Friday, January 30, 2015

Social Networking in India

As I have written on countless posts in this blog, whenever I return to India for a holiday, it is a social whirl-wind, and even when I have met a hundred people, some always get left out. I dine out on almost every alternate evening, and this goes on till I finish my holidays and go back to Saudi Arabia. This year, I have already eaten out more than half a dozen times in Mumbai within 15 days! (I am excluding the 7 days I spent in Ahmedabad and the 4 in Chandigarh). The coming week will see me dining out on Saturday, Sunday, and perhaps even Monday. 

After this, my family and I would be travelling for some days on a much-deserved vacation. 

The last week saw me, and then my family as well, entertaining my Polish travelling friend Anna. I took her to a tour in South Mumbai on the 27th, showing her some of the well-lit governmental buildings near CST, and then we also drove on Marine Drive (on my Honda Activa Scooter), ending up at Tardeo, where we ate at Sardar Pav Bhaji, the iconic pavbhaji restaurant. 

Anna and me outside the Standard Chartered Bank near Hutatma Chowk

The CST Building

The BMC Building

Saifee Hospital from Netaji Subhash Road

Then, after a gap of two days, my family and I took Anna to see a Hindi movie (Baby, 2015, starring Akshay Kumar, Danny Dengzongpa and Anupam Kher, among others) at Metro Adlabs, Dhobi Talao. The movie was not so bad, as it had just one song (with the credits at the end) and an action-packed story with a lot of English dialogues. Anna needed little help for translation, but not much.

The movie got over at about 10 p.m., and from there, we drove to Churchgate, where we had dinner at the Gaylord Restaurant. 

Seated for dinner
While Anna chose "Sabziyon Ka Tohfa" from the starters and ate that as the main course with a single Garlic Naan, the rest of us had Murgh Kali Mirch and Tandoori Pomfret Masala with assorted Indian breads. We finished a hearty and much-enjoyed meal at half-past eleven. After this, we took Anna back to her lodgings at Mumbai Central's International YMCA House, and we went back home by mid-night.

Anna gets busy shooting her hosts.

The next morning saw me go to Pune to meet my aunty Sakina-faiji, who recently lost her son Akhtar, and then my cousin Fatema Moonim, at whose residence, I had lunch, a lot of conversations, and learned a new board game (I cannot remember the name) before tea, after which I took her leave. I went and returned by the non-AC Dadar Pune bus service of the Government of Maharashtra. The journey takes about 3 hours, and considering that it was winter season, travelling by a non-AC bus wasn't really uncomfortable! In the process, I also saved some money, as the AC bus takes almost twice the fare of a non-AC bus.

Now, as I finish writing this, I am in the midst of more engagements! Over the next few days, I am slated to either just meet or to meet and eat/dine with others from within my social circle. Will tell you all about it soon. Until then, Bye!

Monday, January 26, 2015

My trip to Chandigarh with Nishrin, my wife

Nishrin and I had planned this journey a while ago. Her intention was to get me to meet many of her other relatives who were eager to meet me; however, her main aim was to arrange a "bhog" ceremony in memory of her deceased parents. Accordingly, I had booked the flights to and from Chandigarh more than 2 months before. 

We left in the afternoon of 21st January via Jet Airways from the domestic airport. The flight took off 2.5 hours later than its scheduled time as there was a lot of fog in Chandigarh. Thus, instead of arriving by 12 noon, we reached well after 2 p.m. Bunny (Aditya) and his mom Pinky (Tejinder Kaur) were awaiting us at the C'garh airport. We drove to their house which was more than 10 km away. They live in an upcoming area of Mohali in Sector 110, where their house is part of a G+2 structure. Their home, a three-bedroom hall home, is located on the first floor. They have a nice, big hall-cum-dining area, which leads off into three bedrooms and a small store-room plus a well-appointed kitchen with a pre-installed modular kitchen. Most of the decorative items in the hall were past gifts from our family ... and each one has been taken well care of! We had lunch prepared by Pinky already (it consisted of chapatis with mutter paneer and sarso ka saag). The food was hot and it was delicious. 

Harry and Baneet joined us during the evening. Harry invited me to join him in his evening round of hard drinks. I would leave out the details of the next few hours. Later, we went to see a few upcoming construction projects in the area, and really liked one of them seriously enough to consider investing in it. We told the marketing guys we would revert to them in a few days' time. 

Dinner on the first night was simple and consisted of dal and roti. We slept by half past ten, in anticipation of an early departure the next morning to Nishrin's native place Bhularheri. 

The next morning saw us driving with just Aditya, Pinky and the two of us to Bhularheri. The road varies between very good grade to quite a dusty track. The best stretches are over Fatehgarh Sahib and Nabha, which are small towns. There are fields of mustard, sugar cane and wheat all around you.

Then, as you approach the village, the roads become narrow and increasingly difficult to drive over. In fact, because of rains the previous night, the roads were positively mucky.

Presently, we arrived at Nishrin's parents' home. The present residents are all relatives of Nishrin, and include her uncle Paramjit, her aunt Jasvant, her cousin Preetpal (a.k.a. Chintu) and his wife (Mandeep) and the children (Govind and Mehreen), as well as her other aunt Surinder who recently lost her young son Babey (Sandeep) and got Babey's wife married to Chintu.
The relatives were welcoming, and the next 20-odd hours that we passed here passed very quickly. We had tons of tea, and food was presented almost every 3-4 hourly. The next morning saw us organising the "Bhog" ceremony. The "pandit" came as early as he could, and, along with his two cronies,  he set up the prayer area in Nishrin's father's old room. The guests came pretty soon, and as they gathered in the courtyard, so we made preparations for the food that would be served to them as soon as the prayers and the reading of the Holy Book came to an end.

 About 60-odd guests sat in rows to eat the served food, which consisted of mixed vegetables, paneer mutter, kheer, salad and chapatis. They all left by 1 p.m. Thereafter, we all had our lunch as well. By half past two in the afternoon, we, who had come from C'garh were preparing to return to C'garh. 

Late the previous night as well as today afternoon, we took photos with Nishrin's many relatives. Here are some pictures that we documented:

Paramjit uncle and Jasvant Aunty with Nishrin


All the house-residents with us the previous night

Nishrin with her two cousin sisters Dishi (left) and Timmy (right)

A few of the bearded relatives. The one in the cream top is Sukhdev uncle, who stays in the house and looks after Paramjit uncle who is recuperating from a paralytic stroke.

All three are my sisters in law. (Dishi, Timmy and Pinky)

The two of us with Chintu, his wife Mandeep and his two adopted kids Mehreen and Govind

After we returned to Mohali and to Pinky's home, we rested for a while, then went back to the project office of the construction site we had short-listed and put down a cheque towards down-payment on a 2.5 BHK house in Sandwoods' Estate's Opulencia project. To celebrate this new purchase, we went back home where I helped to cook chicken curry with rice as per my recipe. The chicken came out really nice!

This was our last night. The next morning, we left for Mumbai again, taking the host family to a nice restaurant for breakfast as a treat for them to celebrate our booking a new house in Mohali.

That's it for now. Do leave your valuable comments. Thank you.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Exam got over on the 18th, and this is an update on the same

Yes, well. The exam (MRCPCH Clinicals) got over on the afternoon of the 18th. Readers may want to know how I fared, and I am not sure I can tell you whether I will, or will not, clear these, because I did make a few blunders in it. However, to be fair, the organisation of the exam was very well done. The examiners were extremely nice to us. The support staff was always there, showing us where to go, what to do, etc. The supervisor examiner was one Dr. Anand Shah, and he was constantly on his toes. His assistants, medical post-graduate students by the look of it, were on the move all the time. The cases they had brought for us were relatively straightforward, but a few were difficult to diagnose as they had minimal abnormal findings. 

In short, a tough exam, and I don't know what the outcome will be - officially, we will get to know about it after 4-6 weeks. 

That, then, is the update you were all waiting for. Now, on to other news. After the exam, I left Ahmedabad at about half past four p.m. I took a private rickshaw to Kapadwanj to rendezvous with my Jolly group members who had gathered there since the last 2 days at our friend Hamid Rafique's place. The ride was smooth, albeit slow, as a rickshaw cannot really speed up! The main problem, though, was the cold wind that hit us as soon as we had left the polluted center of Ahmedabad. Although I had my sweater on, it did nothing to make my ride comfortable. I endured the violent cold wind upon my face and my er ... protected chest ... and reached the "small" or "naani" Vhorwad where some bystanders guided us to Hamid's home.

Ceiling of Hamid's home

This is a view of the wooden cupboard that is fixed into the wall and the decorative niches

My friends Hatim and Shabbir M

The ground floor hall from another angle.
I was to spend just one night here, but what a grand welcome and party I got. At the time I reached, only Hamid and his family were home as the rest of the gang had gone in their van to ... guess where ... Ahmedabad to perform religious rituals at the tomb of Syedna Qutbuddin Shahid. I was angry because they could have well-informed me about this and picked me up from there instead of making me take a private rickshaw and go to Kapadwanj. Their excuse was that they really had no place for a tenth person (they were nine - Salim, Shenaz and Alisha Dadla, Shabbir and Farida Virpurwala, Hatim and Rashida Pancha and Shabbir and Farida Mandviwala.) Anyways, so there it was. Hamid had organised a barbecue party in the backyard of his well-preserved ancestral home. The chicken tikka were delicious, as was the mutton seekh, though I can't say the same for the lamb tikka which, unfortunately, remained hard to chew despite three attempts to re-barbecue them.

Although we had diced onions and mint leaves, we missed chutney and some drinks to accompany the food. He had also invited some of his friends who live in Kapadwanj, so, we had a full house. After dinner, he took me to the local Jamatkhana which he has renovated completely and memorialised it with the name of his mother (there is a slab there to commemorate it). The community hall really looks so fantastic. Apparently, he has spent over 50 lakhs on this venture.

The night was uneventful. In the morning, they served up a breakfast of kheema with lasan and eggs. It was great, and we had all this with chapatis. Later, I went to the local graveyard (kabrastan) in a local rickshaw, did the ziyarat of Syedi Khoj bin Malek and a few other worthies. I then returned to the market area of Kapadwanj, where I bought and had bhajiyas, tea, etc. Also, by half-past eleven, I returned to Hamid's place, where I joined the others to have lunch - there was mixed vegetable bhaji and chapatis followed by dal-chawal palidu. 

After lunch, I took leave of them all and travelled back to Ahmedabad airport, where I took my flight back to Mumbai, arriving at Mumbai at about half past six. My short Kapadwanj vacation had ended.

P.S. While going to Ahmedabad, I had had to pay an over-weight penalty, so I requested my Jolly club members to bring back my books within a bag in their van. This helped me to travel light while returning to Mumbai. 

P.P.S. The next entry will describe my trip to Chandigarh.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Days 4 and 5, Ahmedabad: Just going on

When I took a decision to live away from the rest of my family by going to Ahmedabad a full week ahead of my MRCPCH exams, I probably thought that this would be the right way to immerse myself in studies and come out at the exams fully prepared. Instead, the days that have passed have been the usual: I have not been able to study in a single-minded way. The hotel that I am staying in has been good. The proprietor and his family have gone out of their way to make my stay comfortable. Mr. Jignesh Sharma has literally bent backwards to please me. A couple of negatives have been that their internet service has not been on par all the days. In between, there were many occasions when the net failed completely. To be fair, however, they responded every single time and got technical people to come and rectify the fault every time. Since yesterday, their internet has been working perfectly. 

While I went to a non-veg restaurant opposite the roza a few days ago, and then again today morning to have my breakfast, the other meals have all been in the hotel. Being a Punjabi kitchen, the options for lunch and dinner are limited to a thali consisting of tandoori roti with 2 vegetables, dal and jeera rice on most occasions; once or twice, I tried to break the mould and ordered differently. They made khichdi and kadhi with zeera aloo yesterday afternoon for lunch. They did this only for me. In the evening, I ordered a grilled vegetable sandwich, which turned out to be good. The only other demand I keep making on them is to have 5-6 cups of tea all through the day, the last one being at night. And they have always obliged, never complained. Indeed, the management and staff at Lalji's hotel need to be complimented for being so cooperative and nice. 

Ahmedabad is under a chill nowadays, and mornings are cold. In my room, I have seldom needed even a fan, let alone an air-conditioned environment. The location of the hotel is a bit odd, as there are no major shops, restaurants or facilities nearby. In the mornings and through the day, there are many hawkers on carts selling diverse food items from breakfasts, non-vegetarian meals and tea, to south-Indian idli sambar and Gujarati poha. I had poha for breakfast yesterday, and it was pretty warm and good. Other than this one occasion, I have avoided street food so far.

The burning Chinese lanterns on Uttarayan are not unique to Ahmedabad. I was informed that similar burning lanterns are now commonplace in Vadodra, Surat and many other cities in Gujarat. My daughter informed me that similar lanterns are also available to launch at Marine Drive in Mumbai. Although these lanterns are a great sight, they have led to fires all over Ahmedabad. The local newspaper has documented 30 places where fires caused damage to homes and shops in the city this year!

The final evening stretches out before me as I look at my books and worry about what more I can revise. Two meals, one night, 4 cups of tea and a night of sleep divide me from the exam that I will go for tomorrow afternoon. Whether it will be a triumph or not is to be seen. However, this experience is certainly something I am not going to forget for a long, long time to come. Thank you, dear reader, for reading this entry.

To those who came to this entry casually, may I urge you to read a few more entries before this one first, so that you will be able to understand what exam I am giving, and so on. If you should like what I have written, do feel free to sign up for updates on this blog.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Day 3, Ahmedabad II: A very busy evening filled with fun

Readers will recall that I had ended my previous entry on the promise of the expected arrival of my Ahmedabadi friend Dr. Paresh Shah to pick me up. Imagine my pleasant surprise when he arrived exactly at four p.m. in his Honda car! He informed me that he took out his car only on holidays like this one. This was not a City or an Accord or even a Jazz. It was a mid-sized car and it was great! He has a diesel version. He had made up his mind to take me on a tour around Ahmedabad, and so, off we went. We visited several sectors of the new as well as the old city - going to the Siddi mosque, Ashram Road, Navrangpura, Kalupur, Delhi Darwaza, Teen Darwaza, etc before we finally reached his in-laws' house located inside a row-house complex. He took me straight up to the terrace of the 2-storey bungalow. Here, nearly 12-15 adults were all enjoying themselves with kites and "manja". These were all relatives of either Dr. Paresh or his wife, who turned out to be an affable person with a beaming smile and a welcoming presence. I was introduced to his daughter as well as to his 2 sisters-in-law, his brother-in-law, his other relations and so on. Everyone was busy, and I spent the next few hours watching them fly kites, or the Chinese balloons ("tukkals" in Gujarati street-side language) - the latter lit by wax tablets under them, and flying of their own accord once their insides were full of hot air, and eventually, also flying my own kite and my own tukkal. 

By half-past-seven, Dr. Paresh and I descended to the living room on the ground floor, and then we waited while one of the hosts went to fetch a parcel of bhaji pav. When he returned, we went into the house from the outside verandah where we had sat for the previous half an hour, and then partook of the nice dinner of home-made undhiyu,bhaji and butter pav bhaji, with accompaniments of jalebi and soft drinks. At half past eight, he got up and beckoned me to follow him to his car. Once we had reached there, we travelled back to Laljis hotel where I retired for the night.

I have taken several pictures of the intense fun I had, and will post them soon into the blog entries. Busy with exam studies, as you know. 

Today, I spent my morning either studying or laxing around. Only two days away, my exam seems to have taken over a new purpose in my mind. It is no longer about being ready to be grilled over the coals on my clinical knowledge. I am more scared about whether I will ever be able to finish my studies ...

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Day 3, Ahmedabad - I: A lazy morning on Uttarayan day

Today is Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan. The sun's north-bound journey (just an optical illusion as one looks at the sun's apparent movement in the space above us from Earth) has begun. Days will continue to be longer, as winter retreats, spring will be upon us, and summer is not too far away. I woke up a bit late, then went to the Bohra roza of the various past religious heads of our community whose graves are located about a kilometer away from Lalji hotel where I am staying. The most famous of those leaders is Syedna Qutbuddin, but there are over half a dozen older heads of our community whose graves are also located in Ahmedabad within the same grounds. 

The long walk to the burial grounds gave me an opportunity to stretch myself after a long gap of over 12 days. In fact, I had stopped walking since a week before I left Saudi Arabia to travel to India, so make that over 2 weeks! Just opposite the graveyard are located many small restaurants, and I had my first non-vegetarian meal after 4 days at one of these. It was a heavy breakfast of minced lamb meat (kheema) with 2 half-fried eggs thrown over it and very well-made thin chapatis, followed by tea. Thereafter, it was the same long walk back to my hotel, where, as I write now, I am gearing to a day filled with studies. In the evening, I may go to the Sabarmati river front to watch the locals fly kites and then watch the public display of fireworks, something that I have heard the locals talk about with a lot of happy anticipation.

Will write more about the evening festivities in my next entry.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Day 2, Ahmedabad: Six days to Exam Day

Let me begin with what happened yesterday evening. As I had written, my friend Dr. Paresh arrived soon after I had shared my previous entry on this blog to Facebook. He has changed a lot since I last saw him a year and a half ago in Al Muwayh. After he exited the Kingdom and returned to India, he has again gained weight, and how! He confessed he has put on 15 kg after his return. He hasn't blamed anyone other than himself, though, and says he is "obliged" to attend several family functions in the last few years. At  most such functions, he ends up eating a lot of unhealthy, butter or ghee-laden food. I had no option but to laugh with him and share my own food-and-weight-related escapades both here and abroad.

He had come on a Honda Activa scooter, and he invited me to go with him and spend the evening with him. I agreed and off we went. First, he took me around the local area, showing me the Roza of Syedi Qutbuddin Shaheed, where there were a lot of Bohra men and women wandering about. Next, he rode down Naroda road for about 4-5 km till we came upon a restaurant called Desi Tadka. It was about 6.10 p.m., and the owners told us the place would open for business only after 7 p.m. We then went to a neighboring tea and snacks outlet, and settled down to have tea. Over tea, Dr. Paresh spoke about his life and specially about how he was busy making a lot of side money investing in stocks in the NSE market. I picked up a few tips from him.

At seven o'clock, we moved to the other place, where we sat down to a luxurious early dinner of Gujarati foods. We ordered a "ringan no oro" (a dish of coal-cooked brinjals and other mixed vegetables) and a "stuffed brinjal" (stuffed with a paste of onions and other vegetables)  with bajra rotis. The food was delicious. I returned to the hotel at about 8.40 p.m., and then we parted. 

Today morning, I woke up at half past eight, and went down to breakfast at about 10 a.m. They served poha which was quite good, but I could see that their preparation is completely different from the one that we make in Mumbai. After this, I returned to my room and studied till half past 1 p.m.- before descending to the restaurant for a delightful lunch of authentic "undhiyu" and tandoori rotis. To top it all, I even had a plate of rice and dal and a cup of tea.

Now it is evening. I have put in more than 2 hours of study with a Skype session with my friend Sanjay Shukla and am raring to read more. That's it for now. Keep praying for my success. Thank you for reading and bye, dear reader.           

Monday, January 12, 2015

Preparations for the final part of the exam: Into the last week

My sitting for the final part of the MRCPCH exam is confirmed and I would emerge from the exam venue exactly a week from now, either victorious for having conquered the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health's Membership exam, or a bit sad at not succeeding this time. In either case, the journey so far has been memorable. I still remember writing about my ambition to do this exam 3 years ago in this very diary. It was one of my stated aims when I chose to leave my home country and work in Saudi Arabia. I feel a sense of accomplishment, because I have cleared the first two parts of the exam and will appear, on the 18th of this month, for the CLINICAL part (the final one), from GCS Hospital, Ahmedabad. To fulfill that purpose, I flew from Mumbai to Ahmedabad today morning, and am writing this post from a newly opened, reasonably priced and clean hotel just across the road from the exam venue. This hotel is called Lalji Hotel. Owned by a father-son duo of Vaishnavi Gujaratis, this is a 12-room two-storeyed hotel on Naroda Road. 

The person I have interacted with is Mr. Jignesh Sharma, the son, who has completed his hotel-management from UK and has started this modest hotel with his own funds on a 200 sq. m. plot owned by his father. A chef at heart, he personally supervises the hotel's ground floor restaurant menu. While they serve thalis for lunch, the dinner menu is a la carte, as he told me during the chat I had with him. He is an extremely affable chap and has gone out of the way to help me feel at home in his hotel. The room is small, but clean and has all the necessities I need to be able to study. The only thing lacking was a study table, but we improvised one using two small side tables, each 18 inches high, stacked, one atop the other. A chair was missing, but he readily provided me with one. The Wi fi he had wasn't up to the mark, and he arranged for a new router, which he affixed within a few hours of my arrival, so as to facilitate my stay. I had upma for breakfast, and a limited thali for lunch. The upma was very tasty. The Punjabi thali was tasty as well, but if I had to critique it, I might say that the vegetable portions were inadequate. There was paneer sabzi and potatoes, with three tandoori rotis (they serve it with butter by default, but I asked to be served them without the latter). There was a small helping of pulao rice with dal fry, but no sweet dish to complete the meal. I would rate the thali a 6/10.

So, now it is just past five p.m. I am awaiting my friend Dr. Paresh Shah, who was working in Saudi Arabia until last year, and whom I had called to help me fix a hotel in Ahmedabad before coming here. However, he was unable to find something really suitable, but it is rather kind of him to call me and would be coming to the hotel to meet me any moment now (this is feeling like a live blog now!) The friend who DID arrange this booking at Lalji is my class-mate and work-mate Dr. Nimish Shah, whom I had also called from Saudi about 2 weeks before landing up here in Ahmedabad. He got the number of Lalji from Just Dial. And he remained in touch with me on Whatsapp and finalised the booking without any trouble to me. Thanks to both of these fine doctors who went out of the way to help me.

That's all for now. Will update you all, dear readers, of life in Ahmedabad, and about the exams from time to time. Signing off now. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

A week in India

It has been a week since I came to India. I reached Mumbai airport at half past eleven on the night of the 31st of December. The airport at Mumbai is really a very busy one, and it took over 2 hours for me to reach home from there. The new T2 terminal is really well-designed, but I felt that the arrivals area is not as pretty as the departures area which is located on the upper floor in full sight of the sky. The arrivals occurs at a lower level, and one has to then descend to an even lower level to reach the taxi stand. At the time I arrived, there were 2-3 other arrival flights, so the immigration guys were really stretched. The long walk one has to take before reaching immigration, however, really dampens one's energy. It is nearly 2 km long! A few meters here and there have horizontal automatic walkers, but the rest of it you have to walk all the way. 

Back home, I was welcomed by my family in a very glorious fashion. Considering that the time was well past two a.m., that was so nice of them. Not only did I receive a whole lot of hugs and kisses, they even had me cut a cake as a welcome gift. I was thrilled by their elaborate preparations. 

The next few days saw me going to several places, among them, visiting my mom (who keeps well, Alhamdulillah), completing various tasks, and taking my family for dinner on the 1st of January (at a place called The Sassy Spoon at Express Towers, Nariman Point).

On the 3rd, I visited Sion-Koliwada with Nishrin and prayed at the Dashmesh Gurudwara there. Also met Lovely and her son there. From there, we parcelled two plates of Fish tikka to eat at home ... from a place known as Hardeep Restaurant. The restaurant is well-known to everyone in this area and receives hundreds of guests.

On the 4th, we invited Nishrin's brother Pappu with his family, as also Mom and her companion Sakinabai, and Murtuza and his family, to dinner. Kaizar and his family, too, were invited, but did not come. This was my first-time with Pappu's son Devender, his wife Radha and their mischievous son, who entertained us all the way with his antics and his unusually sharp mind. We served catered food: there were chicken legs, Mutton biryani, Gupta's Kulfi, Mutter paneer with chapatis, and carrot halwa. The last two items were home-made by Nish. Everyone enjoyed the food and our hospitality.

We also went for a marathon shopping session to Phoenix Highstreet on the 5th of January, spending nearly 10 hours there as we went to almost all the shopping centers there, including Skywalk, Galleria, Palladium and Courtyard. We ended with a dinner at Mainland China in Palladium Mall.

My studies are picking up, and just 11 days remain before I sit for my exams. It will be a tight race to the finish as I still have so much more to read. The evening Skype sessions are now not taking place, as most of the others with whom I was studying are busy doing other things. Only Dr. Sarita and I are due to appear from Ahmedabad in the next fortnight. 

I am missing my work in Saudi Arabia more than I thought I would. Life there is relaxed, while it is very hectic here in Mumbai. Anyways ... life goes on.