Saturday, March 31, 2012

Soup and more for the soul

Jack Canfield, American motivational speaker and author, who is best known for the ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ series of books is going to be in India in mid-April.

He is scheduled to conduct workshops and promises to bring to life his book ‘The Success Principles: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be’.

He has certainly become successful and if his ideas worked for him, perhaps there is merit in them. Anyway, this column is not a plug for his workshops; I am more interested in his books. 


He is a Guinness Record holder for having the most number of books on the New York Times best seller list. I am not one for numbers either but I liked the first ‘Chicken Soup’ book that I read and went on to read a few more. There are a whole lot of them – for couple’s souls, single souls and a thoughtful teacher gave my son ‘Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneurial Soul’ when he finished high school.

Almost two years ago, at a poetry session I ran into an old acquaintance, Rajyashree Dutt who asked me to contribute an article for ‘Chicken Soup for the Indian Couple’s Soul’. That was the first I knew of country-specific books in the series. Soon, Shalini Saran asked me to write for the ‘Chicken Soup for the Indian Single’s Soul’. A compilation of articles from several people, these tell stories of love and relationships. 

When Raj asked me to write for the book, I was a little apprehensive. She was asking me to bare my soul, so to speak. After some thought and some exchanges with her, I was persuaded that it would be a cathartic experience for me. And as the series is about inspiring others, perhaps my story would strike a chord with someone somewhere. 


I plunged into it and accepted Shalini’s invitation happily and at her request tried to get more people to write or share their stories with me. While single female friends were at ease with letting me tell their stories, single male friends were aghast and I had to let them be.

One of the stories that I was able to tell was about an American whom I met in Goa. Iona Leriou shared my table one evening at Cavala and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. She was sixty plus but looked 40; she had four children, the eldest was older than me and she worked at the American School in New Delhi. She was quite happy to share her experience of being single in India. Sadly, she succumbed to lung cancer before the book was published.

Knowing her, albeit briefly, enriched my life – she made me open up to people again and to make new friends. Life constantly throws us challenges and our relationships are what sustain us - this is perhaps what is served up in a book of chicken soup.

By Sandhya Mendonca (Sandhya Mendonca writes a weekly column for the Herald Goa)

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Ale tales

It is summertime and the choice of tipple is obviously beer.

For Bangaloreans of course, beer has been a perennial favourite, with United Breweries located here. We could inhale the aromas as we walked past the brewery on Grant Road; it shifted to the outskirts quite sometime ago and in its place stands the plush mall UB City on the rechristened Vittal Mallya road.

But coming back to beer, the beverage came to India through the East India Company to quench the thirst of the hordes of Englishmen who were here to colonise the land. But when the ships unloaded their cargo, it was found that the ale from home could not survive the choppy sea voyage with its flavour intact.

An enterprising brewmaster concocted a beer with a higher ratio of ‘hops’ (the plants whose cones give beer its bitter taste and aroma) to suppress bacterial infection and to retain the distinct taste. The new brew was christened ‘India Pale Ale’ or IPA.

IPA went down the gullets of the colonials so well that they demanded it even when they went back home. Indian beer brands are available in several countries including UK, where some of our brands are firm favourites.


The British tradition of stand-alone pubs with character is fading; recession led to the pub-owners selling out to chains that recreate a standard look and feel. Ah well, that is the principle of survival of the fittest at play, as Britishers Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin have said.

Along with being a mainstay for locals and travellers, the British pub contributed to English grammar, too. The phrase, ‘mind your Ps and Qs’ was used by publicans in England when telling their customers to mind their own Pints and Quarts and not pick up a fight with other customers.

Those guys knew how to run their pubs; their customers did not have to struggle vainly to get a waiter’s attention for a refill. All they had to do when their ceramic mugs ran dry was to blow on the whistle on the handle; that’s where the phrase ‘wet your whistle’ took hold. 

Retronome (L-R) Chris, Richa, Saggy
This city was once famous as the pub capital and the place where people flocked from across the country to guzzle the brew and hop or crawl from one nightspot to another. Our nightlife has lost its sheen in recent years with early closures, ban on live music and dancing, and oh, so many other restrictions but occasionally we have a delightful treat.

Last night was one of those happy moments at the old haunt Tavern at the Inn. My friends ‘Saggy’(Santosh Gnanakan) and Chris Avinash with their band Retronome played evergreen pub favourites – Deep Purple, Floyd, U2, Bon Jovi, Doors, GNR and more. That was one good night and the draft beer must have been drained to the last drop.

By Sandhya Mendonca (Sandhya Mendonca writes a weekly column for the Herald Goa)

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Setting the course on fire!

Bangalore girl Sharmila Nicollet is making waves on the international golf circuit

I caught up with India's best female golfer Sharmila Nicollet, currently the youngest Indian at 20 to play on the Ladies European Tour.

You started your career at a very early age. Tell me about your journey so far.

I started playing at the age of 11 and it has been 9 years now. I have always been a very sporty person. I was a state level athlete and a state level swimmer. I have also played basketball for school, done horse riding and played tennis. I think I have played all the sports. I won my first tournament at the age of 14 and it was then that I decided to take up golf as my career. I have sacrificed a lot for sports.

How does it feel earning a full card on the Ladies European Tour?

I think it will be fair to start by accepting that it is a pleasure to be the youngest Indian and only the second after Smriti Mehra to earn a full card on the Ladies European Tour. I must admit, clinching the 30th and final spot on the Ladies European Tour Qualifiers Final stage with a seven-foot birdie was a special moment. Though I was the Co-leader after the first round and second after the second, I had to birdie from six feet on the third play-off hole at the South Course to seal the 30th and final card for the 2012 Ladies European Tour. It was easily the most testing time of my career as I ended up playing 165 holes, nine rounds and three holes in the play-off, in 12 days. 

Sharmila Nicollet
How was the experience of playing with golfers from across the world?
There were more than 200 players competing in the qualifiers, including those from the LPGA and Asia. The experience proved quite nerve-wracking, especially with the entire country backing me and everyone back home expecting me to do well under pressure. I had 12 rounds to play over 18 holes everyday and got a taste of the lead after making the cut. I shot an obedient five-under and one-under to emerge as the leader.

How did you manage to get your goal together and what is your next plan?

My goal was to get on the tour and as this was my first time in Spain for the qualifiers, it was a big achievement for me. I proved the critics wrong, which is an awful habit of mine and did not let their opinions become my reality. It is one of the best feelings to have. My next goal is to win a tournament in Europe and I am just so overjoyed and proud to be the only Indian on the tour now so much so that I cannot wait to start my escapades all over Europe. It is a beautiful scenic place with an intriguing culture waiting for me to explore. It has been a long wait and my fingers are crossed for the season.

Describe the overall experience. It must have been gut-wrenching.

After shooting a final round score of two-over 75 on the par-73 South Course, I clearly had a heart-wrenching time. I started on the 10th and was one-under for the first nine and in tied 16th position at that stage. Bogeys on second, fourth, fifth and seventh almost derailed my campaign, but I then summoned all my composure and birdied the par-4 8th hole, my 89th hole in the competition. The birdie on the eighth brought me back to seven-over and a par on ninth saw me end the 90 holes on the bubble. I then had to wait for more than two hours biting my nails before I would know my fate. Six players were fighting for two spots after tying for 28th place at the end of five grueling rounds at the Qualifiers. The LET rules called for a play-off for the final four places from 28th to 30th . It was literally a cat fight and I came through on the third play-off hole and clinched a full card. 

Sharmila Nicollet
The Spanish weather, it must have been something else?
The chilly weather in Spain did not help make matters any easier for me. It was very difficult for me to cope with the weather, playing with four-five layers of clothing on me which adversely affected my 3rd round.

I fought hard during the last 2 rounds and got myself into a 6 way tie for the last 2 spots on the tour. The three holes in the playoff were the toughest ever in my golf career that I had to overcome. I pulled my drives on the first 2 holes of the playoff and made some amazing recovery shots to stay in contention. I was very aggressive and was in my element by putting myself in a higher state mentally and completely engulfed myself in a zone. It was a revelation for me in terms of what I am capable of and that enhanced my game under pressure. Since one of the girls managed a card on the first hole itself, the rest of us were all fighting for that one remaining card. Just being in that environment was hard with all the live scoring personnel and the spectators around. On the 3rd playoff hole, there were three of us fighting for one spot. I had an advantage because it was a par-5 that I could reach. I managed to hit one of the longest drives that I had hit in the past few weeks. I hit a four-iron onto the green and left myself a 65 footer for eagle. I two putted from there to secure my card inspite of leaving myself a testy 7 footer for the birdie.

Despite a lot of pressure and what was going through my mind at that very moment, I managed to seal the deal. It was really the best feeling ever and now has got me closer to my dreams.

How does it feel playing at the International level?

I am still learning and I feel I have some ways to go before I can match up to the best players in the world. What I realized playing on the LET over the past few months is that I need to regulate my under par rounds and cannot comeback with a win from a big number like I sometimes do on the Indian tour. In my experience on tour you have to grind it out and minimise your errors even when things are not going your way. Clearly, I need to play better in varied weather conditions and the lessons I have learnt in Spain will help me tremendously. I have been working on my game, my swing in particular. My confidence is amplified after this tournament, my swing is shaping up well and my short game has improved tremendously in the past two years. I think I will be able to get myself into a winning position in the latter half of the season. I am hoping to play around 21 tournaments on the Ladies European Tour this year and I want to finish in the top 80 on the money list and retain my card for the next season.

Calling Sponsors!!

I am also hoping to get some financial backing which will enable me to play the entire season without having to worry about my travelling, boarding and lodging expenses. I have been the top professional woman golfer in the country for the past two years and continue to be without a financial sponsor. While the men’s tour (PGTI) has managed a host of sponsors, I only have Nike supporting my apparel and equipment as of now. 

Sharmila Nicollet
What does the Indian women's golf scene mean to you ? What is your take on it ?

The prize money is not very lucrative in the country at the moment in women’s golf and a lot of players I know are struggling in terms of sponsorship and funding. I think something needs to be done so that deserving players are given the opportunity to achieve their goals and make a mark on the globe. What we need is at least one international win to change the perspective of the corporate sector towards women’s golf. I hope that I will be able to achieve that one defining moment for Indian women’s professional golf and give the sport a facelift.

Your professional team that backs you, coach and caddy, what is your take on them?

My coach Tarun Sardesai has been working hard to help me get my game in shape. He is also the core member of a team that we have built to help me with various aspects of my professional life. I now know the importance of having people around you that are positive about your goals and dreams. Also with the expertise of my caddy Tom Foster on tour I believe I can score a win soon. It would be great if I can do well at the Evian Masters, even win it. My team is working extremely hard to make my dream possible

Family motivation?
I have family in Paris and my dad stays there so perhaps I can get some help if needed. I made few good mates on tour, listened to many and spoke to a few. I would like to emulate someone like Yani Tseng or Caroline Hedwall who were rookies when they won four tournaments or so in the first year.

Sharmila Nicollet
You are the most determined athlete I know. What is your fire-power?

I feel my country is supporting me. I will try my best to fulfill the expectations of my supporters back home and make them proud. I am going to use a strong resolve with a massive amount of determination to not only achieve, but to conquer my goals, and to get closer to my dreams.


Any long-term goals?

Olympics 2016—I want to win a medal there. In two-three years, I want to move to the LPGA tour, which is my ultimate goal. I have been No. 1 in India for a long time. It is time I accomplished more. But I guess I will stick to playing on a single tour instead of shuttling between different tours.


Any advice for the next generation ?

I hope that my achievement will prove to be an eye-opener for kids, their parents and will encourage more youngsters to take up the game.

"Look good and play good; look smart and play smart. That's what I believe in," is her chirpy motto.

By Aditya Mendonca/ Raintree Media Features/ www.raintreemedia.com

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Grill me pink!

When it comes to cooking, a simple stove will no longer do. While on the higher end of technology, convection cooking is making inroads into home kitchens; a chef at a five star hotel has gone back to the stone ages.

Chef Arzooman Irani has managed to get a humungous hunk of Pink Himalayan salt all the way from the Potwar plateau of the Punjab region of northern Pakistan to Whitefield in Bangalore. This enterprising young chef at Vivanta By Taj was intrigued by a reference to this stone in his culinary research and determinedly pursued ways to get a section of a boulder of Himalayan salt that now lies snug in the industrial-sized cold storage deep in the innards of this trendy hotel in the campus of a technology park.

About 600 million years ago, in the Pre-Cambrian era, a great inland sea apparently evaporated leading to the formation of the Pink Himalayan salt. Some of the salt boulders weigh over 225 kilos and are hand cut by local masons into a variety of shapes. While the stone slabs are used to cook, they are also made into bowls and plates.

Salad Caprice at Latitude, Vivanta By Taj
In the luxurious outdoor section of the stylish restaurant Latitude, the pink salt grill sits sweating slightly and self-consciously under the attention being bestowed upon its glistening self.

Our experiential dining started off with sashimi of watermelon and arugula, with feta ginger sheet and balsamic pearls served on tablet of pink salt. Next came Oriental Vegetable skewers with wasabi froth and Thai chicken skewers with coconut and cilantro relish. There was also cherrywood-smoked tuna Carpaccio with radish, fennel and gremolata foam. The dishes were so beautiful that we sat in delighted contemplation for a while before tucking into them.

Grilled to perfection on the pink salt stone, along came a choice of polenta with morels and asparagus and black garlic cream, lobster medallions with citrus basil, sesame crusted yellow fin tuna with teriyaki balsamic and tenderloin with a bloody mary glaze. In for a penny, in for several pounds, we thought and recklessly dipped into the grilled and flambéed chocolate brownie steak and frozen mascarpone.

Sake Soya Chicken Breast at Latitude, Vivanta by Taj 
The Chef has not tried to cook Indian cuisine on the salt stone, as these dishes need more oil and masalas that might affect the stone.

One of the unique features of the pink Himalayan salt is that it lacks porosity or moisture, thus enabling the salt plates to be safely heated or chilled to extreme temperatures. The salt slabs are frozen to 0° C to serve cold or chilled foods such as sashimi of watermelon or a Carpaccio. They are also slow heated to around 300°C to grill meats or fish.

The salt’s crystal lattice has a fairly high specific energy; once it is heated, it will hold onto the temperature for quite some time. Voila, it becomes an innovative stir-fry counter.

A dining experience of The Pink Salt Stone Grills will tickle your fancy with red roses and wine, and a personal butler and chef to get the sizzle going in a romantic lounge. Now who will fish out the expense account card?

By Sandhya Mendonca (Sandhya Mendonca writes a weekly column for the Herald Goa)

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Thursday, March 08, 2012

Pat me, I'm Indian

Comedy Central is here on Indian television and proves my belief that sometimes the universe seems to grant our wishes. Finally we have laughter on tap for adults, 24x7. It is not exactly brimming with fresh content but we are lapping up re-runs of old favourites like Sienfeld, The Wonder Years and That `70s Show. Then we have the shows that spoof Indians –The Kumars at No.42, Goodness Gracious Me and others of that genre. Outsourced is showing on another channel, I think .

Such programmes show India and Indians in a bad light, some complain. Their gripe is that the shows exaggerate the cultural mannerisms and makes us look stupid. Well, that is precisely the point of comedy, to make one laugh and if it requires a little bit of exaggeration, it is deliberately done to tickle the funny bone.


If we shine the light upon the behaviour of most Indians, we will have to admit that it is quite often ridiculous and offensive. Men and women think nothing of making deeply personal observations to people they barely know. They take liberties that can take the recipient’s breath away. Eminently spoof-worthy behaviour, I would say.

One of the oft-repeated complaints is that some of the shows make it appear that Indians are desperate for acceptance by the West. “We are not like that any more, we can hold our own now” is a proud claim and one that I am happy to endorse. But many Indians still seem to want validation by Westerners and if the latter’s behaviour towards us is condescending, I believe that we bring it upon ourselves.

At the request of a couple of old acquaintances, I agreed to help a good cause and make a pitch for an increased PR budget. The meeting was in the middle of the week and I had to struggle to fit this into my schedule. I requested a change of date and was admonished that it would disrupt schedules of international visitors and bigwigs. One the appointed day, I had to wait for more than half an hour for my turn as the previous session had exceeded its time.

Sourced from pix.ninjaromeo.com
As soon as I walked in, the foreigners - all women - whom the local organisation was keen to impress, begin complimenting me on my clothes. Certainly not what we are used to at business meetings, but I said a polite thank you. Next, as I set up my MacAir, one of them pipes up, “Oh, you have a really neat computer there.” It looked like it was going to pour condescension. Suffice to say, it did not take them long to realise that I meant business; the pat on the head, if any, would come from me and only if they deserved it.

I stewed about their attitude before realising that the foreigners perhaps had picked up their cue from the attitude of their Indian colleagues. The hosts should have set a business-like tone to the event and moved it along crisply. They should have been friendly but not ingratiating. Professionals do not need to wag their tails and wait for their tummies to be scratched. The only way I could get myself out of the ill-humour that the interaction created was to go, “Ha, ha.”

By Sandhya Mendonca (Sandhya Mendonca writes a weekly column for the Herald Goa)

Read the column on Goa Herald on the link below:

http://119.82.71.95/herald//Details.aspxedorsup=Main&queryed=9&querypage=9&boxid=42044816&id=3779&eddate=03/08/2012