Thursday 25 January 2018

Book Review | Borderline By Author Shabri Prasad Singh | Mental Health Catharsis | Fiction Meets Facts | Opinion


'Paagal hai kya'- A common refrain heard in India, sometimes in jest, sometimes in frustration. It is a word we loosely throw around without ever thinking of the serious subject matter it denotes -Mental Health. And then we worsen the situation by dumping every mental health related discussion in this very category of 'paagal'. Popular culture has more or less just added fuel to fire with numerous depictions of mental health institutions in dilapidated condition, hitler-esque doctors conducting weird experiments on inmates and the dreaded electric shock. Result is that every temper tantrum, every fist fight and every depressing situation is ignored/increased in India by remembering the horror of /using the taunt of 'being a pagal' and 'going to a pagalkhana'.

Subject Matter

It is thus a refreshing change to come across the book 'Borderline' by Author Shabri Prasad Singh that aims to tackle the much ignored as well as much maligned subject of Mental Health, not by way of eye-opening statistics, graphs, charts or sermons; but by way of a deeply personal journey of her own life as someone who has struggled long with Borderline Personality Disorder. Her alter ego aka Amrita Srivastava takes us on a ride through her childhood to adulthood and beyond, from being a part of a happy loving wealthy close-knit family as a child to shattering of that mirage with her parents' divorce, her era of teenage rebellion, extreme attention seeking behavior and lingering relationship issues well into her 20s and 30s. Her emotional extremes are triggered as a jolt by instances such as untimely death of her father who she was closest to, to feeling used and abused by her closest romantic relationship and thereafter a long spiral into the world of drugs. Her willpower to wade bravely through the lowest lows and take concrete step to get therapy lends an optimistic air to this personal saga of tragedy and sorrow. 

Personal Thoughts

1. The easiest job in this world is to point a finger at someone else. Feeling high and mighty while making someone else feel small and sad, we humans find it so easy and tempting to do. Just take a look at social media. Thousands have made a career out of 'trolling' and making memes! But what is the toughest job in this world? To point the same finger at oneself. To be emotionally naked and stand in front of the world, warts and all. The author does this marvelously in Borderline, which gains her massive respect from my side. The story flows seamlessly from one chapter of her life to another, filled with intriguing moments, much like an intense drama TV show and she gives a balanced view of all that happens, without making it sound like someone else's fault. That is not easy to achieve. If today I were to write a book about some of my childhood situations that molded my personality, I would be sorely tempted to place blame on someone else for all my shortcomings - 'This happened because xyz was mean to me'- but Shabri aka Amrita does not do this. This makes it easy for reader to look at every situation with an objective lens too

2. Author's honesty in accepting her shortcomings also makes it easier for us to look inside our own lives on all that we might think of as 'normal'. Her portrayal of being emotionally abused by the person she was romantically involved with or her description of turning into a stalker or going to any extreme to find validation for her very existence - these points might seem extreme but on thinking about it for a moment or two, I found that quite a lot of my normal friends (and sometimes I too) have indulged in some kind of emotional power game with each other. It is important to be self-critical in this way so that we may be better equipped to use the resources available to us for dealing with our shortcomings.

3. Borderline comes at an opportune moment. Claire Danes plays the main character of Homeland (one of my very favorite TV Shows) who suffers from bipolar disorder and the show is a gripping political action drama while sensitively portraying her mental health issues. Meanwhile, Deepika Padukone has made waves by openly talking about her struggle with depression and become a strong public face for the need to eliminate shame while talking about mental health issues. Borderline is a very brave step forward in the same direction. By taking mental health out of the shadows of hush-hush conversations dipped in a cloak of shame, it is an important reminder to society at large to be more sensitive and upgrade with changing times.

4. We live in a fast-paced world, with so much development in the field of technology, communications, healthcare, media and what not. But this is also the time when most of us are at our loneliest. The biggest message I got from Borderline is to keep an eye out for others. Brain is a complex organ, even scientists haven't been able to completely decipher all its secrets. We do not know for sure why some people are more prone to Depression or Parkinson or Alzheimer or Bipolar Disorder etc. But They Are! We All Are! And we need each other's help. In modern times of rapidly disintegrating familial relationships and intense materialism invading every part of our life, we have to take some time out to be kind, sensitive and considerate to each other as well as ourselves. In a rat race to be the 'best' and own the 'biggest, largest, most expensive' things, we might be losing a part of the very core that makes humanity beautiful. 

5.  It is harrowing to see Amrita, the protagonist, deal with the demons in her head, the loneliness and heartbreak she feels at every turn without being able to share them with anyone. It is an urgent reminder to all of us to be a part of the solution, not the problem. Our society places too less importance on anything related to mental health. So many times we will see someone sad and just say 'oh you have the blues, that is it, shake it off'. But what if it cannot be shaken off? We need robust resources, trained therapists, well-functioning and well-equipped institutions, strong support groups to altogether deal with this elephant in the room. The author was lucky to have met Dr. Sanjay Chugh and therapist Purnima who have helped her heal, but even this came after a horrible stint at an apathetic institution where every mental health issue was treated in the same way we have been trained to deal with it -say 'paagal hai' and give electric shocks!

6. Finally, even while dealing with the mammoth issue of mental health and heavy dose of tragedy, the author slips in little life lessons at every turn peppered with apt quotes, a few of which are:-

--'Permanency is a myth, change is the only constant'
--'To love oneself is the most important thing to do, otherwise all other love is hollow if you can't love you'
--'Remember there cannot be a rose without a thorn'

I also have a feeling that the author has immense intuitive skills or maybe her anxiety gives her this power to look beyond the obvious and reach the core of every situation. Throughout her life journey, she gets jittery before any bad event, be it her father's death or meltdown  after breakup with Hafeez. I have read many books where this kind of 6th sense is attributed to unexplained parts of our brain, be it premonition, precognition, deja vu or ESP. Maybe all those whom we categorize as 'mentally unusual or disturbed' also carry some heightened awareness that we haven't been able to understand or categorize. Maybe some day all the mysteries of brain will be unwrapped and we will look back at the days of calling everyone 'paagal' as a long-lost footnote in history!

As of now, I recommend Borderline as a Must-Read for everyone :)

Image Source - Bloomsbury 

Sunday 21 January 2018

Flavors Of Malvan Food Festival | Pondicherry Cafe Sofitel BKC Mumbai | Maharashtrian Konkan Malvani Food Review | Food Photography

My fourth visit to Pondicherry Cafe within 6 months and these guys are absolutely fantastic. This time, it is to review their Flavors of Malvan Food Festival. A special kudos to them for coming up with such exotic food festivals helping us acquaint with unique Indian regional cuisines. Moreover, I love that this festival is being curated by home-chefs Mrs. Prathishta and Mrs. Praja under the guidance of Chef de Cuisine Vividh Patil. This means authentic Malvani dishes, replete with home-made spices and family secret recipes, are being presented to discerning diners for lunch and dinner everyday till 28th Jan 2018 :)

Walk in on the ground floor of the luxurious Sofitel at BKC, enter the plush Pondicherry Cafe and take a moment to soak in the ambiance. Bright rich colors, beautiful view from the french windows, an array of food counters, and for the special occasion of Malvan Food Festival, very ethnic set-up to welcome us all. Think coastal Maharashrian region- coconut trees, fishing trawlers, fishing nets, traditional pots and pans, colorful saris, aroma of spices in the air. The home chefs have left no stone un-turned in ensuring that the best of Malvani cuisine is on display. Everything looks and feels down to earth, simple yet enchanting.

One would expect that the food would be mostly non-vegetarian but they also have many great vegetarian options. There is plenty of fresh fish, prawns, chicken and mutton to make every carnivore happy. The dishes are named in traditional way too. Even though I am a vegetarian, I did glance at the non-veg section and it looks properly inviting, so dig in :D

I loved all that I had in my veg section, mainly because I feel that the spices and gravies here actually enhanced the natural flavors of all the ingredients. So for e.g. if I had potatoes in spicy gravy, I did not just taste hot spices, I tasted potato made better with the use of shredded coconut and spices! Each dish is delightful and they are changing the menu a little bit everyday to include as diverse roster of Malvani dishes as possible.

For starters,we loved ARBI CHE VADE- Minced Colocasia (also known as Kacchu in Hindi) patties marinated in spices and baked, lip-smacking with accompanying pudina as well as peanut chutneys. Jars of homemade chutneys and pickles are delicious way to start this feast and every table also has TILKUT-a special dry sesame chutney, a Malvan specialty.

MASALA BHAAT was my personal favorite- such a simple dish, humble like a pulao but packs a flavorful punch thanks to some secret masala combination, honestly one of the best version I have tried ever. Made me want to loudly proclaim, 'they have their Biryani, we have our Masala Bhaat, Game ON!' :D

VALCHE BIRDE - Beans! This is simple beans! I never though beans could taste like this. Simple with just the perfect addition of spices to make it a standout. You would never look at beans the same way again, I know I won't :)

LAL MATH CHI BHAJI -When was the last time you had Amaranth leaves? Have it here! Looks like pinkish cousin of spinach and when mixed with onions, chillies and special spices, it is THE bomb to have with steamed rice/masala bhaat or plain Bhakri!

BHARLI VANGI - I am the last person to even go near an eggplant willingly. I would rather be friends with Voldemort. However, I must concede that the version they have here-brinjals stuffed with a spicy-coconuty gravy-is worth having and goes amazingly with fresh soft Bhakri. Why can't brinjal dishes everywhere taste like this :P

KALYA VATANCHI USAL - Maharashtra's answer to the famous Punjabi daal. Dense and delicious, steamed rice is perfect accompaniment to this one.

A great thing about this festival - none of the dishes mentioned here are too calorific! It tastes just like a home-cooked meal and I felt 0% guilty while indulging in these.

For those who want to stick to tried & tested/conventional fare, in Indian, Italian, Chinese, Thai sections, this buffet has plenty of options for them too. Pondicherry Cafe buffets are among the best in Mumbai because they literally have something for everyone. From among the vast choices, I would recommend-

PANEER LABABDAR (spicy accompaniment to normal naan/kulcha/tandoori roti),
Soft, Sweet-Sour-Spicy TOFU in Soya Ginger Sauce,
Delicious VEG DIMSUM (especially Edamame),

AND the whole dessert section deserves repeat visits, hands down one of the best dessert spreads in the city, alone making the price of buffet totally worth it, especially recommended are -

Chena Toast
Caramel Delight
Berry Jelly Pastry
Apple Crumble Slice
Old Fashioned Cake (Gooey and Chocolatey)
Not to forget LONDON DAIRY ICE-CREAMS! Especially love Double Chocolate and Mango Sorbet.

Very value for money looking at the quality of the buffet, the excellent service from beginning to end, very polite and helpful staff and our delicious experience here. Malvani Food Festival is a must-visit whether you are craving for some tried-and-tested Malvani delights or just starting to dip into this delicious regional cuisine for the first time :)

Monday 15 January 2018

Freshmenu Lava Cake In A Jar | Royal Chocolate Dessert | Food Review | Favorite Recommendation

So Freshmenu has a plethora of dishes-salads, pizzas, pasta, meals and desserts in the menu, I have only ever tasted their dessert Lava Cake in a Jar and it is fantastic. My sister was in office and wanted a dessert at around 3 PM one afternoon about 6 months ago, so I ordered 2 jars of Lava Cake in a jar. Not only did she gobble them both down like a hungry wolf (and she does not even have a sweet tooth!), since then we have been reordering this particular dessert at least once every week to indulge in.

Imagine a sea of molten chocolate of the darkest variety, add some soft spongy lava cake bits in there, garnish with loads of nuts and dry fruits crumble, the resulting melody is what these guys serve in a little jar. It is impossible to share it with anyone :D

I like Freshmenu's website, the variety of dishes in there, some of them even come with the quantity of calories clearly specified! Ordering on their website is always a breeze and they often have discounts/offers running on so it is not very heavy on pocket either,plus it is delivered within 45 minutes every single time and whether we order 2 jars or 4 jars, they do not have any issues of 'oh you have to order this much worth'. I am just itching to try some other dishes from them. Soon, very very soon :D

Friday 12 January 2018

Levantine Bandra Mumbai | Chocolates & Middle Eastern Delicacies | Luxury Gourmet Food Review

Sister got a gift of a box of Apricot covered with dark chocolates from a friend and we loved it. Packaging was beautiful, very stylish and chic. Decadent layer of gourmet dark chocolate made the chocoholic in me dance with joy. Would love to check out their offerings in near future :)

Wednesday 10 January 2018

Macchiato R City Ghatkopar West | Hearty Continental Italian Mexican Vegetarian Meal | Food Review

Tucked away in a little isolat-ish corner of R City mall, Macchiato is actually surprisingly good when it comes to food! Upon entering, it seemed like a low key place with little rustic, little metallic and basic decor. There is an outdoor seating too but I am more of an indoor seating person, it is good to be outdoors when weather is nice so check it out. 

Staff is efficient, service is fast, there is a LCD screen playing sports, good pop and rock songs in the air, basically quite relaxed vibe. Good place to chill with friends. Menu has great options for everyone, from salads and soups to pizzas. Portions are huge and I think every dish can be easily shared among two light eaters.

We tried their fixed meal option at just around Rs. 700 and it was completely worth it, with a soup, appetizer, pizza/main course, this is more than enough for a hulk like me to burst to seams. If you are a light eater like my sister, you will not be able to finish this one alone! We had-

Minestrone Soup with vegetables, beans-this was less spicier than expected,I liked it; 
Green Velvet Soup with green peas and herbs- Liked this one even better,wholesome; 
Grilled Cottage Cheese with Chimichurri dip-Very soft cottage cheese, melt-in-mouth; 
Roasted Baby Potatoes in BBQ sauce-MUST-HAVE, how can potatoes taste so good :D; 
Roasted Cottage Cheese Pizza with Garlic and Cheese + Onions-AMAZING, smokey flavor, made us happy, we ordered an extra one to take home; 
Herb Crusted Cottage Cheese with Pepper Sauce and Herbed Butter Rice- Really good and a bumper portion dish, fragrant rice, crunchy veggies, soft cottage cheese, strong pepper sauce, all together made it really flavorful :)

Will definitely be back soon. 

Sunday 7 January 2018

Taftoon Bar & Kitchen BKC | Grand Trunk Road Feast | Food Review | Restaurant Review

Taftoon means Roti in Persian but Taftoon at BKC serves so much more than just different types of Roti. Food spanning from Bengal to Kabul. Sounds a mammoth task. Bringing alive a food culture which includes mustard in fish dish as much as saffron in tandoori roti is not easy. But folks at Taftoon have done a tremendous job in creating a menu that celebrates choicest dishes from Bengal, Bihar, UP, Punjab, Haryana, Kashmir, Kabul as altogether these places make up some landmarks on the legendary Grand Trunk Route.

Ambiance is warm, golden colored, lively and has casual elegance. Smartly dressed staff is extremely polite and proactive in taking feedback for the dishes. Service is pleasant. Menu is vaaaaaast and requires at least 10 minutes of intense deliberation to zero down on what to order. Thankfully, we were given sampler portions for our review session which helped us try multiple dishes without torturing our stomach. Food is so delicious that prices are absolutely value for money as each dish is as authentic as it gets for the region specified in the menu.

Started off with outstanding appetizers-
SHATAWARI AUR KALARI - Grilled Kashmiri Kalari Cheese, Asparagus and mixed,shaved nuts -simple, crunchy, wholesome, this is Rigveda inspired!

TAFTOON WITH HARISSA GUCCHI AUR MUSHROOM- Cocktail Taftoon topped with Mushroom paste that was minced on stone, spiced with cardamom and saffron and slathered with truffle oil. It looks, smells and tastes exactly how one would expect meat mince to be! Hardcore vegetarians won't like it nor would those who hate truffle oil since its strong flavor overpowers everything else. I liked it, I love mushrooms anyway.

SOYA KI CHAAP - Soya Fillets marinated in yogurt, garlic tandoori masala, just like the previous mushroom harissa dish, this one is also very reminiscent of looking and feeling like a piece of chicken/meat. Hardcore vegetarians won't like it, good for non-veggies who want meat substitutes. Would also gain from having a bit more tandoori masala seeped in :)

MOCCHAR CUTLET - MUST HAVE, especially if you want to navigate through authentic Bengali cuisine or already love Bengali food. Hearty cutlets stuffed with banana flowers, this one is typically found during Durga Pujo festivities, absolutely smashing with the accompanying Kashundi mustard. Strong flavors. ♥♥♥

DAHI BHUTTEYAN DE KEBAB- Another MUST HAVE, unbelievably soft and scrumptious mix of hung yogurt and corn kernels shaped into a kebab, mildly spicy, do not miss on these.

CHATPATEY PANEER TIKKE - Fresh green herbs slathered all over juicy, soft paneer chunks, self explanatory, party in mouth flavors, spicy and tangy :)

MALAI BROCCOLI AUR GOBI - For those who complain of how boring broccoli is, try THIS! Delicate creamy yogurt marinade completely change the flavors here, Broccoli and Cauliflower never tasted this goooooooood :D

CHUKANDAR E SHAMMI - This one is from my grandparents' hometown-BENARES :D And if you can have just one dish here, HAVE THIS! It is impossible to believe how silky these Beetroots-Bengal Gram-Yogurt-Cheese Kebabs are. I can have these for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the rest of my life ♥♥♥

For main course, we were delighted with-
BHARWAN KADHAI - Brought back memories of childhood, my nani used to make these in winters! Whole brinjals, okra, tomatoes (stuffed with paneer) in tangy + spicy tomato-onion based thick,rich gravy.

LAL ROGANI PANEER - Vegetarian Paneer version of the famous Rogan Josh (non veg) dish in tomato-yogurt gravy, soft generous paneer chunks and stunning flavor provided by rantajyot flavored oil, could not stop eating this one.

MAA CHOLIYA DAAL - Buttery, rich, the famous Punjabi Kaali daal we have had at our Punjabi friends' houses so many times, this one is ultimate comfort food. Can drink gallons of this one :) ♥♥♥

Went perfectly well with all the different types of breads here, literally each one was superlative-

ZAFFRANI TAFTOON - Saffron and Cardamom
BAQUEARKHANI -Kashmiri specialty with poppy seeds on top
LAL NAAN - Worthy bestseller, this one is crispy, fluffy, layered, a bit sweet,very mild hint of red chillies and crunchy, MUST-HAVE,
RAMPURI PARATHA - Cashews enclosed in the dough, makes it a bit sweet too but different from lal naan, more wholesome :)
KHAMIRI ROTI - Fermented sour dough, I love this one particularly, little rolls of happiness

Special word for the magnificence of LITTI CHOKHA here! This specialty from Bihar as served here comes closest to the real deal we have ever had outside Bihar! They make Sattu from Besan in-house, the Litti (wheat circles stuffed with sattu and baked), served alongside Mashed Potato-Onion (Chokha) and smokey Brinjal..seriously, if you haven't had this dish anywhere yet, just have it here. You will thank me :) ♥♥♥

In beverages, special mention to DATES & PINEAPPLE mocktail as well as ultra refreshing HIBISCUS ICED TEA!

Not to forget, the special KASHMIRI KAHWA TEA provided at the beginning of every meal (loaded with saffron,spices,dry fruits) and Paan flavored as well as Jaljeera flavored PETHA provided at the end of every meal. Superlative!

And for the grand finale, for dessert round, we had CHENNA PLATTER- an assortment of most delicious Bengali Chenna Mithais in mini form, including gulab jamun, kheer kodom, pedha, rasmalai.. I would have 4 of this platter alone if I had not already hulked out on a feast meant for an entire army :D ♥♥♥

My family is definitely going to make multiple repeat rounds here in very near future, this place and the experience of eating here is for keeps :)