Sunday, October 26, 2014

For the Restaurant

Wilfred Halder was a proud self-made man. He was lucky as he’d found his calling in life quite early albeit under not so fortuitous circumstances.

His life story had already become the stuff of legend thanks to the TV show. He was born into an impoverished minority family living in the slums of Mumbai. The father had passed away while Fred was still very young and the poor lad had to stop school and start working to support the family.
He started life cleaning the tables and floors of a little road-side restaurant near the slum. It was here that he first stepped into a ‘professional’ kitchen. He knew he was in love when he first stepped in and thereafter he spent an inordinately long time each day soaking in the sights, sounds and atmosphere of the place. Luckily for him the cook was of the same religious persuasion and soon took him into his fold and started teaching him the tricks of the trade.

It wasn’t long before he moved full-time to the kitchen. He soon discovered that he had a gift for bringing together different ingredients and making them dance on one’s taste buds. Word soon spread of the culinary prowess of “little Fred” and it wasn’t long before the proprietor and others realized that it was little Fred’s skills that were bringing in the queues.

Little Fred soon grew in to a very fine young man. And with age and wisdom came the realization that he’d outgrown the little dhabha. By then his reputation was enough to open many doors and he was soon on the highway to success.

He moved on to a resort in Goa, a bistro in Bangalore and finally to a fine-dining restaurant in New Delhi. It was here that he got the opportunity to work with the legendary head chef Mathur.  It didn’t take long for Mathur to realize the talent that Fred had. The legend was instrumental in sculpting and polishing the rare coarse gem in to an absolute master of the kitchen.

Mathur encouraged his protégé to follow his passion. He coaxed him to experiment with his ingredients, to read about the different recipes and to eat and travel all over in order to become a better chef. Fred was an exemplary student and spared no efforts to learn and experiment.

It was Mathur who had persuaded him to enter the cooking competition. The competition was key. The prize money was enough for him to open his own restaurant. It would be the realization of his mother’s dream.    

And now he was just one step away from his prize. He exceeded everyone’s expectations, except Chef Mathur’s, and had survived each and every elimination round to reach the finals. The final was to be a free-style round with the contestant free to choose his venue and menu to impress the judges. Chef Mathur had been kind enough to let him use the restaurant.


The only sound was the low whizzing of the refrigerators. The light from the street poured in through the window bathing a small portion of the kitchen in yellow. Fred sat in the darkness, all curled up with his head on his knee.  His train of thought was broken when the clock suddenly chimed three times.

Fred looked up and scanned the kitchen. The steel and chrome counters bathed in yellow jutted out at sharp angles almost threateningly. A major portion of the kitchen was covered in darkness which made him feel small and all alone. There was a sound of sirens in the distance which for some reason only accentuated his loneliness.

This meal had to be the epitome of his culinary prowess. Everything, absolutely everything was at stake. This evening was to be the culmination of his journey from cleaning boy to master chef. Oh what a journey it had been! And now he only had to dazzle his guests one last time to claim the prize that was his right. In seventeen hours he would lay claim to his throne.

His heart was beating faster. His mind was in turmoil as he couldn’t decide on what exactly to prepare.  What magic was he to conjure this last time? What miracle was he to perform? Where was he to seek his inspiration? Fred sat on the floor with his notepad beside him trying to get control of his thoughts.

Suddenly there was a sound of utensils crashing. Fred soon came back to his senses. “Must be the darn cats”- he said to himself and realized that in his confusion he had forgotten to close the door to the side entrance.

As Fred made his way to the door all of a sudden there was a bright light that shone on him. He was blinded momentarily before he heard a rough man’s voice.

 “Don’t move or I will shoot”- it said.

It took a while for Fred’s eyes to get adjusted to the light and make out the features of the man. He had red-blood shot eyes, long curly hair, a thick set beard and a sharp jaw-line that gave him a very menacing look. In one hand he carried a torch and in the other a gun.

“Who are you? What do you want?”- Fred enquired nervously.

There was a little laugh before the man replied- “I have the gun and I will be asking the questions here.”

Fred could feel his body shake from fear. His knees were about to give way.

“Well, let’s see. Is this a kitchen?”- enquired the man. Fred nodded.

“That’s good. I’m so hungry I could eat a man. What do you have?”- he said looking at him menacingly.

Fred stuttered a bit before beginning his reply- “We, we have everything here. This is a professional kitchen.”

“I see. And you are a cook?”


“Great. Can you cook me-“, the sentence was broken by the loud wailing of sirens from nearby.  

The man indicated silence by placing a finger over his mouth.  He moved quietly across to peep out the window keeping the gun pointed at Fred.

There was a moment before the wailing sound receded. The man looked at Fred and said- “Look buddy I’m a wanted man. I’m wanted for murder, rape and extortion. Don’t you try any hanky-panky with me right, or I’ll kill you“.  Fred nodded.

“Good. I’m starving. Get me something to eat and make it quick.”

This was a nightmare. Fred hoped that he would suddenly awake to realize that it had all been a bad dream. But no, this wasn’t a dream. This was very real.

The man took aim at Fred’s forehead and said- “Come on now, quickly, get your ass moving.” Fred moved slowly towards a counter keeping his eyes on the man.  

It all happened in a flash. Fred looked left, saw a button and hit it as hard as he could. It turned on the flame thrower. All of a sudden there was a huge flame right next to the man which left him momentarily distracted. Fred’s eyes fell on the knife stand. He picked one closest to him and flung it at the man with expert precision. It pierced him above the left breast right through the heart. Fred then immediately went low as the man let out a loud blood curling scream of pain as he crashed to the ground. 

Fred hid behind a counter and waited till the screams died out. They eventually did. He then slowly tip- toed his way to where the man lay. He felt the body for pulse and there was none.

“What have I done?”- Fred said aloud as he held his head in his hands and began sobbing.

He could see the visions of his dream come crashing around him. Everything, everything had just been washed away. He leaned back against a drawer and wept. He felt very sorry for himself.


It was late evening. The production team was all set and the cameras were rolling taking in a panorama view of the magnificent hall. The judges were seated at their table and the maître d was playing a good host. A camera was set-up exclusively to capture them enjoying their meal and making small talk.

Another camera was set-up to follow Fred as he approached the table. Fred filled his glass with wine. The director signalled the thumbs-up and he approached the table where the judges were being served.

“Salut gentlemen”- he said raising his glass while the others raised theirs.

“My boy this has been one of the most delightful gourmet experiences of my life”- said one of the judges. Fred could see the genuine expression in his eyes.

“Marvelous, astounding, stupendous! I’m out of words to describe the food today, especially the main course”- exclaimed another.

“It’s always a pleasure coming down to Mathur’s. But, this one time has out-done all our previous experiences.”- revealed the last one.

Fred bowed his head in acknowledgment.

“Yes, at this age I thought I’d tried and seen everything but today everything has been most exquisite. The soup, the entrée’ and the main course have simply blown us away.”

“Yes, I actually wanted to ask you about the main course. What dish is this?”- enquired the last judge.

The idea had come from an experience in the jungles of Orissa where he had stayed with some Adivasis. One day after a particularly elaborate ceremony a meal was served. Fred had tasted the meat and was left spell-bound. He enquired as to the origins and it turned out that it was ‘human-meat’.

Wilfred Halder smiled and said- “All in good time gentlemen. Enjoy your meal.”

PS: Special mention to Satya for helping me edit this one. Thanks a ton bro!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Kesavan Advisory Services Ltd

Advising is in the Kesavan blood. As a family we are proud of our heritage, proud of our culture, proud of our accomplishments. But, most of all we are proud of the advice that we disperse (freely!).

Grandpa Kesavan used to fill me with stories of how people benefitted from his advice and moved on to great things in life (I used to listen with rapt attention!). Daddy Kesavan is the same (though he regrets that his own son never took his ‘advice’ seriously). Sr Uncle Kesavan and Jr Uncle Kesavan are also the same (and have the same regrets with the 3rd gen!!!).

Grandpa Kesavan once ‘advised’ the Kuwait Investment Authority to come out of their position in IBM. They made a cool $ 32 million on the trade (back in the 80’s). Daddy Kesavan once ‘advised’ his friend’s son who was home sick and wanted to leave Dubai to stay put and ‘fight it out’. Now, that boy is doing very well and has even bought his parents a house.

Sr. Uncle Kesavan once ‘advised’ this young bright chap from the village who was working in a pharmacy to apply for a position as a medical rep. Now that same boy is in senior management with one of the pharma MNCs.

Jr Uncle Kesavan had this friend Vasu who was a cook for Daddy Kesavan’s aunt. One fine day Dad’s cousin came home with some friends who were planning to open a restaurant in Moscow. Vasu had to prepare the lunch. And lo and behold when the ‘payasam‘(Kheer for North Indians) came out the guests were blown away. They immediately offered him a job. Aunt was not too happy so Vasu came to Jr Uncle Kesavan for ‘advice’. “Go for it man”- was the response and so Vasu who’d never been out of his village moved to Moscow. He came home a couple of years back and had this to say- “Jr Uncle Kesavan is God!”

It is natural for people to come to the Kesavans for advice. I’ve had my own share too. I once had this friend who was stuck between 2 choices his father had given him. One was to do the Indian Economic Service exams and the other was to go to UK for his Masters. Poor chap was confused. I broke it down for him simply. “Blonde or Indian boyo? That’s the choice you got to make!” He chose blonde and within 6 months he had his blonde babe!

The other interesting anecdote was this one time with a friend. He had just got married and was about to go for his “Suhaag Raat”. And he’d come to me for advice! The situation was made even more complicated as there was no internet! I think we managed rather well between us. He now has a kid!

Then there was this case recently of a 19 year old that came to me asking for advice on “how to get popular with the ladies”. (Those who know me please don’t laugh!!!) Some idiot had given him the idea that it was as simple as going to a ‘dance-bar’ and “talking” to them. I corrected the poor chap and explained to him what a dance-bar is and that his ‘friend’ was probably referring to a ‘club’. This is still a work in progress and I shall keep you posted.

Then again there was this case where these 2 girls were acting in a play and they were clearly struggling. I came in. “We are not getting this right”- I nodded my head. “We need to change this”- I nodded my head.  “We should do this”- I nodded my head. They made the changes and were brilliant. “Oh Ajai- you’re such a great actor, and such such big help. We can’t thank you enough!”(ps: Advising women is easy- they will point their problems and come out with their own solutions. You just need to nod your head and they’ll love you for it. )

So the next time you need advice you know who you should go to!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Why we need Mr. Kejriwal and what the AAP needs to do

Now that the parliamentary elections are over the focus will shift to the Delhi assembly elections that should be held within the next few months. After the poor showing in Delhi state for the parliamentary elections the belief is that Arvind Kejriwal and AAP face an uphill fight just to remain politically relevant.  But, is that how it should be?

Long and tough road ahead, but he needs to be given the chance.

There’s no doubt that Kejriwal made a mistake in resigning the Delhi CM post with such haste. The ‘united’ opposition have very clearly outmaneuvered Kejriwal in the media and the public goodwill that he’d earned with the spectacular showing in the Delhi assembly elections seems to have dissipated.  

Mr. Kejriwal seems to have been overwhelmed by the initial success that came his way. Looking back we could say it was beginner’s luck. Everyone was surprised with the strong show that the AAP put up in the December elections in Delhi. Not much has been written/said about the psychological effect that those results had on the general elections. But, in my mind, there is no doubt that the AAP’s ascendancy sent out a strong message to the people of this country that the Congress was a ‘spent’ force and voting for the old establishment was a waste of time. If the people of Delhi, the bastion from where the Congress has ruled over the country for most of the post-independence era, had rejected the Grand Old Party for a small political upstart then the rest of the nation was not going to give them another chance.

Kejriwal realized this and tried to capture this political space that he’d created at a national level. The problem for him was manifold. First of all he was up against a Modi juggernaut that had been planning and preparing for precisely this moment for the last 12 years. Second, he didn’t have the team/set-up to go all-out nationally and ended up spreading himself too thin. And third, his little time in the CM’s office didn’t inspire enough confidence in the people to see him as a credible alternative.  Team Modi deftly captured the political space created.

But all is not lost for Mr. Kejriwal and Co. The 4 seats from Punjab are a spectacular result and only the most optimistic of AAP supporters would have been upset by the national results.  However, there is a lot of homework for the AAP to do and they will need to do an objective analysis of what is required and the time-frames in which they will be able to implement and achieve their results.

First let me get in to why the AAP and Mr. Kejriwal are relevant to the political future of this country. The AAP is a unique one- of-its-kind  political movement in the country with absolutely no precedence of any sort. It’s a movement that has sprung up from the general anti-pathy of the public towards the old establishment. Its success reveals that there is a large section of the country that is fed-up with the politics as usual approach.  Success for the AAP, therefore will mean our democracy would have matured and that it would be possible for a genuine citizen of this country with absolutely no political lineage or association with one of the known political outfits to make a difference in this country. It will inspire and give greater confidence to the public to debate and actively participate in the democratic process without any fear of back-lash.  And whatever the image for Mr. Kejriwal in the public eye at the moment there is no doubting his personal integrity. Unfortunately, this quality is a rarity in our politics and it is political capital that needs to be made most of.

But what exactly does AAP stand for? And this is the biggest problem for Mr. Kejriwal. We know that the AAP is anti- corruption and anti- crony- capitalism and anti- this and anti- that. But, what exactly is the AAP for? This is the first point that has to be communicated clearly enough.

The AAP needs to sit-down and create a political manifesto that broadly outlines its approach to the various issues of governance. Government is not one-track and anti-corruption is not the one-plank/ one-issue- wonder that is going to deliver political results for the AAP. The AAP has a fabulous opportunity to prove its credentials in Punjab where the people of 4 constituencies have voted for it. They need to hit the ground running and actually implement the promises made and deliver visible results. The people of this country should be able to see what the AAP is for in these 4 regions by 2019. The national issues raised by these 4 parliamentarians also need be very carefully thought out.

Another place where the AAP needs to get its act together is PR. In the initial hype after the Delhi election results we had a whole lot of celebrities, socialites and intellectuals jumping on the AAP bandwagon, only to dump them post the Lok Sabha results. The AAP will need to be careful of who it gives membership to and who speaks on its behalf. While it is good to have membership open to anyone and everyone, a small check such as ensuring that anyone who joins the party must do at least 3 months of volunteer work before being given full membership will ensure only those that are actually interested in making a change join the party.  There is no need to give membership to people who are only interested in media sound-bytes. A lot of AAP member also seem to be suffering from foot-in-mouth disease and that needs to be kept in check. Creating a political manifesto will also give clarity to those who seek membership and there should be no awkward moments with the media quoting two opposing views from within the AAP.

Arvind Kejriwal also needs to stop getting slapped! It sends out the wrong image to the public. There is no easy way around this but something has to be thought out. It is disgusting to see people behave in such a manner but Mr. Kejriwal also needs to take care and not present himself as such an easy target.

The AAP team will have to sit-down and chalk out their strategy. Mr. Kejriwal will have to show much cunning and guile (qualities not taught in IIT!) if he has to outwit the likes of Modi. He will need street-smart managers and project implementers. And most importantly he will have to come out of the ‘idealistic intellectual’ trap that he seems to have created for himself and get down and practical about his politics. A realistic target would be the 2024 national elections- preparations for which would have to begin now! I wish him and the AAP all success.

Note: Author is a supporter of the BJP.