The Old Man & the Blue 

A road trip was the need of the hour  so I packed up and headed for the coast. I wanted to move far far away, where the haunt of technology couldn’t usurp my senses. No network, no internet – just the perfect respite I was seeking. Run away from the dogma that plagues us working highly stressed folk.

I headed to the docks where a ferry service was willing and ready to take me to the fishing island up ahead. It was early- 6:45 a.m and the sea mist and the seagulls were at harmonious play. The water golden tempting me to plunge deep within.  Like clockwork we depart on time.

The man at the helm was Sheikh Abdul Pathan. A native of Punjab (now part of Pakistan post the separation) who moved to Mumbai in the early 50’s -then called Bombay. Towering a little over 6 feet 3 inches I felt like Frodo next to him. He was accompanied by his 10 year old grandson since school was out that day.

Busy at work with no time to chat Mohammad was scurrying around the boat pulling in ropes and buoys to ensure all was as planned for a smooth sail ahead. Much like a pro athlete from the NBA doing suicide drill warmups. Focussed and determined.

Me being a restless soul I walk across to the man with the mesmerizing blue eyes – Lagoon blue set amidst the burnt reds resembled two sapphires lodged deep within an abyss of possibilities and stories. His stare was deadpan and might i add intimidating – yet he had the calm and composure of a placid lake with the occasional dragonfly swooping in for a ripple nibble.

Breakfast was around the corner. I hadn’t eaten since I woke up. Home made fish pickle (always a MUST carry along on trips to give flavor to bland food one might encounter) and some egg and bread sandwiches in the nap sack.

I had befriended his Mohammad Ebrahim (his grandson) and we decided to ‘break bread’ together. The grandfather decided to partake as well and thoroughly relished the fish pickle.  He even suggested I come home and try out his wife’s preparation of dried fish soaked in groundnut oil and spice.

In conversation I asked him what his purpose in life was. “It was all in the hands of Allah” he mentioned looking up to the sky with gratitude. I could tell his contentment of being a fisherman who took pride in his job and on weekdays used to ferry the boat for passengers at USD 0.25cents a trip spanning 3  kilometers across the sea. Was business good? His answer was as clear as the blue in his eyes.

He explained- Two ferry trips a day and every alternate day would be his fishing expedition to get an adequate supply of fish to feed his family. When questioned as to what he did with the remainder of his time he chirped “I sleep late, play with my grandchildren, take a siesta with my wife, talk to my sons, pray and stroll into the village to meet the neighbors. I have quite a busy life”- was his gaiety retort.

I was curious to his contentment and had to ask why not increase the cycle of fishing trips to earn more money. He asked “what would money do for me? I would buy a bigger boat, better equipment, catch more fish, get a fleet of boats- how long would that take me? 15 to 20 years? But what then?”

I nodded in unison as he stole my thoughts and affirmed that he would become a millionaire and be able to comfortably retire to spend time with his family and friends. The old man smiled at me. It was a smile that showed I was on the brink of a major apparent discovery of one of life’s simplest mysteries.

And that’s when it struck me like a lightning bolt -this old man of the blue knew the meaning of Living each day with a general plan of an uncertain tomorrow. Tomorrow is promised to no one my friend.

Carpe Diem. 

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

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Lights Out- Negroni style. 

This is a story about a cat. His name?-Gatto. Much like Puss in boots this cat is quite the adventurer. He likes to occasionally scoot across rooms being chased by his own shadow. His biggest mystery is trying to capture the red dot on the floor (laser tag) that is non existent except on demand. His biggest trick is chasing his own tail and nibbling on your toes unsuspecting. And let’s not forget to mention his famous south paw. He’s mastered the art wherein you would never see it coming!

I’be never really been a cat person till i adopted a Persian called Cupcake June  and since then let’s just say I was CAT NAPPED post.  I’m an addict to their existence these days.

Gatto in Italian literally means cat. I love the simplicity of identity association. While I was of the opinion that he took quite a fondness to me realisation dawned later on that the smell of my female cat was driving his hormones into overdrive. Let me rephrase -Overdrive would be an understatement.

So me and my dear friend Maria who always loves the pamper me with I-ta-lian hospitality every time I meet her offered me a negroni. 

The negroni -is a cocktail made of one part gin, one part vermouth rosso (red-semi sweet) and one part Campari garnished with orange peel for that after kick citric zing. It is considered an aperitif. Legend has it being invented in Florence Italy -1919 at Cafe Casoni now Caffe Cavalli. Named after Count Camillo Negroni tasked his bartender to strengthen his favourite cocktail, the Americano by adding gin instead of normal sofa water used.

Known for my quest to try anything adventurous I decide to partake though it was unfamiliar territory. I’m also of the firm belief that when ordering an ‘exotic drink’ one has to be in a frame of mind. Hence certain drinks are made for certain moments -Like a chilled beer on a hot day or a whiskey over the blues it’s the drink that compliments your mind set. Gatto had no mind to let me enjoy this drink in peace.

What carried forward over the next 30 minutes was a sight indeed. Our dear ‘cat’ stealthy crisscrosses over the table with the rouse of discovery unassuming but of course. And then slowly starts lapping my negroni!!!

Maria and myself are in animate conversation when I am pointed towards this act with Gatto cheekishly looking at me with the – I won you lost after thought. Triumphant he decided to scoot across to his master and relax. What unfurled is for all the see in the sequence of events that followed.

In this case I’m guessing Gatto’s last thought would have been a contemplation of nine livers vs nine lives.

Sweet dreams cat!! Till we drink again. Hic!!

Who me? Noooo… the dog did it!! Honest 

I have no idea what i drank but it was soooo gud

   Bottoms up..

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

Margaritas for U -two? 

I’m philosophical and currently donning my Sherlock Holmes hat. (Yes I have one of those.) So here’s a tale for you. A commonly accepted origin story of the birth of Margarita (not from Aldona- I refer to the drink here) is its invention in 1941, at Hussong’s Cantina in Ensenada, Mexico, by a bartender Don Carlos Orozco. It all started one dusty tumbleweed afternoon, Margarita Henkel, the daughter of the then German ambassador visited the cantina and Don Carlos who had been experimenting with drinks offered her one. (Smooth operator indeed.)

The cocktail consisted of equal parts of tequila, Mexican orange liqueur called Controy (aka Naranja in the USofA), and lime, shaken and served over ice in a salt-rimmed glass. As she was the first to try the drink, Don Carlos decided to name it after her and the “Margarita” was born. 

Over the years this cocktail has morphed since inception and construct, consisting of tequila, triple sec (such as Cointreau) and lime or lemon juice, often served with salt on the rim of the glass. There are multiple ways of having it -served shaken with ice (on the rocks), blended with ice (frozen margarita), or without ice (straight up). (Ice ice baby)

 The gentle and highly sprited folk at Fishermans Wharf (Margarita Lounge) thought of adding their own blend to this classic on a hot day in Goa sans the tumbleweed. Deciding to play scientist and infuse a melon and pomegranate twist of heady delight this was one offering for the books. The fresh tinge of sweet melon aching to be tasted over the dominant twist of lime makes for a oral sensational delight just the bitter sweet way lovers fight. The kiss and make up tale could evidently follow by the aftertaste of the pomegranate blend which accompanies the poppers ordered as sides. 

Mind your palate for the extremity of a potential brain freeze with the margarita not to mention the pit hell molten cheese oozing out of poppers that could burn your lips. It’s hard but do give it a try. 

And if your in the mood to play some drinking games try this with a companion. It’s efficiently classified and detrimental to your sanity and state of mind. I learnt it the hard way in Mexico. Must be done in chorus between buddies.

Arriba, Abajo, al centro y pa’dentro” 

Simply translated as “put your glass up, glass down, glass in the middle, chug” 

Salud to your health Amigos. 

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography  

 

The Porter of Palanpur 

It’s 7:45a.m. The slow churning wheels come to a halt at the platform with a hiss of fatigue in the air. There’s a window of opportunity for one to ply their trade. From coffee vendors to hawkers selling wares to sleepy passengers aboard. 

It’s quite the wake up alarm indeed. The hustle bustle of the famously dubbed ‘breakfast stop’. In the distance I glance at this figure in all his stature. Calm and composed with a dead pan chiseled look on his face which would give Michaelangelos creations a re-look see back home in the Vatican.  Each line and crevice on his drawn face with a story to tell. His hands firm as steel. He is Bahadur (in Hindi means ‘brave’). And with his ‘pagdi’ is a feature of regal elegance. (For those who wonder what a ‘pagdi’ is -a term for a turban in the Indian subcontinent- a headdress that is worn by men which has to be manually tied. It  signifies a symbol of honour and respect in all the regions where it is a practice to wear one.)

Business was slow. So I wander across with a conversation in mind. He is obliging to the extent of not being rude and brash. It’s obvious he’s not a talker but I prod at my own risk. I return back with a plate of pakoras and two cups of tea (chai).The flood gates opened with a pleasing smile on his face. Eureka!!

Bahadur and his family natives from Rajasthan had so far worked five jobs from being a retired army personnel to a sweeper on the streets. At the golden age of 75 he probably could bench press my body weight at ease (No your not going to get that information that easy, let’s just say I have heavy bones and leave it at that). A proud man at that with a family of 6 to support which included a wife 2 daughters and a couple of grand children to support working minimum daily wage being $10 on a good day of porting luggage across his shoulders was indeed heart warming and awe inspiring to say the least. And this man with stories to tell of the long lineage of fighters pre India’s independence et all. 

The one thing I wished was for time to pause just to grasp tales as much as I could ,but this 10 minute pit stop imprinted a deep sense of pride of work irrespective of blue or white collar jobs we covet. It does put things into retrospect. As they say a Man’s gotta do what a man’s got to do. 

We at best scratch the tip of the iceberg in the life of others to unearth a majority of what lies beneath which is never told. People tend to put on facades as we move on so rapidly in life. However sleepy towns have a different story to tell. No one said it better than the bard himself- “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits…..” 

Thank you for the memories over a 10 min cuppa. 

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

  

OOPS Tiramisu 

A cruel joke could be defined when- after a 7 course meal accompanied with exclusive single malts from around the world, you are served this masterpiece. 

I present to you the Oops Tiramisu. This is the genius of Chef Saulo Bacchilega from the Park Hyatt – Goa. 

He playfully comes across and with a mischievous hint in his eyes asks me if the cup is straight or tilted? I reserve my comment till he further explains that while I may be seeing double my senses are well intact and it’s actually a deconstruction of his favourite dish from back home the way Mama made it. Thank god for reserved silence to avoid the foot in mouth syndrome I religiously partake in on multiple occasion. 

I was told everything on the plate was edible so I started testing. Turns out the cup was ceramic indeed (Duh!!? While you maybe quick to judge I have in some places had cups made of white chocolate so you probably couldn’t blame me) and was delicately stuck to the plate with a white chocolate base – genius might I add- more chocolate for me. 

And the focus was the deconstruction. The careful blend of picture perfect presentation. A tiramisu means “pick/lift me up” and rightfully so given the coffee flavoured dessert it is. A systematic dessert to begin with for we all know how careless a tiramisu really can be,hence its need to be layer trapped in a vessel to preseve its visual beauty. Could you  imagine the horror if left to run wild and free? 

It certainly would create chaos with the coffee soaked ladyfingers often called savoiardi  (biscuit mind you, not the vegetable) fighting for supremacy and the mascarpone cheese screaming murder helplessly trying to keep all the elements from ruining the appeal to ones senses.  

A tilted coffee cup post a delectable , intoxicated dinner is all one needed to end this magnificent event on an all time High. (No pun intended) 

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography   

Angel in a bucket 

At a monastery once in deep conversation, a monk asked me “Do you feel blessed?” 

I never really understood the magnitude of that question until a few years on. I am known to be deeply spiritual, far less religious. It took me sometime to fully realize the depth of that answer and it so happened in Cambodia of all the places. 

On the Tonle sap commonly translated as “The Great Lake” to the natives of Cambodia this river is truly a wonder for unusual reasons. The flow changes direction twice a year and the portion that forms the lake expands and shrinks with the seasons. I happened to be there during the heavy rains with the river up to form in all her enormity. 

To my delight was the inhabitants of the river. Not the fish or the gators or the exotic snakes the locals keep as household pets rather the ecology of the way of life to all around. Houseboats, boat colonies, ferries, fruit vendors and snake charmers on boats it felt like a scene from Waterworld. 

With the tide rising and our boat docked for a quick tour of the gator farm (crocodiles reared for their skin and meat;yes as cruel and barbaric as it sounds I like to think of it’s perspective and relativity of the way one looks at it) I had some time to ponder over my thoughts when out of nowhere in a distance came Devi, a local native paddling feverishly to reach my boat as if his life depended on it. I urged our captain to steer closer to him to ensure his seemingly tiresome journey be cut short. I was curious to know the meaning of the word as in Hindi it meant “goddess’. A rather unusual name for a male child. I was told it meant ‘angel’ in Cambodian. 

Upon conversation with the captain I was told he invited me to his house. No reason, no questions asked. It was a rather unusual request which got the captain to suspect his behavior but something in his eyes steered me to willingly oblige. 

It took us ten minutes to get there as the tides turned with the onset of threatening clouds looming above waiting to burst at a moments notice. I kept preening backwards to see Devi sitting comfortably in his bucket tied to our boat and enjoying the mist splash against his face. Upon entering his house i had a lump in my throat and found it hard to swallow. The family of 4 lived on a wooden boat the size of my washroom back home yet they were so welcoming and humble. 

His father was a 40% disabled war veteran currently bed ridden. His younger sister had a pet yellow and black snake. She used it as a source of income from tourists. USD $1 got yourself a photograph with it. I dared not ask if it were venomous as she playfully inched closer to hand it over to me -while I acted calm on the outside I was petrified deep within. Much like a duck on the lake, calm on the surface but paddling a mile a minute underneath to stay afloat.

Devi’s mother has prepared food which was simple and homely. We all sat around his fathers bed to eat together. 

When I asked Devi what was the purpose of getting me to his place he explained to the captain that he spotted me a mile away looking at my camera slung around my neck. I was invited to meet his family to share a meal only to ask for a favor in return – A picture of his family since he had lost a brother earlier that year to diarrhea and had no record of how he looked from memory. 

It’s the little things that make up the biggest constructs of this ‘blessing’ called LIFE. 

Cherish every minute you have cause tomorrow,my friend, is promised to no one. 

P.s. Devi received his family photograph. It took almost a year to get there but I am told he is thrilled with the outcome. 

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography  

Cheers to U.s.a 

It’s 5pm and i frantically get a call from the Marriotts requesting my time and palette to attend the ‘Cheers’ American Whiskey tasting event that evening two hours hence. Given the rigidity of events taking place in Goa some would say that the season never left and is still in full swing. Juggling and reorganising schedules is an art, one which I never perfected. So I sheepishly call my host and decline with profuse apology in tow to make it upto them with a cherry gateaux cheesecake. More on that later.

I scurry across in time to meet the host of our event Shatbhi Basu an expert mixologist and lover of all things Whiskey. A woman after my own heart indeed. And to my delight the topic of the hour were an education on my favourite two men Jim Beam and Jack Daniels. 

What followed through the night was eventful to say the least. Try 5 shots of neat sampling some of Jim Beam & Black and Jack Daniels and Gentleman Jack and you would know my palate was thirsty for more. Mind you these were 10 ml shots at best yet it made my head swirl 10 feet high. 

The night wasn’t done to say the least. A vertiginous Union of whiskey infused crushers to peanut butter and Nutella shakes with cardamom hinted apple cider with anecdotes of the origin of these famous brands was something one had to focus on with the tenacity of a high rope acrobat crossing over a snake pit with his eyes blindfolded. He would probably have better luck succeeding with his task. 

With a teleportation to the limestones of Tennessee and the oak casks used it was walk down history boulevard. 

Three cheers for this fabulous night. 

Hic hic hurrah!!!!

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography  

 

Cliffhanger 

I may have been remotely inspired by the 1993 critically acclaimed action classic of Sly Stallone but I have always wanted to feel a rush of adrenaline coursing through my veins. 

What better way than descending 300 feet with a feeble rope and minimum safety gear down a waterfall thrashing against jagged rocks beneath. 

Even more amazing was my trophy received   for a lifetime. One gashed knee (my honour badge) and loads of stories to tell. 

Muscles and thoughts strained aside suspended half way through when the fear set in ,it was indeed a rush especially the thrashing water on your face piercing skin deep. 

Mind you it’s definitely not the best suggested way to get over ones vertigo 😉.  

Well I got my kicks on Route 66 but that’s for another story all together. 
 

Pizza & Pie 

It’s pouring in Goa and I mean everything is literally coming down my umbrella included. 

I happened to stand under the shelter of an old Portuguese house in the middle of Panjim city and a friendly voice from above distinguishing me by my infamous umbrella (I have one with Marilyn Monroe on it – sue me I’m Metrosexual) rang out to me to come and dry off at his establishment perched prettily above the shops below- Cafe Mangi. 

Now everyone who knew me before I knew myself knows my love for anything sweet. I could practically carve a meal out of it without second doubt or a hint of remorse towards my bulging waistline. And was I in for a treat. 

Freshly baked off the oven came their famous trials done by their ever jovial chef (considering it was a slow day with not many walk-ins thanks to the horrendous weather) I would consider myself lucky to be caught in the storm that day. 

Apple Pecan Bourbon Caramel Pie -Quite the mouthful eh? What’s harder is having to fight the urge to forge ahead and devour it at sights notice purely at the risk of burning the inners of your mouth cavity. Oh the horror. 

And this carefully placed with a dollop of freshly home made vanilla ice cream with the vanilla pod essence still lingering in the after taste of every bite savoured. 

Apple pecan pie with fresh vanilla ice cream 

While I ate this with glee and delight on my face with a nice cuppa hot chocolate my senses were under threat when I smelt the fresh Alphonso mangoes fast approaching our table. And voila. I was served with nothing but a freshly baked Fruit pizza. It had a fancy Italian name which I can hardly remember (obviously since I was not paying attention- look at it would you in my place manage to curb your enthusiasm to dive right into that sea of cream?) 

This hit all the right spots. Cinnamon crumpled cookie dough base with ounces of cool whip and softened cream cheese with the playful banter of Mangoes, stewed apples and strawberry compote one could obviously have a sinful bite and confess at church the next day. 

Cinnamon cream Fruit Pizza  

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

All in all I hope to be caught in many more storms if this be the outcome (caveat to note only if there’s a restaurant above me or next to me) 

Buon Appetito….. 

WTF!!! 

I ain’t cussing at all but looking at the image below you wouldn’t mind if I did out of sheer surprise. 

As most of you know -I am a biker. The misnomer of bikers being overtly tattooed long bearded hooligans terrorising the local sheriff whilst drinking loads of beer and eat like H.O.G’s is NOT entirely false. We do eat like there is no tomorrow and leave our gentleman stature at the front door unless it accompanies our appetite with a smooth Jack. 

At this years India Bike Week (yeah the concept is pretty similar to that of Sturgis,Indian dunes,Daytona etc) this is what was recommended by a dear fellow biker friend restauranteur who runs an establishment called #Route66. 

Known for his steaks and burgers with an ample selection of ale his menu selection noted as the grim reaper to ones intestines let alone Cupid to the multiple hearts that beat consuming it. Quite the way to kill one with kindness. 

Aptly called the WTF it is nothing short of a mad scientist at the grills with a heady concoction of a beef burger patty caressing smokey home made bbq secret sauce topped with crispy bacon strips with a handful of sautéed onions. The ‘F’ gets added with jalapeños drizzled with jack cheese sauce topped with char grilled German pork sausage caringly stuffed with cheese. All this fighting for real estate between a butter crusted bun. 

Now let’s wonder who went down the gullet first-the cow or the cheese? 

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography