The Only Constant!

He continued gazing at the menu displayed on the wall in front of the restaurant. It was Christmas Eve. To everyone’s delight it was snowing; talk about a white Christmas! In spite of the bitter cold wind that blew across, the world around him was in high spirits and the mood, festive. However, for him the festivities and the happy voices seemed distant. He tightened the grip on his threadbare coat further, as if that would provide some blessed warmth to his shivering body. With freezing hands stuffed deep inside his trouser pockets and teeth chattering, he continued to read through the menu. It was the right hand column on the menu that was the focus of his interest; the column that listed the price.

He found what he was looking for, a vegetarian thali for £14.99. A pang of regret seeped in. He very well knew that if he indulged in the thali he would have to forgo his fortnightly underground tube pass. This in turn meant that he would have to continue his journey on foot around London in this harsh weather, in search for a job. It had been a good while since he had had a complete meal the way he loved it – plain rice, sambar, curries, pickles, yogurt, chapatis, poppadums and a sweet.

He was 27 when he had left the shores of India for London in his search for a job, having completed his medical studies 4 years ago. With no success in garnering a PG seat, several stints and endless shifts in poorly paid junior positions at various hospitals, he realised the futility of his dreams.

His father, a modest clerk in the railways had incurred significant debt to put him through medical school and also to marry off his two sisters, clearing which would take him forever. His father upon reading an article in the newspaper suggested that he try his luck in the UK, while allaying his gnawing fears of the exam fees, the expenses of living abroad and the mounting debt that would doubtless be incurred. His father reasoned, saying that once he got a foothold in the National Health Service they all could breathe easy. His father’s unwavering faith brought him some hope.

He remembered how five months ago this day he had trudged through the Piccadilly and Eastern lines, dragging his over sized suitcases to make his way to the East End; the only area that offered cheap accommodation for the likes of him. He lived in a hellhole of a dwelling crammed alongside 12 other sorry souls like himself who had no money to spare and lived in the worst possible conditions. The owners of the tenements had learnt the art of exploitation. In the dead of winter the heating would be turned off so that the owners could save money. The tenants could do nothing but battle the cold and live on. Money was a commodity that was never enough; he skipped meals and walked whenever possible instead of taking public transportation to save whatever he could. Weekends would find him at the Gurudwara for the traditional langar.

He cleared his exams within three weeks of arrival and his big push started – looking for a job. Every hospital he applied for an apprenticeship politely turned him down. Some hospitals were willing to give him an apprentice job if he parted with 45 pounds a month; an amount he couldn’t fathom paying. He resigned himself to applying endlessly for observer roles. On one such visit to a hospital he knocked the door of the personnel without an appointment. As he began to inform the overweight, bespectacled lady the reason for his presence she gave him an unfriendly stare. His presence was unwanted, the lady had a pile of workload already, thanks to the doctors who worked there. She had no time for someone like him who was more hindrance than help. She cut him short saying there were no openings and he would be informed by post if a situation arose. She was not interested in his hardships. He sighed, shrugged and moved on.

His savings continued to dwindle and he couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. A few friends lent him money but that meant more debt. He decided he could no longer continue his existence based on the hope of landing a job one fine day; he had to do something soon. He decided to try his luck in other jobs, something that was illegal according to immigration laws. Deeply saddened but without much choice he went through the by lanes of East Ham searching for some opening in a back end job which he could obtain without much explanation. The back end labour jobs were plenty especially for someone who was willing to take peanuts as salary. Thus, he started working in a Sri Lankan grocery shop performing various chores like loading the cartons, chopping meat, transporting vegetables to households and so on. After working through the day he would fill an umpteen number of applications in the night. Each job vacancy asked for 10 copies of the multiple pages of the application form and his CV, which meant shelling out more scarce funds for photocopying, postage, paper etc. Sure, there were vacancies but for one job at least a hundred applied. The odds were low.

It was not about what he knew, it was about who he knew, and he knew no one. Finally, after working for a couple of months he saved up enough for an apprenticeship in a hospital for a month. He finished it with some success. There was no dearth for interviews but there was certainly a shortage of posts. His thoughts came back to the present wondering what he should do next. Suddenly, a deep urge went through his body and mind. It was no more about the food. It was about the constant calculation of every step that he took. It was the bind that he wanted to break away from albeit only till the meal lasted. Unflinchingly, he stepped into the restaurant.

He sat down to eat. It turned out to be the meal of a lifetime. He paid the cheque and walked out into the harsh wind with renewed vigour. There was nothing ahead to look forward to but the past hour was to be his most recent memory of pleasure and happiness.

He reached home after a brisk walk of twenty five minutes. As he turned the key and stepped in, the bitter cold and inky darkness inside the house further awakened him to his current reality. With a sigh he began sorting through the various bills that demanded immediate payment.

Wondering how much his cellular bill had come to, he opened the white envelope, the letter within which read, “Dear sir, We are pleased to offer you the post of a Senior House officer in St Mary’s Hospital, London. Could you please call on the above number to confirm your acceptance for the same within the next 48 hours? Signed, Medical Personnel.” He sat down, clutching the letter in his hand. No words, no thoughts, no tears, no smiles. It was a moment of relief.

For Vidyasagar, Christmas had finally arrived.


Featured People

Raghav Kansal of Indian Summer, Ludhiana

Whether one lives in a big or a small city, the need to have good food and a great dining experience is something that everyone looks forward to. Indian Summer in Ludhiana seem to have crossed all their T’s and dotted their I’s in ensuring this remains the case for whoever visits their restaurants. Geetanjali Iyer from Chef at Large spoke to Raghav Kansal, Managing Director for Indian Summer Hotels to find out more…

Geetanjali Iyer (GI):What is Indian summer all about? What is the concept, the aim and the promise to the patron?
Raghav Kansal (RK): Indian summer is a multi cuisine restaurant chain in Ludhiana delivering unmatched excellence in food, service and ambiance to the people of Ludhiana. Indian summer operates in services related to fine dining, banqueting, home delivery, lounge bar, cafe and accommodation. The very difficult fine art of cooking authentic Mughlai cuisine was developed and perfected under the patronage of Mughal kings and queens. Compiling chefs together to get nearest to the royal food once spread in the royal courts and banquets was our aim and today at Indian summer our recipes are in their purest forms. We promise to delight the palettes  of the severest critics amidst a royal set up.

GI:Given how many restaurants open and close each year, all over the country, why did you choose to enter this business? How did the idea come about?
RK: The above is true to all businesses across the world. In today’s highly volatile, digital and demanding consumer market, it is the survival of the fittest. We at Indian summer recognize the challenges our industry faces and we constantly adapt, improve and deliver the best to our patrons making us the market leaders for the past 10 years. It is our endeavor to innovate and pioneer daily to retain our market position. The idea to open a fine dining restaurant was the brain child of our father, Mr. Rakesh Kansal. We are just instruments of his great vision.

GI: Is this your first hospitality venture or have you done others in the past? Did any begin after Indian summer’s success?
Indian summer branch at RK road, Ludhiana was our first venture a decade ago. After that we have diversified into banqueting, coffee shop, accommodation, lounge bar and home delivery. We opened our second branch in 2011 at  BRS Nagar, Ludhiana.

GI: What is your background? Did you study for this? Has your education helped you in running this business?
Yes, I have completed my degree course in hospitality management from Vatel Institute in France. I have interned and worked at the best restaurants and hotels of the world; Taj Mann Singh, Imperial in Delhi and Conrad Hilton in Brussels. My education has helped me tremendously to broaden my mind and skill set by working in all departments of the hotel industry be it service or production. It has also helped me to understand better the 250 employees who work so hard to make Indian summer what it is today.

GI:We hear your food is brilliant! How do you ensure quality that is comparable to the best establishments in the country?
We have the strictest quality measures followed in all our outlets which are audited and checked by the best staff we have recruited. I take personal interest in all departments. It is only through consistent quality over the last decade that we have maintained the position of market leaders.

Sid Khullar, from Chef at Large was delighted with his experience at Indian Summer and this is what he had to say,

I visited Indian Summer in Ludhiana and was pleasantly surprised by the level of finesse they’ve achieved in customer follow up processes, plating and service standards. Those points are of course moot if the quality of the food isn’t up to the mark, which it certainly was, exceeding expectations. Those of us residing in metropolitan cities take a fairly condescending attitude towards F&B ventures in non-metros, and usually for good reasons. If Indian Summer becomes a benchmark for non-metro F&B standards, I believe the metros will soon have competition, again, for one very good reason- Raghav Kansal.

GI: How do you ensure customers return happy each and every time and how do you deal with grievances?
We take all measures to ensure best food and service is provided to customers every time they visit Indian summer, there are times when we are faced by grievances and complaints due to the highly labor intensive and human aspect of this industry. We follow a thorough feedback system and ask fearless questions about our products and services. Every suggestion is taken seriously. I ensure personally that all suggestions which can be realistically achieved are taken care of and the same problem does not occur twice in the brand.

GI: Restaurants can be an all consuming business. How do you maintain optimum work life balance, given you recently tied the knot?
Indian summer is more than a business to me. It is my passion. It is a brand made for the people by the people who expect excellence every time they dine with us. Work is leisure for me as I enjoy what I do. I also run and meditate for an hour everyday as it clears my head. I take mini vacations whenever I can. My better half is supportive of my odd times of work. I guess I am just plain lucky in that aspect!

GI: Does your partner share your passion for the restaurant and food business? Tell us a little more about her plans?
My wife supports me in everything I do. She comes from a finance background but is the severest critic of food as you expect any patron to be. I value her advise. She is a good baker as baking is one field which I hope she will help me out with, so that Indian summer can explore this aspect of hospitality.

GI: Where do you see Indian summer in 5 years time? Have you considered franchising?
I see Indian summer becoming involved in more CSR opportunities and giving back to the community. We have so far completed two, Ludhiana city beautification projects under the Swachh Ludhiana Abhiyaan and hope to do a lot more. I see Indian summer spreading its wings all over Punjab in the next five years. I am a bit of a control freak so franchising scares me. But we do get many offers from people all over the state to have a presence in their city.  I hope I will grow out of this fear and have Indian summer restaurants outside of Ludhiana in the coming years.

Chef at Large wishes Indian Summer and Mr Raghav Kansal the very best. Raghav Kansal in conversation with Geetanjali Iyer.


The Legend of Ganesha

I love stories. Who doesn’t? Especially the kind that are passed on by previous generations over dinner table conversations. The person regaling the audience taking their own sweet time to build the momentum, creating anticipation, pausing at the most inopportune moments and finally wrapping it all up in a beautiful bundle. Mysteries unraveled, lessons learnt, countless hours spent on rumination and with each passing year, a new perspective gained on the original legend.

The Birth of Ganesha

There are several versions, at least four that I am aware of, of how Lord Ganesha was created, but the one that appeals to me the most is where Parvati creates him. Legend has it that Nandi, the bull and the bodyguard for Shiva is asked to not allow anyone inside the house whilst Parvati goes for her daily bath. Nandi, unable to refuse Shiva allows him in at his request. This causes anger and resentment in Parvati for she finds that she has no one as loyal to her as to Shiva. Not one to bow down, she goes on to create her own; a little young boy out of turmeric and asks him to guard the doors whilst she follows her ritual.

Hindu God Ganesha. Ganesha Idol.

Soon enough, Shiva arrives and expresses his desire to go inside his own house. The little boy, having been told otherwise refuses Shiva the permission for same. Angered, Shiva sends his entourage to fight the boy. In no time, Shiva’s army is defeated. Realising that this is no ordinary boy Shiva himself takes up his weapons and slays the the boy, chopping off his head. Parvati, by now having finished her bath returns to find her little boy slain and lying on the floor.

Deeply angered, Parvati vows to cause destruction everywhere for the wrong that has occurred. By now, Shiva whose anger has subsided, pleads with Parvati to calm down. She agrees to do so on two conditions; firstly asking that her boy be brought back to life and that he should always be prayed to first before offering prayers to any other God giving him the status of Ganapati i.e., ‘The Lord of all’. Shiva sends the Creator Brahma to bring the head of the first being he finds in the North direction and thus the elephant is the first to be found whose head is fixed to the little boy and he is brought to life.

The instinct to protect her own creation to such an extent that not only was she willing to pick cudgels up against the Creator and the Trinity but also, that they had to drop down on their knees is an extremely powerful message.

A similarity between all of us is our love for food. Legend has it that once brought back to life there were huge offerings made of coconuts, bananas, laddoos, modaks, undrallu, gujiyas. Having had a hearty meal, Ganesha was going on a ride on his Mooshika (mouse), perhaps an example of a simple existence, when he slips, somersaults and falls on the floor and his tummy splits wide open causing all the food to roll down on the ground.

maharashtrian festival food, sweet modak, made up of coconut

As a child I thought this a hilarious scene and I do not blame the moon for thinking so too. But, mothers! Parvati would not have any of it and, angered that her son was being laughed at and bullied by the moon she lands him a curse saying that, whoever sees the moon on this fourth (Chaturthi) of Bhadra (September) will be falsely accused or go through apaninda with repercussions.

At this point, all the Gods complained and requested a way out. So, Parvati agreed, saying as long as on this day, one took a bath, offered prayers and prasad to Ganesha along with listening to the story of Samantakamani, even if they did see the moon, the effect will be nullified.

Don’t you love the way mythology operates with so many get-out clauses?

The Story of SamantakaMani

One day, in Dwaparayug, Krishna, the cowherd was milking a cow when he sees the reflection of moon in the bowl of milk he begins to drink. Realising that he will soon be falsely accused he braces himself for the repercussions. (At this point I have always wondered, how Parvati asked to listen to the story even before it actually took place!) Never mind, it does get interesting.

Satrajit, a Yadava nobleman, father of Satyabhama and a devotee of sun- god was given the glorius Samantaka gem. Krishna had once asked Satrajit for the same and Satrajit had refused him. Instead, he gave it to his brother Prasenjit who wore it and went on a hunting expedition. Prasenjit dies after a scuffle with a lion in the forest. The disappearance of Prasenjit in mysterious circumstances makes all suspect Krishna as the culprit due to the Samantaka jewel. Krishna realises the reason for this accusation and decides to disprove everyone.

Closeup of Indian God and Goddess Sri krisna and Radha Idol for sale in the market

Krishna on reaching the forest, finds Prasenjit’s skeleton, a dead lion, and a few yards away a bear and his children playing with the jewel. Refusing to give the jewel to Krishna, the father bear, Jambavant fights for 28 days with Krishna and finally realises that he is fighting reincarnated Vishnu. He drops his weapons, gives his daughter Jambavati’s hand in marriage to Krishna along with the jewel.

Krishna returns the jewel to Satrajit. Satrajit, too realises his mistake and offers his daughter Satyabhama’s hand in marriage to Krishna who gladly accepts and all is well again in the world. Although, it began as difficult times eventually the episode was a blessing in disguise for Krishna.

The way I see it

His simple existence (no fancy chariots), his desire for food making him as mortal as all of us, his wit and ability for problem solving (remember the three rotations of his parents!), loved by one and all, isn’t he a true mascot of peace and harmony?

Do you share such stories with the younger generation? What new things could you share with us? Do write in the comments below.