Strong Opinions on masala chai

You don’t know how important masala chai is, until you get bad masala chai. It’s like breathing: you don’t care, but when I smother you with a pillow…

I work out of this co-working space, surrounded by assorted people who “follow their dreams”: start-up founders, writers, designers, interior decorators, photographers etc. One of the things they don’t tell you about following your dreams is that you won’t have an office of your own. These people also don’t have “routines” imposed on them by others, which is a lot worse than it sounds. It’s like being given a 500 dish menu and being unable to decide what to order. So through a lot of hit and trial, they figure out what time of the day they’re most productive, what aids that productivity, what helps them relax, and just like that a routine sets in.

For me, when I begin my day’s work, it’s black coffee. It sits well with the general vibe: it’s a new day, the air is crisper, everyone has more energy, you haven’t opened facebook, no con-calls with stupid clients have happened yet.

By about 4 in the evening, a lot has changed. There’s some work done and more left, that back has become a little stiff. Some general wear-and-tear has set in, and you must decide whether to work more or make “plans”.

THAT is where masala chai comes in, with a burst of energy that’s also strangely soothing. Tea leaves, water, milk, adrak, elaichi brewed together to get whatever shade of brown tells you this is it. Nothing else will do. Especially “tea-bags”. I’m a snob to the extent of preferring roadside chai to the fucking “Tea(Masala/Assam/Earl grey” nonsense they give at coffee shops.

Now I’m not even sure if tea actually gives that burst of energy I’m looking for. I think it’s more an image from those “kamaal ki taazgi” ads from the 90s. If it makes Ustad Zakir Hussain’s dreary fingers work that tabla like they’re on cocaine, it can surely let me write 1 email and 2 bad jokes.

I don’t expect much: just my eyes to be held open with that first sip and that sweet burn as it washes down my throat. Simple.

With all that context, you’ll appreciate it when I tell you what I got at my “workspace” yesterday made me want to demonetize the chef’s assets.

It was 2 shades lighter than the brown I usually  get at the same place. If I wanted to have something that sweet I would’ve ordered kheer and if I wanted to have something that watery I would’ve ordered…water. And that would’ve at least tasted like nothing, and life would’ve been back to a clean slate.

If you’ve ever made tea, by the time you pour it you know how it ranks on the “Zero to Perfect” scale. And if it’s closer to zero, you throw it, with a silent prayer for the “lakhs of people who go hungry without milk but whatever”.

Why didn’t this guy throw it? That pissed me off more than how much the chai sucked. I shot off an angry email to the management about how something as simple as chai sucked, while their chefs were winning awards. I sympathise with them: imagine having your days full with meetings aimed at getting more funding for your company, and having to deal with one self-important prick who thinks your chai is not up to his gold standards.

They were nice. There was some assurance given and taken, but the damage would take some time to heal.

A couple of lessons were learnt though: if you know you’ve made bad chai, have the courtesy to throw it. And when you’re not in the mood for making masala chai, DON’T fucking make masala chai.



Strong Opinions on masala chai

“Excuse me, but aren’t you…?”

(This is the unedited version of the column that appeared in The Sunday Times,on 5th July 2015. The published version can be read here.)

New Yorkers often talk of how often they enter a coffee shop and spot people like Woody Allen working casually. Or an A-list Hollywood star joining a street performer. Things like these don’t happen in India. We hardly ever see celebrities in their natural habitat. We don’t go to Juhu beach and spot Amitabh Bachchan enjoying a gola. Which is great for Amitabh Bachchan, because otherwise, he’d have to answer a lot of questions.

“Sir, how to get so tall, sir? Bless my son, sir”

“Sir, do you and Abhishek Sir and Aishwarya mam sing Kajra Re everyday? Tell na, please”

You get the drift.

Even so, a great thing happened at a Delhi bar last Wednesday. Chris Martin, the lead vocalist of British band Coldplay, performed for about 50 unsuspecting listeners on a whim, making them the most hated people in the country. The crowd grooved to acoustic versions of Coldplay’s greatest hits, while the bar owner grooved to the sound of free publicity. Delhi people who weren’t there cried at the missed opportunity of a selfie and a facebook check-in. Bombay people who weren’t there cried at something cool happening in Delhi, “of all places”. Bangalore people who weren’t there were, umm, okay: they’ve never been anywhere post 11p.m.

City clichés apart, it surely was a sign of changing times that so much noise was made in India over international music. Because otherwise, our countrymen have the endearing quality of walking up to a dubstep DJ and going “BHAI BOLLYWOOD BAJA NA!” More importantly, the fact that there have been no reports yet of a Delhi guy going “Perform at my farmhouse, Chris, I pay double. Otherwise I shoot.”, tells us that we might finally be learning how to behave with famous people. Because traditionally, we never have. We could be anyone, but show us a celebrity and we go crazy.

I remember this time I was stuck at Hyderabad airport after a delayed flight and I heard some typically angry comments. “Airline sucks. Airport sucks. Government sucks. Country sucks. You suck.” Until someone saw a familiar face and shouted “OH MY GOD, LOOK! RAJPAL YADAV!!” and the delayed flight became the best thing to have happened to everyone there. No celebrity is ever too irrelevant to get excited about.

I’m no different. Except that what I do to the said celebrity in my head is way more interesting than what I actually do. I run regularly at Delhi’s Lodhi Gardens, and almost every time, I see Jairam Ramesh on his evening walk. In the lead up to last year’s elections, only I know how I resisted the temptation to shout, “Jeetega Bhai Jeetega, BJP Jeetega!” on his face every time I ran past him. Sigh, if only I hadn’t grown up after college.

But this whole Chris Martin episode sets such a good precedent. The bar has been raised. Now if I don’t see important people in unexpected places, I’ll be very disappointed. Like, politicians in the parliament throughout the entire session. Or, going to a dargah and finding Narendra Modi offering a chaadar. So cute! I dare you not to go ‘Aww’ in a squeaky voice, even if you’re the most macho bouncer in a Gurgaon pub.

And I hope this pleasure isn’t restricted to just a certain strata of the Twitter-ised, bar hopping, iPhone owning strata of the society. We’ve got to let the benefits seep down to the deepest levels. I look forward to the day autowallahs and migrant labourers call for a strike because they just found Altaf Raja singing at a chai stall. Never mind the awkwardness Bangladeshi workers would feel on hearing ‘Tum toh tthehre pardesi’. It’ll be a great vibe, and I hope we become the kind of country where people break into unexpected jigs and states of trance at will.

Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake.

The writer is a Stand Up Comedian.

“Excuse me, but aren’t you…?”

Why not a Kama Sutra Day instead?

(This is the unedited version of the published piece(Times of India, 21st June), which can be read here. The headline I suggested was “A sexy alternative to World Yoga Day”, but I’m not complaining that TOI edited it to this current, click-bait-y version. They also left out a few lines that could’ve turned controversial: I don’t blame them. They know how to run a newspaper, not me. And it’s good when no one goes to jail in the end.)

Today, June 21st, is the longest day of the year. Possibly even the hottest. Left to myself, I’d lie in an ice bath, and restrict my physical activity to pressing the AC remote with my toes.

And this government wants me to go out and celebrate World Yoga Day? It wants me to get out and do surya-namaskaar? Let me tell you, government, THAT surya will not be namaskaar-ed by me. Not in this weather. Plan the event in December and watch me namaaskar the hell out of your surya. In June, my namaskaar will be restricted to the rolling up of a certain finger towards anyone even asking me to lift a finger.

Let’s be clear: the only yoga that’s happening here is that of India stretching itself and taking that position where its all-talk lips meet the well-endowed rear of another country. It’s the “World” that is really important, the “yoga” and “day” part just fell in place. This government loves the sound of approval in a good foreign accent, except when it’s Shashi Tharoor’s accent. Christmas was rechristened “Good Governance Day”, and now it’s this. When they promised Acche Din, what they really meant was Ajeeb Se Din. It’s not their fault that we misunderstood.

It’s this love for the limelight (or sunlight, if you will) that makes it chase the Guinness World Record, an odd thing to do for a government with record majority in the first place. It’s a bit like an already successful actor taking up a trending ‘social cause’ immediately before his next big release. But let’s not forget, the trailer makes no sense if there isn’t a movie to follow it up. It’s hard to imagine just one dedicated day launching a regular yoga drive. Just like no Valentine’s Day makes couples ignore each other’s nose hair and fall deeper in love.

But I’m not the kind of guy who’ll sit at the sidelines and criticize the establishment. As a citizen of this country, it is my duty to find a solution, and arrive at an idea that plugs the holes of World Yoga Day. Something that makes people healthy and happy, something that makes the world like us, something that’s equally appealing to all Indian communities. What could it possibly be? Ah, I know. Friends, Indians, countrymen, lend me your bodies.

How about a World Kama Sutra Day?

No, hear me out! I’ll explain.

Think about it. Sex, Kama Sutra style, is everything that yoga is, and then some more. It requires your bodies to be in those same contorted positions (except that they’re now worth it), and it’s something that everybody from a malnourished African to an obese American will look forward to. And our population is proof, that even if we aren’t always good at it, we are at least enthusiastic about it.


But when you’re willing to take revolutionary ideas more seriously, I’ll be here, with my copy of the Kama Sutra, laughing my victorious laugh at you. You’ll see.

Why not a Kama Sutra Day instead?

Meri overreaction waali maggi

There’s no easy way to say this, I love Maggi, and I love this country. We are all heart and no head, because every time there’s an issue, we lose it. So when someone says Maggi contains lead and MSG, a storm brews up, and lasts way longer than two minutes. The last time we outraged against MSG, it was a movie which featured a Superhero-God trying to kill evil with his armpit hair. It irks me that in the middle of it all, we’ve even forgotten the real issue: Maggi hardly ever takes just two minutes to cook.

What happened was this: we saw/heard something, and just believed it. Think of every such ‘crisis’ we face, and you’ll find it follows a few predictable steps.

Step1: Media reports a story.


Step 3: More cameras shift away from Kejriwal

Step 4: Baba Ramdev lies upside down and gives a quote

Step 5: A big, new advertising campaign countering set ‘perceptions’

You’ll see. I won’t be surprised if underpaid and overworked people at Maggi’s advertising agency are already busy conjuring up “ideas” that “press the emotional buttons of mothers in the SEC-A demographic”. And once again, we’ll believe it. All we need in this country is a current strong enough to flow, and we’ll be swept with it, without ever dropping anchor to stop and think for ourselves. That’s pretty much how we decide what movies to watch, what restaurant to eat at, and which leader to elect to power.

And it’ll fit too, because advertising started it all, by making Maggi this cult figure in every kitchen. Moms had no idea they had to prove their love by cooking Maggi, until Maggi told them so. Just like Madhuri Dixit had no idea the chemicals in Maggi were her fault. She’s probably more shocked than she was when she starred in a movie opposite Sanjay Kapoor. And if she or Amitabh Bachchan end up being sued, it’ll set a bad precedent, but a very interesting one. Because then, the next time you have a hole in your Lux Cozi, you can send Sunny Deol to jail.

Meanwhile, let’s not be under any illusions about being a very health conscious society, although that doesn’t absolve Maggi of any chemical wrongdoing, if any. It’s not like Maggi was a nutrient rich food for the gods that has suddenly become this heathen thing that’s set to destroy the world. Indeed, there are no marathon runners out there who are gutted because they now have to go off their Maggi diet and get back to their unhealthy diet of nariyal-pani, salads and god-help-them, frozen yogurt. If anything, we take pride in going the extra mile and making it even unhealthier, if “Cheese Maggi” and “Fried Maggi” in roadside dhabas are any indication.

Let’s, instead, look at Maggi for what it really is: a boon to people with limited cooking skills and sleeping disorders, college students who spend their allowance on more unhealthy things, and maybe working moms who are hard-pressed for time. It helps that it tastes great and is borderline addictive. The only way Maggi could be more addictive is if I rip open that masala sachet, arrange the powder in lines, and snort it.

Yes, I love Maggi as much as the next guy, unless the next guy is an FDA analyst. And I’m unlikely to stop eating it: just the way smokers don’t stop smoking despite pre-movie advertisements shouting into their lungs, and just the way we lick our kaala-khatta knowing fully well that the ice probably belonged to a dead person once.

So while Maggi will brandish slogans like “Taste bhi, health bhi”, it’s not about either of those things. It is, in fact, just something that has stayed with you through every life stage. Whether it was the time five of you dug into a friend’s Maggi-carrying tiffin-box at school, or that one time you were trekking in Ladakh and it was the only available option, or the time you were ranting on an online forum about how Wai-Wai noodles are better. It has now moved into the domain of nostalgia, a part of the stories you love telling. So irrespective of what Maggi says or the courts say, we’ll continue to eat Maggi.

And it’s going to be all right. If we’ve survived for so long, it’s unlikely that we’ll die of Maggi any time soon.


Meri overreaction waali maggi


I overhear a lot of conversations. If there’s one art I’ve mastered over the years, it’s hearing words not meant for me, said by people not known to me, without coming across as a creep. In buses, flights, metros, coffee shops, you name it. These are situations that don’t require me to be productive, so this is the next best thing I can do with my time.

Lodhi Garden is in the heart of South Delhi-flanked by colonies like Golf Links, Jor Bagh, Defence Colony-which include multitudes of rich people who don’t quite know how they got rich. They were born in the land their forefathers bought, the prices of which escalated as they aged. It also marks the beginning of the diplomatic zone in Delhi. It used to be Arun Jaitley’s morning haunt before he got busy becoming Chidambram 2.0. Jairam Ramesh can still be seen walking regularly, a little more at leisure than Jaitley, obviously.

(Image: sourced from the web)
(Image: sourced from the web)

So, every morning, it is frequented by the repositories of India’s black money: politicians and businessmen.The sums of money they throw around without even batting an eyelid makes me aware of the huge chasm between us and them. I go there to run, like a lot of others who feel like they owe it to their bodies. I usually run with music on, today I didn’t feel like it. So I just walked without music. That turned out to be a great decision because I could modulate my pace with how interesting the conversations around me got. And you get to hear it all: I’ve tried to reproduce them verbatim, to the best of my memory, since I don’t follow people around with a notepad.

Between them, they encompass the business acumen, biases, networking, humour, contradictions that are classic Delhi, and make it interesting. As always,you can’t decide whether to love or hate this city.

A woman, probably in her early 40s, talking on the phone, presumably about some property dispute:

“Woh keh rahe hain out-of-court settlement kar lo. Unke taaye ka ladka lawyer hai na.Kehte hain tum ownership chhodo, dono bhai paanch-paanch karod le lo. Maine kaha, hadd hai, aise-kaise chhodein?”

Two sprightly gentlemen talking , presumably about some election. It could be to one of those elite clubs of Delhi, or just state politics.

 “I told her SHE needs to be more convinced of her candidacy than anyone else. Kaam toh sabhi kar lenge yaar, so it boils down to managing your perception, hai ki nahi? Tum jo image project karoge, sooner or later, people will have to accept.”

 A girl in her late 20s, talking on the phone. If her general gait and tone was any indication, she’s bored with everything around her.

 “Yaar terr paas Pikku padi hai Pikku? De de yaar. Aaj aur kuch hai nahi karne ko…Office jaate hue de jaayega?” #Kandha

One couple walking with a friend of theirs(I’ll call them husband, wife and random guy), all in their late forties-early fifties, talking about the mid-life crises that spring up around this time: kids not getting married(if they think that’s a ‘problem’, it’s their own fault, frankly), issues of where to settle down for good etc.They’re a safe distance behind me, just enough for me to hear them. I join them at a time they’re discussing another friend who’s just shifted to America.

Husband: Yaar ab iss umar mein woh America gaya hai, kuch toh soch ke gaya hoga na.

Random Guy: Nahi matlab, kya thaa, woh paanch saal pehle ghoomne gaya tha. Fir settle ho gaya. Ab waapas aane ka soch raha hai.

Woman(interrupting): Where in America?

 RG: Atlanta. So I was saying…

W: Why Atlanta?

 RG: Wahaan dost hai usska. Punjabi hi hai. Toh ye ghoomne gaya tha udhar, with family.Wahaan jaa ke issko atmosphere pasand aa gaya. Chance ki baat thi-10-12 karod faaltu pade thay isske paas.Immediately ghar le liya.

W:But what about the kids?

RG: Bacchon ki problem thi. Pehle yahaan se wahaan nahi jaa rahe thay- ki bhai hamaara school hai, friend circle hai. Ab wahaan se yahaan aane ko raazi nahi hai.

W: Ab wahaan friend circle bann gaya hoga na, haha.

RG: Nahi in fact his daughter has studied in MIT. Ussne koi bada tagda app banaaya hai, computer waala. Wahaan saare local paperon mein news channelon mein uskiprofile aati hai.

H: Fir toh kya aayegi waapas. India mein toh ladka bhi nahi milna usay.

RG: Haan ladka toh badi mushkil se milega. Wo toh waise bhi kehti hai abhi shaadi nahi karni

W: Tell me about it. We’re also struggling here.

H:Idhar hamaari Shefali(name changed) hai. Kehti hai Bumbayy jaana hai.Maine kaha yahaan tumhaare paas driver hai, ghar hai, cook hai, Bumbayy jaake achaar daalna hai tumne?

RG:Par kya kar sakte ho.

H(getting the conversation back on track): Nahi, toh kaam koi naya shuru kiya usne?

RG: Soch raha hai. Uss din mujhe call aaya usska. Kehta hai ye ek project ke liye tender bhara hai.Tees-Paintees karod daal lete hain dono. Nahi chala toh nahi chala. We’ll cut our losses.

H: Fir?

RG:  Fir pata nahi kuch visa ka panga aa gaya usska. Accha yaar I’m parked right here, I’ll leave.Ok bhabhiji, I’ll see you tomorrow.

He leaves. The woman has the last word.

“I don’t know, he always comes across as someone who’s driven by money.”



(This is my Times of India column dated 31st May, 2015. The published version can be read here.)

The CBSE results came out last week, and yet again, the envelope has been pushed. The only way it can be pushed further is if an American University funds research on raising the limit from 100% to 105%. Headed, of course, by a mathematician of Indian origin who we’ll feature on our news channels while he rolls his R’s and goes “Rrreally, now?”.

But are these kids insane?

99.2%! With numbers that good, the government will soon be claiming credit for their development. Their parents must be so proud though, especially since they now move a step closer to the ultimate goal every Indian parent sets for his kids: an MBA degree. In all their excitement, these poor kids aren’t even aware of the pattern their lives will now take, with ‘advice’ like:

“10th is ok, but 12th is the real thing.”

“12th is also ok, but if you don’t do well in college…”

“College is fine, but if you don’t do an MBA, how will you write a bestselling novel with wrong grammar?”

If you’re doing Indian society right, all roads lead to an MBA. In fact, if Robert Frost was Indian, he would’ve missed the road less-travelled and taken a wrong turn, earned an MBA degree, become a ‘Consultant’ in a glass building with ‘Business Park’ in its name and saying things like ‘ASAP’ all day. And our MBA conditioning pretty much begins since childhood:

Father: “Beta, it’s time for your bedtime story.”

Kid: “Yay!”

Father: “Ram bought 8 oranges at a Cost Price of Rs. 10 and Rahim bought 15 apples at a cost price…”

Kid: “Can I watch Chhota Bheem?”

You get the drift. We just can’t wait for them to join a B-school and get a job where their boss goes, “Welcome. Here’s your box. Now think within it.”

Enough is enough. There are things they need to learn before they get there, and I’m taking it upon myself to educate these naïve over-achievers. Like, I want them to know it’s good to fall in love, but even better to find friends who’ll laugh at you when no one loves you back. They need to be primed for life, because things will not be as perfect as their ‘Best of five’. I feel for the 99% guy who will fall for the college hottie, only to hear, “Hey! I’m gonna zip off on this lean, long-haired guy’s bike. But I’ll call you when I need tips on integration.” Yes, I hate being a party-pooper here but someone’s got to do it.

Look at the other, not-so-smart kids who failed, for example. Just because it’s the internet age and they have access to information, they’ll convince themselves saying, “Hey! Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg were also dropouts!”. Someone needs to tell them that’s not what happens to all dropouts. Most of them are like that bhaiya in their neighbourhood who plays cricket with them by evening, and lives in a shady chatroom by night.

Thing is, I’m worried about these kids. Although I realise I should be more worried about sounding like a 50-year old man when I say that. But, just look at today’s kids. They have hairstyles that come straight out of the porcupine family, tattoos that spout ancient Greek wisdom that sounds Greek to them, and type incoherent sentences like ‘Dnt cm 2day coz mum at hm tk cr ’. They need friends, philosophers, guides to get their act together and be of value for the country’s economy. It’s not too hard, at least as long as MTV continues making Splitsvilla and Roadies.

All said and done, I’m a little envious of all these kids. They’re smart, tech-savvy and just immature enough to enjoy dating apps like Tinder. Here’s hoping a few years down the line, they’re using all their smarts to earn fat paychecks and rule the workplace as well.

Hopefully, without using irritating jargon like “Keep me in the loop.”



(This column appeared in The Times of India, dated May 24, 2015. The published version can be read here.)

When the British left, they left in us an undying love for the white man’s territory, and of course, fish and chips. So much, that ‘imported’ became our favourite word, which explains the phenomenon of Katrina Kaif. And there’s absolutely nothing that excites Indians more than leaving India. It doesn’t even have to be ‘the states’ or Europe. Anything works. We’ve all had this conversation with our neighbours:

You: Where’re you going for summer vacations?

Them: Abroad

You: Nice. Where?

Them: Abroad only

You: Yeah, but which country?


Now that Sunny Leone is too mainstream, going abroad remains the biggest fantasy of the common Indian. We’ll call him Jignes, because since May 16, 2014, the common man has turned Gujarati, and “isn’t ashamed to be Indian”. He stays on in an IT job he hates only in the hope of being sent on-site to another country where he can sing ‘Rangeelo maaro beach shirt! ’. As I write this, he’s taking a selfie with a cow in Cambodia and has captioned it ‘#crazieeee’.

Yet, travel the spectrum from the most common man to the most important one, and you’ll see how things don’t change. Narendra Modi just went to Mongolia. Mongolia! Somewhere, even Genghis Khan is chuckling in his grave. I don’t want to imagine how Modi would’ve announced his trip to Mongolia.

Aboard the Prime Minister’s plane:

Modi: How far is Mongolia from China?

Pilot: We’re crossing it, sir. Look down!

Modi: Oh let’s land.

Pilot: What? They don’t even have an airport, sir.

Modi: Nonsense. I’m carrying $1billion. We’ll build them one.


People quit their jobs to travel, but remarkably, here’s a man with the most important one, and forever on a travelling spree! He might just be one step away from putting up pictures of his feet against the backdrop of a mountain range and captioning it “Happy feet”. It’s commendable how he’s travelled China-Mongolia-South Korea in one fell swoop, doing more for the ‘Silk Route’ than Mohit Chauhan’s early singing career.

Mongolia, in fact, is like that lonely neighbour you haven’t spoken to for years. One night, coming back from a party, you decide to knock at his door and go: “I’m your friend!” He’s lonely, so he invites you in and brings a cow for you to take a selfie with.

The greatest thing about Mongolia, I just found out on a google search, is its capital. It’s just fun to say Ulan Bator. But I dare you to say it without your dad going “Mind your language”.

It seems whatever we can do in India, we can do better outside it. Take Bollywood for example, which goes “Why do we need a script when we have Switzerland?” Anurag Kashyap just released a film which is called Bombay Velvet, but was shot in Sri Lanka. Some people liked it simply because it gave them a chance to watch Anushka Sharma on screen when Virat Kohli isn’t batting. But most people liked it only because it was shot in Sri Lanka, or “discount Caribbean”, as salaried folk call it.

Point is we’re a country that cuts through the chaos and makes thing happen. Have a weak currency? Fine, don’t go to the USA, go to Bhutan. Have a weak batting line-up? Fine, don’t go to Australia, go to Bangladesh.

Maybe we are so obsessed with other countries because they let us escape our everyday realities. But as every Jignes who goes to Europe will tell you, he gets back to his theplas and achaar within two days.

So once the whole East Asia visit dies down, we might spare a thought for India too. Take North-east India, for example. They have great music, great food, dense mountains and Mary Kom.

And most importantly, it’s home.

The writer is a stand-up comedian