Monthly Archives: September 2013

Interview with food and travel writer Raul Dias

The complete inspiration story on writer Raul Dias can be found here. Given a word limit, I’m always wanting to say more about the Goans I write about. So here goes the complete interview with Raul.

Raul Dias in South Africa

What are you currently working on?
A whole host of very interesting things! But among the most recent, like today, I have just finished writing a travel piece on Laos for a health magazine with a food angle talking about how different yet similar the cuisine is from Thai–a perfect oxymoron if there ever was one. I also just sent in a piece for a men’s magazine on how Abu Dhabi is in the midst of an organic food revolution with the establishment of an organic farm in the middle of the desert and many organic shops opening up there plus a lot of the big starred hotels too are going the organic way.

I like to finish all my pending assignments before I embark on new ones, so I did these before I leave for Bhutan on a travel assignment early tomorrow morning.

Take us through your initial years when you began your career. Don’t forget to mention your fulltime journalism days.
I actually am a trained Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) lawyer and I went to Liverpool, UK for my masters (LLM). It was while studying there at the University of Liverpool that I started writing for a local newspaper and discovered that writing gave me more creative satisfaction than drawing up contracts! Armed with my degree (I stood second in my batch), I came back home to Mumbai and surprised my family and friends when I told them that I was putting law in the ‘deep freezer’ for a while, while I flirted with writing—a love affair I still haven’t and won’t ever give up.

Within a few days of coming back home in 2005, I joined The Times of India, Mumbai as an entertainment correspondent with the very popular Bombay Times where I later went on to become the Fashion, Food and travel Editor over the three years that I was with them.

After that, it was another two years with Man’s World (MW) magazine, Mumbai as the assistant editor, where again I was incharge of the style and grooming sections. My editor-in-chief was also very kind enough to let me write for whomsoever I wished to freelance for and so I started writing food and travel pieces and restaurant reviews for scores of other publications (see attached profile document for a few names) on a part time basis besides doing my day job at MW.

I then went on, in 2011, to take over the role of the launch editor of the Chennai-based wedding magazine Wedding Vows which was quite a departure from my travel and food writing oeuvres, but it was a challenge that I was up for as I love to take a break from convention every now and then and do different stuff. There too, I continued my freelance writing as I never believed in the whole spiel that as an editor one must do just that—edit—and not write. I love writing and will never let anything come in the way of it. The magazine shifted base to Delhi, a city I wasn’t prepared to move to, so in June 2012 I resigned from my post as editor and have been freelancing full time since then and am back to being based in Mumbai.

Did you want to be a writer all along? Why did you choose to freelance?
Not at all. I wasn’t big on essay writing in school and college or had any inclination to be a writer at all. It just sort of happened organically after I penned a travel piece on Kenya for a newspaper in Liverpool who was looking for travel article submissions. They loved it and asked for more and that set the proverbial ball rolling.

I think I love to freelance because I am a very greedy person and want to write for as many publications as I can, be they Indian or International, print or online, big or small. And being at one magazine or newspaper doesn’t afford me the opportunities to up and leave on my many travels around the world at the drop of a hat. I am answerable to the ‘forces above’ (my publishers etc) as well as to my staff who need my direction to help put out the magazine or paper. Here, I am my own boss and can fix my own schedule around my trips.

What do you love most about writing? Why food and travel and How easy/ difficult to write about places and food?
What I love most is the fact that I can relive the tastes, sounds, sights every time I pen a travel or food piece. It’s like taking another trip while writing, long after I’ve come back or eaten a particular meal. It’s also about the people I meet and interact with on my travels. I am a total people’s person and love to meet interesting people from all walks of life and all over the world.

The three loves of my life, in no particular order are travel, food and writing and if I can combine the three and get paid well for it, that is the ultimate high for me! And this I get to do almost every day as I write a lot.

For me it is very easy to write about food and places as I am blessed with a photographic memory where I can recall even the smallest details of my trips of meals after years of travelling /eating.

What’s the challenge behind being a travel and food writing?
The biggest challenge for me about travel writing is the long spells away from home and missing out on important family functions like I recently missed out on my niece’s First Holy Communion that I felt terrible about.

As for food writing, the only challenge I foresee (and yet to encounter) is an expanding waistline. But my daily 7km runs coupled with my insanely good metabolism take care of that I suppose!

Where you complete your schooling and college from?
I did my schooling from Our Lady of Salvation High School in Dadar which is where I live in Mumbai and college was our ‘family tradition’ institution St Xavier’s where my dad and sister also went to.

Did you write during school/ college days as well?
As mentioned above, NOT AT ALL, apart from the curriculum required stuff!

Introduce us to Raul the Goan.
I love my rice, pork and my rest time is sacrosanct. Strangely, I am not too fond of fish thanks to an incident with a pin bone lodging itself in my throat as a kid, but I adore seafood like crabs, lobsters, shinaneos, prawns, teesrya etc. Also, I am not much of a drinker.

I love mandos that I try to sing and adore catching a good tiatr every now and then.

How often do you go to Goa?
At least once a year. Ironically, most of my trips to Goa for the last few times have been to review a hotel property and write about them.

What’s your take about the state? How would you describe Goa?
Goa has got too commercial for my liking. Gone are the days of blissful solitude on a beach or along the River Sal in Cavelossim. Every where there is an explosion of traders and assorted businesses. While I do get the need to encourage trade, it does seem a tad too much in Goa as compared to other tourist places in the country. Also, as a foodie I am rather sad to see the typical Goan food get eclipsed by all sorts of cuisine like Israeli, Russian and Greek and even those aren’t very authentically made!

Considering you’re a Goan, you must be stereotyped quite often. If yes, please share a couple of anecdotes with us.
It’s strange, but people refuse to believe that I am a Goan, so no prima facie stereotyping for me unfortunately. Though once they do get to know me, people often are surprised that I don’t drink feni, wear a floral Hawaiian print shirt or speak fluent Konkani (though I understand every word!). Speaking of which, whenever I am in Goa, I find people speaking about me in Konkani, thinking I am an outsider and when I reply back in my limited Konkani, they’re pretty shocked. I love seeing their reactions!

What would you be doing when you’re not writing?
I have been accused of being quite a boring person who loves to watch travel, wildlife and food shows on TV. I also love to cook and it is therapeutic for me to get into the kitchen and rustle up fancy French, Thai and Japanese dishes every now and then whenever I am home in between trips.

Where do you see yourself five years down the line?
I hope to launch my own food and travel magazine or least a website or app by then that is very egalitarian in its approach. A product that has something for every type (and budget) of traveller and foodie and not just filled with pricey resorts and restaurant recommendations. I also want to add to my current tally of 39 countries travelled to and make it an even 50!

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Categories: Open Letters | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Superstitions Or Stupidstitions?

(This is my weekly column replugged from The Goan on Saturday)

Last month, it felt sad to read about the assassination of anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar. He was a man with a mission to eradicate all sorts of superstitions. Most importantly, those beliefs that directly or indirectly affected human or animal life.

Keeping this in mind, I decided to list out some bizarre superstitions Goans are familiar with. There could be worse ones, and it’s time to face reality and burry these false notions.

Why’s the crow cawing?: Imagine yourself with a group of friends. Wouldn’t you be chatting, laughing, arguing and having fun? Then if a crow caws in front of your house, how does it suggest we’re going to have a visitor? A crow has invariably misled me. What about you?

Barking up the wrong tree: If a dog barks awkwardly at night, something terrible is going to happen the following day. Hmmm… And what if nothing dreadful happens? We just confirmed it’s a superstition! And you know what, just the way humans talk, dogs bark. I think the dog howls because it’s hungry.

Do not touch the broom after sunset: Hygiene is important. Didn’t your family doctor say so? There is a superstitious belief that if anyone sweeps their house at night, they are sweeping out wealth. Excuse me? We should probably take a close look at the dust-pan then.

Cutting nails at night: So, it’s established that hygiene is necessary. Then why not cut nails at night? Enlighten me.

Oh no! A black cat: This is my favourite superstition I love to bust. Once I crossed the path of a black cat, and I was wondering whether I was going to get cursed or the cat. In any case, a cat is a cat; whether brown, white or black. And just to say, nothing happened to either of us. The cat was safe and we lived together happily ever after.

Goody two-shoes: Okay, I am in a hurry so I just flip my footwear off my feet. I know that shoes are the best accessory that make a woman feel confident, but hello! Who lets my shoes decide if there’s going to be an argument in the house or not?

Cracked Mirror on the Wall: So I decide to clean the house, and I’m advised to be careful. But you know what, I’m also clumsy. And guess what, I did save my family from something really dangerous. Does a mirror really have the power to divert a so-called curse to itself? Well done, mirror!

The number 13: This is my favourite number. But that’s not why it’s in this list. We know about Friday the 13th, but hey! Why is it unlucky?

Touch Wood: If something positive occurs or if we’re going through a peaceful phase, we should touch wood each time we tell it to someone. Yes, the wood sensed your touch.

These are just 9. I’m sure you know of more. Isn’t it time to put these superstitions or stupidstitions (what I like to call them) to bed?

Do leave a comment with your views or you can also write to me at dsuezelle@gmail.com

Categories: Open Letters | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Tansa Forest: Off the beaten path

We were on our way back to the city when one of my colleagues asked me about the forest trail. I gently closed my book and gave him a clueless smile. All of a sudden, words betrayed me and all I could think of was — average. ‘The trip was just average. Nothing extraordinary,’ I replied. For a moment, I looked out of the moving bus and then gave an honest feedback. Before I share the same with you, I ought to run you through where I was last Sunday.

I, along with all my colleagues, looked forward to a trek to the Tansa forest last Sunday. After a little bit of research, I educated myself about the Tansa River that’s one of Mumbai’s water sources, popularly known as the Tansa Lake. So now I was aware that we were going through Tansa forest to see the Tansa lake and probably the dam too. But alas! everything, and I mean it, everything turned out to be disappointing.

On this particular Sunday, the sun refused to hide behind the clouds and the clouds refused to send down some rain. We set out on out journey at 7am  and reached the spot by 11am. The bus journey, both ways, saved our day! This trip was organised by a group called Jumpstart. Since I’d heard much about the group, I didn’t mind giving it a shot. On our way, we were served breakfast that was prepared by another group called Hungry Monsters. A coleslaw sandwich and some sprouts for breakfast. I wasn’t a fan of either.

As soon as we reached the forest, we introduced ourselves to other groups members, slid lunch packets in our bags and started following the trail. At first, a friend said, ‘this looks like my backyard in Chandigarh.’ Mind you, a couple other friends echoed the same statement. There was nothing new to see. The forest looked ordinary. We were told that there was a lot that could be seen and heard. Even the birds decided to take a nap, I guess as we strolled through the forest. We saw some unusual trees, but couldn’t figure out what they’re called. At this trip, I was expecting much more. I wanted the organizer to tell me more about Tansa — forest, birds, wild animals that are seen around, the lake, dam and everything I could grasp. After an hour of wandering about in the forest we reached a slim river. We decided to sit on the rocks while the sun kept getting hotter. After this, we continued the trail until we reached the lake. Within almost three hours, we were back to where we started. That’s it? It’s over? We’re heading back home?

Yes, we sat by the lake for some-45 minutes and then got into the bus, one-by-one. Oh, did I forget to mention about our lunch? Well, we were served pasta that lacked taste. We were also given ‘hotdogs’ that were stuffed with soggy patato patties. From the food to the trip, Sunday was a complete disappointment. I wouldn’t want to be harsh, but I really thought I’d wasted an entire day. I could have rather spent that time reading up more about Tansa and seeing pictures on the web.

P.S. I usually take a lot of photographs when I’m out on adventure trips, but at Tansa, I captured only 13 pictures. Here are a few.

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10 Groups in a Ladies’ Special

Replugging my column from The Goan on Saturday.

Last Friday, I headed to work earlier than usual and got surprised. You must be wondering what could be so surprising on a Friday morning. So after many months, I got a chance to board the Ladies’ Special train – a train that has women-only.

I entered and caught a seat, and within seconds, observed that everyone in the compartment seemed to know each other. I’m guessing these women take this train regularly hence the groups and friendliness. Here’s a litmus test — if you’re a Mumbaikar you would have experienced at least one of these groups in a local train.

Train Idol: This is the group that sings all along. Even if the group decides to take a break, one woman starts crooning. At times, they also play antakshari. Gets noisy, but what the heck, who cares? This is singing in the train.

Miss Headphones: She is definitely the kind who prefers isolation from the chaos. My guess? She listens to music, podcasts and most importantly, chooses to stay deaf to the world. Also, it’s amusing to see some hand-banging, grooving or lip-syncing randomly.

Seat-Savers: Personally, I hate this group. Before they can even catch their breath, this bunch starts interrogating the ones who are already seated. Popular questions – Kahan uttar rahe ho? (Where are you getting off), Kisi ne seat lagaya hai kya? (Has anyone called dibs on your seat), Thoda sarko na… thoda shift ho jao (just shift a little). Believe me; this can get annoying and hilarious, depending on your mood.

Gossip Aunties: Mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law top this category. Not just that, you will also find women cribbing about their bosses or some colleague they probably dislike. Nothing can get more dramatic!

She-Bookworms: They love reading! Whether they have a seat or not, they read. Also, there is a handful that’s faithful to the morning newspaper. Up-to-date is what they like to be, I guess.

Talk to the Mirror: At least three stations before their destination, they pull out a tiny kit from their handbag and hello! It’s time to doll up.

Munch-Munch: The moment they enter the train, the bag opens and out comes the tiffin box! They don’t care if the world stares at them. It’s breakfast time, buddy!

Prayer Time: While you have some who chit-chat all the time, some women prefer meditating or praying. You will see a lot of young as well as elderly women flipping pages of prayer books or caressing beads.

On-A-Call: Enter, take a seat and hello hello! Despite all the noise and commotion in the compartment, they don’t mind making phone calls. You will see them smile, blush but what’s worse is when they slip into an argument. The entire compartment will have to forcefully witness the squabble.

Sleeping Beauties: Last but not the least are our sleeping beauties. I usually call them bobble-heads because their heads move in all directions. If you have such a lady as your neighbour, heaven save your shoulder!

Happy journey!

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Column: Women of Mumbai

Replugging my column from The Goan on Saturday.

This week, yours truly was planning to dedicate a piece to anti-superstition activist Dr Narendra Dhabolkar who was recently shot dead. But just when I was about to start writing, something terrible happened in the city. Television news channels began broadcasting about a gang of men who raped a photojournalist in broad daylight in Shakti Mills, near to my workplace in Lower Parel. Soon enough, there was a Twittter roar about the incident. There were tweets that compared Mumbai to Delhi and how the nation’s capital and the country’s financial capital were not the safest places for women.

Like me, there are many women who come to Mumbai to build a career. Most of them take up bold jobs such as journalism that do not fall under the 9 to 5 work timings. My question: Are they supposed to stop following their passion with the fear of getting raped by some ridiculous men with raging libido?

After this incident, I was forced to bring to mind a lot of my wee hour traveling memories in the city during the past years. There were times when I left work at midnight, took a train (where the ladies’ compartment was guarded by a cop), took a bus (and sometimes I would be the only lady in the bus), and would reach home safe and sound. This trend followed for a couple of months and I never felt threatened. There were times when I also took an auto and reached home safely. Out of habit, I would slip into a conversation with the auto driver about his past, which part of India he hails from, why he decided to ride an auto etc.

But now, I might want to reconsider stepping out when it’s dark. And to remind all of us, this gang rape happened in broad daylight. Does that mean I’m not supposed to leave home at all?

There were times when eve teasing went overboard and my friends from college and I started the concept of ‘Adam-teasing’ to counter attack. Slowly, we saw this deteriorate. We felt safe whether alone or in a group.

According to data from the National Crime Record Bureau, sexual assault cases in Mumbai rose to 11% from 553 cases in 2011 to 614 in 2012. If I get my math right, it’s a 45% increase in sexual assaults in the city.

The only question that arises at this point is whether there is a solution. And till the top guys churn out an answer to such attacks on women, should we be staying at home? Not at all. Mumbaikars are known for their boldness, and with the same spirit, we women will step out every single day to pursue our passion with the cooperation of the city’s cops. Would we do justice to ourselves by not following what we came here for? After all, we do have a living to earn, right?

P.S. Next week, let’s bust some superstitions.

Categories: Open Letters | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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