Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A party at The Little Owl on 17th October 2015

As late as in June 2015, I came across an international community of people working outside their own home country as expats in other countries. This community of people are included under the "Internations" website. They have thousands of members, and over 213 different cities where their chapters are active. I signed up on their Mumbai chapter even while I was working in Saudi Arabia. There are no activities in KSA, but on return to India, I browsed their site again and discovered that their Mumbai chapter is managed by some Russian women. They had organised their annual anniversary party where one could go on payment of a cover charge.

The uniquely shaped glasses with the logo
The theme for this party was fun, and it was titled "Oktoberfest". It was held at a brewery-cum-bistro that goes by the name "The White Owl". Located in the B2 tower of the One Indiabulls property at Lower Parel (just outside the Elphinstone Rd. bridge on Senapati Bapat Marg), this is a lovely place to party at. For Oktoberfest, they had discounts, freebies and lots more. They brew their own beer, and their serving glasses look more like small glass jars with their owl logo on it.

The time was half past six ... a little beyond, perhaps, and I was only the second person to reach there, the first one being one Mr. Sumit Shitole. He and I began an interesting conversation, acquainting ourselves with one another and taking some photos of ourselves and of each other. The other guests began to arrive after half past seven. The hosts were there only after eight o'clock. And the chief host, Natalia, came after nine! 

The cover charge that they took from us came with privileges of free starters (chicken and potato based), unlimited pretzel bread and fellowship with expats of different countries, plus two drinks. I had great fun, making new friends and taking photos like crazy. Some of these pictures will probably tell their own story:

The brewery with one of the servers, Mr. Andy, in the foreground

With Sumit Shitole

The logo with me in front of it

Chris, South African, and his wife, Kristina, Armenian with Sumit and me



Caught by the cam
By ten p.m., the party was in full flow. More than 60-70 people had collected, many of them Indians, but also Europeans, more Russians, South Africans, and some others were in evidence. Surprisingly, there were no Blacks. I stayed only until half past ten, and then left, but I am sure the party went on until much later. All in all, a very enjoyable evening indeed!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A mini-outing to Panshet MTDC resort with family

My family and I desired to take a break since I came back from KSA, but were unable to do so owing to many reasons. The two main reasons were the uncertainty of where I would be going to work next, and a knee injury my younger daughter Hannah sustained within days of my arrival to India. This grounded her for over a month. 

Once she recovered, the clamour to have a small holiday grew louder. I narrowed down on a place called Panshet. This is a small town about 185 km from Mumbai and about 50 km from Pune. It is part of the Sahyadri belt of the biodiversity hotspot, and boasts of two dams near each other. The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) has a resort here, and until recently, also conducted water-sports activities on the reservoir that stood behind the main Panshet dam. We decided to hire a car, and to book rooms at the resort there. Accordingly, we left on the early morning of the 8th of October 2015 in a Suzuki Ertiga car driven by a young driver by the name of Mahesh.

Food at a mall on the way

With Mr. Fakira Walunj at the gate of the resort

En route to the Sinhagadh Fort

Hannah and Inas
We left on Thursday, 8th October, at about half past five in the morning, and reached the resort at about half past ten. The last 50 km took up a lot of time, as the roads were poorly maintained, and our driver, a green in experience, did not know the way. The resort itself was nicely tucked away inside Panshet. It has been renovated recently, and is a small but well-maintained property with just 39 rooms in three categories.  We had booked two A/C suites, which is the middle level of the available properties (with non-A/C rooms below us, and luxury A/C suites above. This is also seen in the design of the building that houses the rooms. There are three floors with the luxury suites on the top floor. There is a restaurant, a games room (with table tennis and carrom), a swimming pool (unfortunately under maintenance) and large walking areas throughout the property. 

The resort manager, one Mr. Fakira Walunj, was a very decent man who looked after us through both the days. He served us a complimentary breakfast on day 1, and also helped select the best rooms, helped get the pool refilled as fast as was possible (the pool was almost ready to use on day 2, but it wasn't clean as yet, thereby closing the option to swim inside it) and also took us beyond the police check point on to the Varasgaon dam over the Mose river, which joins the Mutha river later on (over which the main Panshet dam or the Tanajisagar dam is built) to show us the beautiful district and the sluice gates on the dam itself. 

The kitchen staff was extremely friendly, and was ever willing to make special dishes and adjustments for us. There was this middle-aged worker who was a Man Friday for us. He helped us wherever we needed him - his name, Tirupathi. He took food and tea orders, answered the reception, attended to our minor needs and troubles, and kept smiling through it all. The food was rather limited, as we were the only guests on the entire Thursday and up until 11 a.m. on Friday, after which guests started coming, mostly from the nearby city Pune, to spend the weekend. 

We left the resort at around half past four, reaching Mumbai via the Expressway, at about 11 p.m. On the way, we did stop at an eating point where we all had a great eating experience. In particular, Hannah had a filling "thaali". Nishrin and Inas shared a dish of dhansaak and rice; I had a chicken chilly+noodles+rice combo that was real value for money. (Just Rs. 120/-). I also parcelled an extra plate of dhansaak and rice, a few packets of Maganlal's chikki, a box of strawberry fudge and a few other things. 

All in all, a good holiday, albeit, very short!

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Looking back, looking forward

It is now over a month since I returned to India. Although there is some clarity on where I am going next, it is time to introspect at this juncture. I completed 4 year-long contracts in Saudi Arabia. It has been a journey of discovery. I have not only discovered this country and its people, I have also discovered many new facets of myself, many hidden strengths and a few weaknesses. On the balance, I guess the strengths won out, and I am a better person than the one I was when I left India on the 16th of November 2011.

I have already written about this in many previous posts, so I am not going to repeat those things again. Back in India, things are happening so fast. My family is in their present continuous mode, of course, but Hannah had a knee injury within days of my arrival, and is off work since then. Inas goes on as does her mom. I have been meeting my friends and contacts periodically. I try to renew my relationships with as many people as possible, but I have come to realise that some friendships and relationships have been missing that something extra - that something that differentiates between a true friendship and a mere acquaintance. And, so, it is once again a journey of discovery as I separate the wheat from the chaff, the cream from the milk and my true friends from thousands of acquaintances.

The next thing I would like to mention is that my wife and daughters are now completely independent in most things, but, when I am around, they take the maximum benefit possible! In a way, that is quite cool, because it gives me immense satisfaction to do things for them that I am otherwise unable to do when I am thousands of miles away. I would illustrate this with a few examples: giving me a slew of repair tasks to do - mobile phones, electrical appliances, etc., governmental work such as submissions for privileges, shopping for essentials from a supermarket, and for luxuries and other stuff from malls, taking them to dinners at new and exotic restaurants, planning short holidays, medical appointments and consultations, etc. It makes me feel good, because I find that when I am active, and particularly when I am on a job for my family, I feel a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. 

So, yesterday, I met up with my favourite classmates Rakesh Ghildiyal and Sudhir B Rao. We dined at a popular Chembur restaurant called the Grand Central. It has two storeys. The ground floor is the usual, but on the first floor, they have a live music and song performance. Hence, while the ground floor has a normal restaurant look, the upper floor is full with guests enjoying themselves. The performers included a tabla player and a singer who crooned soft Hindi songs from the past. We had a table farthest from the performers, but could appreciate his singing. We ordered a couple of starters and three main-course dishes, and all the items were superb. They had a dim-sum festival, so our starters were basically a lamb dimsum and a vegetable one (Rakesh was going totally vegetarian). For the main course we had a Veg kofta curry, a Rogan-Josh and a Butter Chicken with rotis as per our preferences. Finally, we ordered one caramel custard for dessert, but both my friends did not eat the dessert at all, claiming that they were both "full to the head" with food. 

Any other items? Not really, not for now, but I will return to entertain you all within a day or two ... with more interesting stuff from the city of Dreams, Mumbai. 

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Food hopping again. Reviewing two more: Umame and Faaso's

So, yesterday night, we ordered food using the Faaso's App. This app allows you very easy ordering of food from one of the fastest growing chains in Mumbai, the Faaso's chain. The best thing about the food is that it is hygienically wrapped and boxed and sent to you hot and attractively displayed. The next best thing is that the food is really affordable. 

I can't say that they delivered the food from which outlet, or whether they have a central kitchen or/and a food parcel depot, as I ordered their food using their app. Seriously, friends, they are super good when it comes to hygienic packing and small addons. For example, every covered plate has a neat label stating which dish is inside. They delivered in an hour and 15 minutes from wherever they packed it and sent it to us in south central Mumbai. We had ordered a mutton biryani, a chinese noodle dish with what looked like Manchurian chicken, and a chicken kolhapuri+dal+rice+ ... etc, full meal.

The entire thing cost us only INR 650 ... that IS cool.

At the other end of the cost spectrum is a fine-dining restaurant that we discovered because we could not get bookings at some OTHER restaurant. So, we decided to go to UMAME restaurant, located inside the Eros Theatre building (Khambatta Chambers). This restaurant is owned by the famous Farookh Khambatta of the Joss restaurant  at Kala Ghoda (now that one closed about 3 years ago, and Umame lived up to its reputation very much! We ordered three items, one for each one of us (my daughters and I), and then followed it up with an awesome dessert.

We've eaten at Joss before, but this time, to be frank, the food blew us away. We were first-timers, and the steward there, one Mr. Russell, who has been with Mr. Khambatta for the past ten years (earlier at Joss at Kala Ghoda) became our guide. He suggested the perfect dishes according to our requirements. We wanted to try everything, but opted for one starter, two main dishes, a rice item and a dessert. Everything was perfect, and we came back pleased as punch. Well, we did not take any drinks, so maybe the word "punch" is inappropriate here, ha ha.

The starter was a Prickly ash-peppered snapper cut into pieces. It was really good. For the main course, we had sea-bass cooked in banana leaves and beef in the form of Prime tenderloin steak. To complement these two, Mr. Russell insisted on ordering Vietnamese fried rice, and to tell you the truth, that was just perfect.

For dessert we had something astonishingly beautiful ... and it was NOT the Big Bang stuff, but a more humble but exotic filo mille feuille with assorted berries!

Thursday, October 01, 2015

My World, My blog

As this blog fades into the cyberspace, I have begun to write energetically in my other blog - Dr. Taher's World. Each entry is substantial. I write about my life, about Mumbai, and about various experiences that I am having. If you wish to read it, just click on the link that is highlighted above. My last several entries relate to the following topics: reviews of some restaurants and products that I have used/purchased; my family and I; outings for food; and back linking to this blog, for example. 

Back in Al Muwayh, it seems that my absence has been covered up with the arrival of another paediatrician, one Dr. Hamza. He was earlier in Zalm, then transferred to Taif, and now, he has come back to the periphery, with new duties in Al Muwayh. Life goes on as routinely as it has been going on for the past several years! 

The Saudi Government is certainly tying itself up in knots with one bad news after another. First, there was this crane incident, where a construction crane in the Haram area of Makkah collapsed, killing up to 100 people. Then, a few weeks later, a stampede in Mina at the time of the Hajj led to the death of more than a 1000 people, with over 50 Indians among them. 

Saudi Arabia has been trying to help the official government of Yemen to fight the Houthi freedom fighters. I think there was a misadventure yesterday, with Saudi planes bombing a civilian area where a wedding was taking place. There are unconfirmed reports of many deaths in this one incident which will undoubtedly tarnish the Saudi government's official image.