Monday, November 26, 2012

Legs Never Tire

Back in school days, during my 9th class summer holidays, I joined the school swimming pool to learn how to swim. I started off in the children’s play pool and as soon as I got a hang of the basic limb movements I moved to the full-size pool. Each time I completed one length of this bigger pool I took a fairly long rest before turning back again. My dad, who used to accompany me to the pool nearly every day, had obviously noticed this pattern. After a few days he asked what made me spend so much time resting while in the pool. When I complained about my tired legs he said, “Legs never tire”.

My legs had rarely been subjected to rigorous activities during school days. I usually opted out of the sports day races citing my asthmatic tendencies. Hopping from one shop to another for a few hours was perhaps the harshest my legs had to endure when I accompanied mom on her biannual visit to Sarojini Nagar. Things however changed when I moved to Chandigarh where most days I had to walk to college — about 2.5 kms from my hostel in Sec 14. Cycle rickshaws are a popular mode of transport within the city but I usually avoided them to save money and, more importantly, because I find the idea of being transported by someone else’s muscle power to be somewhat inhuman. I found Chandigarh to be a friendly city for walkers having low traffic, better air quality and a peaceful, slow-paced life. I never owned a vehicle there and often covered reasonably large distances by foot. One of the earliest instance was the day I went out for my first movie with hostel friends. After watching the night show at Piccadilly Cinema (Sec 34) one of them suggested walking back. Somehow we all accepted, even though we were still unfamiliar with the city. None of us realised that we were signing up for a 5+ km stroll. There were very few people in the streets that late at night and we had to mostly trust our guts with the directions. We walked more than an hour and by the time we reached our hostel most of my friends were infuriated. I, on the other hand, was one of the few ones who had enjoyed the walk. A few months later, on my birthday, I found myself walking back to hostel from Tehel Singh Dhaba (Sec 22) after treating my friends. Needless to say, most of them had opted out the moment I had proposed it. Over time walking turned into my preferred mode of commute whenever I was not pressed by time. One of the many memorable walks was a two hour one from my hostel to Sukhna lake (pretty much across the city) along with two friends. Often when the weather was merciful I went out alone exploring the undiscovered parts of the city and listening to music on my iPod. I could simply keep walking.

Near the end of my final year few friends and I went on a short unplanned trip to McLeod Ganj. I experienced my first trek on that trip. Totally unaware of the demands of a 9 km walk up a mountain trail we decided to carry our belongings (pretty heavy backpacks) on our trek to Triund. Three (out of four) of us were grossly over-weight, to say the least, and the walk turned out to be an arduous one. So bad that had I been aware of the trail beforehand, given my fitness levels at the time, I would have probably never attempted it or, at the very least, never carried our belongings with us. In spite of the fatigue not only did I keep walking throughout the trail but at times even encouraged my heavy-weight partners in crime. Dad’s words were perhaps the only thing playing on my mind at that time.

***

I had mostly remained away from Delhi since passing out of school. When I returned to Delhi last year I realised that the onset of winters was the best time to be in the city with innumerable festivals, carnivals, events and performances happening all around. I had a great time visiting a bunch of such performances, food exhibitions and other events. Also, around the same time, I had noticed few ads of Airtel Delhi Half Marathon — unarguably the most pronounced running event in Delhi. I have never been a fan of running, but the word ‘marathon’ has always fascinated me — not just the meaning but also the sound. So much so that I didn’t want to let go of my first opportunity to experience it. I asked a couple of friends if they wished to participate but they didn’t show much interest. Even then I was willing to participate and pulled out the details from their website. However, my confidence soon shattered when I came across the following request, “Please do not apply for Half Marathon race category if you cannot complete the run in 3 hours 15 min”. I gave up my hopes of participating that year and instead decided to train rigorously and try the following year. I shared this with many friends but no one took me seriously. After all, there was nothing in my past that would even remotely connect me to marathons. All I got were playful remarks — “Do you know it’s going to take you all day?”, “Chal behenchod rehne de”, “Agar tune kar diya main usi din Dilli aake tere gale milunga”, or a sarcastic “Oh yes of course” — which I quite enjoyed myself. I guess I was as amused (and surprised) at my own decision as my friends.

The thought of 21+ kms in about 3 hours was scary. I was not sure if even a full year of training would suffice. However, the lazy one in me immediately stepping in with a long list of reasons to procrastinate training. At the top of the list were “My iPod’s broken” and “I don’t have a device to measure my runs”. At that time I was carrying an old Nokia phone that was falling into pieces. Getting the then-rumoured iPhone 5 (which later came out as iPhone 4S) was on the cards. Since an iPhone would double up both as a music player and a measuring device I decided to start training only after procuring one. It took me nearly 6 months to get hold of one and soon after I was travelling out of Delhi. When I returned, the list was still going strong, “The weather is too hot”, “Need a good shoe.”, “Armband!”… Apart from these petty reasons one of the lingering question in my mind was “How to train?” All training plans on the internet looked like a strict military training regime. They expected people to start training with an easy 4 mile run. Wait a sec, ain’t “easy run” an oxymoron? A 4 mile walk is not a problem but no run is easy. So I did a feasibility check by searching if people have walked it in under/around 3 hours. The answer was yes.

By the last week of May I got myself a new pair of shoes, ditched my desire to buy an armband and a new pair of earphones, and started training. Given that Delhi Half Marathons usually took place in the month of November, I had a little over 5 months to train. With no concrete training plan at hand I started with casual 5 km strolls. I picked a new route around Dwarka every time and measured my walks using RunKeeper. To beat the heat I started at around 5:30 in the morning and was pretty regular in the first month or so. Beyond that things started to get monotonous as there was no significant progress in either speed or distance. Further I could manage only 4 days of training in July and August due to work and the rains. Somewhere around this time Sumit informed me that this year the race would take place on 30th Sep. At that time I was training at barely half the target distance and with the training period cut down by 2 months the task got even harder. The thoughts of giving up for another year had passed my mind a few times but deep inside I was scared that if I couldn’t do it while still 25, it would perhaps never happen. I baselessly backed myself and registered on 30th July.

One of the best activities in August was a trip to Binsar with Rungta. It was nearly a perfect trip for an inherently stingy backpacker like me — mostly travelling on foot and appreciating the beautiful nature. The first day we walked 10k uphill with our bags, followed by 4k of relatively flat terrain and finally 3k downhill to a village called Ganaup where we put up the night. By the time we were going downhill my knees had nearly given way. Similarly the next day was also spent on foot covering more than 10 kms. Up until the end of August during my usual training I had covered a maximum of 13 kms at a go. September was the last month and I was still below two third the target distance. This was the toughest month of training. I went out once a week covering about 15 kms in over 2 hours each time. This phase was important as challenges like blisters, dehydration, protein indigestion (proteins take longer to digest than other foods), and whatnot surfaced when my runs started exceeding 15 kms. The importance of hydrating, wearing good socks, having a low protein dinner, etc. were learned only in the last month. Not to mention, the interesting pieces of conversations I had with Sumit who, among all my peers, was clearly most enthusiastic about running.

I ended my training about 4-5 days before the race to give myself adequate rest. Pre-race day preparation included creating a new running (actually walking) playlist, pinning my running bib to my t-shirt, attaching my timing chip to the shoe, purchasing some Gatorade and orange juice, and an easy 3km walk.

I woke up early on race day and meticulously followed a printed sheet of advice that was handed while collecting our running bibs. I kept hydrating myself right from the time I woke up, had some orange juice and a Snickers bar for breakfast and reached Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium well before time. The moment I entered the stadium premises I noticed an atmosphere full of exuberance; bustling with thousands of runner of all shapes and sizes (not kidding you) — stretching, praying, queued up outside loos or busy in casual chats. Minutes before the start I walked into an over-crowded holding area where the runners had to assemble and wait for the race to commence. A little past 6:30 a loud roar rippled through the crowd and we all moved towards the start line. Just as I approached the start line everyone around started running. Somehow even I got soaked into the energy and started running with others. It was only after about 200 meters that I realised that I had a long race ahead and slowed down to my training pace. The start was full of enthusiasm — people cheering from the sides, bands playing some loud rock music and plenty of runners running alongside. Thanks to all my hydration efforts I was compelled to take a leak minutes after starting (in spite of emptying my bladder twice at the stadium). There onwards began a journey full of highs and lows — the gratefulness on being cheered by people (including a little boy on a wheelchair), the astonishment of seeing the race leaders returning on the other side, the excitement of grabbing bottles of water / gatorade from the volunteers, the kick of overtaking a Gold’s Gym trainer, the joy of walking past the India Gate / Rajpath, the anxiety of seeing an ambulance pass by, the agony of sweating out in the September heat, the frustration of passing by empty cool sponge & energy stations, the fun of cheering at the cameras and many more emotions than what could possibly be listed down.

By the 17th km the race had visibly slowed down. Hardly anyone was running and since the energy stations had run out of stock most were deprived of energy drinks. Yet I managed to maintain my pace and by this time was overtaking my fellow exhausted runners. I had planned to pick my pace in the last couple of kilometres but to my dismay our route merged with the Great Delhi Run at the end of 19th km. I entered a sea of people most of who were walking casually. It was painful to constantly maneuver through the crowd and look for gaps to slip through while running on my tired legs.

I finished in just over 3 hours. I was exhausted but coming to a halt felt even more awkward and the physical distress overpowered all emotions. After a while, as the fatigue started wearing off, I tried to gather all my feelings. Just like many other impulsive wishes, participating in a marathon was a pointless one. But it is at this point, when you look back from the other side of the finish line, that pointless things lose their pointlessness.

Oh, and yes, “legs never tire”.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Looking Back At That Decision

Courage, panic, happiness, disappointments, fun, victories, losses, explorations, anger, fights, pleasures, laze, solitude, friendships, frustrations, excitements, jubilations…

All that (and maybe more) over the past 365 days. Glad I took that decision a year back.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A cup of coffee

Today morning I woke up to a heavy rainfall. It made me go back to sleep. Few minutes passed by, and mom’s rebuke made me get out of bed. With no will/motivation I freshened up and took the newspaper. Turned a few pages, saw pics of flooded Delhi streets and Airport Terminal 3. Rains make me gloomy. They really do. As I continued flipping through, I noticed a simple ad that looked very similar to Tender Notices that get published in newspapers. Instead of “Call for tender”, it read “Make a career out of tasting coffee”. No wonder it caught my attention. Here is the online version (which looks quite different than the newspaper print). “Wouldn’t that be super cool career option” I thought, and immediately I decided to taste some myself. I usually do not prefer instant coffee, but had no other alternative at home. Better that than nothing. I intentionally added more-than-usual amount of coffee to some hot milk, few spoonfuls of sugar and it was ready. It felt awesome, like, really awesome. Somehow I got all the willingness to brave the rains, and get to work.

And then followed these good moments, or rather little pleasures of life that we often overlook.

  1. Walking through the heavy rain, carrying an umbrella, wearing shorts and floaters. One of the few things I like about rain. Fun, fun, fun. Watching people running around, looking for cover. Jumping over the puddles. It just felt great.
  2. People at the bus stop were busy discussing the rains and water logging at Lajpat Nagar. I just love how the conversation at bus stops change with time and season. I have rarely seen a debate. Usually everyone is in the same side of the discussion.
  3. An empty AC DTC bus came out of the depot right next to the bus stop. A very rare thing to happen. Today the luck was on my side. A window seat of my choice on a rainy day in an air-conditioned bus. What more?
  4. Right at the next stop a random person ran towards the seat next to me. As he reached close enough he flung his handkerchief onto the empty seat, gestured me to take care of it with a bright smile on his face and turned towards to conductor to get his ticket.
  5. The radio station talked about the increasing petrol prices, cracked humorous jokes (like gifting your wife a chain having a locket containing 2 drops of petrol) and played some wonderful music. I didn’t care about petrol prices. I rarely drive.
  6. Sitting next to the window in an AC bus as it rained outside gave me some good vibes. The entire city looked washed and cleaned. Nowhere throughout the ride from home to office did I find any appreciable water logging. And that’s a good 23 kms. Probably many waited for rains to go away, and so there were hardly any traffic snarls (except for the last km).
  7. About halfway through the ride, the clouds cleared up and the sun trickled through. The air was amazingly clean. Every time the bus was atop a flyover I could see the Delhi skyline, far far away. It brought back memories of my days in Chandigarh where I could see the mountains from my hostel after rains.
  8. As I got down the bus at Nehru Place, I noticed that the authorities had restored the footpath and the service lane leading to the subway. Don’t know when they had done it, but it felt good to notice it today.
  9. A blogpost after quite a while. I had started writing one long back, but due to sheer laziness haven’t got down to complete it. Hope to finish that soon.

Today’s experience makes me feel that the #1 way listed in the 7 Scientific Ways Coffee Gives You Super Powers is for real.

Ah, the pleasures of a cup of coffee. :)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Public Transport – I’m sold.

Of all the cities in India that I have lived in, Delhi by far has had the best public transport infrastructure. I was a regular user of the city buses during summer vacations in class 8th and 9th when I had joined a computer programming course out of my personal interest. Following this the next major phase of my life when I used city buses came in class 11th and 12th. I would take a bus to travel from school to my coaching classes and also back home. Back then, I had no choice. There was a car at home, but I neither had a license nor did I know how to drive. Also at that time, most buses were Bluelines. These buses never ran with a motive of serving the public. Money making was the only motive. Given the helpless circumstances back then, I was definitely not fond of the buses or the public transport.

Things changed as I joined college. I regularly travelled along the Delhi-Chandigarh route on buses and trains. At the same time, I learned to drive and got myself a driving license. I did drive around the city for sometime, but soon Metro operations expanded in Delhi. From the day Metro connected Dwarka to other parts of Delhi, I realised the convenience of driving only up till the closest Metro Station. Following my graduation, I moved to Mysore and Bangalore. I had no personal vehicle. Autos in Bangalore (and Mysore) are a nuisance. As a result I always favoured the buses and often had to fight the reluctance of my friends in order to take the buses. And now that I am back in Delhi, I have been making the most of the public transport over the past four months.

Over this time I have had a change of mindset and my attitude towards public transport has changed a lot. I no longer perceive it as the cheap, painful and poor-man's mode of transport. At the same time, I am far from considering myself as a socially responsible citizen who takes public transport to help save fuel, lower pollution, lessen traffic on the roads. While I do support these causes, they are totally unrelated to my ever-growing fondness of the public transport.

One of my reasons for preferring public transport is that carrying around your own personal vehicle is slowly turning painful. Traffic is too slow too often. Parking has always been a problem (at least since the day I started driving). Petrol is burning bigger holes in your pocket. And then there are these occasional unpleasant cases of breakdown (I recently had a flat tyre). All these add to the pain.

The primary reason for my attraction is the experience in itself. This tweet by Rungta sums it up: “Never a dull moment on the public transport crush— err, systems of India.”

Truely, there is never a dull moment. Unlike the monotony of driving your vehicle through slow traffic, switching gears between 1 and 2, and finally searching for that non-existent parking spot; there is some spark in almost every ride on the public transport. The joy of boarding an empty bus, the competition for a seat in a jam-packed bus, the funny comments in the air, the sigh of relief at the end of the journey. In addition, the noticeable (as well as subtle) traits of individuals coming from diverse backgrounds (regional, cultural, economic etc) add to the exuberance; imagine a Haryanvi letting out his frustration in a crowded bus. Somehow these tiny highs and lows makes the entire experience worth it. And when I think back, and recall all these experiences there is a sense of achievement and satisfaction.

This post is a consequence of the same feeling, and I decided to share some of those moments. Even if they don't convince you about the beauty of the experience, at least they would humour you.

  • One of the important difference between the buses in Delhi and Bangalore is the ease with which people start a conversation. Maybe because language is a lesser divide among the people in Delhi as compared to people in Bangalore. For some reason there is a “general assumption” that the people around are eager to talk to you. So don't be surprised if the guy next to you strikes up a random conversation with you. The topic can be, well, anything depending on the day, the mood, the person, the co-passengers, the weather, the cricket match; as I said, it can be anything. Some of the topics I have come across in the recent past: overcrowded state of public transport; the Government not functioning well; the distressing traffic situation; lack of trees; the performance of the bus driver; the insignificance of the Metro Airport Express Line; or a one-sided monologue where a random “enlightened” guy decides to spread some gyaan.
  • While there are no shortage of frustrating moments, more often than not you will find some humour being born out of those situations. For example in a bus, every now and then you will discover newer (and funnier) ways of stealing seats. If your happen to be the unlucky victim who gets beaten in the contest, you can either humour others by letting out your rage, or simply learn from it and outsmart your fellow co-passengers the next ride onwards. Sometime back two of us took a metro from HUDA City Centre. Since the train originates at this station, people usually scamper for a seat the moment the metro door opens. We did not participate in the scamper as we were making a very short trip. Just as someone was taking the seat right next to where we were standing, a guy runs in and manages to force his potli onto the seat (under the other guy's half-seated posture), which obviously gets crushed by the butts. What followed was this huge argument - one claiming that he sat first, while the other claimed that his potli was kept on the seat before the other guy sat. The argument concluded with both adjusting themselves on the seat.
  • On another occasion I was travelling in a jam-packed metro from Rajiv Chowk towards Dwarka wearing a backpack. Having no control on my movements due to the rush, I happened to accidentally give an old man a slight nudge with my bag. Incidentally the old man was travelling with an elderly companion, and both happened to be in a drunk state. The nudge made this old man start talking (actually, more like announcing) to his friend “Ek to duniya mein samasya yeh hai ki logon ko apna basta sambhalna nahi aaya”. A third aged co-passenger (no, this guy was not drunk) participated in the conversation and blamed the Government for not doing anything about the helplessness of the passengers. The conversation took wild turns as more people got interested. For quite some time the three old men kept talking and conversation nearly turned into a meaningless argument. After a little while the sober old man got off at this destination. Following that the drunk old man decided to address his co-passengers “Aap kahin bhi jaoge aapke aas paas zyadatar log murkh milenge aur bohut kum samajhdar milenge. Hum sub mein bhi zyadatar murkh hi honge. Bus ye batana mushkil hai ki kaun murkh hai aur kaun samajhdar.” The pravachan continued as everyone listened to the old-man-on-a-high with a smile on their faces. When it comes to carrying bags in public transport, I now have a golden rule – “keep it below the belly”. From that day onwards I converted my backpack into a sling-bag.
  • The roof of the bus stop near my house was blown away by strong winds quite sometime back. Only a small piece of the roof still remains stuck. On a peak summer afternoon as I waited for a bus, two persons came in from different directions and sat alongside me. They realised that the sun was too strong, and so decided to look for a shade. Eventually both ended up cramming themselves under the little shade provided by the broken piece of roof. And this initiated another fun conversation, and as expected they pulled me into their conversation. They went on to criticise the DTC, the Government and even the MCD for not planting trees on that side of the road.
  • Most of the new buses procured by DTC are an engineering marvel. These busses run on CNG. Have the engines at the back of the bus. They are low floor. Automatic doors. Automatic gears. The manufactures did almost everything right except that the engines generate very low power. You can distinctly hear these buses scream with pain as they try to pickup from a dead stop or climb up a flyover. The situation worsens in an AC bus, when the AC is turned on. Often the bus drivers turn the AC off when the buses need more power for pickup. And almost immediately you can hear a comment or two from the crowd – “AC chala do. Paise to hum poore dete hain, AC chalane mein aapka kya jaata hai.”
  • Even though the bus route I usually take has a very good service frequency, there have been times when I have had to wait a lot, specially at the Nehru Place Terminal. About a week back I was at the terminal at about quarter past seven in the evening to catch an AC Bus plying on the same route. There is no fixed platform at the terminal from where the bus might originate. If you need a seat, you have to be attentive and look out in all directions. Whenever a bus moves, or starts, or shows any other signs of departure the crowd would rush towards it. The key to get seats is very simple; win the race. If you are lucky, the bus would be plying on the route you're looking for. On that day we had been running around without luck for about half an hour. After some more time, as we all started our sprint towards another bus, someone among us shouted aloud “Itne mein to Dilli Police ka physical clear ho jata.” Even that bus turned out to be on a different route.

Public transport rides are a mixed-bag of emotions – fun, frustration, humour, exercise, excitement, anxiety and more. Most importantly it is a break from monotony. The person facing the music enjoys as much as the person observing these moments. While there are many more incidents worth sharing, I'd rather not make a long blogpost even longer. Instead let me point you to some tweets by me and my friends:

https://twitter.com/rungta/status/68676611809091585
https://twitter.com/rungta/status/64377491216801792
https://twitter.com/rungta/status/55524957639282688
https://twitter.com/rungta/status/51287585775034368
https://twitter.com/rungta/status/36997949665837056
https://twitter.com/souvikdg/status/55888370190127106
https://twitter.com/rungta/status/53472583194116096
https://twitter.com/lokallobaat/status/71820202173673472
https://twitter.com/souvikdg/status/71823844670840833

As pointed before, hopefully these anecdotes have at least humoured you, if not convince you about the beauty of using the public transport.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Food for thought

A couple of days before Bengali New Year (Poyela Boishakh) my mom expressed her desire to have breakfast at the newly opened Sagar Ratna near our house. For those who are unfamiliar with Sagar Ratna, here is how they introduce themselves on their website: a well known Brand of Restaurant chain in Northern India serving vegetarian cuisine with a speciality in South Indian delicacies.

For the record and from my experience, they did start off being a South Indian speciality restaurant, but in their quest of business they ended up serving all kinds of vegetarian food including Burgers and Noodles. Their start as a specialised South Indian restaurant chain was pretty impactful and it still is the first place that a Delhi-ite thinks of for having a South Indian meal. I reluctantly agreed (why reluctant? - will come to that shortly).

So on New Year’s Day, I took mom to Sagar Ratna. I ordered my last year’s favourite breakfast. My mom, as usual, couldn’t control her greed and ended up ordering much more than what she could have herself (obviously expecting me to take care of the leftovers). This was the third time I was about to have South Indian food since my return from Bangalore (excluding the occasional chomps at the roadside vada vendors), previous two occasions being at Southy (Nehru Place) and Karnataka Bhavan (Shanti Niketan). Each time my experience has been unsatisfactory and I have sworn not to have South Indian food again in Delhi. Not that the quality of South Indian food has degraded over the years in Delhi, just that over the past year and a half I have had awesome Vadas, Dosas, Idlis, Filter Coffee and other popular South Indian food right in South India. I have grown a basic understanding about how it aught to be. I keep expecting the same softness in an idly, the same crunch in a vada, the same aromas in filter coffee. They did not keep us waiting for long. The food arrived within a few minutes. And it strengthened the cause for my reluctance to have South Indian food in North India.

I have had a fantastic time having South Indian food while I was staying in Mysore/Bangalore and while I visited the nearby states. At the same time I have had an equally horrible time searching for North Indian food in South India. On one hand I feel this is good because it makes me want to visit South India. But on the other it is really bad. It induces this false notion, a false perception of the kind of food available in other region.

I believe that good food is not just about taste. I am a strong advocate/believer of relativity. Taste in spite of being important is relative. One’s favourite might be another’s nightmare. In a slightly vague manner the problem can be explained by this example: Imagine an unaware sweet lover who is given a laddo instead of barfi which he ordered at a sweet shop. Even though what he had might be tasty, in reality he did not have what he intended to have. More than taste, good food is about authenticity. It is about “not being cheated”. So when someone who knows little about your South Indian cuisine walks in to a South Indian Restaurant, it is not just about cooking food the way it is written in cook books and serving the same. Instead, it is about making the guests realise how authentic South Indian food is supposed to be. The food must speak out the qualities of food back in South India.

I am not a person who has visited plenty of countries. So I do not know first-hand whether International cuisines available in India are authentic or not. Even if they are not, it is not as big a problem as authentic Indian Cuisines not being available across India. International cuisines may not have a market for selling authentic cuisine in India profitably. There are differences in taste, culture, lack of ingredients and cooks from other countries may not opt to come to India. But these reasons make little sense when we talk about Indian cuisines in India.

Another factor that worsens the problem are the Food Awards that do their round in the market. Here is a page highlighting the awards won by Sagar Ratna. Some new doubts have raised in me. Do these companies assign the job to food-critics taking into the account the region he/she belongs to? i.e. People from South India being sent to evaluate South Indian restaurants. Even if the food-critics belong to North India, are they asked to evaluate a South Indian restaurant after they are made to try out food in South India. While these awards do help businesses woo consumers, at the same time any scope for improvements must be conveyed to the businesses. Unfortunately, as pointed by Rungta in the movie Inside Job, these awards/ratings companies have defence which is both strong and weak in itself: “It’s just our opinion and people are free to not go by it.”

I just can’t accept that South Indian cuisine cannot be authentically reproduced in North India and vice versa. So where does the problem lie?
  • Lack of availability of ingredients locally? Not possibly. Even if some of the ingredients are not available, they can be easily procured from South India. And, I am not paying less for the food. I pay nearly double the amount charged at the best places in South India and get something which is not even half as well made. Procuring authentic ingredients should not add much to the expenses.
  • Unavailability of cooks? I won’t buy that. Most certainly there are enough South Indians who can cook well in North India. Additionally in quest for jobs and better pay thousands migrate in both directions. We are not talking about speciality dishes whose recipes remain secret to generations of a family.

Sharing one of my food-related experiences I have had in Bangalore. I once went to Tunday’s Tunday Kababi outlet in Bangalore which serves the famous Tunday Kebabs (Galouti Kababs) from Lucknow. One of my Punjabi friend ordered a parantha, which turned out to be made from flour and was very different from usual Punjabi paranthas. He asked “What kind of parantha is this?” “Sir, Lucknow mein aisa hi banta hai”. By the way, the kebabs were delicious. About a month later, I took my mom to the same place. Aside from the kebabs, we order a preparation of Chicken. The moment I tasted the gravy I got the pungent smoky taste of a burnt gravy. I called the waiter to complain. “Chicken ki gravy jal gayi hai” “Sir, Lucknow mein aisa hi banta hai”. Heights of denial. I immediately snapped back “Kuch din pehle tak to aisa nahi banta tha”. He called the manager and we were served a different preparation as the entire stock of that preparation for the day was bad.

I think the problem lies in the intent. There are very few businesses in the food industry that intend to do things right, serve authentic food and sell the right experience. It’s sad.