangla's. It was love at first bite for me. I just knew I asked whether they deliver. Of course they do. Mumbai is all about delivery.

***

So there I was, sitting, famished on a Saturday evening in my guest-house: I was simply allowing the hunger to build up, accumulate inside me: I didn't want it to subside. I wanted to stretch it a bit till I would order from Hangla's.

One double mutton biriyani. Two hundred rupees. One chicken chnaap. One hundred and twenty-five rupees. No VAT. No delivery charge. Three hundred and twenty-five rupees in all. It was going to be an evening well-spent. Alone. With no one to disturb me. No Facebook. No internet. No phone calls. Just the four of us - biriyani, chnaap, the television and I.

Bliss. Coming up.

The time had come. The much-anticipated brrrrs had started somewhere deep inside my stomach. This was the moment when I had to pick up my cellphone and call +91 98191 44880. I did. And almost salivated as I placed the order. They promised me they would deliver within half an hour.

I sat down, flipping channels. I could not concentrate. After a full week of upmas and pohas and idlis and vada-paaws and missal-paaws, I was about to have BIRIYANI AND CHNAAP.

Fifteen minutes. The wait was unbearable now.

Twenty minutes. Twenty-five. This was taking things too far.

Thirty. Surely they will arrive any moment now?

Come on, Abhishek. They must have been delayed in traffic (though, in all probability, they would be traversing that 500 metres or so by foot). Cooking the biriyani must have taken time, then. Or maybe it was the chnaap that was taking the time. It was no upma, after all.

Forty minutes. My stomach churned. This was taking things beyond the limit, guys.

Forty-five. What were they playing at?

This was getting a bit too much now. My stomach kept on brrrrrring loudly.

Fifty. This was getting out of hands now. Should I call them? I guess so - they were probably having trouble in finding my guest-house. I guess I should call them.

Oh well, let me wait for ten more minutes.

Fifty-five. I had the phone in my hand now, pressed the green button. Pressing it once more would dial the number.

Sixty. Showtime.

"Hello, Hangla's?" (let me translate the entire conversation in English)

"Yes...?"

"This is Abhishek Mukherjee. I had placed an order for a double mutton biriyani and a chicken chnaap an hour back. An hour. Will you please, please update me about the status of my order?"

"It has already been delivered, Sir."

"What do you mean, it has been delivered?"

"The boy is back. He has delivered your order to you half an hour back."

"What the...? Can you verify once again that he had delivered it to Abhishek Mukherjee of Gokuldham Guest House?"

Pause. An almost audible discussion in the background. More pause. A very loud, audible, one-way, not-too-peaceful monologue in the background.

"Sir, we're extremely sorry, Sir. He left with the order, but it seems that he has delivered it to someone else at some other address."

Very, very deep breath.

"But they have returned it, right? In that case, please send it to me at the earliest. It has been over an hour."

Awkward pause.

"No, Sir. They have accepted your order and paid for it."

The deepest breath I had taken in my life.

"Fine, now send me the same thing once again. A double mutton biriyani and a chicken chnaap. And please make it fast."

Awkward pause, yet again.

"Sir, I'm afraid it's closing time. We can deliver it to you for lunch tomorrow. Please let us know..."

I hung up.

***

No, having vada paaw on Film City Road on a wet Mumbai night is not amusing. If you are having a hearty laugh reading this, may your entire digestive system meet the slowest, most agonising, most painful of deaths.

Not as painful as the excruciating demise the person who had received (and paid for) my order that night had met, though.

***

Lesson learnt: Never trust anyone who leaves out his Ys. It's simply not wise.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Apology

This is an apology.

I have sinned - sinned against a human being who has never done anything wrong to me.

He has always minded his own business. It has been me who has written about him - rather harshly - on my blog. Multiple times. Far more than any normal individual could tolerate.

Lesser men might have reacted. But he is no ordinary person: he absorbed the entire humiliation alone, and did not argue. He did not resort to the abysmal depths of being as foul-mouthed as I have been.

For days, months, even years - I was under the impression that he had been taking things in his stride, accepting everything in a good-humoured fashion. Little did I realise that the entire issue of my being rude to him on my blog has been hurting him on a persistent basis.

Being the great man that he is, he has decided to move out of the filthy proximity of my blog, to a location where fewer people would recognise him on the nooks and corners of his new habitat and utter "look, he's that man from Abhishek's Blog!"

He's gone. Possibly for good.

And it has all been for me. For the way I had been arrogant as I had droned on about him in endless posts.

As I write this, my heart is laden with the unmistakable burden of guilt. My eyes are almost moist, my soul is heavy, and I cannot forgive myself.

My apologies, mate. I know this will not hold you back and you would not change your decision, but an apology is the least I can do.

Stay well, away from this murk.

Sorry again.


Monday, January 7, 2013

Shave or Crave

This post is a part of the 'Shave or Crave' movement in association with BlogAdda.com.

***

It was one of those stormy nights. It should ideally have rained, but nights like these typically treat normal stuff like rain with utter disdain.

The storm blew across the tallest mountains in a rampant mood - the kind that one usually associates with a rhinoceros on an overdose of Red Bull running across a rose garden. It was not one of those cute storms you find in books or movies: it was serious stuff.

You ordinarily do not expect people to be out on such a stormy night, especially on the tallest of mountain peaks. And you're almost right, too: no mortal was there, either.

That does not mean it was vacated.

Hidden behind the almost solid barrier of storm were three entities. They were so closely huddled up that you might have mistaken them for the Men in Blue.

In fact, two of them were blue. They were so blue that you might have mistaken them as aliens from a B-grade Hollywood science fiction movie.

The third, well, looked - if such a thing was possible - even more non-trivial.

Blue humanoid number one stood up. He, as mentioned before, looked violently blue: what was even more startling was the fact that his torso was completely bare, despite the sub-zero temperature. His head was covered in a shaggy mane of hair that he had somehow managed to tie in a bun, probably with the help of the oddly placed narrow crescent; around his neck was a long rope-like thing that looked oddly similar to a snake; he also had a tiger-skin - the only bit of apparel on his body - draped around his waist, flapping noiselessly in the relentless storm. In one hand he held a rather menacing-looking trident; in the other hand he held what looked like an hourglass-shaped musical instrument.

"So", he asked, with an unmistakable tone of boredom in his voice, "what is this big meeting for?"

The other blue humanoid lay on his side. He rested sideways - the way he has been doing since the beginning of time - on a what was almost certainly a gargantuan snake, with multiple heads hanging like an umbrella, shielding his head from goodness-knows-what. Unlike the first guy, he had four hands, carrying an assortment of the weirdest possible combination of accessories: a conch, a disc, a mace and a lotus.

"I guess he is the only one who knows", he uttered.

The third person wasn't blue, and was therefore the minority of the trinity. He looked perfectly normal otherwise, other than a minor glitch: he had four heads, each placed at right angles to the adjacent one.

"Vishnu, Shiva, there is a reason that I have called this meeting on an urgent basis."

The other two looked somewhat perplexed, but it seemed that they were listening with rapt attention. The summit conference (no pun intended) seemed poised for one of those millennium-defining quotes - the kind that scribes have copied down meticulously and have sent down by word of mouth from generation to generation.

"Look guys, I have this problem. As you are completely aware, it was I who had created this Universe. I, Brahma, was assigned with the duty of creation: you, Vishnu, were placed in charge of looking after it; and Shiva, if the world requires some destruction, you know the kind of responsibilities you have to handle."

Vishnu seemed a bit agitated. "Dude, I know you have created a lot of stuff, but generally you're leading a retired life since then, with a hefty provident fund and pension, and a pretty yet nerdy wife to match your enlightened (Shiva smirked) self, and a beer brand named after you. I, on the other hand, am perpetually busy, and Shiva here has to be waiting for 24x7 call-ups. Can you please cut it short and come to the point?"

Brahma scowled. "Look, don't go on about the beer thing. I was never one for beer. Think of yourself: your blue complexion has become so popular that they did a movie with blue-coloured men and named it Avatar after your incarnations. And His Blueness standing over here - he's so popular that he has got a pencil brand named after his dancing pose. So don't get me started."

"And your point is...?"

"That's the whole point, Vishnu. We're supposed to be the Amar Akbar Anthony of the Universe and are supposed to hog equal footage. Yet, the entire world has been worshipping the two of you; both of you have thousands of temples erected in your name; on the other hand, despite playing a serious role in the history of the Universe - I have been perpetually pushed into background. The three Brahma Temples I know of are at Ajmer, Khokhan and Khedabrahma - and I bet you haven't heard of the last two."

"I still can't see where we come into this entire thing. One does not remember past deeds, mate: all they care for is the present and future. That's human nature. I feel sorry for you, but there's hardly anything we can do about this." Vishnu began to look impatient now. Even Shiva nodded, though he seemed immersed in a red-eyed stupor of sorts.

"I know. There is something else, though - and this is important. I want something else out of life. See, the level of education on Earth has reached an all-time low, and the new generation has resorted to words like lolzzzz and kewl and l8r on curious-looking small handheld devices. This entire education thing has kept Saraswati busier than ever; as you know, she has always been too focused on her career, especially since I'm retired; as a result I have been deprived of female company for some time now."

Shiva snorted.

"Do not mock me. It has been easy for you guys. You have never been short on female attention: as Krishna you had sixteen thousand wives. Sixteen freaking thousand. And Shiva, despite his narcotic habits and stuff, has been so popular among women that they spend an entire day fasting to get a partner like him. I did look around a bit, but despite my four heads, I had not found any success."

Vishnu looked serious now. "So what is it that you want?"

"I need help, guys. I know my role in the Universe is over. But even retired people are entitled to female company, aren't they? I mean, I am a man, and almost as old - or young - as you guys. My needs are the same as yours. Yet, I have never been as sought after by women as either of you."

"So basically you need our help in this?"

"Precisely. I have been sitting on this abysmal lotus for ages now, and have developed gout twice, so I cannot move around. I have even tried to lure a few geeky women, but they were simply not interested, despite what my four heads had to offer. I tried to explain them who I am and exactly how pivotal my role has been, but they mentioned something about Higgs Boson and left. I need a way out, guys. And I cannot trust anyone else but the two of you."

Brahma looked dejected. "And you know what, I do not really want these earthlings. All I want is Saraswati to be back."

Vishnu flashed that charming smile of his that has mesmerised women over the world over the annals of time. Then he suddenly turned businesslike, and concentrated on the sharp disc that had been spinning on his finger. Then, with one swift motion, he let it go. It struck Shiva's trident; a minuscule slice fell off from it and landed with an almost inaudible ting on a small bit of rock that had stood out amidst acres of snow.

Shiva looked unperturbed. He stooped down, carried that divine bit of metal and handed it over to Vishnu with an face that seemed to be devoid of all expression. Vishnu took out one of those peacock plumes that he typically carried for emergencies like these.

Then, with glares that would have been sufficient to destroy the entire human civilisation, both he and Shiva stared hard at the snow. The snow was no match for the fire in those eyes. It melted within a nanosecond and began to boil. "You're overdoing things, Shiva", Vishnu interrupted.

"This metal thing is called a razor. I know that you have the skills to turn the snow into hot water easily. And this plume is magical - it is ambrosia-coated is a completely wear-and-tear-proof thing. Don't lose it - it is a limited-edition thing. And then, you need this."

Brahma looked at Vishnu curiously as he conjured out of thin air what looked like a small gold container.

"This is called a shaving cream. The can is bottomless, so you'll never run out of it. Basically what you need to do is this. First, collect the hot water in your water-bottle."

"It's called a kamandalu."

"You can keep your nomenclature to yourself for now. Do as I say."

Brahma looked a bit agitated, but obliged. With a swish of his hand his kamandalu was filled with steaming water.

"Now, all you need to do is this. Look carefully, as I won't repeat it."

Using the peacock plume as a brush, Vishnu gave Brahma his first shave. Shiva looked mildly interested, brushed his palm on his cheek. The stubble was growing back, he thought. That won't impress Sati.

"Repeat this for the other three heads. Be quick, I don't have all day. I have a world to look after."

Brahma repeated the action for the other three heads one by one, turning them the way one rotates a revolving door; he looked a completely different person now - a lot younger than the way he has perpetually been depicted in Amar Chitra Katha comics.

"You need to keep doing this every day", suggested Vishnu. "Check the results. You won't regret it."

They haven't heard back from Brahma ever since. The abysmal depths we have sunk to can do with a bit of help from Saraswati, though.

Followers