Categories
Reviews

Anoushka Shankar’s “Traces of You” India tour

I found out that Anoushka Shankar was performing in Delhi yesterday quite fortuitously, during a conversation with Ishan on Friday. I hastily formed plans with a couple of friends to attend the gig, including Ishan. I’ve been a fan of Anoushka Shankar’s sister Norah Jones for a long time, but I hadn’t paid much attention to Shankar herself till now.

The venue was Talkatora Stadium, which brought back memories of going there so many years during high school for HT’s InQuizitive Quiz. Shankar’s gig was breathtaking. It was a medley of her centerpiece sitar play, with shehnai, tabla, piano, cello, drums / hang drums. The set list primarily drew upon her 2013 album Traces of You, with a song called In Jyoti’s Name dedicated to the 2012 Delhi gangrape victim. Something that clearly touched Anoushka Shankar, because she got quite choked up when introducing the premise of the song. An emotional moment for the audience.

My favourite track out of the entire show was her opening track (also, the opening track for the same album) called The Sun Won’t Set, featuring Norah Jones.

Categories
Tech Takes

Exun 2013

exun 2013 headerThis weekend, I was at Exun 2013, one of Delhi’s biggest computer technology symposiums (along with Code Wars). Having been a participant at the event for many, many years it felt nice to be back as a judge at Exun and meet so many bright kids into technology.

I signed on for Exun when DPS RK Puram’s HoD, Mr Mukesh Kumar, got in touch with me a couple of weeks ago about conducting the junior quiz, senior quiz, and crossword. I expected nothing short of the best teams at this event, hence why I knew I needed to put in extra effort to ensure the tradition of Exun’s event standards were maintained.

It's worth noting that *42* teams participating in the Exun Junior Quiz prelims
It’s worth noting that *42* teams participating in the Exun Junior Quiz prelims

It was an amazing – and tiring – experience to conduct the three events, but I loved every minute of it. Raghav Khullar helped me build the question archive for all events, and Exun members / Mukesh sir helped me with organisational logistics at every stage. And with that, I present the archives for Exun 2013:

  • Junior Quiz: Prelims (PDF, ~370 KB); Finals (PDF, ~3.3 MB)
  • Crossword: Prelims (opens in a new window); Finals (opens in a new window) n.b. I’m aware of an error in the one question in the finals, where the answer should have been “SILKROAD” and not “SILKROUTE”
  • Senior Quiz: Prelims (PDF, ~680 KB); Finals (ZIP, ~6.7 MB) n.b. I had to use PPTX for the finals presentation decks because it contains embedded media.

Hope the teams enjoyed the quizzes and the crossword. Feedback appreciated! :)

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Categories
Personal

Why I voted for Congress in Delhi Elections 2013

My newsfeed on Facebook and Twitter is filled today with millenials, like me, who voted in an Indian election for the first time posting pictures of their fingers marked with indelible ink. Without any concrete demographic information, but based on what I saw anecdotally, the eventual 66% voter turnout probably comprised a significant portion of millenials.

Delhi elections 2013 inked finger

For me, it feels weird that the first time I’ve ever voted in elections was in the UK, not these Delhi Elections. I’d have taken my phone along to take pictures, had I known it was allowed. I saw many people at my polling station with phones, although I’ve heard other reports that people had to leave their phones outside. (The Election Commission of India’s website, unfortunately, has no FAQ for voters. For some reason, they also keep two designs for the website live.)

The process was surprisingly painless. I only had to wait for fifteen minutes before I got my turn to vote, with the usual procedure of checking electoral rolls and inking of my finger. And it was at that point I headed to an electronic voting machine, behind a bewildered old couple who’d never seen the contraption, and cast my vote for Congress.

***

Ever since I’ve been back in Delhi, I’ve been trying to decide which party to vote for. I’m not particularly in touch with Indian politics these days (I don’t even read newspapers here) but it’s hard to escape the constant cacophony of various parties conducting rallies and advertisements everywhere.

Every day on my daily run, I would hear at least one ad on the radio from BJP, with an annoying jingle about how they will reduce prices of vegetables and remove corruption. There are hoardings at bus stops talking about prices of onions and the number of rapes in Delhi. While both are sad in their own right, I can’t see myself supporting a political party which bases its entire campaign on ad hominem attacks trying to play on the anti-incumbency factor. Reducing the debate to prices of vegetables is a joke, given that it’s a lot to do with inflation in the Indian and global economy at large, rather than a local factor. More importantly, it isn’t as if BJP is particularly spotless when it comes to a track record in combating corruption.

But perhaps my biggest reason for not supporting a Hindu fundamentalist, right-wing party like the BJP is because of its prime ministerial candidate for the general elections next year: Narendra Modi, who features prominently in their advertising campaigns across Delhi. I believe it’s a matter of national shame for India that a person who sat by and watched as one of the worst communal riots happened in India got off scot-free, and is in the running for the Prime Minister of India. For his face

Perhaps the same argument could be lobbed towards Congress politicians for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. My grandfather himself sheltered Sikh families in his house when those riots took place and risked his life to turn away mobs who were going house-to-house looking to murder people. Yet, as far as I know, none of those perpetrators are running for the post of running the entire country, even though they may or may not have been convicted.

I don’t care for argument that go along the lines of “Gujarat has advanced a lot under Narendra Modi”. That sounds just like the argument supported Adolf Hilter’s rise to power in Nazi Germany. I cannot support a politician who is so morally bankrupt and who has never apologised for the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Aam Aadmi Party

My second choice was the Aam Aadmi Party. Started by political activist Arvind Kejriwal, the party has built its credentials on an anti-corruption platform. When I first saw their logo (on a McDonald’s TV screen, no less), I actually thought “Aam Aadmi Party” was a tagline Congress was using, because of AAP’s use of tricolours in their logo.

AAP certainly has been loud and vocal about what they want to do, and because of the pedigree of their leader, I wanted to check out their manifesto (summary in English, entire manifesto in Hindi). They make quite a few lofty promises: reducing electricity bills, 700 litres of free water per day, schools and hospitals in every neighbourhood, et al. All very noble goals, but nowhere does their manifesto do they mention where they will find the money to do all of their stated goals. Higher taxes? Surely that’s not going to be better for the “common man”.

Water consumption per household in Indian cities

For instance, take their promise of providing 700 litres of free water per day, per household. According to a paper published in 2008, the average daily household consumption of water in most Indian cities is 400 litres, so 700 litres is vastly generous. But why should this be provided for free? Access to clean water is a right worth fighting for and there are many parts of Delhi which go without it, and eliminating a revenue source completely (because it’s unlikely most households would ever exceed their free quota) isn’t generate revenue to expand water coverage across Delhi households.

Total household electricity consumption in India projections
Total household electricity consumption in India, projections

Similarly, they claim to have 20% of Delhi’s power needs generated by solar energy in the next ten years. Projections from academic studies as well as the Central Electricity Authority show power demand in Delhi is expected to rise sharply. While it talks of solar energy in ten years’ time, taking the projected demand for next year – 8500 MW – 20% of that figure is 1700 MW, more than the entire capacity generated by Delhi’s current gas-powered power plants. Another policy from the Indian government aims for 20 GW of power generation through solar means by 2020, but that’s a) across India b) energy needs will be at 2x of current levels by then.

Another major point with respect to electricity is the AAP’s skepticism about electric meters, yet electronic meters – of the kind currently in use and future generations of smarter meters – have been shown to help cut down electricity theft, a big problem before the privatisation of Delhi’s electricity supply.

Other parts of their manifesto ring alarm bells too. Although not mentioned in the summary, the main manifesto document say they aim to increase CCTV usage to “cut down on corruption”. Another part of the document aims to make alcohol licenses harder to get, as well as vigilante-justice type local committees to cut down on alcohol consumption. This aversion to alcohol sound very similar to Anand Kejriwal’s former political partner Anna Hazare’s tack of publicly flogging anyone who drank in his “model” village.

Overall, the impression that I get is that while Aam Aadmi Party certainly has many moralistic individuals, they’re either making lofty claims as a sort of checklist, or are dangerously naïve about the economics of what their policies are going to cost. They also are verging on the side of setting up a nanny state that’s always watching, always judging what its citizens are doing. And that, frankly, isn’t the direction India should be heading towards.

Which brings me to Congress. Their manifesto list out achievements they’ve accomplished during their 15 years in power in Delhi; solid facts and figures on how they have changed life for Delhi citizens for the better. I remember a time when we had power cuts stretching to hours, having to fetch water from tankers, smog from pollution that used to blanket this city – which changed after they introduced the world’s largest fleet of CNG-based public transport, the Delhi Metro…the list of achievements go on. It’s for this proven track record, rather than hot air that only surfaces during elections, for which I’ve voted for the Congress. I will support them in the general elections next year, and I supported them in these Delhi elections.

Categories
Reviews

The Pot Belly / What A Comic Show reviews

My trip to The Pot Belly Cafe was mildly adventurous. Since I got a new Nokia Lumia phone, I decided to check out how accurate its HERE Transit app is with Delhi transport. I started off from my house near Moti Bagh and took a bus to AIIMS. At this point, the app kept telling me either to take a 465EXT route bus – which never arrived despite being listed multiple times – or to take route 540 from South Extension, 500 metres away.

AIIMS flyover

I thought, “500 metres ain’t too bad” so I started walking towards South Ex from AIIMS. At first there was a usable (in Delhi!) footpath, which soon narrowed down to a single-brick wide pathway alongside a busy highway. It was at this point that two guys on a motorcycle alighted next me. Now, it was dark – around 8pm – and I expected they’d either mug me or ask for directions. The mystery was soon resolved when one of the guys approached me and asked me whether I wanted to buy a Nokia Lumia 920 for “a reasonable price”. I politely declined and reached my destination eventually by bus. I learned later that it’s a common scam in Delhi to be approached by people pretending to sell you a phone at a seemingly bargain price, and then swap the phone with a dummy when the transaction takes place.

I was headed to Shahpur Jat – a “ghetto version of Hauz Khas Village”, as a friend described it. I was little prepared for the shock when I entered the “village” from the incorrect entrance and had to navigate narrow alley after another to get to my destination. (Directions on Zomato or Google Maps weren’t helpful.) Karmanya may have been scared to get shanked in HKV, but on this occasion I felt that was an actual possibility. The closest parallel I can draw to what the general vibe is when I’ve had to visit relatives in Katwaria Sarai.

Anyway, I finally did reach my destination, The Pot Belly Cafe. Not a particularly upscale option as it specialises in Bihari cuisine, which was part of the attraction to me since it would be something different. This place had been picked on Prateek‘s recommendation (a foodie who runs an amazing food blog over at Belly Centric); I was also meeting up with other Twitter-friends – Souvik, Apoorv, and Karan.

Pot Belly

The interiors look like a fancy dhaba. We started off with baskets of meat and vegetable pakoras for starters. Pakoras are fairly typical and our group was still hungry so we decided to order more starters.

Pot Belly - Phish Phingers

The next set of starters we ordered were “phish phingers” – cylindrical fish sticks with crispy potatoes of the kind you get at Yo! China – along with the Bihari staple of litti chokha. Litti is basically roasted chickpea which is stuffed into a fried jacket, like a jacket potato, served with (on this occasion) with chana dal. My impression of litti chokha from litti juices that I’ve drunk earlier wasn’t particularly amazing, so I was quite surprised that this was tasty!

For the main course, we chose three dishes. Bihari burger turned out to be a cross between a normal burger and a pav bhaaji, with a mutton patty and filling in super-sized pav bhaaji buns – enough for two people if you aren’t feeling peckish. Champaran-style mutton was boneless, tender mutton served with paranthas and raita. And lastly, Maithili thali was a puri dish with diced paneer. The portions were good enough for sharing among the five of us.

Somewhat out-of-the-way, The Pot Belly Cafe is an excellent choice if you want to try out Indian cuisine that’s typically not classified as “sexy” among eating-out choices or easily available. Make sure you figure out where it is first though! It’s very easy to miss. (Slice of Italy / The Coffee Garage are good landmarks in case you need to seek directions.)

Rating: 8 / 10

***

SDA Market (opposite IIT Delhi) isn’t my usual choice for venue for a meal due to the lack of choice in cuisines. Not much space in such a tiny market anyway. However, I had noticed signs for a new establishment called What A Comic Show, and I was intrigued by it because I assumed it would be a comedy club. I wanted to give an Indian comedy club that supported local comedians a shot.

What A Comic Show

It wasn’t until I met up with Bhavika for dinner yesterday there that I realised that What A Comic Show is a restaurant – hence the name, rather than a comedy club. The restaurant is stocked with comic book memorabilia (with scary “no touching!” signs) on all shelves, with custom comic book graphic art poster for each table top. The menu, too, is a cardboard slab with comic book action font.

What A Comic Show primarily serves Asian and Continental cuisine. The Asian section, to be honest, is quite disappointing serving what passes off as Chinese cuisine in India. The Continental menu, on the other hand, is loaded with many interesting choices. We ordered the mix bell pepper bruschetta and mushroom toast for starters. The quantity was overkill for a starer, since each portion is quite large for two people with four pieces each. For mains, I ate their signature “All Flavour Burger” – a delicious combination of bacon, egg, and burger with fries.

The only hitch is that our first waiter seemed quite inexperienced, and didn’t understand either English or Hindi, consistently misunderstanding what we were trying to convey. Another waiter took over soon enough and he was charming and competent. It’s an important point because their menu doesn’t list what drinks they serve (no alcohol), so you’re completely reliant on the waiters to inform you about your choices. Another part of the decor – an ugly-ass stereo system near the cashiers’ desk – stuck out as slightly incongruous to me with the rest of the decor.

Prices are reasonably cheap and a meal for two can be easily had with starters, mains, and drinks for approximately Rs 900. (We did have to pay more as we underestimated and ordered more food.) With its prime location, pocket-friendly prices, and interesting take on a restaurant theme I can imagine this place would be popular among young people.

Rating: 6.5 / 10

Categories
Reviews

Garage, Inc (Hauz Khas Village) / The Blue Door (Khan Market) reviews

My friend Karmanya and I have been searching for a good burger in Delhi the past week. With that in mind, I went to two places to see how the burgers were.

***

Garage Inc

Garage, Inc in Hauz Khas Village bills itself as an American diner. Naturally, the bare minimum expectation of an American diner is it should serve good burgers. A flight of stairs through the cacophony of construction that seem to be perpetually going on HKV leads to this restaurant. (Karmanya thought he was about to shanked because of how shady the construction site looked.)

A heavy iron door – the kind you’d expect for a bank vault, but not really – opens into the restaurant which seems to be aiming for the biker look on everything except for its menu. To be honest, nothing stands out in the decor except for a seemingly-unused foosball table right in front of the door.

For starters we ordered cheesy fries with pork, which had some description of shredded meat similar to beef chilli (but supposedly pork). Oh well. I had better hope from their burgers, so I ordered a chicken grease burger with bacon while Karmanya ordered a bacon and beef burger. Now, the concept of “rare” or “medium rare” seems to be non-existent in India, despite specifically making a request for a medium rare burger, the patty in the one Karmanya got was charred. Mine was slightly better, but that’s not saying much since the buns seemed to be too cheap / badly stored and fell apart within seconds. The coleslaw, too, was stale (and upset my stomach later in the day).

I was looking forward to dessert since I’d looked up on Zomato that they did deep-fried Mars bar, a Scottish abomination that I haven’t eaten for a while. It’s a standard Mars bar, deep-fried in batter to create a Frankensteinian calorie monster that makes you regret eating it the moment you do. BUT IT IS SO WORTH IT.

Garage Inc - Deep fried Mars bar

Now, the thing about a deep-fried Mars bar is that isn’t supposed to be a fine dining experience – because that’s not what the deep-fried Southern American cuisine style is about. It’s supposed to greasy, dirty, sweet, and loaded on calories. Yet the dessert that was presented was dainty, with chocolate sauce dressing, a scoop of ice cream, and to make it worse a “fun” size Mars bar rather than a normal one.

The ambience and food at Garage, Inc is terrible. Give this place a miss.

Rating: 3 / 10

***

Blue Door Cafe Khan Market signI’ve walked passed the sign for The Blue Door Cafe in Khan Market many times, always giving it a miss because the sign looks. so. shit. The sign is tacky as fuck, more along the line of an upscale dhaba that attempts to do European cuisine. Still, on Karmanya’s recommendation – and since my choice of Garage, Inc had been so crap – we decided to give this place a go.

We went in for lunch, although they seem to specialise in breakfasts and crepes. I ordered a burger again with a brownie shake – the latter of which they promptly forgot until I prompted them for it an hour later. Apart from that hitch, the service was on the ball.

Speaking of the burger itself, it was done medium rare-ish without even asking for it, showing that the place cares about its meat. The salad was fresh, the chips were chunky, and buns too tasted fresh without falling apart. The shake, well, shakes are good in their own right but given enough whipped cream anything tastes good, to the point that anyone who claims a milkshake they had was “heavenly” now just gets a shrug from me.

I need to go back to this place another day to try their breakfast, because properly-cooked bacon is hard to get in Delhi. The Blue Door Cafe is an excellent place for the price you pay.

Rating: 7.5 / 10