A day in Calcutta as sweet as Mishti Doi

It has been a little over three weeks now since I began working. I still reach work about 10 to 15 minutes before the official start time. My first project is in Calcutta. So last week when I was told that we will be going to Calcutta for a day the first thing that I thought of was the iconic Howrah Bridge and Rôshogollas(Bengali sweet).

Under Construction Terminal at Calcutta Airport

The day started early and this was my first visit to Calcutta. When I sat on the flight I realized that I could reach Dubai in the same time that it takes to reach Calcutta from Bombay. May be next time we can meet the client in Dubai? My boss did not find that funny. I was required to check in my bag cause I had a 6”x6” marble sample with me and that seemed too dangerous to carry on board so I had to wait 20 minutes or so for my bag to arrive once we landed in Calcutta.

Site in Balygunj

From the airport we headed to our site which is located in Balygunj, a prime residential area in Calcutta. What Tardeo is to Bombay now and Banjara Hills is to Hyderabad, Balygunj is to Calcutta. The roads in this neighbourhood are narrower and the traffic is a snarl. After visiting the site for about 20minutes we headed over to the client’s office.

We presented the client with our ideas for the interiors and the progress on the exterior elevations. The client seemed happy – and since we are designing a house almost the entire family barring the children were present for the presentation. Each member of the house had comments or suggestions which were diligently noted.

Then it was lunch time – we headed over to the client’s cafeteria and there we had a traditional Marwari meal with Gatta Kadhi and the like. We ended our meal with Rôshogollas and Mishti Doi(sweet yogurt). I made sure that I did not over eat as after lunch we had coordination meetings scheduled with our consultants.

Through out the day we kept opening bags of goodies – adding on some expensive flooring, very well designed Swiss and German windows and even some German designed drains for the shower. The client in return but obviously has asked us to prepare a BOQ(Bill of Quantities).

At the end of the day I was exhausted but excited. My only regret was that I did not get to see the Howrah Bridge but I did taste Mishti Doi and Rôshogollas.

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Joss, one for the gastronomic traveler

As part of my brother’s birthday celebrations this week we went to dine at Joss, a fine dining restaurant serving modern Asian flare from sushi to Indonesian noodles. In the past month or so we had made reservations here twice and had to cancel due to change of plans last-minute so I was really looking forward to our meal as I had heard a lot about Joss through friends.

Located in the heart of Kalaghoda arts district this restaurant has been conceptualized and conceived by chef Farrokh Khambatta. The space feels warm and welcoming and the interiors are softened, setting the stage, helping you focus your palate on the drama that begins to unfold on your dinner plate.

(Above L) Korean BB Chicken, (Below L) Coriander crusted prawn and (R) Prawn Krom...

The menu is extensive and almost everything sounds good. For appetizers we tried calling for the Singaporean shell crab but were disappointed to learn that they did not receive a fresh catch that day so they had none. Coriander crusted prawns with a spicy creamy sauce was the first appetizer to arrive and it was just as it sounds well-flavoured and delectable. Next to arrive was a buttery prawn in some olive oil and herbs, very well presented in a soup spoon and truly marvelously flavoured. I cannot recollect the name of the dish but I think it was prawn kromby or prawn komgy. The Korean BBQ chicken was brought out onto our plates ready to be devoured and was nothing like the taste or experience of having BBQ in New York’s Korea-town. The chicken was chargrilled and had hints of Indian masalas which was a little disappointing but if you have never tasted Korean BBQ before then you would find it remarkable. Lastly for appetizers we had the Vietnamese bass steamed and doused in a tamarind sauce, the flavours of which burst open in your mouth with every bite.

For main course we had the Thai green curry with prawns and steamed rice which was good but the one we had at San Qi a couple of months back is by far the best. Oh and how can I forget Thai Pavilion, one of the best Thai places in South Bombay. We also called for some Indonesian noodles with vegetables. Last to arrive was the grilled lobster with herbs in a buttery sauce with broccoli.

(L) Birthday Boy and Death By Chocolate, (R) Mom eager to indulge in the Chocolate Cigar Prune and Armagnac Ice Cream

We are a family of seven and yes we eat a lot – and so we are not done yet – since it was also a birthday celebration we went that extra mile and called for their extensive and well designed desserts. Their hot Kalhua chocolate souffle, a specialty requires 30mins of prep time so we skipped it(will definitely go back here for it) and instead called for the Chocolate Cigar on prune and Armagnac ice cream with cookie marque. The depth and texture of each ingredient was delightful. The death by chocolate was a moist cake with liquor and topped with a white chocolate like cup cake shaped  hardened ganache that complimented the moistness of the cake. To balance out the chocolaty goodness we called for some poached pears with an almond and honey ice cream which was heavenly and something I would highly recommend. Lastly a fruit strudel, the dough of which was light and crispy.

The service here was good, the server well-informed and the experience gastronomically rich. I would highly recommend this place and this place has a lot more to offer, so I definitely look forward to going back here on another occasion.

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What would you change about your neighbourhood/city?

This is a call for submissions for a panel discussion that takes place in March titled, ‘Parallel Urbanism – local people regulating local spaces.’

For submission details click here: Submit your video

The videos that you submit will be instrumental in kicking off our panel discussion titled ‘Parallel Urbanism – local people regulating local spaces’. The conversation will address the issues that you raise, the problems that you face and the future that you envision. Please use this as a platform to state your views and let your voice be heard. Keep an eye out for more details on the panel which will be conducted in collaboration with sawcc.org early March 2011 in NYC. Your videos will be showcased on designwala after the panel is over.

Content Credit: Designwala

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A thrilling first week at work

My first day at work I reached the office by 10:18 am and I found myself knocking on the door. I was then let in by one of the office assistants (or peons as they are referred to in India) who were certainly not expecting someone this early. Office hours are 10:30 am to 7 pm, which is going to take some getting used to – believe it or not I preferred the 8:30 am to 5:30 pm hours better. At around 10:40 am a fellow designer walked in, looked at me strangely and then asked me if I was the new guy – I said yes, she then called the director up and I was then briefed on the project and asked to wait.

The first hour was spent cleaning my desk, twiddling my thumbs, brief introductions and then at 11:30 am I was introduced to the designer I will be working with on my first project. Once settled she came over and briefed me on the status of the project in exactly 35 seconds. I was informed that the following week we have a design presentation to our clients in Calcutta, following which we were out on our way to a reprographics and printing place to get some visuals colour corrected before printing which are going to be crucial for our presentation. I was impressed by the set up at this place – they had rows of men sitting behind Macs working diligently colour correcting images for Femina, Elle and many other publications. The only thing peculiar here was that besides the receptionist there were no women working at this place.

Imperial Towers. Image courtesy Axis Facades

On my second day I reached the site at Tardeo at 10:25 am as I was to accompany a coworker to her site to observe an active site in Bombay. The project site – a 5BHK located on the 39th floor of the Imperial Towers at Tardeo. Shapoorji Pallonji & Co Ltd./SD Corporation’s twin towers designed by Hafeez Contractor, stand sixty-stories tall and are one of the tallest residential towers in the country. The security is tight here and the building complex is guarded like a fortress. The base of the building was buzzing with activity and I observed the clamour and stream of workers as they made their way through, clients were waiting for their architects/interior designer and real estate developers.

When my coworker arrived I jumped into her cab and we climbed the ramp up to the entry level. We took an

View from Imperial Towers South Tower

elevator to the 5th floor lobby level and then another dedicated elevator to the 39th floor. The hallway was dead silent, we rang the bell and soon we were engulfed by the chaos and commotion that ensued. The site is nearing completion and is in it’s finishing stages. The electrician and automation personnel were performing tests, painters were readying walls, carpenters were installing casework’s and door panels. I made my way past the workers towards the deck to a hazy view of the city below and the Arabian sea beyond. The second day definitely began on an exciting note.

In the afternoon I reviewed plans and tried working on a section to make sense of the architecture for the Calcutta project. Also got some time with the director to get some understanding of who the client was and their needs. The day ended on a high note as in the evening I headed across town to Colaba to meet up with Amishi, Amrita and Emily. I was running late as I was caught in the rush hour traffic. Since Emily was visiting from Boston we decided to go to Cafe Mondegar (Mondy’s) a popular hangout for both Bombayites and tourists. The walls are covered in cartoons painted by a Goan artist and a jukebox that sits in the corner has a selection of jazz, rock, pop and Hindi songs. At Mondy’s we drank pitchers of Kingfisher. Emily and I wished that there was a dance floor close by. A group of college students or may be high school students were singing along to a Bryan Adam’s song that blared from the jukebox. Many dull looking men had their eyes on Emily that evening at Mondy’s. After about three pitchers of beer or so we headed over to Bademiya.

Emily and Amrita at Bademiya's

Bademiya’s, an open air street-side vendor that has been serving kebabs and rolls to satisfy the late night hunger pangs for the past seventy years. This place opens at six in the evening and is open till the wee hours of the morning catering to hungry bar hoppers that flock here after bars close to grab a bite before heading home. We called for their butter chicken rolls(wraps) that were as the name suggests buttery and delectable.

The remainder of the week was spent working on drawings and preparing for the presentation which now has been postponed and is yet to be rescheduled. The week ended at work in a meeting with a luxury bathroom designer products and accessories vendor  who introduced me to some opulent and some well designed products – that ranged from 55k to 8 Lac rupees.

My first week at work was busier than I expected and I certainly was not prepared after my six-month vacation. However it was an action-packed week and I cannot wait to make a splash.

Festivals and events that I missed this week: Kabir Fest, Anish Kapoor in conversation with Homi Bhabha (cultural theorist) and launch event of Studio X Mumbai – a Columbia University initiative.

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Relaunch!

It has been 6 months since I resigned from my job at Gensler in New York, 5.5 months since I moved back to Bombay and I now have 24 hours or less before I begin my new job. I am excited as well as anxious.

I have been forewarned by friends and people I have met in the past few months about the trials and tribulations of working in India and how it is a completely different experience from working in America. When I had announced my decision of moving back to India to one of my friends; he blatantly said and to quote him, “tera toh gang rape hoga for sure” (you will be gang raped for sure). There was a brief pause and then a nervous chuckle from my end.

There are several reasons that led me to move back; to name a few – one being that I did not feel that I was being challenged enough and I was eager to experience something new, secondly I have lived away from my family for a long time and so I wanted to get back closer to them and spend more time at home.

Tomorrow my extended vacation comes to an end. I may not have accomplished everything that I had intended or planned for like learning jazz funk, taking up a bartending course and or traveling across the length and breadth of India. However, I did manage to explore neighbourhoods of Bombay, experience art and cultural offerings in the city, make some new friends and form the Bombay Brunch Brigade.

I am looking forward to a new beginning, developing new skills, forming new relationships, adapting and understanding the concept of problem solving in India, popularly known as ‘jugaad.’ As I was about to post this note a friend from Bangalore texted saying, “hey wish you all the best for tomorrow! Don’t stress and enjoy the ride…”

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Copper Chimney, always satisfies

This past friday we went out for our weekly family dinner to Copper Chimney. It has probably become one of our favourite Indian dining places. They have been serving excellent comforting food for years. They serve North Indian/ Mughlai, the menu hardly ever changes but the quality has remained the same. I remember distinctly from my memories as a kid when my parents would take me to Copper Chimney, the original one which was located a little further up on Worli from where it is located at now – it was one of the first places in Bombay with a display kitchen.

Even before the menus were handed to us we called for a crispy roti smeared with butter and some masala on the side. Eating a crispy roti with masala is no less than an event. The crispy roti with warm butter and a spicy masala is very satisfying.

We began by calling for some murgh kalimirch, tender pieces of chicken that are marinated in yogurt and spiked with pepper – these kebabs melt in your mouth and are smoky. Then we called for Jinga Nisha, these were jumbo prawns marinated in tandoori flavoured spices and grilled to perfection. We also had to call for their succulent lamb seekh kebabs – minced lamb kebabs with fresh herbs that are skewered and then seared.

As we were savouring our appetizers and enjoying every bite, our conversations drifted to far away places and we began making travel plans for sometime in the future. We never really manage to go on a family vacation as coordinating travel schedules for a family of seven is a mammoth task but still at that very moment we chose to believe that we will make it happen soon.

For our main course we skipped Copper Chimney’s popular Butter Chicken and instead called for Chicken Bharta, shredded chicken cooked in a tangy tomato based gravy that is spiked with coriander and green chillies. Next we had Machchi Rahra, fillets of Pomfret simmered in a tomato and onion based curry, simply delicious. Bhuna Gosht, cubes of lamb simmered and cooked in a gravy similar to Machchi Rahra. We also called for some plain naans, butter naans, garlic naan and a roomali roti(soft delicate thin bread).

This time we did not hold back and indulged in desserts. We called for some Ras Malais, paneer(Indian cottage cheese) soaked in thick sweetened cream flavoured lightly with cardamoms and garnished with dry fruits. From our experience we felt that the Ras Malai’s are better at Punjab Grill. We also called for some Malai Kulfi, a rich creamy traditional indian ice cream. The service at Copper Chimney is always good, though on friday night they did seem short on their wait staff. The ambience is cheerful and may be a little too bright for restaurants. The food in one word is irresistible.

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Dance your own dance!

Bombay has a vibrant theater scene with plays in many languages, in South Bombay most performances take place at the NCPA (National Center for Performing Arts) and in the western suburbs at Prithvi an intimate space owned by the legendary Kapoor family and named after Prithviraj Kapoor. My friends and I arrived just in time to be able to survey the Prithvi Café and catch a platform performance. The platform performance was scripted and performed by a young actor and playwright. It was funny and was based on the notion of Sita writing four letters to her mother describing her life after marriage with Lord Rama.

Lilette Dubey as Ratna and Vijay Crishna as Jairaj in 'Dance Like a Man!' Courtesy prithvitheatre.org

The play begins with the audience getting a glimpse of the lives of the Parekh’s and their future son-in-law. Their quirky talks, misunderstandings and scheming behaviours makes them seem dysfunctional but most families will relate to their clandestine ways, characters of which are timeless and make the story universal.

In “Dance Like a Man” Jairaj and Ratna, a couple who have been Bharatnatyam dancers help their daughter Lata establish herself as a brilliant dancer. After her debut performance Lata receives rave reviews and is touted to  be an outstanding dancer of her generation unlike her parents. Her success creates tensions and Rantna reveals that she is jealous of her daughter and demands credit for her success. She disrespects her husband and at some point refers to him as                “a spineless man” for destroying his own life by rebelling against his father who was deeply opposed to the idea of his son being a dancer.

Engaging and dramatic, the play is layered and it is through a series of flashbacks that the story is revealed. All the actors are skilled and play dual roles except for Lilette Dubey. Dubey plays older Ratna, Suchitra Pillai plays younger Ratna and her daughter Lata, Vijay Crishna plays older Jairaj and his father Amritlal Parekh and Joy Sengupta plays younger Jairaj and his son-in-law Viswas. The performances are natural and characters slip in and out of their dual roles effortlessly.

Personally I am a big fan of Lilette Dubey and the very reason I went to watch this play in the first place. Her acts are always infectious and enchanting and being seated in the second row was celestial. Having said that my friends and I were surprised by the performances of the rest of the cast and especially Vijay Crishna, who seemed natural and whose pain was contagious. At times it was unbelievable and uncanny how the life of Jairaj(played by Vijay Crishna) seemed to resemble my own and many of my friends. In this case a dancer is struggling to fight all odds for his love and passion for dance and make it on his own and how many of us are in the same boat.

This play captures the lives and values that transcends through three generations of a family and the conflicts between generations. No matter how disturbing the play becomes at times, the audience experiences transformation as we laugh and cry with the characters.

Written by Mahesh Dattani and directed by Lilette Dubey.

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The Fine Art of Investment

India’s burgeoning economy and wealth is encouraging young entrepreneurs to invest in alternative markets. What are these alternative markets? These are antiques, art and fine wine to name a few. With very little to less knowledge on this topic I decided to attend a seminar by Phil Whittaker, director of Sotheby’s Institute of Art in Singapore. This is a recollection of notes from his talk at Gallery BMB.

Who is the next big thing?

He is often asked this question and so he answers by saying no one knows who the next big artist is and if they do then they are only trying to sell or promote a certain artist to you. It is very important to realize that investing in art is not to make a quick buck. One must collect art for themselves as the average holding period for art is about twenty-two years. It is an investment – the benefits of which will be reaped by your children, Whittaker reminds.

What you must know and be aware of?

Things to remember about the art market is that the same piece of work is priced differently in different regions which in the industry is referred to as arbitrage. Which means one must find work by artists outside their region of demand. The market is unregulated which might seem unethical but it is an unspoken rule. The market is relatively small and it works on gossip and insider trading. If at a particular auction all works by one particular artists are sold, confidence goes up and inventory value goes up.

Transparency. Diagram conceptualized by Phil Whittaker.

Transparency of the actual value of the piece of work and details are very low. Very little information is available to all and very few are aware of the entire story.

Art cannot be sold immediately and therefore liquidity risks are high. Money markets are homogenous whereas art markets are heterogeneous. Money is divisible and in a horse race one can see who is leading and going to most likely win whereas in the art market only when one sells is the price of a piece of work revealed. Money markets are accessible and open to all where as access in the art market is limited – art is sold only to a select few, which only helps the price of a piece of work to rise. If a good well-known collector picks up a piece of work the value only appreciates. Buying art through auction houses is the most transparent and guarantees authenticity. One thing to note is that auction houses do charge a premium of 20% to 25% on top of the price of sale.

If demand for a particular artists is high the price goes up, and work must be bought from an artist’s peak period for best value. A symbolic value of a piece of work determines the actual value of a work. If the work has been shown at museums and is owned by high-profile individuals and has critical acceptance it helps immensely. If work has been shown outside the artists region of origin it also helps immensely.

What makes a masterpiece?

That question can be answered by posing a few questions. Who has owned it? Where all has the piece of work been shown? What are people saying about it? How much has been discussed and written about this piece of work?

An expensive piece of work is not necessarily considered good but a good piece of work will definitely be valued highly and assure good returns. One in 3000 artists gets to sell their work through an auction house. So who is going to be great? No one knows.

When investing you must find a dealer you can trust. An art adviser and financial planner should be consulted. Also increase your own knowledge of art and do your homework. One must be cautious but buy passionately.

Should one invest in Indian Art?

Indian art is mostly bought by Non Residential Indians. The Indian contemporary art world is unstable and volatile as it is based on speculative pressure. Investing in Modern art is a wiser decision as it is more stable.

If Art has a long holding period why must one get involved in the art market?

It helps diversify ones portfolio; financial inventory. It is also a unique asset as art is insulated from economic shocks and has a high growth value in emerging markets. Also a high residual value: Good art = Good money.

Following sources are good to help track art prices:

arttactic.com
artauctionresults.com
invaluable.com
artnet.com
artprice.com
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2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 2,800 times in 2010. That’s about 7 full 747s.

 

In 2010, there were 31 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 82 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 475mb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was September 29th with 119 views. The most popular post that day was Luxurious living in Banjara Hills.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, stumbleupon.com, indiblogger.in, twitter.com, and en.wordpress.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for pali village cafe, nothing is freedom, freedom is everything, everything is you, sakshi gupta, bhuwan silhare, bhuwan silhare paintings, and mukesh ambani house.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Luxurious living in Banjara Hills September 2010

2

About December 2009
6 comments

3

From Sidewalks to Footpaths August 2010
14 comments

4

Contact August 2010

5

Pali Village Cafe, sadly disappointing November 2010
2 comments

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Sharing ideas through an evening of chitchat

Volume 7 of Pecha Kucha Night in Bombay was held last month at the Balwant Sheth School of Architecture. The school made for a perfect setting to share ideas and network. Pecha Kucha Night was devised by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham Architecture in Tokyo. Since it’s inception the event has turned into a celebration of work and Pecha Kucha Nights are held in hundreds of cities around the world. Pecha Kucha in Japanese means chitchat, the format is based on a simple idea that each presenter is limited to 20 slides and 20 seconds per slide. The format keeps things moving and presentations concise.

In Bombay the event is organized by Kaiwan Mehta, researcher and theorist in the field of visual culture and architecture. Attended mostly by students also present at the event were industry professionals and artists. It was great to bump into friends from New York; two of them recently moved back to Bombay as well and one was in town and coincidentally also one of the presenters.

The theme for the evening was Interiors and supported by Better Interiors magazine. Most presentations did respond to the theme and some did take the liberty to stray.

Wine Rack. Image courtesy Archana Kushe and anyline-ny.com

First to present was Archana Kushe – she presented a wine rack that she designed and fabricated and it was recently showcased at the 2010 Design Biennale in Kortrijk, Belgium. The concept resonated the idea of pairing wine and cheese. The structure of the wine rack has been cleverly camouflaged within the pattern formed by the family of circles. Kushe also presented other projects that she had worked on in the past which clearly reflected her thought process behind the design and creation of the wine rack. As the evening came to an end she was surrounded by people curious to learn where they could find the wine rack and if it was available for purchase.

Kunal Shah, a friend and interior designer was next to present. His presentation was aimed at professionals but definitely provided a good insight to the students present as well. Shah read an excerpt from the book, ‘The Diary of a Social Butterfly’ by Moni Mohsin.  The book features a Punjabi convent educated woman who believes life is meant for party-shartying. She is a socialite and refers to her husband as Jaanoo. The excerpt he read refers to Mohsin’s reaction and response to designers penchant for minimalism these days. Shah’s reading was accompanied by a presentation that flashed quotes such as “at-least give me fancy basins, full glass-wale”(at-least specify fancy basins, made of glass) that he has heard from clients. This presentation was delightful, a good insight and did not require visuals.

Shah’s presentation was followed by Kaiwan Mehta’s presentation. He presented the paper that he wrote on Roselyne Titaud’s photography of interior spaces. Mehta highlighted the fact that Titaud’s photography is devoid of humans but she is able to capture their actions through their absence. She delves into the idea of the in-between and absence-presence by reflecting memories of the occupied space in absence of the inhabitant or performer of the space.

Rajeev Thakker, architect and principal designer at V Raheja Design Construction and the director of Columbia University’s Studio X initiative in Mumbai shared projects that he has approached as an artist. He shared an art gallery project that he designed and his approach reflected an artist’s experience of the space. He also presented a series of drawings titled, ‘City 6.’ Through these drawings he has documented the city of Mumbai and it’s various spatial conditions as experienced by the inhabitants of this city.

Interior and exterior private-public spaces like lobbies of theater’s and hotels, swimming pools are what fascinate Christian Gierarths. His photographs like Titaud’s are devoid of human beings but he is able to capture the opulence and energy of a space and build an experience of the space through the quality of light reflected in his images. Gierarths is from Germany and happened to be in India on a fellowship – he mentioned how difficult it was for him to get behind watchmen and acquire permission to shoot inside theater lobbies and private public spaces. He realized that public spaces and public realm in India plays out on the streets and footpaths so he set out on an arduous task of capturing footpaths with no people in his pictures. It took him about two to three hours to take a shot – to capture that one moment when there was no one in his frame.

Artist and graduate from Baroda School of Art, Shruti Mahajan shared the project that she and her design associate as well as friend did for Eucalyptus a home deco store. She highlighted how she quilted architecture, the influence of space and experiences from memories that reflect traditions in culture and imagery from nature to design products for Eucalyptus.

Designer and photographer Suleiman Merchant ended the presentation by sharing a collection of photographs of interior spaces that reflected the experience of spaces. One photography that stands out in memory was a framed view of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. It was of an office space with a desk in front of the window and the window framed a view of the sea link, which was captured beautifully.

It was a pleasant evening and great to see so many creative minds in one place sharing their work. Not all presentations followed the 20×20 format that is familiar to Pecha Kucha Nights but it indeed was a wonderful experience. Unfortunately while I was in New York I never went for Pecha Kucha, I have heard that there they are a rage. Looking forward to more from Pecha Kucha and Bombay.

PKN is open to all and is not limited to artists and designers. Presenters can share hobbies and more. For additional information visit PKN Mumbai.


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