Thursday, December 30, 2010

The ‘Biryani’ that broke my tooth !

Royal Indian Hotel, here in after referred to as RIH or just Royal  is a name synonymous with Mughlai food in north central Calcutta. Located on the historic Chitpur road in the Burrabazar neighborhood. Home to the business bourgeois of the city. This place is normally not frequented by the well heeled or the upwardly mobile and those with a ‘Holier Than Thou’ attitude.  I have memories of this eatery from my growing up years when I used to tag along with my Dad on our eating out sprees. Royal is nestled among some non-descript shops selling mostly Kurtas, Sherwanis, and other clothing paraphernalia. As such this is situated in a very congested part of the city, where the fastest mode of transport often can mean walking to your destination.

Sundays are normally a blessing for at least some streets in Calcutta, as the roads are mostly devoid of business traffic and it is generally given a miss by the rallyists. Ain’t that a blessing? Wish we had more than just one Sunday in a week ! I decided this past Sunday, it was time for ‘Close Encounters of a Royal Kind!’. Decided to give my car a much needed break and used mass transit to reach my destination in a record 25 mins from Salt Lake.

26122010738 The Royal Chef

26122010740 Both Fat and Hope Floats !

26122010742 Dining Hall for upper echelons of the society

RIH is split it into two levels, ground floor for mere mortals and the first floor dining hall for the upper echelons of the society. I self-invited myself to the privileged first floor dinning hall. It was 2:30 pm, and the place was only a trifle busy. Got my self a comfortable table and had Nandan Nilekani for company, while I sipped on my Thums Up, and briefly browsed the Royal Offerings !




Some of the other diners looked at me in amazement and talked in hushed tones and occasionally broke into a laughter similar to that of a gang of school girls sharing girlie talk ! I take, they were amused looking at me taking pictures on my camera phone of otherwise banal subjects. I did not waste much time or deliberated too much on what I wanted to start out with. Ordered myself ‘2 Rotis and Mutton Chaap’ to begin with. 



This is a signature dish that will wake up a dietician from his/her grave. It probably has enough calories for a week if not longer. But you might wonder, since when have I started watching my calories. Well, the answer is simple, I don’t. Just a head’s up for those who might. I say ‘You only live twice!’.  For those unaware, this preparation is made by beating mutton fanatically, until the tissues begin to break down. It is one of those dishes that should come with a disclaimer - ‘These stunts are performed by professionals, please do not attempt this at home !’

My hunger quadrupled and I dug into the Rotis and Tender Meat ! This dish is quite literally, not for the weak at heart. Weather in a word - Hot and Spicy ! I was nearing completion of the first course was when the luncheon reached it’s anti-climax. I was struggling with what I initially thought of a bone that got stuck in a tooth-cavity, in my upper jaw. I was in pain, and the uneasy feeling cannot be put in words. I tried poking at it with a tooth pick and my tongue. All in vain.

I had already ordered the Chicken Biryani and had asked for it to be brought out a few mins after the first course was served. The serving crew took no cognizance of my compromised situation and brought out the Biryani.


The Biryani looked inviting and I momentarily forgot about the stuck-bone-in-my-tooth. However, as soon as I started to chow down the Biryani hurriedly, the food was hurting my upper jaw and I continued to struggle. I continued to probe at it, trying to edge it out by rolling my tongue inwards and forcing it out. And voila !

26122010729No this is not a pearl ! 

What came out was a portion of my tooth ! And now it dawned on me that all this while what I was struggling was not some meat bone, but my own tooth. I could feel a warm gush in my mouth. I could taste my own blood. No, I was not going to bleed to death but it was still a little scary. I have saved this broken tooth, and it could belong to the ‘Royal Museum’ !

Never say die attitude got the better of me. And I got back to the business of polishing off my Biryani. I had wanted something to go with the Biryani and was delighted to see ‘Mutton Pasinda’ on the menu. The joy was short lived as it was on the dinner menu for Sunday not lunch. I was offered ‘Mutton Seekh’ kebabs as a suitable replacement, but then they found out even that was not available. Finally settled for ‘Chicken Reshmi Kebab’ which looked much better than it tasted. I could not find anything wrong with it, except for the fact that it was just too manicured for my taste buds. The kebabs were plump and succulent but missed the X factor !

A quick word about the Biryani – the quantity of rice wasn’t enough if you are really hungry. The chicken was a tad too stringy. Overall Biryani was may be just a 6/10.


I normally hate to leave food on the table. But in this case, had to resort to it. Now that my carnal desires were met, I was ready for some socializing.

I introduced myself to the most elegant member of the Royal Crew – one Mohammed Ishrafique. Mohammed bhai has been serving the Royal army since 1976. I was then an innocent three year old, not exposed to the ways of the world ! Mohammed bhai after an initial bout of apprehension, acquiesced for a picture of his. Though not smiling in this picture, he gleefully shook my hand.


No meal is complete without a dessert or two. I was offered Firnee or Shahi Tukra (not in picture). Ignoring my penchant for the unknown, this time I went for Firnee. And have no regrets I did. One is never enough for a big man like myself, so I pigged out on another one. Lucky not to have lost my ‘sweet tooth’, despite losing a ‘tooth’ !



I paid my debt to the society, a total of Rs. 309, plus a handsome tip and bid adieu. ‘Khuda Hafiz’, I thundered to Mohammed bhai before walking out the door !

Monday, December 27, 2010

South Park Street Cemetery – A walk on the other side !

With the latest release of Felu da’s গোরস্থানে সাবধান (Beware in the graveyard !), the South Park Cemetery has shot into prominence. The opening shot, climax and the anticlimax of this movie, have all been shot at this picturesque location. This is one of the forgotten landmarks of the city and Park Street. Located as the name suggests on South side of Park Street, away from the razzmatazz and urban squalor of the North and Central Park Street, this is located across the street from the Assembly of God Church School. A resting place for the Sahibs.

I visited this place at about 4:15 pm on a Sunday afternoon. The sun had set for all practical purposes, what remained was residual sunlight, a perfect time to visit a green and gray graveyard where lies Henry Vivian Derozio, who famously preached : He who will not reason is a bigot, he who cannot reason is a fool, and he who does not reason is a slave.

The most striking thing about this place was it’s serenity and that it was free of human litter. It could partly be due to it not being a picnicker’s delight or it’s relative obscurity. This is maintained by the Calcutta Christian Burial Board. I also briefly spoke to the maintenance in-charge Kenneth Rodriguez. Ken has been at this job for the last 3 years and is an amicable old young man. His few-toothed smile welcomes you to the office at the cemetery.

This place opens at 8 am and closes at 4:45 pm sharp ! I had only about 30 mins or just under it to walk this wide expanse of green graveyard. I would not exaggerate it even one bit, if I were to say that I was transported to medieval Europe for the half hour I spent walking around. Silence spoke here. I will let the pictures do the rest of the talking.



































If you happen to live in the city, or visitng Calcutta, do visit this place. I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed. While I sit here and wonder, what would be the best way to visit the other side around midnight one of these days !

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Father/Son : tourists in their own city

In this post, I introduce a pint size blogger – my nearly 8 year old son – Guchee (ভাল নাম : Abhinav). This winter, my son (herein after referred to as Guchee)and I have taken upon ourselves to trek across the length and breadth of the city. We will eat lots of different types of food, meet people, see places, walk and ride through the city we love to call home. These posts will feature pictures taken and stories by my co-blogger ! Along the way each week we will try to be a good Samaritan. At least take up one small social task in our ambit to be responsible towards the community.


We will at least be going out once a week every week, this winter season. This past Sunday, Guchee and I woke up early and took warm showers. After a hearty breakfast of cereals, breads, boiled eggs and bananas, we got underway.

Destination: Red Road. Mission: Tram Ride. Guchee’s first ever ! Excitement was in the nippy morning air. We arrived on to Red Road in flat 25 minutes. Thanks to the blessedly merciful Sunday morning traffic. Thank heavens there weren’t any rallyists or lobbyists on the street, exercising their constitutional right! Just as we arrived, we missed 2 trams, one in either direction – to Esplanade and to Khidderpore. The next one would be at least a few minutes away !  We were in the company of the city’s lungs ‘The Maidan’ ! Despite the best(read worst) efforts of the government and others - we might be the last the generation (may be one more at best) to see the city breathe through it’s lungs. The green patch if I may call it, is just a wonderful relief beyond words and breaths !


While we were waiting for the next tram, we were greeted by a mixed herd of goat and sheep being herded by their shepherds. Didn’t we read somewhere ? ‘Lord is my shepherd !’


Lord answered our calls to send in the tram. A red one at that too !


Guchee’s joy knew no bounds. He was happy as a peach and all geared up for his first ride across town. We got up in the second class compartment of the tram. Here is a little trivia at that – the rear or the second tram coach has slightly different seating arrangements, has no fans, and the fare is cheaper by 50 paise. After all fans cost money :). Below is the tram journey in pictures.





Above is proof of the fact that we didn’t just hitch a ride, by looking all cute :) . We paid for it. Tickets have been saved off as souvenir by the little blogger. We took in the sights, sounds, and mild traffic snarls through our ride from Maidan to Khidderpore Tram Depot. There was plenty to catch Guchee’s imagination. I fielded many a questions by the inquisitive young lad, my son is growing up to be. The ride took about 25 mins. We relaxed on the way and saw the city pass us by.

The plan was to go all the way to the yards, and then take another tram back to where we had parked our car at. Near Maidan. The trams run every 15 mins even on Sundays. Impressive. We got off our second class compartment and got up on the same tram as it had turned around for it’s journey back to Esplanade. This time we got ourselves the premium first class compartment seats. A little indulgence wouldn’t hurt, we figured.


Here you can see the little champ teaming up with Ricky in selling Valvoline brand of engine oils. Clearly we know who the winner is, at least in the looks department :)


Guchee sneaked into the cockpit and picked up a thing or two about driving these beauties. We took our paired seats, second from the front.


Guchee and his old man, used the auto timer feature on the newly acquired N8 to perfection !

Next stop was BITM – Birla Industrial and Technological Museum on Gurusaday Road. Tis was a day of firsts, this would also be my co-blogger’s first trip to a museum. A lot was in store for the day. BITM was a pleasant departure from the rest of the city, where parking can be a nightmare and would require super-human skills to park your car into an area just big enough to park yourself ;-). This place has paid parking within their building. We drove straight in.




We walked up to the ticket window and after a brief pow wow decided on the exhibits we wanted to check out. The entry to the museum is priced at a paltry Rs. 15. Everything else is pretty reasonably priced too.

  • Science Miracle and Magic Show for 4-bucks-a-pop !
  • Light and Sound walking tour of the mock-up coal mine for 10-bucks-a-pop !
  • 3D movie – A turtle’s adventure 15-bucks-a-pop !

It was about 12:45 in the afternoon, and hunger had started to kick in. Our stomachs weren’t  quite growling yet, but it was work in process. The earliest show among the three shortlisted was at 2. Enough time to grab a bite ? Guchee concurred. We were only a stone’s throw and could almost smell the Chinese food from Mainland China – a Chinese eatery par-excellence ! Featured below is a gastronomic story told in pictures !

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Father and son were now happy campers, contented with the meal. It was 1:45 pm, only 15 mins to our show back at the museum. We walked fast-paced, almost jogged back to the museum.  Jogging with my son, makes me realize how old I really have become.

Back at the museum, some unique exhibits awaited us.



After these vintage beauties, it was time for the Science Magic and Miracle. Magic with or without science, never fails to bring a smile on a child’s face. But what made the museum trip worthwhile was the ‘Mock-up Coal Mine’ – only one of it’s kind anywhere in the country. We were led into a claustrophobic quasi-underground mine, by our tour guide; a chatty young woman !




05122010457 05122010456


The coal mine was quite an experience and rather knowledgeable. Next stop, was at the 3D movie – ‘A turtle’s adventure’.


05122010471 Eyes wide open :)

Some of the other static exhibits are more technical in nature and probably for older kids, so we decided to call it a day and hopped back into our wagon and rode back !  Guchee was spent after the day out, and fell asleep on the ride back home.

I hate to give myself an Atta boy, but the moral of the story is – be a responsible Dad ! Take out some time from your busy schedule, this winter. And take your young one for a day out. Spend some quality time with your kid(s). As my wife says, NO – taking your kid to just Mc D’s does not count. Unfortunately the kids these days are either glued to the tv sets, or their play stations or mobile phones. And in some other cases are being overfed on a diet of mall visits. Wake up.  Go on and do something different ! I can bet money, your little one(s) is/are going to have a field day.

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