Food review: Ambarsari, East of Kailash


Ambarsari Restaurant

Kailash Colony Market

In a city with run-of-the-mill north and south Indian restaurants, this is one-of-its-kind eatery, offering high-quality food straight from the heart of Punjab. The brainchild of two young entrepreneurs and self-proclaimed foodies, Abhi Karan Singh Garewal and his cousin Namisha Arora, Ambarsari offers the range of cuisines with traditional richness of Punjabi food, lot of spices and love.

Located in the posh Greater Kailash, Ambarsari is the best place to experiment with Punjabi food. As you step inside this 34-seater restaurant, you can’t miss the Punjabi feel to everything. The interiors done by Namisha and Garewal are in sync with the Punjabi aesthetics. The light is dim and the music is playing in the background. Coming to food, the signature Ambarsari cuisines include Lawrence Road Tandoori Chicken, Chapli kebab, and Amritsari kulcha. Tandoori is too spicy, though. If you still want more, try Gurdey Kapoore and Butter chicken. In the desserts, paan kulfi is decent.

“We serve food with love and care. The idea actually is to introduce Delhiites with authentic Amritsari food,” says Garewal. Believe him. And rest assured, you don’t need to dig a hole in your pocket either.


“Telling truth about Kashmir is difficult”

He is the only Indian to be nominated for an academy award in the live action short film category for Little Terrorist in 2005. Director, Producer, Writer and Editor, Ashvin Kumar is ready with his next, “Inshallah Football”, a feature documentary set in Kashmir. Premiered at the prestigious Pusan International Film Festival in Korea recently, Inshallah Football is being described as a bold experiment by filmmaker to portray the situation in Kashmir. In a freewheeling chat with Syed Zafar Mehdi, the filmmaker talks about his work and his no-nonsense, realistic approach to film-making.

Q1) What is “Inshallah, Football” all about?
It is about entering the home and hearth of Kashmir, creeping under the veil of prejudice, misinformation, propaganda and attempting to clarify the misunderstanding of Kashmiris by the people and institutions of ‘rest of India’. It is about the Kashmiri people, not as faceless demographic who happen to occupy a piece of land (Kashmir) that India feels should be an integral part of its state, but as human beings. It is about the dreams of youth against the iron fist of the state.

Q2) What prompted you to dabble with the touchy theme of Kashmir?
I was appalled by the unchecked, flagrant use of force and authoritarian stranglehold of the Indian government through our armed forces in the Kashmir valley. Family after family Kashmir revealed firsthand how militancy and its terrible response was felt in the kitchen, in the living rooms and gardens of the ordinary Kashmiri. Not a single family did I meet that didn’t have a story about a kinsman who hadn’t been impacted by militancy. Entire families and breadwinners wiped out in many, many cases. It seemed like fiction – how come no one has heard these stories outside the Kashmir valley? I asked myself.

It would be an understatement to say that in Kashmir, our democracy had been tested and found wanting. The larger question about the Indian state, and the democracy that we have given to ourselves hung over the days of filming, and became the conscience of the film.

The Kashmiri feels betrayed and abused by the Indian state and not without reason. In attempting to curb militancy, the Indian state has unleashed many demons, one of the most visible being the presence of half a million armed forces in the valley and a parallel war economy that has created a huge illegal wealth and power structures which are going to be very difficult to dismantle. There are too many vested interests now in Kashmir for whom the ongoing conflict is profitable.

The ordinary Kashmir first ground to pulp by the horrors of militancy, now has to deal with an occupation of its land by an India that behaves like it is ruling over a defeated people rather than in the service of citizens of its own country. This gulf between the official mentality and the desire of ordinary Kashmiri, if not redressed shortly, will lead to another terrible reprise of the horror of the ’90. With Af-Pak the shambles it is in, this ‘uprising’ would spell disaster for the region, if not the rest of the world.

I wanted to create a piece of communication that would seep under the skin of its viewer, in which I could transmit feelings of indignation, sadness and shame that I felt as an Indian while in Kashmir. There is a deep irony in claiming the geographical entity that is the Kashmir valley as an integral part of India, while its people, the Kashmiri, is made particularly unwelcome by India, when she travels to the rest of India and treated like a illegal tenant in her own home in Kashmir.

The Indian passport that is denied to Basharat Baba, the boy who dreams of playing football in Brazil, is the emotional, visual and political manifestation of this irony.
Q3) Are you politically-correct? Should artists have a strong political opinion? 
When making a piece of cinema it is useful to understand the limitations of rage, indignation, anguish if the ultimate goal is to trigger a change of perception in those who are not already converted to my point-of-view. Polarizing opinions only leads to more rancor and hardened stands. It may be deeply satisfying in the moment but in the long run the communication, in my opinion, fails. For example, it would have been possible (as I have all the necessary footage) to make a documentary film about the torture, rapes, forced detentions, custodial killings, human shields, mass graves, renegades, half-widows… the reality is grizzly and there is no shortage of tales of depravity and atrocities in the Kashmir valley and no shortage of very brave people who wish these stories reach the world outside their borders.

These experiences fundamentally altered my understanding of human nature itself, going deeper than nations and citizens, they made me wonder about the demon that exists in human nature, in us all. In Inshallah, political conflict is presented as a personal dilemma, a crisis of humanity, because that is how I see the ‘conflict’.
Q4) How has the experience of working on Inshallah Football been? 
This is my first documentary film and it has been one of the most creatively satisfying experiences of my life. All cinematic faculties, be it storytelling or camera work or editing, were tested live and on the spot. Unlike fiction, which is what I am used to, in documentary you have very little control on what happens. You just go on instinct and I suppose some amount of skill and training kicks-in; listening for what could become a new twist in the tale or anticipating that a moment is about to happen and find yourself in the right spot with the camera rolling to capture it; to recognize and act upon IT on the spot, not in a screenwriting software sitting in the comfort of an office thousands of miles away. The experience is live, and sometimes you try things without knowing whether its going to work or not. You sometimes spend days filming stuff, then realizet hat all that footage will never make it into the film. It tests your abilities to improvise and be spontaneous. It forces you to trust and listen to your own instincts. This is a film made on pure, undiluted instinct. I can’t give you an explanation for a lot of the things that I have included in the film, those moments just felt right.

There is also a great amount of structuring that is done after the filming is over, in fiction that structuring takes place at the time when the screenplay is written, here it happens at the end of the process once everything is shot. It took us better part of 6 months to create an 82 min cut from nearly 300 hours of footage, with the most sketchy of skeletons / backbone for the story. In some senses, the story began to tell itself on the editing table. I also must say that the manner in which this film came about and how we made it, with a sense of gentleness, without the frenzy that surrounds a work of fiction was another revelation – that you can actually make a film unhurriedly, at a semi-leisurely pace, perhaps also fed into the deepening of the film and its characters.
Q5) What were the highlights of Inshallah Football shoot for you? 
Getting to know Bashir Baba certainly. I feel privileged to have got to know him as intimately as I did. Marco, Priscilla and Basharat, fearless people with a large heart and a rare dedication to their respective causes. Traveling all over Kashmir to far-flung border areas like Gurez, seeing the Neelganga river, village life in Kupwara, Bandipora, Baramulla and so on.

The sound of the aazan from Jamma Masjid mixing with the sound of temple bells from across the river from the few Hindu temples still under worship on the Jehlem.

What touched me most is the courage and generosity of my protagonists. While living under the dark cloud of intimidation, despite knowing that this film could turn out badly for them, they invested the trust in me (a total stranger), welcomed my team and I with gracious hospitality, offered intimate details of their lives, and tolerated my relentless probing into their personal histories with equanimity or bewildered indulgence.

Their motivation and determination is inspirational, because they knew that if this turned out badly, it would translate into real harassment for them. I will give you an example, after serving 2 years under PSA, Bashir was released. The BSF and army kept picking him up on a regular basis – sometimes week after week – at all odd hours of the day or night, to interrogate him. The lives of ex-militants was made hell even after they were released after serving sentences. The armed forces would try to ‘persuade’ them to become renegades and work for the armed forces in rounding up other militants. Such men became known as Ikhwani and they remain the most hated people in Kashmir today. They are seen as betrayers. That is the kind of harassment still goes on even till today. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that our film could create trouble for Bashir, Basharat, Marco and Priscilla. Kashmir is run like a military state, there is no room for individual freedoms or liberties and no matter how well the film is received in India and elsewhere, local officials wield absolute power and immunity. That’s why the AFSPA and other draconian legislations need to be removed. So Bashir and his family can sleep peacefully after speaking to our cameras, knowing that somewhere out there the Indian state is actually working  to protect them.
Q6) How difficult was it to shoot in Kashmir, with young Kashmiri cast?
The youth were scared, some of them in their early twenties were journalists whose phones were tapped. They would tell us things, but off camera. Those who came on camera insisted that we hide their faces. There is a deep fear everywhere in that valley. But despite that, people were very eager to reveal details to us. In fact it was shocking how little information and critical analysis was coming out of the valley when the population was so eager to talk. There is very little written about the ’90s in Kashmir for instance. The Indian media has been particularly negligent in this respect. On Kashmir, they have towed the official stand of the Indian government. That is why when I was researching this film, I discovered that there was a remarkable lack of coverage of the various issues that were plaguing ordinary Kashmiris in the mainstream Indian press. Even today, telling the truth about Kashmir is a difficult thing to do. People who do are actively discouraged and intimidated. This gag sits uncomfortably with the average Kashmiri’s desire to tell his story and ensure that this story reaches the world. I believe that this was Bashir’s only aim – he was risking a lot so that our cameras could take his voice to the world, and help people understand the conditions in which they live.
Q7) How would you describe Basharat, the main protagonist of film?
He’s a regular teenager who is interested in girls and football. He’s talented and he has a dream. He is an ordinary guy caught in extraordinary circumstances. What Basharat represents under that disarming front is the right of every citizen of a democratic country and the aspiration of most Kashmiris – dignity and respect.
Q8) What according to you is the root-cause of Kashmir mess?
The ordinary Kashmiri wish to live a peaceful and dignified existence assured of the freedoms that a citizen should be guaranteed within any democratic country versus their perception of a bungling, unenlightened, high-handed, insensitive state of India who’s overwhelming communication has been that of scrutiny, persecution, intimidation and tyrannical ruling through a fear psychosis. I interviewed a psychologist in Kashmir’s only mental hospital (a startling fact in itself) who said to me that he is absolutely sure that every member of the state of Kashmir suffers from depression and a huge number suffer from deep trauma.

The refusal to acknowledge a chain of betrayals on all levels particularly legal and constitutional and a visible demonstration that the Indian state can practically implement changes that are in sync with the desires of the Kashmiri people, and a non-farcical, non-cynical addressing of their demand for autonomy.
Q9) You wear different hats, that of Director, writer, producer and editor. How do you balance the requirements of all?
I try not to rush as much as I used to.  I do yoga nowdays. It creates energy and a detached state of mind. Things seem to fall into place when you’re not in a hurry.
Q10) Road to Ladakh was shot in Ladakh, Little Terrorist was set in Rajasthan, Inshallah Football in Kashmir, where are you heading next??
To a beach in Goa.

Living a dream


Syed Zafar Mehdi

Even as the competition in tinsel-town hots up, some exciting crop of newcomers are creating ripples and carving a niche for themselves. In this league, a name of South Delhi boy Rahil Tandon, 23, graduate of Subhash Ghai’s film institute Whistling Woods, figures prominently. A very talented actor, Rahul debuted with tele-film Like I Love You, under SRK’s banner Red Chillies Entertainment.

Rahil’s mother Reynu Taandon, and sister Nikhita are celebrated fashion designers, but he doesn’t believe in falling back on his surname to seek spotlight. “I dreamt and I believed in myself. Everything else fell in place,” says the young actor.

A trained actor, Rahul started his training when he was in Class 10th. “And then there was no looking back,” says he. He didn’t get everything on a platter. “I had my share of struggle, but I managed to sail through on high and happy note.” And he quickly adds that the journey has just begun.

Rahil has played lead in a theatre production, Bollywood Love Story, directed by Sanjoy K. Roy for the past two years.

“After I got to know about it (auditions for Like I Love You), I uploaded my pictures on the internet and was short listed among hundreds of other candidates,” says Rahil, with a hint of pride and joy to have worked with director Somnath Sen and South actress Suma Bhattacharya.

The film is part of a novel concept by MTV. The channel has collaborated with two production houses — Milestone Movies Pvt Ltd and Red Chillies Idiot Box — to produce three romantic movies as part of their new series Luv Reels.

For Rahil, it is the realisation of his Bollywood dreams. “I have always been acting since the age of six. I remember going upto my mom and dad and asking them to let me perform skits for them. It is an irresistible passion for me,” says the young actor.

He does not have a godfather in the industry and believes struggle is a part of every successful actor’s career. “It is a journey you cover to make a mark for yourself, to get a foothold in the industry,” he says. “That’s where attitude, talent and patience come into play.”

Stuck with his hectic shoots and schedules in Mumbai, the Delhi boy misses his city. “I have learnt to adjust in different environments. I am happy as long as I am doing what I do best,” says Rahil.

His message for budding actors: “Believe in yourself and go for it”. He doesn’t talk about his future projects yet. “Let the suspense prevail for sometime. I will announce it at the right time,” says the new star.

Guru: Pawn in a sinister game?


Syed Zafar Mehdi

To hang or not to hang! The debate over barbarous capital punishment still lingers on. Many civil rights activists, lawyers, and liberal intellectuals have been arguing against it on humanitarian grounds for a while now. A potent argument against capital punishment is that it has no deterrence effect, with many countries already having done with it. After all, as sane minds argue, sanctity to life should prevail over “eye for an eye” approach. But then some argue, it is warranted in “rarest of rare crimes”. May be. But one wonders, what constitutes these ‘rarest of rare’ cases?

As talk veers to death penalties, the intriguing case of Afzal Guru flashes to mind. Guru, a Kashmiri, is on a death row over his alleged involvement in 2002 Parliament attack case. As his mercy petition lies pending in corridors of Rashtrapati Bhawan, he has become a favourite whipping boy for right wing forces to score brownies over their political adversaries. But, I beg to ask: Does his case fall under “rarest of rare” categories? Does he deserve to die like this? Or more precisely, as Nirmalangshu Mukherji puts it, “Should Guru die?” (Economic Political Weekly, 17 Sept 2005).

Mukherji believes it would be a “travesty of justice to hang Guru “. And, as noted Human Rights campaigner Nandita Haksar rightly affirms, “We haven’t even heard Guru ‘s story”. (Yahoo news, 30 Sept 2006). Death penalty is awarded in only ‘rarest of rare’ crimes, where crime is established beyond any iota of doubt, after a fair trail in accordance to the due process of law and international standards of human rights. But, in Guru’s case, rule was not applied, as it ought to. ” Guru ‘s death penalty violates Supreme Court’s own guidelines, which say that capital punishment should be awarded in ‘rarest of rare crimes’ which doesn’t apply to Guru,” notes activist and columnist Praful Bidwai (News International, 21, Oct, 06).

There are whole lot of loopholes and glaring doubts which merit serious contemplation. Death sentence is doled out to accused only after strictest observance of free trail. So, did Guru get a free trail? He was denied worthwhile legal assistance at trail court—a crucial stage where evidences are produced and examined, which later becomes basis for court’s verdict. Right to legal protection is an inherent right. It is clearly enshrined in UN Declaration of Human Rights or Universal Declaration. Constitution of India also entitles a citizen with right to be defended in court of law.

Prosecution had accused him for being “facilitator”, and not directly involved in the crime. It’s case stood wholly on “circumstantial evidence”, for which death penalty becomes grossly disproportionate. Guru was sentenced to death by trail court on 18 December, 02, and later the sentence was upheld through appeals in High Court and Apex court respectively. But Colon Gonsalves, a senior Supreme Court advocate, who defended Guru at High Court, has a valid argument to make. He says in his report, “When I was brought in to defend Guru in High Court and I studied the trail court proceedings, it was clear that apart from appreciation of evidence, his case rested on two grave infirmities. First was the media trail, which rendered doing justice to Guru impossible, and second was trail court, which had denied him a lawyer”.

It won’t be exaggeration to state that Guru ‘s case is based on unsubstantiated charges and concocted evidence put together by investigating agencies, having their own axe to grind. As per his own admission, Special task force personnel ruthlessly tormented him. Confessions were extracted from him under duress, after being tortured and his family threatened of dire consequences.

The notorious Special cell of Delhi Police used media to brand him a “terrorist”, even before trail. He was forced to confess to crime before media. It followed the media trail in rather brazen fashion, including a film broadcast on Zee TV, apparently previewed and approved by the then P.M himself. It was one of the prime factors in prejudicing the outcome of the trail. As noted legal hawk and constitutional expert, Ram Jethmalani puts it, “To cause prejudice in the minds of public against a person standing trail is worst kind of contempt” (Tehelka, 28 Oct 06).

Delhi High court acknowledged that investigating agencies had fabricated evidence against him, yet it went ahead to uphold the “unfair” verdict against him. Supreme Court was moved but it too rejected the appeal on account of “procedural irregularities” in obtaining it and yet upheld the judgment on nothing more than derisory circumstantial evidence. It though admitted that his direct association with any terrorist outfit couldn’t be proved beyond doubt.

Guru’s case doesn’t meet international standards of a fair trail. Taking all the serious loopholes into account, it violates Article 7, 10, 14, 17 of International Covenant on Civil and Political rights. India being a signatory of the covenant is obliged to protect the rights of citizens guaranteed therein. But has it?

Firebrand activist and author Arundathi Roy adeptly vents her ire in following words, “I joined the protest demo at Jantar Mantar against Guru’s death sentence because I believe his is only a pawn in a very sinister game. He is not the Dragon, as he is being made out to be, he is only dragon’s footprint, and if dragon’s footprint is made to ‘become extinct’, we will never know who the dragon was” (Outlook, Oct 30, 06)

Going ahead with the death verdict would be an absolute miscarriage of justice. As well-known human rights activist Ram Puniyani notes, “Guru’s hanging will reinforce the perception of two set of legal norms prevalent in a society, polarizing fast on communal lines” (Combat Law, Nov-Dec, 06). There is a dire need of fresh trial into Guru ‘s case, where he gets chance to put his side of story before court.

“Has anyone ever heard of a death sentence on a man who was undefended at a trail? This monstrous miscarriage of justice warrants re-trail” believes legal expert and Columnist A.G Noorani (Hindustan Times, 24 Oct 06). He is echoed by another legal luminary Ram Jethmalani, who too believes, “The man was very poorly defended, there is no doubt” (Tehelka, 28 Oct, 06).

So far there is no concrete, foolproof, fully substantiated evidence showing Guru ‘s direct involvement in December 13, 2001 Parliament attack case. A small minority of intellectuals, lawyers, and activists have been vigorously pursuing his case, dubbing the death sentence against him as mockery of justice.

Currently his clemency petition lies pending in Rashtrapati Bhawan. Kalam had steered clear from meddling in troubled waters, perhaps because he has understood the complicity of case. In fact he is f ed up of leading ghettoized existence in jail and disillusioned with the system of justice prevailing in this country .Now the incumbent Pratibha Patil has to make a call. But the question is, can we Kashmiris afford another Maqbool Bhat?

We have the knack of waking up at eleventh hour, when we are left with few options, and cant really avoid the inevitable. So, are we waiting forGuru to cuddle gallows? Plotters are vociferously raking up Guru issue each day on every platform. Hapless Guru may be willing to embrace death for a greater cause, but his 8-year-old son Ghalib needs him, so does the Kashmiri nation. Let’s wake up, lest we lose him.

The young prodigy


By Syed Zafar Mehdi

The flight to stardom at an early age has certainly not gone to her head. She remains humble, unpretentious and devoted to a fault. For her, classical dance is not merely an artform, it’s an infatuation deeply rooted in her heart and soul. Anupriya Guha, at just 20 years is already a Bharatanatyam sensation. A resident of Green Park, the danseuse says, “There is still a lot to learn. It’s an ongoing process.”

Guha was introduced to Bharatnatyam at the tender age of five under the tutelage of noted Bharatanatyam exponent Yamini Krishnamurti. And there has been no looking back ever since. “The passion for arts runs in my family. My grandfather was a noted exponent of Ramchandra Sangeet and Nazrul Geeti style, and my mother is an excellent singer too. So an artistic streak was only natural,” says Guha. But she didn’t get everything on a platter. “Bharatanatyam dance is no easy task. I had to work really hard to grasp the nitty-gritties and improve on them,” she adds.

For the past 11 years, she has been learning under the able guidance of another celebrated classical dancer Saroja Vaidyanathan. Guha’s recent performance was at Azad Bhavan Auditorium at an ICCR-organised cultural programme. “Both my gurus have contributed a great deal in honing my skills. They have been a tremendous inspiration,” gushes this young dancer. Ask her what fascinated her about Bharatanatyam, “everything”, comes the reply.

Guha is about to wrap up her graduation from DU and her future plans are cut out. “I want to dedicate all my time to Bharatanatyam after I graduate. There is lot to learn and I want to master this classical dance form under the supervision of my guru.” Her parents are game for it. “She has always been brilliant at academics, and has balanced studies and her passion admirably, but now is the time for her to take a call and she has opted for Bharatanatyam,” says proud father Amitava Guha.

“I believe in chasing excellence, success will follow itself,” says this young dancer who wants to take classical dance to masses and make it a hot property. “It’s the best way to promote pristine Indian culture, which has been bulldozed by western trends today,” she adds. Apart from Bharatanatyam, she loves old movies, old melodies. “Old is gold, it mesmerises me,” says Guha. Her voyage has just begun.

Interview: Monish Gujral

Syed Zafar Mehdi

A top-notch entrepreneur, prominent hotelier and a food critic, he has revolutionized the way we look at the eclectic and delectable Indian food.  Born in 1965 in Delhi, Monish Gujral (46) comes from a business family, which owns and manages Moti Mahal chain of restaurants, spread across continents. Gujral is a trend-setter in his own right. Within a short span of seven years when he took over the reins of family-run enterprise, he has expanded the company holdings from 4 restaurants in Delhi to more than a 100 company-owned restaurants and franchises – 88 in India, and rest spread across Middle East, Canada, South East Asia, China, Europe and the United States.  But he remains humble to core. “I have just carried on the good work my grandfather started 64 years back.”

Gujral has inherited this passion for culinary inventiveness and ingenuity from his grandfather Kundan Lal Gujral, who is credited with giving the world one of its favourite cuisines – Tandoori Chicken. Kundan Lal had migrated from Peshawar to Delhi at the time of partition, and set up the first Moti Mahal outlet here in 1947. “He was a great visionary, we all take inspiration from him,” says Gujral.

Gujral is also a well-known food writer and critic, with two books to his name. His first book, ‘Moti Mahal’s Tandoori Trail’ published in 2004 is a treasure-trove of recipes, with a compilation of rare archival photographs of the Kennedys, Nehru, Indira Gandhi, the Shah of Iran and other bigwigs who have over the years succumbed to the delights of Moti Mahal kitchens. It was voted as the Best Book at the Indian Curry Festival in London in 2007. His second book, ‘On the Butter Chicken Trail’ published this year, bagged the Gourmand World Cookbook Award 2010. He has also hosted several cookery shows on television for various channels. “Writing comes naturally to me. It is a form of expression which helps me connect with foodies,” says Gujral.

In 2009, Gujral compiled a collection of Qawwali music (a form that derives from the Sufi tradition) performed over the years at the original Moti Mahal restaurants in Delhi. The album was cut as a music and video CD in collaboration with the T-Series music company. In 2006, Gujral was honored at the International Chef Day celebrations of the PHD-CCI. He is also the recipient of the prestigious Carlsberg Award for creating the Best Innovative Dish. “It’s great to be recognized for the work I do. There is still a long way to go,” says Gujral.

Good old school days!

 Syed Zafar Mehdi

In Ellen Howarth’s words “Ti’s but a lil’ faded flower, but oh how fondly dear. It will bring me back one golden year through many a weary year”.

As memory leapfrogs back in time, luscious nostalgia hugs me tight. Gosh! That breath-taking aura of a boarding school, those strict-cum-sweet teachers and mentors, and yes, that marvelous bunch of bosom buddies. What fabulous times they were! When life was fun, a roller-coaster ride of sorts. When love was loveliest and dreaming was the favorite pastime. When fairy wisdom was the prized possession and innocence was at its best. It passed like a wonderful stream, running through the realm of tears and smiles, with faultless rhyme and seamless rhythm, and eventually leaving behind the storehouse of memories forever. Life was perfectly beautiful. But as they say- all good things come to an end.

Judai par hi qayam hai nizami zindagani bhi

Bichad jata hai pani bhi, galay mil mil kay sahil say

Sentiments overwhelm me, as I muse back into past. Really life in a boarding school is simply awesome, awe-inspiring, a lifetime experience indeed. Today I sit back and cherish the fond memories of those good old days. Boarding school was a catalyst in my overall transformation. It stirred to life my self-belief, woke me up from the deep slumber, jolted me out of my romanticism, and transformed my life inside-out. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. It remains the most beautiful period of my life hitherto.

As a kid, I was stubborn, naughty, maverick, and spoilt to core. My parents fed up with my irksome antics eventually resolved to dispatch me to a boarding school in Aligarh. Hoping against hope to see some sort of transformation in their “naalayaq” son, I was sent packing when I was barely 13.

As a 8th class boy, I took a bow in Sir Syed’s land, and fell in love with the place at first sight. My school was nestled in cool and tranquil environs in the vicinity of AMU. Hostel life was an alien territory for me, coupled with the terrible feeling of homesickness. So obviously going was tough initially, but as I discovered my comfort zone, fresh innings of my life actually kicked off.

Deprived of the cosy comforts of home and adhering to some cast-iron rules, I learned the lessons hard way. Besides the “over-load” of studies, there was more in store to straighten a crooked stick like me. Keeping our rooms shipshape, cleansing our utensils, setting bedding in order, and at times washing and ironing our clothes. It was a consummate and rigorous ‘drill’ to bring to maturity a spoilt brat like me.

Our Warden was a no-nonsense person and a tough taskmaster, a perfect blend of Amrish Puri and Hulk Hogan. He was always up to the task. A charming personality; he was tall, broad-shouldered and hard-fisted man. None of our “lame excuses” ever worked their magic before him. His high pitched voice would puncture our mild ear drums at 4 o clock in morning, forcing us out of our cosy beds. Our school principal was indeed a guardian angel for us pardesis. Personally, she was a mother-figure to me. We were truly blessed to have trained, dutiful, and laborious teachers who took immense pains and toiled hard to sterilize our shabby brains. They played the dual role of teachers-guardians to near perfection. And finally a special mention of our four special teachers cum guardians, to whom we literally owe our life.

Memories of hostel will live with me forever. Some special memories are deeply engraved in my mind. Forming long queues before kitchen many times a day, chatting and gossiping non-stop with friends in hostel dormitory till late mid-nights, having reading sessions of Shakesperean plays and Dicken’s novels through nights and days. Celebrating every special occasion together with pomp and splendor and playing funny pranks on hostel mates all the time. Literally toiling hard to get warden’s signature on outing permission slip. Sometimes, locking horns with him in heat of moment. Jostling for space in TV room to get a glimpse of Jet Lee or George Clooney flicks. Helping out kitchen staff occasionally in their chores. Giving-n-taking our favorite samosa-chatni-chowmin treats among friends at college canteen each day. Unsuccessfully fabricating lame excuses to escape punishments. Well, I can go on.

It was pleasure to take square meals together with buddies in our giant dining hall. Sundays were for cricket, football and volleyball. We had a huge peer circle, always there for each other through thick and thin. Whenever we felt low, we took solace in each other’s soothing company.

Finally the momentous journey ended, luckily on a high note. I bid last adieu to my school and buddies. Parting was painful, but life had to move on. Almost four years have passed since, but it looks only yesterday. I really miss those wonderful times, those beautiful friends.

Ujalay apni yaadoon kay hamare saath rahne do

Na jaane kis gale may zindagi ki sham ho jayay