Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Fun in the sun in Goa

Ducking my head into the sea to get rid of three-week-old cold and bronchitis, digging into a Rs 1200-smoked kingfish at Aggie's shack at little Calangute beach, sipping glasses of port wine, bargaining with a charming Kannada woman named Sunita over the price of a swimsuit and a pair of white harem pants, tucking into a seafood platter at Britto's at Baga beach, spooning off the remnants of some delicious prawn balchao and then washing them down with sangria at SinQ, swaying to Bollywood music on the dance floor till 4 am (partially induced by tequila), 120-km bike rides through paddy fields and coconut groves from Calangute to Majorda and back, watching children getting their faces painted at hubby's school reunion event, doing the Dil Chahta Hai-style photoshoot at Vagator Fort, washing down some really spicy Goan sausages with a red wine spritzer at Mango Tree on the Vagator Beach Road and conversations with friends at the restaurant and rooms of Little Italy Hotel – this trip to Goa is indeed memorable. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A lip-smacking literary treat!

Book: Aftertaste
Author: Namita Devidayal
Publisher: Random House India
Pages: 310
Price: Rs 199

In her book, Aftertaste, Namita Devidayal serves up a delicious slice of the life of a Marwari family in the Bombay of 1984 (hence the use of Bombay instead of Mumbai). Holding the family together is Mummyji, the matriarch Bimla Kulbhushan Todarmal, who grew from a good housewife into the role of a shrewd businesswoman after she served her 'maddeningly delicious melt-in-your-mouth khoya barfi' to a bank manager from Lahore and saved her family from complete financial collapse. It paved the way for a sweetshop at Kalbadevi, aptly named Bimmo di Barfi, which gradually became a fine chain of confectioners called Bimz. As Mummyji's brand grows so does her hunger for money and control over all things, especially her four children. But when she lies comatose in a hospital, each one of them – the weak, ineffectual Rajan Papa, who desperately needs her cash, Sunny, the dynamic head of the business with an ugly marriage and a demanding mistress, Suman, the spoilt beauty who is determined to get hold of her best jewels and Saroj, the unlucky one who has lived in her shadow – wants her to die. A tale of business and politics, generation gaps and identity crises, love and loneliness, commitment and betrayal, Aftertaste, has everything to grab your attention. If you love Bollywood-style drama, say, "Haanji," to this one.  

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The making of the Rajah of Retail

It Happened in IndiaBook: It Happened in India - The story of Pantaloons, Big Bazaar, Central and the great Indian consumer
Author: Kishore Biyani with Dipayan Baishya
Publisher: Rupa Publications India
Pages: 268
Price: Rs 195

Indians like to shop. You want everything under one roof. You wish to be entertained. You love to drive a hard bargain and are satisfied only when you walk off with some freebies. It doesn't matter if you are a housewife buying vegetables from a local vendor or a rich socialite from south Mumbai who holidays in France. A Marwari businessman from south Mumbai has managed to tap into this psyche and created brands that every urban Indian can identify with — Pantaloons, Big Bazaar and Central.  

Kishore Biyani may be now known as the "Rajah of Retail" but he started his career selling stonewash jeans to small shops in Mumbai. At a time when business in India was still dominated by century-old enterprises, he sniffed around for latent opportunities in the booming Indian consumer market, post the liberalisation of the economy in 1991, and transformed the retailing business in India with a 'bania company' that even hardcore punters at Dalal Street had been afraid to touch. Biyani dabbled into trading, filmmaking (he was the producer of the Hrithik Roshan-Esha Deol starrer Na Tum Jaano Na Hum), organised the Navratri dance festivals before turning into an innovative retailer. 

His autobiography It Happened in India takes you through Biyani's journey from the time he first opened a Pantaloons' store at Gariahat, Kolkata in 1997 to a decade later when 50 lakh people spent Rs 125 crore in 43 Big Bazaars across the country during a three-day shopping fest in January. You read about his growth, his ability to tackle failures and move on and his vision for the future of retail in India.

"Every organisation needs a Brahma, a Vishnu and a Shiva — a creator, a preserver and a destroyer. For an organisation to grow and keep pace with the changing reality, it needs these tensions simultaneously. What happens with many organisations is that after they attain a certain  size, the preservers take over and stagnation sets in. I consider myself to be a creator and destroyer first. I never really had much of a 'preserver' instinct in me," Biyani writes, summing up his need to create a successful brand and then move onto to something else. It's this instinct that has helped him look beyond textiles into retail, real estate,  insurance, knowledge services and design houses. 

The book is packed with testimonials from people who are involved with the Future Group's brands such as Pantaloons, Big Bazaar and Central as individual investors in the company, consultants, board members, designers, advertisers and Biyani's family members. You learn how Biyani invests in relationships to help his company grow. He writes, "I think the emphasis on building and nurturing relationships is a very Indian way of doing business. Unlike in the west, our society is based on values like humility and sharing. We are good at building relationships; it is something that comes naturally to us. But building and nurturing relationships is a hard-edged business driver that helps us operate our business with speed."

Mixing anecdotes, experiences, business ideals and corporate talk, It Happened in India gives you an insight into the way Indians think, react, purchase and do business and how Biyani keeps thinking of new ways of extracting another rupee from his/her customer's wallet. Foreign players, who are looking to enter India's retail space, may have to take a leaf out of this book if they want to be successful here.  

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Matla Undhiyu and Matla Chicken

It's strange that I should start a new year with a post on food instead of a what-I-should-not-be-eating-this-year write-up on resolutions but I simply couldn't resist. I had two unusual gastronomic experiences this weekend, both very Gujarati. 

Pots of matla undhiyu at a farm on the outskirts of Vadodara

One came in the form of a matla undhiyu party at a farmhouse on the outskirts of Vadodara. Now, unlike Mumbai and other big cities in India, in Vadodara you get different vegetables each season. So winter's the time when you get broad beans or papdi, small brinjals (eggplants) and sweet potatoes. Throw them all in into a matla (matka) or clay pot, along with some potatoes, and slow cook them on fire made from burning farm waste. The smoked veggies (yummy!) are then put together in small baskets/thalis. You shell the papdi, much like peas, and mash them together with the other veggies (you have to skin the potatoes and sweet potatoes). Then add a little bit of oil, lots of green garlic chutney (again a winter specialty) and sev and mix well. It tastes divine. I've never liked the traditional oily undhiyu because the masalas are overbearing, but I simply can't get enough of this version. So the next time you're in Gujarat sometime between November and January, ensure that you get invited to a matla undhiyu party at a farm. 

My second experience was something I had been waiting for. In a largely vegetarian state, non-veg fare tends to be limited to just some varieties of Mughlai or Punjabi style chicken or fish. But the state boasts of two great gifts to the non-veg cuisine — patrani machhi and matla chicken. Patrani machhi — marinated fish wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed — is a Parsi delicacy and has found fans far and wide. But matla chicken, even my husband who had studied at Vidyanagar near Anand for four years, hadn't heard of this delicacy that Nadiad boasts of! I came to know of it only when I watched Rocky Singh digging into a matka for some flesh and bones in an episode of Highway on My Plate on NDTV Good Times. He kept mentioning how good the matla chicken in Charotar (the Anand-Nadiad region) is. I was surprised because this Patel belt comprises a people so staunchly vegetarian that they do not even touch onions and garlic! Though I did not get an opportunity to go to Nadiad to savour this delicacy, I managed to find it at Tawa's in Vadodara. Since the chicken in the matla was wrapped in foil, I had to literally 'corkscrew' it out of the pot. The traditional way to eat the chicken is to lay it out on a plate and people just dig into it with their bare hands — much like they do at Arab feasts. The chicken is heavily flavoured with garlic (sometimes, three whole garlic bulbs are used for a single chicken) and marinated with spices such as chilli, turmeric and coriander powder. Again, like matla undhiyu, the matla chicken is also slow cooked on fire made out of farm waste/wood. It's so tender that it almost melts in your mouth. I would have liked it a little spicier, so I guess I will have to make that trip to Nadiad some time in the near future.