27 December 2007

Sabarimala pilgrimage

Passing by various temples in Chennai last week, I often saw men dressed in black lungis emerging carrying bundles on their heads. These men are embarking on the Sabarimala pilgrimage to the Ayappa temple in Kerala.

December is the pilgrimage season in South India. The Sabarimala pilgrimage to the Ayappa temple in a hilly region of the state of Kerala bordering Tamil Nadu, is one of the most popular. It receives millions of visitors every year and is reported to be the world’s second largest annual pilgrimage site after the Hajj in Mecca.

The Sabarimala pilgrimage is reserved for men only because women are not allowed to visit the shrine of Ayappa, described as a ‘celibate hermit’. Before starting the journey, pilgrims go through a 41-day ‘austerity’ period during which they must eat only vegetarian food, avoid alcohol and tobacco, abstain from sex, wear a black lungi and beads around the neck, not shave or cut their hair or fingernails, walk barefoot, sleep on the floor without a pillow, and abstain from physical and verbal violence.

Before starting the pilgrimage, the pilgrims seek their blessings from a local temple. Each carries on his head a blanket and a cloth bundle containing traditional offerings like a coconut, ghee (clarified butter) and betel leaves. They make the long journey in groups, travelling in mini-buses. The last four kilometres are made on foot up a steep hill through forests, before reaching the 18 holy steps which lead to the shrine of Lord Ayappa. Here the devotees break a coconut before climbing the holy steps to receive darshan from the god.

A few years ago I took these pictures at the Kapleeswarar temple in Mylapore, Chennai of pilgrims preparing to leave for the Sabarimala pilgrimage.

25 December 2007

Merry Christmas!


Friends have asked me if Christmas is celebrated in India. Christians make up 2.3% of the population. So that means 24 million people in India are celebrating Christmas today, which is a national holiday. You can tell who is celebrating Christmas by the big, colourful star lanterns made out of paper which are hung outside Christian homes and shops. At night these are lit, adding colours and lights to the neighbourhood.

19 December 2007

Rainy days in Chennai

Dazzling NIGHT: Pedestrians and motorists were pleasantly surprised when it rained on Monday evening. Though a short spell, it left the residents pleased and provided a soothing finish to the unusually breezy day. A scene on Poonamallee High Road in Chennai on Monday. PHOTO: K. PICHUMANI © Copyright 2000 - 2007 The Hindu

As the above caption from yesterday's The Hindu newspaper reveals, rain is considered to be a blessing from the skies. At least that's how it was welcomed on Monday evening... but since then it's been pouring rain!

Yesterday morning as I was waiting for the rain to let up, the building's security guard warned me that "full rain will come today, Madam." "News," he added with a knowing bob of his head, revealing the source of the day's weather forecast. The rain continued all night, and this morning it's been raining sporadically.

These showers have been brought on by the 'north-east monsoon' which usually affects this part of India towards the end of the year. The rains affect many aspects of daily life. Schools have been closed today. Traffic jams are common and big puddles make walking on the street difficult. Auto-rickshaw drivers increase their fares by 100%. The paper also revealed that the wholesale price of vegetables has dipped due to delay in the arrival of goods from other states.

Audience numbers are also bound to be affected now that the music season is in full swing. But for some music and dance lovers, the rain is not enough to keep them away!

17 December 2007

Photo essay: Kalakshetra

Kalakshetra is a famous dance and music school located on a leafy campus in the south of Chennai. Meaning ‘temple of arts’, Kalakshetra was founded in 1936 and has become a renowned school for Carnatic music and Bharata Natyam, the Indian classical dance from Tamil Nadu.

(I apologize for the poor quality of these photos – they were taken five years ago with my first digital camera which I was trying to figure out!)

15 December 2007

A calm oasis

One of my favourite haunts while in Chennai is Amethyst. This 100-year-old colonial mansion set in a leafy garden is a green, peaceful oasis of calm in this big, dusty and noisy city.

The lounge, veranda and gardens have been transformed into a café and restaurant where you can sit among potted palms with a good book, a good friend, or your laptop, as there’s free wifi (something which is still rare in India). They have yummy homemade cakes, which are also difficult to find.

On the ground floor there’s a boutique with (pricey) indo-western designer wear and jewellery. There’s also a flower shop selling exotic plants.

Service is a little patchy. There are plenty of waiters but somehow they don’t see you, or forget they’ve taken your order. All the reason to stay a little while longer.

Mosquitoes are regular visitors, day and night, so repellent is a must!

Despite the unreliable waiters, the pricey menu and biting insects, I’m a daily visitor while in Chennai. I just wish there was something similar in Bangalore. Or maybe not – it makes a trip to Chennai a little extra special.

See for yourself:

Amethyst is located at:

Sundar Mahal
Padmavathi Road, Jeypore Colony

Gopalapuram, Chennai

Phone: 2820 3582

Open every day from 10am to 10pm.

13 December 2007

The waiting game

A few weeks after we arrived in Bangalore almost a year ago, a friend asked me ‘what I did all day’. My answer was that I spent my time waiting… waiting for the gas delivery man, waiting for the telephone company, waiting for the cable company, waiting for the plumber...

I’m staying with my friend Raji and her husband in Chennai for the next two weeks. They had some work done recently in their apartment and were expecting the carpenter to come and finish a job. The day before yesterday he was due at 3pm. By 5pm he still hadn’t arrived so they phoned him on his mobile (who doesn’t have a mobile these days?). He promised to ‘definitely’ come the next morning. I laughed because I remembered all the times I got ‘definitely’ as a promise, only to be kept waiting all day.

By noon the next day there was still no sign of the carpenter. Raji phoned him again and he said he was ‘on the way’ and would be there ‘in a few minutes’. He arrived two hours later.

This is what they call ‘Indian Standard Time’: 3pm could mean 6pm or tomorrow morning or the next day – you just never know!

08 December 2007

On the road in Bangalore

Bangalore is India’s fifth largest city and the fastest growing. The city’s infrastructure is struggling to keep pace with this growth. One of the city’s problems (though this is problem for all Indian cities) is traffic congestion. There are 3 million vehicles on Bangalore’s roads but the transportation infrastructure only has the capacity to accommodate 800,000 at present.

Most people get around on scooters or motorcycles (referred to as ‘two-wheelers’ here). There are 2.1 million two-wheelers plying the roads. This is an economical mode of transport and a convenient way of weaving out of traffic jams, but perhaps not the safest way to get around. By contrast there are 476,000 cars. This is a mode of transport reserved only for those who can afford to buy a car. Many people prefer to have someone else negotiate the impossible traffic so they have a personal driver whose job it is to take them from A to B.

Those who don’t have a vehicle have to rely on city taxis, auto rickshaws or the public transportation system. Bangalore doesn’t have the black and yellow taxis common in cities like Bombay or Calcutta that you can hail in the street. If you want to use a taxi service, you have to phone them first and they will come to pick you up at the appointed time and place. Most of these taxis are white Maruti Suzuki Omni minivans or white Tata Indicab cars. Cheaper than taxis are the 94,440 auto rickshaws that ply Bangalore's roads. Drivers must wear a beige uniform, display their permit and use the meter which makes taking an auto rickshaw easier than in other Indian cities where you have to haggle long and hard to get a reasonable fare. There are 5 million commuters who travel by bus every day. Buses are overcrowded during peak times and it's common to see people precariously hanging out of the doorways. Work has begun this year on a metro line which will ease stress on the public transportation system and hopefully alleviate traffic congestion, but Bangaloreans have to wait a few more years to be able to benefit. Another common mode of traffic is the good old bicycle which usually carries at least two and sometimes three passengers!

When it comes to traffic accidents, Bangalore is the third-most dangerous city in India. Every day the paper gives a round-up of traffic accidents. I’ve included a few examples from Tuesday’s paper below:

Four persons were killed in road accidents reported in the city on Saturday. Suraj (24), an employee of ITPL, was killed when he was run over by a water tanker on Saturday. The incident occurred when Suraj, a resident of Dwarakanagar, was walking near Chikabanawara. Suraj died on the spot. The Peenya Traffic police have registered a case.

A Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) bus ran over two persons near Kadumane Hotel, in the Bidadi Police Station limits on Saturday. The police gave the names of the victims as Rajesh Chowdry (30) and Rakesh (25). They said that the two were heading on a motorcycle to their houses in Bidadi after finishing night shift at a factory nearby when the bus, coming from Mysore, ran over them, killing them on the spot. A case has been registered.

In another accident in the early hours of Sunday, a person died on the spot after a car hit him at Kodigehalli, near Sanjeevaninagar, in the Hebbal Traffic Police Station limits. The victim has been identified as Nagaraj (36), a tea shop owner. The police said that the incident occurred when Nagaraj went to open his tea shop at around 5.30 a.m. and accidentally stepped on a dog that was sleeping near the shop’s entrance. He ran when the dog started chasing him and came right in front of the car, which hit him. He was killed on the spot. A case has been registered.
(The Hindu, Tuesday, 4 December 2007)

This year so far there have been 7079 traffic accidents and 808 deaths due to these accidents registered with the city traffic police. Last year these figures were 7561 and 915 respectively. Inadequate infrastructure and overcrowded roads are put to blame as well as the poor maintenance of roads, a shortage of traffic policemen, reckless driving, disregard for traffic rules and inadequate emergency services. Driving at night is especially dangerous because of poor lighting in some areas, traffic lights which are ‘switched off’ during the night, and some bad habits on the part of motorists, like not turning on headlights (in the case of some two-wheelers and auto rickshaws) and using high beams (in the case of many car drivers).

The monsoon season also takes its toll on Bangalore’s roads. Huge potholes appear virtually out of nowhere, seriously hampering traffic as vehicles are forced to slow down to avoid them. There are so many potential hazards to be on the look out for – potholes, pedestrians, bicycles, cows, hazardous drivers – that it’s seldom necessary to switch to a gear higher than third gear! Now that the weather has become drier and the monsoon rains have ceased, the roads’ potholes have been patched up. There are other measures that are being taken to reduce traffic congestion and improve the circulation of vehicles like the construction of fly-overs and separators, the widening of roads and the introduction of one-way systems but still somehow traffic does not seem to ease up.

06 December 2007

Pink winter

Pleasing: The exotic ‘Tabebuia impetiginosa’ heralds the winter with splashes of pink, as it blooms across Bangalore city. Photo: K. Murali Kumar © Copyright 2000 - 2007 The Hindu

In summer, Bangalore is painted red. In winter, it's pink!

Despite it's rapid growth and development, Bangalore remains a green city. I love the huge, mammoth trees which line the streets. What's magical about them is that most of them flower. Each season brings a new colourful surprise.

When I got back after being away for three weeks, I discovered that the city has been painted a brilliant pink! I learned from the paper that this magical tree is called Tabebuia Impetiginosa. There's one on my street.

I've collected some of the flowers to float in my urli.

30 November 2007

Winter is here!?

Warm winter sweaters for sale on Thippasandra Main Road.

“It’s official folks, winter is here,” announced yesterday’s paper. I read this while I was sitting in a sunny corner on the terrace in short sleeves and bare feet. I had to laugh. I had just spent three shivering cold weeks in Belgium and had brought back a miserable cold as a souvenir. The day was feeling especially summery to me. By my standards anyway. But having grown up in Canada, my standards are obviously not South Indian standards. Not when it comes to defining winter anyway. For me winter is snow, hats and scarves, hot chocolate, hot water bottles and wind-chill factors. If it really were winter, I wouldn’t be sitting out on the terrace in short sleeves.

I read on to learn that a minimum temperature of 12.7°C had been recorded in Bangalore this month (against a maximum of 25 to 29°C) – which was dangerously close to the record of 12.2°C recorded in November 1991. Reading on, there was worse news: temperatures are expected to dip further!

In order to try to help readers avoid the impending calamity of such low temperatures, some helpful advice was offered:

Avoid venturing out early mornings and late evenings.
Always cover your ears; keep yourself warm.
Consume freshly prepared food and boiled water.
Make it a habit to gargle twice a day.
Use medicated soap for better skin care.
Use lip balm, vaseline and moisturiser at frequent intervals.

During the day, it’s hot enough to get sunburned, but at night the temperature does take a dip of at least 10 degrees so it can feel a little ‘chilly’ at times. Of course India’s many entrepreneurs have seized the opportunity offered by the falling mercury to make a fast buck or two. Sidewalks are lined with vendors selling heavy jackets and sweaters, blankets, woollen hats and a head covering I’ve only seen in India: a strip of woven cloth which goes on the head and down the sides of the face over the ears and tied under the chin. A variation of earmuffs?

27 November 2007

Covered in gold

Coming across this ad for wedding jewellery, I remembered my friend Sai telling me how her mother-in-law had a fit when she left the house one day without her thaali, the traditional necklace worn by married women, also called mangalasutra. An Indian woman is expected to always wear this piece of jewellery which is a sign of her married status, much like a wedding ring in other countries. My friend explained that she only wears her thaali when she is outside the house because she is expected to, but at home she takes it off. She doesn’t feel she needs to show her devotion to her husband through a piece of jewellery which is frivolous compared to the bond that unites them (hers is a ‘love marriage’ in case you’re wondering). In a moment of distraction she left the house without it one day. Her mother-in-law was in tears, accusing her of not respecting her son.

For an Indian woman, jewellery is an important possession to have, not only as a fashion accessory but more importantly as a symbol of marital and also social status. The jewellery a new bride receives at her wedding (worth many hundreds of thousands of rupees) is also an investment which can be used as a type of ‘insurance’ if she ever finds herself in a difficult financial situation. Not surprisingly, India is the largest consumer of gold in the world.

Indian couples literally ‘tie the knot’ when the groom ties the mangalasutra around his bride’s neck during the wedding ceremony. You can also tell a woman is married by the tikka on her forehead or line of red sindoor in the part of her hair and toe rings (which are worn only by married women) on the second toes of both feet.

17 November 2007

Calcutta Coffee House

In the midst of popular and ever-growing coffee chains like Barista and Café Coffee Day, there are still some veritable Indian institutions which have stood the test of time. One of these is the Calcutta Coffee House. Located close to Calcutta University just off College Street and the bustle of its booksellers, this meeting place for students, writers and intellectuals has been around since 1942.

An unassuming sign above a doorway leads to a rickety staircase which climbs to another time and place filled with clouds of cigarette smoke, wooden colonial-style tables and chairs, ceiling fans suspended from ropes, waiters dressed in white uniforms and tall turbans, and walls of peeling paint.

Many of India’s great thinkers and artists have sat at these tables and sipped coffee while discussing art and politics under the gentle breeze of the ceiling fans. Some of the regulars included Nobel prize winners like writer and poet Rabindranath Tagore and economist Amartya Sen. This was also the hang-out of freedom-fighter Subhash Chandra Bose, filmaker Satyajit Ray, actor Aparna Sen and singer Manna Dey, amongst other famous Bengali personalities.

The simple décor doesn’t seem to have changed much since 1942. There has been resistance to plans to renovate and redecorate this historical café which has fortunately preserved its old-world atmosphere.

08 November 2007

Deepavali the festival of lights

Here I am sitting in Café Belga while all of India celebrates Deepavali (Divali in the North), the festival of lights. Deepavali is one of the most important Hindu holidays. Homes are decorated with flowers, lamps and kolams, fireworks are set off to celebrate the victory of good over evil, and gifts and sweets are distributed to family and friends. Hopefully I can witness the celebrations next year.

I'll be back in Bangalore in two weeks time so blogging will be a little slow in the meantime!

30 October 2007

Home delivery

One of the first sounds I hear in the morning is the milk delivery boy who arrives on his bicycle ringing his bell. In India, everything comes to your door. If you wanted to, you could get everything you need without leaving the comfort of your own home! Throughout the day there's a steady stream of vendors walking by with their pushcarts selling a variety of goods and yelling out whatever it is they have for sale. Vegetables, flowers and plants, fruit, fish, rice and other grains, and household items like pots, blankets, rugs, dusters, straw mats, bangles... everything is for sale right outside the door! The lady across the street doesn't even bother to go to her door - she yells what she wants to the vendor from her balcony and then has her maid carry everything inside.

Most shops can also arrange for home delivery. It just takes a call to the grocery store or the pharmacy and someone will deliver whatever you need to your home. No need to go to the bank to open an account or apply for a credit card - a bank employee will come to your home or office to do the paperwork. Many utility and other service companies also offer the same service.

Though supermarket chains are popping up all over the city, it's hard to beat the convenience of the walking vendors who bring everything right to your doorstep!

22 October 2007

Ayudha puja

While having my tea on the terrace on Saturday morning, I watched while my neighbour carefully decorated his car with stalks of banana leaves and colourful garlands of flowers. I thought maybe he was going to be part of a wedding party that day. Later, driving through the city, I couldn’t help but notice that almost every vehicle on the road – car, motorcycle, moped, bicycle, auto-rickshaw – and even the city buses were decorated with flower garlands, banana leaves and streaks of red and yellow vermilion. All these flowers and foliage gave the roads a colourful parade-like atmosphere.

There’s always something to celebrate or commemorate in India. The past ten days were the festival of Dasara, an important Hindu holiday which is celebrated as Navratri in the north, while for Bengalis this is the feast of Durga puja. In Karnataka, Ayudha puja is performed on the 9th day of Dasara. On this day, tools and machines – including computers and cars – are blessed and worshipped by offering prayers and then carefully cleaning and decorating these objects with flowers and vermilion. Shopkeepers decorate their shops, drivers adorn their vehicles, tailors do the same to their sewing machines – and yes, office workers decorate their computers with flower garlands! This is a gesture of appreciation for the tools and machines used in daily life which often also contribute to a livelihood. Prayers are offered for continuing success in coming years. It’s also auspicious to start a new business or buy new household items on this day.

Once I learned it was Ayudha puja, I understood that my neighbour was not attending a wedding that day, but instead offering his humble prayers and flower garlands to his beloved Ford Ikon!

16 October 2007

Chennai's December Season

Above: Bharata Natyam dancer Urmila Sathyanarayanan performing during the 2002 Chennai December Season

(If you've come to this page looking for information on the 2010-2011 Chennai December Season, click here.)

It's only October but I'm already looking forward to going to Chennai (formerly Madras) this December for the annual festival of Carnatic (South Indian) music and dance, which has come to be known as the ‘December Season’. Chennai is an important cultural centre with over 60 sabhas, or cultural organizations. Each stage their own programme every December featuring all the big names in Carnatic music and South Indian classical dance, as well as young upcoming artists. Most concerts and performances take place during the second half of December, but many already start around mid-November and run up to the middle of January. This time of year corresponds to the Tamil month of Margazhi, a time dedicated to spiritual activities and bhakti or devotion, which is traditionally expressed through classical music and dance, which are considered to be forms of worship. This is also the time of year when the weather is at its mildest, driest, and most pleasant, ideal for attending concerts and dance performances.

The vast majority of concerts are by Carnatic vocalists, accompanied by South Indian instruments such as the violin, mridangam (a double-sided drum), ghatam (an earthenware pot used as a percussion instrument), flute, and veena (a stringed instrument). But there are also many concerts featuring musicians of other ‘non-traditional’ instruments such as the saxophone, mandolin, guitar and keyboard played in the Carnatic style. Most of the dance performances feature Bharata Natyam, the classical dance of Tamil Nadu, but other Indian classical dance forms, such as Mohiniattam, Kuchipudi and Odissi are also showcased.

The festival has its origins with the All-India music conference which took place in December 1927, organized by the Indian National Congress Party. At this time, the now famous Madras Music Academy was founded, and a music festival was subsequently held every December. Since then, more and more musical organizations have hosted their own festivals, in parallel to that of the Music Academy.

To perform during the music season in Chennai is considered to be a great privilege for artists as it has become the biggest and most important festival of South Indian music and dance in India - and the world, featuring over 2000 performances by hundreds of artists at over 60 venues, with performances running from morning to evening.

Some of the sabhas have already published their schedules. I've decided to post the links here for any dance or music lovers who happen to come to this page looking for details of when their favourite artists will perform during the Season. This page will be updated as new schedules come out. See you in Chennai this December!

Chennai December Season 2007-2008 schedules:

Kartik Fine Arts (1 December 2007 - 1 January 2008)

Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (1 - 14 December 2007)

Brahma Gana Sabha (4 December 2007 - 17 January 2008)

Sri Krishna Gana Sabha (5 December 2007 - 17 January 2008)

Meenakshi Sundararajan Arts Academy (5 - 21 December 2007)

Nungambakkam Cultural Academy (6 December 2007 - 13 January 2008)

Shanthi Arts Foundation (8-17 December 2007)

Mudhra (8 December 2007 - 13 January 2008)

Thyaga Brahma Gana Sabha (9 - 31 December 2007)

Mylapore Fine Arts Club (12 December 2007 - 15 January 2008)

Bharat Kalachar (14 December 2007 to 15 January2008)

The Music Academy (15 December 2007 - 1 January 2008)

Narada Gana Sabha (15 December 2007 - 1 January 2008)

Kalarasana (15 December 2007 - 1 January 2008)

Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha (16 December 2007 - 3 January 2008)

Sri Rama Bhaktha Jana Sabha (16 December 2007 - 6 January 2008)

Indian Fine Arts Society (16 December 2007 - 4 January 2008)

Tamizh Isai Sangam (21 December 2007 - 1 January 2008)

Kalakshetra Music and Dance Festival (22 December 2007 - 3 January 2008)

Kartik Fine Arts Tamil Isai Vizha (26 December 2007 - 1 January 2008)

Music Academy Dance Festival (3-9 January 2008) A MUST for all dance lovers! Many of India's top dancers will be performing.

Sri Bhairavi Gana Sabha (4-6 January 2008)

Kartik Fine Arts Dance Festival (6-18 January 2008)

Lecture demonstrations at Narada Gana Sabha (22 - 31 December 2007)

Music concerts listed by date

Here is a link to a handy database which lists schedules by artist/date/sabha

Above: Veena concert by Geetha Bennett during 2002 Chennai December Season

14 October 2007

Todi the cat

There’s a little cat that visits my terrace. She used to come with her mother and five other brothers and sisters but I haven’t seen the others for a while. This cat is half-tabby, half ginger-coloured and about four or five months old. She also wears white 'socks' and a white 'bib'.

She’s friendly and playful but also has a contemplative nature. She spends her days watching the crows nesting in the big tree, trying to catch butterflies, and playing hide and seek behind the plants with another cat with a fluffy tail. She also likes to just hang out and watch the world go by.

Notice how her nose is half black, half orange.

In the mornings I find her sleeping on the garden chairs. I named her Todi, like the morning raga.

1 May 2008: R.I.P Todi Cat

Sad news: Poor little Todi cat was hit by a car or motorcycle. Her injuries were severe and she had to be put to sleep. Rest in peace dear Todi cat.

05 October 2007

Lunch at MTR

I recently took a visiting friend to the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens. This 240-acre oasis of calm in the heart of the bustling city is literally a breath of fresh air. All that walking and fresh air can work up an appetite so a visit to the gardens is not complete without a meal at the nearby Mavalli Tiffin Rooms – or MTR as the locals call it.

Walking down Lalbagh Road, this unassuming but famous South Indian eatery is easy to miss – if it wasn’t for the crowd of people waiting outside! This veritable Bangalore institution has been around since 1924 and once you step inside the door you wonder if it has changed much since. But it’s obviously not the décor that draws the daily crowds, it’s the food!

We arrived during the lunch shift which is the busiest time of day. There was only one thing on the menu: the ubiquitous South Indian ‘meals’ – a set lunch of traditional Brahmin vegetarian food. After paying at the cashier and collecting our receipt, we were directed up the narrow stairs to the waiting room. The room was already full of impatient customers who filled the long benches along the walls, while the adjacent dining hall was mysteriously empty. A man with a clipboard guarded the doorway and after adding us to his list, motioned towards the bench by the window. While we were waiting I had time to take in the old pictures on the wall, the ugly curtains and the minimalist décor which somehow gives the place an old-world kind of charm.

After a quick head count, the man with the clipboard finally ushered everyone into the dining hall filled with black marble-topped tables and red plastic chairs. He pointed with his chin to the table at the far end and we obligingly took our seats. I was starting to feel like we were in a military canteen and not a restaurant! Soon barefoot waiters dressed in long-sleeved shirts and lungis folded to the knee appeared with compartmentalized stainless steel plates. Next came a silver tumbler of fresh fruit juice and a glass of water.

What followed next was a feast for the taste buds. A potato curry and coconut chutney was served first. I wondered if this was going to be followed by a dosa, but next to arrive on our plates was a carrot salad and a dish made with green beans and coconut. Both were equally delicious. The waiter then spooned a creamy liquid into one of the compartments on my plate. I discovered it was payasam, a sweet dish and remembered that sweets are often eaten at the beginning of a meal in South India. I was saving the potato curry and chutney for the imminent dosa, but we were served hot puris instead – a small flat bread fried in oil, along with a flattened vada, which must have a special name but I don’t know it. My friend thought that it tasted a lot like falafel. Another sweet followed: a gooey serving of badam (almond) halwa. Bisbelebath, a local rice dish made with lentils and vegetables was next on the menu, served together with raita, a refreshing yoghurt preparation. These were all served by the efficient waiters out of shiny stainless steel pails.

I was quite full at this point but I knew that the meal was far from over. A proper Brahmin meal is not complete without rice and sambhar, followed by rasam rice and rounded off with curd rice. I decided to skip the sambhar and rasam rice and wait for my serving of curd rice which is supposed to aid digestion. Last but not least, we were treated to a small bowl of fruit with a scoop of ice cream for dessert. We definitely got our eighty rupees worth!

MTR is also known for its open kitchen where anyone is welcome to walk through and observe the impeccable standards of cleanliness and hygiene (as long as you take your shoes off first!). Close to closing time the front doors are locked and the only way out is by the kitchen door!

Some scenes from the kitchen:

Mavalli Tiffin Rooms is located at 11 Lalbagh Road, close to the main gate of Lalbagh Botanical Gardens. Bon appetit!