Saturday, May 24, 2014

"Ghare Baire" (The home and the world) : Tagore - a re-look after nearly 100 years

"Ghare Baire" (Home and the World)  is a novel written by Tagore in 1916. True to his usual style, Tagore had used a narrative structure to discuss or debate on certain issues (a form which he had also used in several other novels like "Jogajog", "Char Adhyay" and "Shesher Kobita"). Nevertheless, he managed to create a novel which, even on the strength of "pure storytelling" succeeds brilliantly. 
The form of the story is multiple self-narrative. The chapters are alternately narrated by the three main protagonists - Nikhilesh, Sandeep and Bimala. This becomes exceptionally effective in this case as their respective personalities and point of views are presented well. This also avoids the narrator taking any "sides" as such and the reader is left to form his own opinion about what is right and wrong. 
The historical backdrop of the story is partition of Bengal by Lord Curzon in 1905. This triggered a widespread protest - the so called 'Swadeshi" movement which started on it's own and then got merged into the Indian National Congress movement. Tagore and many more were participants in the initial phases of this movement. The movement, simply put, focused on self reliance - developing own products and rejecting the imported British products - the initial phase of the Khadi movement of Mahatma Gandhi. Many things culminated out of the Swadeshi movement including starting of own "Engineering" colleges, small scale industries etc. 
As is usually the case, the initial "voluntary" movement started taking a different turn when it started becoming an actively political movement. While in the initial phases, people used to voluntarily quit imported merchandise and start using local merchandise, later on this was forced upon by the Swadeshi volunteers. The argument put forward by the Swadeshi's was that in order to really hit out at the imperialist forces, it is necessary that the protests are "large scale" and everyone has to participate. So even when some people are reluctant to join in, it is the duty of the more "politically aware" Swadeshis to "force it" upon them because this is, in fact, for the greater good of them. The end will justify the means and for the greater good, a few evils have to be accepted and tolerated. 
Ghare Baire is actually a book about this conflict - of whether it is acceptable to do things which are morally incorrect but serves a greater goal. And if so, who decides what is correct in the longer run and is in fact the "greater good". Sandeep is the symbol of this school of thinking - who believes that evil has to be fought with evil and greater good for a larger number of people justifies individuals being sacrificed. Nikhilesh symbolizes the other end of the spectrum - which is more of a moralistic viewpoint which says that a wrong cannot become right because the end result is promising. And Bimala is the symbol of the common man (or woman) who moves from an essentially conservative sense of good and evil to the "end justifies the means" school of thinking and eventually comes back to her original beliefs. The important balance that Tagore has maintained is that none of three has been portrayed as "wrong" - there are no "villains" in the conventional sense of the word. There are also other characters into this - the idealist school teacher (Mashtarmoshai), the innocent student Amulya and the conservative, petty sister-in-law. 
The apparent story-line is also an interesting parallel - about Bimala who moves out of the "parda" of a conservative Bengali household ("Ghare") to outside ("Baire"). In the process, she is attracted towards the charismatic Sandeep instead of her apparently hidebound low key Nikhilesh but realizes her mistake later. Amulya - who, in a short while, had become like her son or younger brother had to die in the process - which is also like the death of "innocence" in the novel. 
The conclusion of the novel is intentionally kept obscure. Amulya dies but what happens to Nikhilesh? Did he die in the riot that was started due to the actions of Sandeep (and indirectly supported by Bimala) ? The novel says that he is severely injured but it is not sure whether he is dead or not. In my opinion, this is the masterstroke of this novel. 
At the very beginning of the novel, which starts with Bimala's narration, she talks about her marriage. Nikhilesh had two elder brothers - both of whom had died relatively young - within a few years after their respective marriages. Both the wives were extremely pretty but were rumoured to have been promiscuous. Nikhilesh's family members had come to the conclusion that their sons have died because of the "sin" of their wives and therefore had chosen a girl who was not pretty in the conventional sense but will be faithful and sincere. How exactly they could have judged whether the girl will remain faithful after marriage was unknown but it seemed to have done the trick as Nikhlesh had a long and happy married life with Bimala. That is - till the arrival of the Swadeshi movement at their doorsteps, spearheaded by the charismatic Sandeep - Nikhilesh's school friend. 
In my eyes, by not stating whether Nikhilesh died or not, Tagore had thrown back the question to us - was Bimala a sinner or not? If she is indeed a sinner (as she had fallen in love with Sandeep - to put it very crudely), then are we to conclude that the entire nation which had accepted Sandeep's theory of "end justifies the means" are also sinners? And if so, can we blame Bimala, who had a sheltered life, for succumbing to the charms of Sandeep, when a much larger and more educated / illustrious crowd also seem to have fallen prey to the violent thinking of Swadeshi? 
It is because of this dilemma, this non-conclusive end, this element of contradiction that this books transcends from being a historical novel or a novel about a woman's dilemma. It remains relevant even today for the same reasons why Dostoevsky remains relevant to us. It forces us to look at ourselves and makes us wonder if we are indeed eligible to throw the first stone to the sinner.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Face off with a barber

Yesterday I paid a visit to the barber. Not by choice - the prospect of submitting myself to gentlemen who seem to have long whiskers, a wicked smiles and sharp razors always cause a downpour of unmanly sentiments all over me. But I am a man who can take the rough with the smooth and once in every two months or when my daughter starts reciting poems about some unfortunate bloke had owls, hens, larks and a wren living in his beard, whichever is earlier, I pop over to the nearly saloon for a haircut. 

As I entered my regular saloon, it was obvious that this simple unpretentious place had had a major face lift. The overall decor seemed more stylized with John Abraham and Salman Khan looming large on every wall. The number of mirrors have quadrupled which now reflects images of Mr. Abraham or Mr Khan at every angle and reminds you of the last fight sequence from Enter the Dragon. The cheerful happy-go-lucky barbers are now attired in some black formal looking uniform which seemed to have dampened their spirits considerably. I tried to locate my regular barber, a cheerful forever-smiling fellow who is well aware of my no-nonsense haircut ("short at the back, side, short-medium in front and don't try any special style") but gave up as the kaleidoscopic view of the bollywood stars seemed to overpower everything. Eventually I selected a timid looking fellow, took a seat and closed my eyes, thereby surrendering myself to fate.

Once the ordeal was over and I was satisfied that I need not visit this or similar institutions for a considerably period, the timid barber came up with, what he described as a "package offer". Men of world are already familiar with how these stuffs work - if you buy so-and-so, then some useless thingummy will be provided to you free of cost. In this case, the bloke offered to make the haircut free provided I opt for something called "face massage" which they have just started (i.e post the revamp of the saloon). 

I pondered. I always ponder when the word "free" arrives at the horizon. In my formative years, I grew up with my cousin brother who had indoctrinated me into a philosophy of "free food", which basically meant that whenever you get to eat at someone else's expense, you must eat till the stomach muscles are near their elastic deformation limits. This reverence towards "free" stuffs was followed even my mother, who had endeavored to create a full 12 piece set of perfectly ghastly looking quarter plates, each of which were given free on consuming 10 packets of Maggi instant noodles. My mother, being extremely finicky about her crockery set, never actually used these plates but it was the principal of the matter which was important.

"It is really good for your face sir", said the fellow. "You should go for a papaya face pack sir - it will suit you."

I pondered further. Though I can hardly be described as a "metro-sexual male", my knowledgeable friends have made me aware that the latest trend is to apply fruits, vegetables and yogurts on your face instead of shoving them down the oesophagus. Eating them will probably become a passe very soon. This barber seem to be well acquainted with the latest trends in fashion (and food).  

"Wouldn't the pumpkin face pack be more appropriate - considering that I have a face like a pumpkin?", I asked, trying to make light of the situation.

"Oh no, sir!" said the fellow. He seemed shocked and scandalized with my suggestion. "May be you start with a simple herbal face massage. I'll call my senior."

Presently the senior barber arrived. He gave me a piercing glance which lasted for several seconds and the pronounced - "You have a black head."

I felt somewhat offended. I am not racist by any means and have no aspiration of possessing a milk-and-peach complexion. Nevertheless, one expects a certain amount of finesse and diplomacy from others. So I drew myself up (to the extent possible while sitting in a barber's chair), raised my eyebrows and gave him a cold stare.

"Excuse me.." - I started but was soon cut off rudely by the senior barber. "In fact, there are many black heads", said the specialist, ignoring my stern glance with the aplomb of cowboy. Clint Eastwood couldn't have handled it better.

"Pardon me, but I seemed to see only one head on my shoulder." said I, trying the most sarcastic tone I could muster. "And I am certainly not a reincarnation of Ravana."

"Uh", said the specialist. "I mean the black heads - those black marks on your face. Never mind, I will take care of that soon enough". 

Before I could really give an opinion on this, he grabbed my face at a speed which would have put Rocky Marciano to shame and tied a kind of thick headband along my hairline - the kind of stuffs action heroes like Rambo occasionally wear. The only difference is that it looks good on them but made me look like a horror from outer space. And before I could object to this, my face was smeared with some kind of coarse semisolid stuff and I was forced to close my eyes. 
The little kid sitting next to me (had been brought for a haircut by his father; poor soul) gave out a piercing cry, which, I am inclined to believe, can be ascribed to this new Darth Vader-ish look on my face. 

After this, I was subjected to a multiple cycle process which consists of 
a) vigorous rubbing on the face with some coarse substance (which seemed to last for ever)
b) wiping the face with an equally coarse spongy stuff
c) spraying water on my eyes through a large size water pistol, thereby preventing me from opening my eyes (which, on second thoughts, might have been a saving grace)

The above three steps seemed to go on like an infinite do-loop with the next door kid's continuous wail providing a somewhat monotonous background score. Just when I as getting used to this cyclic torture, there was an assault on my nose with a sharp instrument. I whelped in excruciating pain and tried to jump out of the chair but the specialist, evidently, was used to handling un-cooperative customers with a heavy hand. I could barely move my face and could do precious little except listening to satisfied grunts from this specialist (who, by then I was convinced, is an illegal grandson of Joseph Mengel). 

I tried to raise my voice but was firmly told by this hell hound of a specialist that unless these blackheads are removed, they will become white heads. The gravity in his voice seemed to suggest that once this happens, the space-time continuum of the universe will be irrevocably disturbed. I had, by then, resigned to my fate. Even the kid next to me had stopped crying and resorted to a feeble whimper. 

Eventually the assaults stopped and I could feel the gentle touch of water and a soft towel on my face. I opened my eyes and found the specialist beaming at me with the self satisfied look of big game hunter. 

"Have a look, Sir!" said the man. "You will love it."

I looked at the mirror. 

My face looked exactly the same as before. 

Thank god for that!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A dance, bollywood and something more

Till yesterday, any unsuspecting guest walking into our house would have witnessed a somewhat bizarre scene:
1) A once popular bollywood number "Maiya Yashoda, yeh tera kanhaiya" from an insufferably saccharine-infested movie called "Hum Saath Saath Hai" is being played on a laptop. 
2) A 7 year old kid is dancing to this song, with each of her dance movements dripping with overwhelming emotions. And in-between these heart-wrenched expressions, she is also stealing a surreptitious glance at her mother.
3) The mother sitting at a remote corner with pursed lips and knitted brows and looking into another laptop with a utmost concentration. Arjun, the legendary warrior from Mahabharata, had managed such immense concentration only twice - once, as an apprentice to Drona, he shot a wooden bird and second when he shot through a wheel into a fish to win a bride (Draupadi). Later, of course, he had to share this bride with four brothers - but that is a different story. 
4) The father sitting at another corner with a stoic face and a mortified "why-o-why" or "what-have-I-done" expression. 
The overall atmosphere is turbo-charged with subtle (or not so subtle) undercurrents and supreme tension - the kind one sees in the last 15 minutes of any spaghetti western (a la "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly"). 
What led to this situation ?  
The whole thing started with our daughter joining a dance school in our neighbourhood to learn Kathak. This was not an easy choice for my wife, who agreed to let her learn dancing provided it is a classical dance. 
For people who do not know my wife, the missus is a thoroughbred pure blood "convent educated" person with a strong sense of what is "appropriate" and what is not. Her attitude towards dance is somewhat similar to Hitler's attitude towards the Jews or  Anna Hazare's attitude towards alcohol. Dance, if it is to be learnt at all, has to be in its purest form - i.e either Indian Classical dance forms or Western ballets. Tango or foxtrot or any other such dances are a strict no-no and the absolute lowest on my missus's scale stands the "Bollywood" dance. Thus, any dance that is allowed in our house is always having a liberal dose of "Ta"s and "Tat"s and 'Dighda digha digha thai"s thrown in. 
Since the daughter was learning Kathak, a classical Indian dance form and never practicing her  dance at home in any case, the home front was in a state of equilibrium. Unfortunately this delicate balance of peace got rudely shattered when the dance school decided to host a small dance program. My daughter got selected in one of the dances. And the song to which they dance got it - the aforementioned song from HSSH. We were duly called by the dance teacher and instructed that we must push our daughter to practice dancing to this song at home. 
The sense of "appropriateness" of my wife was severely challenged. Missus, being a contentious mother, had to agree that the daughter would practice "bollywood dance" at our home ("oh tempora, oh mores") as the same has been demanded by a figure of authority - namely the dance teacher. At the same time, she was tormented by her deep rooted apathy and revulsion for the bollywood dances - which led to occasional outbursts about the conduct of the dance school, the lack of culture of the dance teacher and the lack of judgement of the father. But more often, it was just a silent pursed-lip moment of forbearance. 
The D-day arrived - and we, a threesome family of an overdressed daughter, a knitted-brow-i-am-ready-to-kill mother and a resigned-to-fate father trotted to the dance school to witness this dance show. The videos of this dance is available as it had been recorded by us. I, however, dare not upload this on youtube as this could be the last straw which breaks the camels back.  I do not fancy opening the morning news paper to discover that there is a news article on about a mysterious serial killer woman  who murders dance teachers in Gurgaon with a blunt instrument every second saturday.  
I did the next best thing. I wrote a blog about this!!

What do you think about this post? Do leave a comment...

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Afternoon tea...and something more

Tea, for me, is always associated with the train travels during our holidays and waking up at the early morning chant of the tea vendors - "chai garam.....garram chai". Soon, an extremely hot a brownish fluid with a lot of milk, sugar and tea dust (with some miniscule quantity floating on the surface) will be served in an earthen pot (bhaanr), which will then have to be held precariously by the edge and drunk with a lot of slurpy noise. As the juggernaut chugs it's way into Bihar and then UP, this delicacy will start having some more additives put into it - stuffs like cardamom (Elaichi), clove (Lavang) and cinnamon (Daal-chini) and the taste and fragrance getting overpowered by these additives.

My next strong association with tea is with the Mumbai "cutting" - which literally means one cup tea "cut" into two. One recollects a lovely music video called "Ek cutting chai" (link attached) This "cutting" personifies the Mumbai street food and mood - the immensely satisfying casualness (bindaas) with which the Mumbaikar drinks a "cutting" while munching a "Vada pao" ("zyada garlic chutney maarke bosss") while waiting for the next local at the train station.

While these teas are full of zest and gusto and work rather well as the morning "pick-up" drink, the tea drunk by the "purist" tea-lovers belong to an entirely different world. This is a world of fine china crockery, delicate and intricately painted teapots and the golden gleam and fragrance of a sublime fluid called tea. A world, where tea would necessarily have to be served in teapots, covered by tea-cozies, accompanied by scones or cucumber sandwiches and after the first cup, a stronger second cup ("Only half a cup, my dear - just to wash down the food and leave the right taste on the tongue") would be called for. And while these ladies and gentlemen would be sipping their second cup, the oblique evening light would come in through the stained glass windows and suspend this moment in time.  

Over the years, I have been gradually moving away from my old favourite coffee and found a new love in tea. My increased age has not really contributed much to my wisdom but has certainly refined my epicurean sensibilities, allowing me to now enjoy the light Darjeeling Tea, brewed to perfection with a subtle mix of of colour, flavour and taste - and consumed without milk and sugar. I also started enjoying the Earl Grey tea - another classic - the tea with a lovely fragrance. I was, therefore, an eager participant in the tea tasting event which was being organised by some my wife's friends.  

Technically this was a tea tasting event organised by some members of a foodie group called "Chef at Large" or CaL. My wife also belongs to this "for-whom-food-is-the-supreme-god"  group and by extension, I got invited to this event. The event was anchored by Anamika Singh, a member of CaL and a friend of my wife. Anamika is a thoroughbred tea commissionaire, being a tea estate owner's daughter who has spent her formative years in Darjeeling. She now partly looks after her father's tea estate at Kangra (Manjhee Valley and has her own brand of "blended" tea sold under the name "Anandini Himalaya Tea".

Anamika started with some basic clarifications on tea. The so called "herbal tea", it seems is not tea at all as it does not contain any tea leaves. The technical term for this is Tisane. Then comes the second category called the Infusions or blends which is tea with some other herbs or flowers into it (which, by the way, is what Anamika specializes in). And the third category is the classical tea which only contains tea leaves.

"Wait, wait, wait" - we said. "What is tea, if you were to define it? "

Tea, as per the classical definition, is a plant which originated in China. This, again, has two varieties - the small leaf one (Camellia Sinensis) and the broad leaf one (Camellia Assamica). The broad leaf one is usually processed through the CTC route, while the other one is uses the conventional production method and does the rolling at the final stages of production. The CTC (Crush Tear and Curl) route generates the grainy tea (what we bongs used to call as "dust tea") and is commonly used in tea bags. While the CTC  tea would brew a strong tea which will taste well with milk and sugar (and probably ginger also - the classical "Adrak-wali chai"), the connoisseurs swear by the traditional long leaf version. 

I finally got to know the difference between Black tea (traditional tea, completely oxidized), White tea (which is actually made from tea buds), Green tea (tea with minimum amount of oxidation) and Oolong tea (halfway between black and green). My erstwhile favorite "Earl Grey" got categorized under "blended tea" as this is basically a mix of black tea and Bergamot oil. Then comes the finer classification of "First Flush" (tea plucked between February and April) and "Second Flush" (tea plucked in Autumn). And last but not the least - we were introduced to a tea which is not the Darjeeling long leaf or the Assam CTC but the Kangra Valley tea - superb in its flavour and taste and poses a serious threat to the Darjeeling long leaf tea. 

Anamika made us taste three of her blends. The first was a blend of first flush tea with lavender and lemon grass. The second was green tea with chamomile and rose hip. The third was again a green tea with Rhododendron and Himalayan Tulsi. I personally found the first one to be very "rich" while the second one to be incredibly refreshing and "lively" (if I may use this word to describe a tea). All three had the beautiful golden glow and a tinge of floral scent which blended beautifully with the tea. The process of tasting was quite similar to wine tasting in France - with teas being served in shot glasses and viewed & smelt before actually sipping it. 
We were also taught how to make good tea. This involves boiling the water to 98 deg C (in layman's terms, this  means stop boiling the water the moment the smoke starts coming out), putting tea leaves in the tea pot first and then pouring water on it (yes - the age old debate of "water-over-tea-leaves" or "tea-leaves-added-to-boiling-water" has finally been resolved), covering it with a tea-cozy  , allowing it to infuse for 4 minutes and then strain and serve. We were warned that this 98 deg C also varies between different varieties of tea. And the extremely popular tea-maker's measurement thumb rule  (one teaspoon per head and one for the pot) was thrown out of the window. As per Anamika, the number of spoons of tea is approximately half the number of cups or could be equal to the number of cups (again depending on the type of tea). 

In the course of her talk, Anamika was also passing around samples of her tea on nice flat open containers so that we get to see and smell the teas. She also dissected a solitary defenseless teabag and revealed it's innermost secrets - an act which reminded me of my messy biology practical days. We all took a solemn pledge never to touch a tea bag in our lives - a promise, I suspect, only few of us have been able to keep. 

The event ended with the usual round of applause for the anchor and an unusual assortment of extremely sumptuous lot of food brought in by the participants. One has to acknowledge - there are certain distinct advantages of having hardcore foodies as participants ! 

Bruschetta : Shamim Chaudhury

Photo - courtesy Kajal Pradhan Lamba

Water melon salad : Shamim Chaudhury

Photo : courtesy Kajal Pradhan Lamba

PS : We had also ordered for some blends as well as first flush on Anamika which we got last night - nicely packaged with "operating instructions" attached to the packets. One cup of this champagne of tea gave me enough inspiration to get off by back and finish this blog. Cheerio!

Some more references to Anandini Himalaya Tea :

Friday, May 18, 2012

Kolkata Biriyani : Drool till you die

If there is a single word that invariably causes a tsunami of saliva within my mouth, this would have to be "Biriyani". Irrespective of the time of the day, condition of my stomach or my general state of existance, a mere mention of Biriyani is enough to make me react like Pavlovian dog. 
Before I proceed further, let me clarify one important point. For me, Biriyani means the one and only Kolkata Biriyani. I also like the Lukhnow style (Awadhi style) biriyani but the Kolkata Biriyani remains, in my mind, the real and only single malt among the Biriyanis. Wikipedia may list some 23 types of Biriyani but for me, barring Kolkata and Awadhi, rest might as well not exist.  
I have to admit that many zealous friends have tried to convince me to try out other forms of Biriyanis - the Mumbai biriyani for example. I am eternally grateful to these well meaning friends; without them I would have never realised how infinitely superior the Kolkata Biriyani is. 
Take, for example, the Lucky's Biriyani at Bandra. This is, arguably, the single most hideous stuff I have ever consumed in my life. It is best described as a kind of spice rice with spicy mutton curry mixed in a non-homogeneous mixture which raises the inner surface temperature of our oesophagus to Farenheit 451 or higher. Lucky's probably derives it's name from the popular saying "You gotta be lucky to survive Lucky's".  
I was also lured into trying my luck at the Noor Ali near Hazi Ali (who claims to serve the authentic "Pakistani" Biriyani), an experiment which has permanently damaged a few of my taste buds and some cells of my large intestine. Noor Ali Biriyani also has a delayed action. It makes sure that you remember them the next day morning as well. The only good thing about this place is that it is very close to Hazi Ali which means you can probably say your last prayers in one of the Sufi Durgahs and also have some excellent fruit juice . 
Even the much acclaimed Moti Mahal as well as Delhi Durbar (Colaba) Biriyanis were strictly "just passable" stuff. The Delhi Durbar Biriyani comes closest to the Kolkata Biriyani as it smells like the Kolkata Biriyani and is probably okay if you only intend to smell your food. Unfortunately,  and that's about the beginning and end of it. Compared to this, the names of those wonderful joints of Kolkata - Shiraz, Amminia, Rehmania, Zishaan....aah - one feels sated just by uttering these names.
As far as I can recollect, my love affair with Biriyani started at Aminia. They used to sell something called "Aminia Special" those days - which was a slightly larger portion of Biriyani with some fancy garnishing including a boiled egg. One could smell the aroma of their Biriyani  even from the opposite side of the road and you required a certain dexterity of limbs and fixity of purpose to enter this ever crowded joint. And every meal must conclude with their famous phirnee - which will be so well set that you could turn the container upside-down and watch the stuff defying Newton!  
Aminia was soon dislodged from it's throne by Shiraz and Rahmania and they jointly held this spot for many years. Both had their die-hard followers (almost like the East Bengal / Mohun Bagan rivalry) and no objective conclusion was ever reached by anyone about which is superior. The popular verdict was - if one wants to eat at the restaurant, Shiraz is better while for takeaway, Rehmania would score higher. Some also used to argue that the side dishes at Shiraz are much better in comparison to Rehmania, a statement I tend to agree with. Shiraz had (and probably still has) a boneless mutton preparation called "Pasinda" which is to die for.   In between, another shop came up in the same area (in fact bang opposite of Shiraz) called Tandoor Mahal which also was making excellent Biriyani. Grapevine had it that Tandoor Mahal's owner was the son-in-law of the owner of Shiraz and therefore many used to consider it to be an extension of Shiraz and not really a separate restaurant. I believe that this has now been taken over by Shiraz and is called the "Shiraz Golden Restaurant". 

Parallel to these "mainstream" Kolkata Biriyani's, we had some "doosra"s which were equally enjoyable. Ambar, with it's "Nargisi Biriyani" immediately comes to the mind. This mouthwatering Biriyani had tiny bits of chicken or mutton balls mixed into the rice. As a restaurant, this was also much more sophisticated and classy compared to Shiraz / Rehmania and also more expensive. They also had a takeaway counter called "Sagar" which used to serve conventional Biriyani. Sagar was also one of the firsts to start serving Biriyani in Bengali weddings, thereby destroying the traditional Bengali marriage dinner menu forever! 
Last time when I was in Kolkata, I tried the latest "flavour of the season" restaurant - Arsalan. This has got (as far as I know) two joints - one located off Free School Street and the other at Park Circus. I was forced to acknowledge that Arsalan is at least as good, if not better than Shiraz. There is also a new chain of take-away Biriyani joint called Alibaba who have also started serving "Biriyani made with Saffola" for the health conscious (bloody hell!!). 
Legend has it that Biriyani, though originally an Iranian cuisine, had evolved to its present form under Noor Jahan, who prescribed this food for her soldiers. Whether this is historically correct is not known but the development of Kolkata Biriyani from the Awadhi Biriyani is a well established historic fact. It seems that when our "Satranj ki Khilari" nawab of Awadh (Lukhnow) was deposed by the British and send to Kolkata, he brought this delightful dish with him. In exile, the impoverished Nawab Wajid Ali Shah could not afford enough meat for the copious quantity of Biriyani that was cooked for his entourage, boiled potatos were added in the Biriyani as substitute for meat - something which has become the signature line of Kolkata Biriyani. 
The Awadhi Biriyani that I have tried in Bangalore as well as in Delhi/Gurgaon are excellent - The Nawab's at Super Mart I, Gurgaon being one of my favourites. It is a small unimpressive looking shop which regularly dishes out extremely impressive dishes including Biriyani. I also tried out the Biriyani at Kareem's near the Jama Masjid and was extremely disappointed by it. It was had a very confusing taste and did not confirm to any particular genre. I am yet to try out the stuff in Delhi proper - particularly at CR Park, where, I am certain, there must be restaurants selling the Kolkata Biriyani.  
I am also not a great fan of Hyderabadi Biriyani. I had tasted it at "Paradise" in Hyderabad, which is supposed to be the most authentic Hyderabadi Biriyani joint. Though I  thoroughly enjoyed it but would certainly not rank it at par with the Kolkata Biriyanis. It also is usually spicier that the Awadhi / Kolkata Biriyani which also tends to be a discouraging factor for me. 
I got to put a full stop now as I have some doubts as to whether my laptop is designed to be drooled upon to this extent. Time to say "enough is enough", order out Mutton Biriyani with Chaap-i-Akbar and pour a stiff one while I wait. Cheers!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Books I read in 2011

The timing of this review is somewhat like Microsoft - who launched Windows 95 in November 2005 and Ms Office 2007 in Jan 2008. I am now in the esteemed company of Bill as I am writing about the books I read in 2011 when we are four months into 2012. Despite this resemblance in timing, there exists some economic disparity between me and Bill - which, is grossly unfair. But then, I always suspected that life is not really fair. 

This time I decided to write about the books I read last year. Though I don't have the qualifications to write such reviews (except being an avid and indiscriminate reader), but like every self-respecting "intellectual' bong, I have an opinion on everything, books included. So why should books (or rather the authors) be left alone? Only an engineer's prudence has made me write about these books from a purely personal perspective - about what I liked (or disliked) about these books. This allows enough leeway to wriggle out of situations lest someone accuses me of not being "intellectual" or "knowledgeable" enough. So, here's a list of the significant books that I read last year, in a random order.

1) Immortals of Meluha : Amish

I came across this book by a chance encounter. I was at Kolkata on my birthday last year for a business meeting and Sujata, my school friend, dragged me to her home to have breakfast with her. She didn't have time to buy a gift for me and handed me this book which she had originally bought for her. I finished the book in or around 48 hrs - stopping occasionally only to push a few stuffs down the oesophagus or to catch a few winks. Rest of the time, I was glued to the book. 
Amish has started with a presumption that the present day "Gods" were, in fact, humans with extra-ordinary talent and with the passage of time, people had elevated them to "god-hood". The book is set vaguely in the times of Indus Valley civilization (which Amish calls as Meluha) and the central character is pot-smoking devil-may-care hero called Shiva. Shiva has still not got elevated to "god-hood" and is a mortal of immense mental and physical strength and a simplistic clarity of vision. All the mythological characters like Sati, Daksha, Brihaspati etc are interwoven exceedingly well into the plot. 
What I loved about the book is the smartness with which Amish has been able to handle the contradictions in our mythology. For example, our mythologies often talk about "Amrita", the nectar of immortality, which came during Samudra-Manthan using Mandar Parbat. "Amrita" is replaced here with "Somras" (also referred in our mythologies as an alcoholic drink) which is "manufactured" in a factory at Mandar Parbat. Even better is how Amish establishes Meluha as the Kingdom founded by Ram (and hence "Ram Rajya") and is therefore the ideal Kingdom. The contradiction of Sati (who is the daughter of King Daksha) and Parvati (daughter of the mountains or Parvat) both being Shiva's wives in two different births has also been handled with aplomb (by naming the Army Chief of King Daksha as "Parvateshwar" and making him the godfather of Sati). 
The only short-coming of this book is the language. Amish does not seem to have the command of language to sustain the drama in the book. Occasionally his expressions seem pedestrian and dilutes the plot / situation. Had Amish been able to handle this, the book have been extra-ordinary. 
A word of caution : this is a work of fiction - not an interpretation or explanation of Indian mythological history. Hence all the scenarios set by Amish are not necessarily historical facts or interpretations accepted by historians. It's a good read that tickles the brain and makes you wonder whether this could have been the case. Leave it at that - and you will enjoy the book immensely. 
Rating 4.5/5

2) Secret of the Nagas : Amish 

I bought this book from the Reliance book store on the first day of this book launch. This is the sequel to the "Immortals of Meluha" and takes off exactly where the first one had stopped. The thrill of the first novel has been well retained in the second book. 
Amish handles another contradiction quite well - of Kali as well as Parvati both being wives of Shiva. Also he has introduced Ganesh and Kartik into this novel and the entire plot has been woven so well that everything falls into their rightful place. I loved the Parashuram in this novel as well as the journey through Dandakaranya into the Naga capital. In fact, the concept of "Nagas" being the clan of deformed humans shunned by the society who have created their own kingdom is itself praise-worthy. And the twist at the end was also well handled. 
One waits eagerly for the third and concluding part of the trilogy - "The Oath of the Vayuputras". Hope it comes out soon. 
Rating : 4/5 

3) The Corridor : A graphic novel by Sarnath Banerjee 

This is my first encounter with a graphic novel - thanks to my friend Durba, who decided to give me this "non-occasion" gift while we were rummaging through books at Arobindo Market bookshop. A refreshing concept that worked exceedingly well with the present storyline. The plot (or whatever you can describe as plot) is actually an attempt to depict the fragmented and detached urban generation through a series of bizarre incidents. The book is full of tongue-n-cheek humour, which, by virtue of the format of the book, makes it crisp and compact. 
The focal point of the novel is one Mr. Jehangir Rangoonwala - a second hand book seller by profession whose bookshop creates the entry point of colourful collage of people we meet in the book. We come across  Profession DVD Murty, HOD of Forensic at Saftarjung Hostipal and an avid poetry reader, who, after being completely stoned in the middle of CP, makes the supreme pronouncement about the Universal death rate "One death per person". Or Digital Dutta, the Marxist IT professional, who lives in his head - where he has played guitar with Django Reinhard, solved equations for Heisenberg and has even been the mixed doubles partner of Chris Evert Lloyds. There is love affair of the narrator and Kali, (with prophetic realisations like "Women are not goddesses or bitches; often they are both" or   Shintu's escapades in Daryagunj to sort out his sex life (with Sande Ka Tel - a pale yellow extract from the bile of rare lizards; available for only Rs 1000/- - cash or Visa). Or the story of .....err - no more. Go get the book - and read it!!  
Rating : 4/5 

4) Raiders from the North : Alex Rutherford

A historic thriller based on the life of Babur and is the first part of the "Empire of the Moghul" quintet. This was recommended by my friend Amit and usually his recommendations are at least worth a read. This book reconfirmed my faith in his judgement.
This book is a lovely interplay of drama and history written in lucid English. The book also covers Babur's life before he came to India - the initial years at Farghana and Samarkhand, his struggle and repeated defeats and finally his evolution into a man. All of a sudden, Babur becomes something more than a cut-out hero from my old history book; he is now a flesh-and-blood person I can relate to. Also significant is the depiction of the politics and life in those days especially in the Moghul courtyard. 
A trivia : Alex Rutherford is the pen name of a husband-wife team of Diana and Michael Preston. This is the first time I encountered one pen name being used by two persons (unless you count those Ellery Queen novels where multiple authors seem to have written books under the same name). 
Overall judgement : A must read for all those who are fond of Historic Novels. 
Rating : 4/5

5) Brothers in Arms : Alex Rutherford

This is the second part of the Empire of the Moghul series and is reasonably well written. After the fiery page-turner lifespan of Babur, Humayun's age is more of the internal struggles of Humayun. Humayun's attraction towards opium, his "astronomical carpet" with planets and stars drawn on them and his eternal naiveness creates an interesting character. Unfortunately after the blood and iron Babur, Humayun is a weakling who fails to keep your attention for long. He is definitely the least interesting character amongst the Great Moghuls fumbled through his life before stumbling down the staircase to an inglorious end. 
Read it if you are a die hard fan of historical novels or you are passionate about the Moghul history. 
Rating : 3/5 

6) The Interpretation of Murder : Jed Rubenfeld

This is one of the best thrillers I have read in a long long time. It is set in 1909 when Sigmund Freud visited New York along with Carl Jung and Sandor Ferenczi. A girl is murdered in New York and there is an attempt to murder a second girl who miraculously escapes. The second girl, however suffers from trauma which has led to a loss of memory. Sigmund Freud is invited to examine this case and he passes it on to one of his american disciples (Dr Younger). Dr Younger starts investigating the case using Freud's psycho-analysis techniques. This is thus a crime thriller based on the Freudian theories and their application. Brilliantly conceived, lovely language and intricate plot - this is as good as it gets in terms of a thriller. 

Rating : 5/5

7) Come, tell me how you live : Agatha Christie

My wife almost force-fed this book to me and I am eternally grateful for that. Seldom have I read a more cheerful and bright book. The book is full of sunshine and brightness and a general feeling of warmth and joy - the kind you feel when you enter a bakery and smell the freshly baked cakes!
This is a travelogue cum auto-biography of Agatha Christie. She had joined her husband Max Mallowan in a number of archaeological expeditions  in Syria and Iraq and this is a chronicle of these travels. It is full of funny anecdotes written in perfect British English. The stiff-upper-lip brand of humour reminds you of Wodehouse and from time to time, you feel like closing the book and laughing to yourself. 
Like the first night at Amunda :
"No sooner have the lamps been extinguished than mice in their scores - I really believe in their hundreds - emerge from the holes in the walls and the floor. They run gaily over our beds, squeaking as they run. Mice across one's face, mice tweaking your hair, mice! mice! mice! I switch on a torch. Horrible! The walls are covered with strange pale crawling cockroach like creatures. A mouse is sitting on the foot of my bed attending to his whiskers! 
Max utters soothing words.
Just go to sleep, he says. Once you are asleep, none of these things will worry you.
Excellent advise,but not easy to act upon! One has first to get to sleep, and with mice taking healthy exercise and having their field sports all over you, that is hardly possible. Or it is not possible for me. Max seems able to do it all right!"
The episode ended with the narrator threatening to leave by the next available train and eventually sleeping out under the clear sky. 
This is the kind of book which you would like to keep in your bookshelf to cheer you up on depressed days - a thoroughly "feel-good" book. 

Rating : 5/5

8) Snowman : Jo Nesbo

I picked up this book from my favourite bookshop "Quills and Canvas" in the Galleria Market. I had entered this shop at the end of a gruelling week in a brain-dead state and asked the shop-owner for a decent thriller - a nice whudunit or a body-at-the-end-of-every-second-page type. She recommended this and I must say I enjoyed it thoroughly. 
It is a thriller by the Norwegian Author Jo Nesbo featuring his unorthodox, alcoholic "loose cannon" cop hero Harry Hole. This is, in fact, a part of the Harry Hole series but there is little reference to the other books and therefore each book can be read as a stand alone novel. 
The book starts with a dramatic start where, on a typical November night in Oslo, a young boy wakes up to find his mother missing. As he starts searching for her, he discovers wet footprints on the stairs which lead down to the garden. In the garden, amidst the fresh snow, is a snowman with his mother's pink scarf around his neck. It soon becomes the chase for a serial murderer who strikes when the snow falls and his signature is a snowman. 
On the whole, it's a good thriller for people who enjoy this genre of literature. 
Rating : 4/5 
PS : Jo Nesbo is now being promoted as Steig Larson's Norwegian equivalent. Nesbo is good but let's not get carried away - Steig Larson is a class apart!!

9) An Autobiography : Agatha Christie 

This was also my wife's recommendation, though this time she didn't have to push it much. After reading "Come, tell me, how you live", I was more than eager to read this one. This is written in the same vein as "Come, tell me, how you live" and is also quite enjoyable. This is, perhaps, not as cheerful as the previous one but gives a nice look into the early 20th century England. 
It is full of anecdotes which are described in a charming voice. One almost feels like having a chat with an elderly witty old relative (I suppose she was elderly and doubtlessly witty when she wrote this book) while reading the book. It is a book to be savoured - to be read slowly, smiling through the experience and feeling very contended at the end of it. 
For example her description of introduction of mixed bathing :
"The first thing mixed bathing entailed was wearing far more clothing than before. Even French ladies had always bathed in stockings, so that no sinful bare legs could be observed. I have no doubt that, with natural french chic, they managed to cover themselves from their necks to their wrists, and with lovely thin stockings outlining their beautiful legs, looked far more sinfully alluring than if they had worn a good old short-skirted British bathing dress of frilled alpaca."
The book is full of many charming descriptions like this and is definitely a must read for people who love the language.
Rating : 4.5/5

10) I'd tell you that I love you, but then I'd have to kill you : 

This is a young adult book (YA book to generation Y) which I wanted to read ever since I read the review. I found the name intriguing and the fact that it rates among top ten YA books of past 5 years aroused my curiosity. Finally I gifted the book to my friend's teenage daughter - but not before quickly reading the same. 
It is a book by Ally Carter and is a part of the Gallagher Girls series. The protagonist is a 15 year old girl (Cammie) who stays in a board school - but wait - it's not an ordinary boarding school, it's a boarding school for spies. Thus their coursework is about gadgets and covert operations and learning 14 languages et al - a kind of "Spy' equivalent of Harry Potter. The girl then falls in love with a town boy, to whom she cannot reveal her actual identity (and hence the funny title of the book). 
Overall it's a fun novel though it occasionally gets too "girly" for my comfort (I was flummoxed when they were disputing about lip-gloss vs lipstick as I was clueless about their relative merits and demerits). Nevertheless, as a YA book, it is certainly recommended.
Rating : 3.5/5

11) The curious incident of the dog in the night time : Mark Haddon 

I was persuaded very strongly by my friend Durba to buy this book. Later I came to know that it is, in fact, a rather well known book that had got the best Commonwealth Writer's award as well as the Whitbread book of the year. 
The book is written as a first person narrative of a 15 year old child who is an autistic child (probably suffering from Asperger Syndrome). The child is also a mathematical genius who decides to become an amateur crime investigator who investigates the murder of his neighbour's dog. Soon the investigation sky-rockets into something completely different. 
The book is extremely stylishly written with a narrative style that an autistic child would probably use. The chapter numbers are also not in sequence  but as per the prime numbers as a mathematics-obsessed autistic child would probably do. It is not a particularly easy book to read but certainly worth the effort.
Rating : 4/5 

12) The Avenger

This is an out-and-out Forsyth novel with all the usual characteristics : a relatively slow build-up, exceptional plot, superb suspense and a twist in the tail. Added to it, the Forsyth's adherence to details and background makes it a fascinating read.
The protagonist is Cal Dexter a.k.a Avenger, an ex-vietnam soldier who has an alternative side to his declared profession of a lawyer. He is one who brings justice to people who are untouchable due to diplomatic connections or political power. In this novel, he hunts down a war criminal of the Bosnian war through a maze of espionage, terrorism and counter-terrorism in a banana republic. Added to it is Dexter's clash with Paul Devereux, the number 2 in CIA who is determined to stop Dexter from killing the war criminal for reasons of his own. 
Rating : 4/5

I had read some more but are probably not worth mentioning. One also has to keep in mind that any further additions would probably push publishing this blog by another 2 months so better to publish it as it is!! 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The curious case of the wet towel on the bed during the morning hours

My cousin had put a post on her facebook status on Valentine's day :
Another morning, hot coffee, morning squabbles, breakfast, another wet towel on the bed, a hug, a goodbye at the is beautiful, Valentine's Day or not."

Undoubtedly a nice FB status. This, however, triggered a completely different stream of thought in me about something else - namely - Wet towel on the bed. 

It seems that guys all over the world, after having their bath, tend to leave their wet towels on the bed instead of putting it in the bathroom or in the balcony. There is no exact statistics available to determine the exact percentage of men who do this as well as the frequency of occurrence. 

Why do guys (me included) keep wet towels on the bed? I am convinced that some wannabe psychoanalyst will soon come up with a theory which links this to the freudian slip or a complicated interplay of id, ego and super-ego which causes this subconscious-driven dumping of wet towel on the bed. The psycho-analyst would probably also claim that the wet bed remind men of their bed-wetting days and thereby signifies their eternal craving for childhood days. May be the really creative ones might extend the logic to say that the wives of these men (for ease of reference, we shall henceforth refer them as  "Men with a Wet Towel" or MWT) scold them so much that this also reminds them of their boyhood days. The possibilities are infinite.

Sadly, I lack such grandiose of vision to come up with such elaborate working of subconscious. I only try to analyse the problem with an engineer's perspective. 

I believe that houses are primarily build for the purpose of staying and by extension, keeping stuffs, home decor etc etc (those two etceteras, if uncontrolled, has the potential to burn a very substantial hole in your pocket). People have not really done a thorough "time-and-motion" study to evaluate how people will move within the house and in what sequence would he or she need the equipment required to perform the task in hand. Also there has not been any tolerance built into the system to account for the difference between the brain functioning of men and women (men use one hemisphere while women use both; men think in sequence and are activity oriented while women are better at multi-tasking and overall picture et al). This case of the omnipresent wet towel is an example of this.

Let's try to plot the whole sequence of how the wet towel gets dumped on the bed :

1) The guy (standard urban male specimen)comes out of the bathroom. He is scantily attired and scrubbing his hair vigorously. (Girls - stop drooling please. This is a normal bloke with an "A-cut figure", drooping shoulders and an enormous pot-belly - not an holographic image of George Clooney).

2) After he has thoroughly dried his hair by vigorously rubbing it with his towel, he looks for a place to dump the towel. The immediate options are 
2.1 : Go back into the bathroom wearing slippers and make the bathroom floor dirty 
2.2 :  Go back into the bathroom without wearing slippers and then leave wet foot-prints all over the bedroom

Options 2.1 or 2.2 are both likely to cause some more-than-usual commotion in the house with several "why can't you"s and "How can you"s hurled at him like Kalashnikov bullets. One also has to keep in mind that since the aforementioned male specimen has rubbed his head vigorously and thereby somewhat dis-oriented. Under this dishevelled and dis-oriented situation, this otherwise diplomatic urban man may utter a few words which are not the most judicious ones to utter to his counterpart. Needless to mention, this would increase the chaos and the general decibel level in the atmosphere. And when the aforementioned gentleman has, somehow, managed to get ready for office and is leaving home, he might meet his friendly neighbour who decides to give him a benign smile and sympathetic "tschk, tschk". The neighbour would then be vastly surprised when this usually peaceful guy decides to hit him on the head with his laptop bag. 

2.3 : Go to the balcony and put it on the wire-rope-frame thingy one uses to hang the clothes. This also is not as simple as it looks as these thingy's are usually full of clothes with different degrees of dampness arranged to form a complex collage which Jackson Pollock would have appreciated. 

One can't think too long also over here due to 
2.3.1 : Possible complain from the neighbour about indecent exposure and generally polluting the landscape by being an eye-sore (refer point 1 above; the guy is not a George Clooney / Brad Pitt / Bruce Willis lookalike). 
2.3.2 : The early morning winds in Delhi are like the in-swingers Imran Khan used to deliver in the eighties - smooth like the movement of a knife through butter and designed to cause maximum damage. 
[Note : 2.3.2 is applicable only in some selected areas of Northern India and in some selective months]

2.4 : Lump it into the laundry bag. This which will cause the bag and its contents to develop a strangely powerful smell like the corsican cheese - guaranteed to knock the living daylights out of anyone who opens this bag

2.5 : Hang it on the back of a chair. This is a good alternative excepting that all chair backs are usually occupied by a jacket / trouser / jeans / pyjama / some other piece of men's clothing which could not find its way to the wardrobe. 

Hence the wet towel finding its way to the bed is an act of a guy who has run out of alternatives. One would expect that the entire household would be sympathetic to the situation and not blame the MWT. Statistics shows that this is seldom the case and the MWTs are usually met with a cold stare rather than a friendly smile. 

All this can be avoided by designing the house properly. The possibilities are mind boggling like 
a) Having a monorail from the bedroom to the bathroom where one can hang the towel. And then shift it to the bathroom by the same contraption. One can make it techno-tacky by putting a humidity sensor which senses when the towel is dry and then shifts it to the bathroom. 
b) Provide a two way duct with a motorized damper to selectively push back some hot air into the room. The inlet duct can be designed in such a way that the frame acts like a towel rack. 
c) A withdraw-able bar behind the fridge which slides out to take the towel and then slides in to rest it on the heat exchanger coils. 

"If you plan not to go to the office, I recommend that you get dressed and sit somewhere instead of dreaming of god-knows-what-or-whom wearing the towel !!" My reverie / deep thought process was broken by this rude rubbing from reality. The possibility of a Smart home which will forever rescue the MWT from perpetual gloom disappeared into the horizon like the morning fog. 

Life goes on....and that is life!!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Complete Washout : Washing Machine reloaded!!

People who had read my previous post are aware of the sinister story of my whining washing machine (Siemens WM-10-16).
After 3 weeks of eager wait and several phone calls, the Siemens service engineer arrived at our house. But wait - we have to start from the beginning i.e the service centre.
I called up the Siemens service centre diligently. With three weeks practice, I had become rather proficient in doing this. For the uninformed, this is more complicated than it sounds. 
The call centre has two numbers, both are almost always busy. The trick is to continuously keep dialling them - something like an advanced version of "Fastest Finger First". So I store one number on my mobile and the other on my land line and keep on dialling them simultaneously with my both hands. On the 16th or 17th attempt, I usually succeed. 
This time, on the 15th ring, a bored-voiced lady with a typical Delhi-ite English picked up and informed me that my earlier service call number 5936 has been "upgraded" to 6016 and henceforth I should refer only to this service call. That sounded bizarre - I always thought the software companies usually do such things. Nevertheless, I prodded on and wanted to know about the "actual" status of this service call. To this, I was told that the famous gasket (which has to be imported from Germany after placing a call request on Bangalore and a purchase order on Mumbai) - the root cause which has made the machine inoperative for past three weeks, has finally arrived and has been handed over to the service engineer. The lady also told me that the name of the service engineer is Mr. Harit and I should make a note of this. On requesting for the service engineer's phone number, I was told that it is against the service policy of Siemens to give the mobile number of the service engineer. On asking as to when Mr. Harit would arrive, I was told that this is left to the discretion of the concerned engineer and the service centre has no control over this. At this point, I asked rather pointedly about what do they expect me to do with the name of the service engineer. I gave several suggestions like chanting his name in front of the idols that my wife worships everyday or recite his name in a sing song manner to my daughter as she falls asleep but the lady at the other end of the phone could not give a satisfactory reply. She merely murmured that she thought that his name would gladden my heart. I thanked her profusely for this supreme service and kept down the phone. 
Then the man came. It was a cold afternoon and there was a thin layer of fog still lingering in the Gurgaon atmosphere. His arrival, nevertheless, was like a bright sunshine in our flat and the smile my wife gave to him was probably the same on or at least from the same series which she used during our first year of marriage. This happy moment was short lived as Mr. Harit, upon seeing the machine was taken aback and he immediately called up the service centre and started conferring with someone senior in a secretive hushed tone. After several minutes of muffled discussion, Mr. Harit informed us that the problem, in fact is far more severe than merely a gasket. It definitely involves changing the drum but would probably need a step-by-step root cause analysis, which, unfortunately, has not been done. He, therefore reinstalled the machine without fixing the gasket and urged us to continue running the machine before it completely breaks down. At this point, Mr. Harit will arrive again and make a detailed analysis and order out the necessary parts. 
One has to grant the consistency of a German machine. Barely had Mr. Harit left our house, the machine started misbehaving. On the first day, it did the job but with a noise which would have shamed a turbo-charged jet engine. On the second day, it refused to spin and dry the clothes but chose to entertain us with a tap-dance and move away from its original position. On the third day, it simply refused to wash and thereby resumed to its state of complete inoperativeness. 
Again a round of rapid-fire speed dial and bingo - on the 21st attempt, I was through. The summary of my desultory conversation with the same Delhi-ite lassie can be summarised as below:
1. The drum is damaged and needs replacement.
2. This would cost 9k + taxes + service charge
3. The official delivery time is 3 weeks. This has to be calibrated with reality as the official delivery period of a gasket is 10 days but it took 3 weeks to deliver. 
4. This will not ensure that the machine is restored to its former glory as the "root-cause analysis" is yet to be done.
Thus the last of my ties with Siemens will disappear tomorrow. It took us 15 minutes to decide on buying a new machine, 15 minutes to check the net, 1 hour to drive down to the nearest shop and buy a new machine. This time, the specification was simple
a) the machine should be movable
b) the service centre and engineers should be accessible
c) the engineer who comes to install it should not talk about centrifugal forces and cosine component of the gravitational force that it exerts on our floor. 
There were several ones which fitted the bill and we picked up the one we felt was least intimidating. 
Let's hope this one will not be a complete washout like the last one!