Tea like it should be

Lapsang Souchong tea at Tea Trails

Some like it hot, others cold; many countries relish it as a sweet, milky brew and still others, prefer a simple douse of hot water. Tea is as deeply rooted in Indian culture as much as it is in China, Japan and England. Just a cup of this drink is the norm to kick-start the day. Many see it as the perfect antidote to dreaded afternoon slumps. And for the rest, it pairs well with conversation at just about any time of the day. There really isn’t much that can be compared to the uplifting power of a hot cup of tea.

While coffee houses are still mushrooming across Mumbai, tea-centric cafes are only just catching up, which is surprising, given that India is one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of tea. I guess it was only a matter of time that the humble cup of tea—enjoyed at home and at street-side stalls alike—seeped into the city’s mainstream culture. Tea Trails in Mumbai’s business district of Bandra Kurla Complex, seems to be making up for all the lost time by serving this aromatic beverage in more than 40 different varieties. It’s the second outlet (the first one’s in Thane’s Viviana Mall), with many more slated to open across the city very soon.

I recently visited Tea Trails on a particularly tepid summer afternoon. A cheery air pervaded the cool confines of this sunlit lounge, partly due to its bright melon chairs, posters of tea-related stuff, strings of Mason jars and just a touch of the whimsical in the form of a giant teacup. And if this doesn’t make you smile, the friendly teastas (attendants at Tea Trails) will ensure that you do.

The tea list has lesser-known variants like Lapsang Souchong and Tisanes along with popular ones like Jasmine Green Tea and Oolong. Since my days are generally filled with endless cups of green tea, I skipped the tried-and-tested varieties in favour of the Lapsang Souchong— a Chinese black tea from the lounge’s International range of teas.

One of the more interesting aspects of Tea Trails is that its co-owners, Kavita and Uday Mathur and Ganesh Vishwanathan, have made sure that all teas served here are steeped right. Your tea will arrive in a glass infuser with a sandglass timer along with a note with the tea’s optimum brewing time and health benefits. I also love the fact that Tea Trails is a teabag-less zone! Only tea leaves here. And, each tea is served with cheese straws and palmiers.

My Lapsang Souchong tea (pictured above) had a smokey aroma and flavour. Plus, I didn’t feel the need to add any sugar, which was a first for me, given that it was a black tea. A snack of a Smoked Chicken Sandwich paired well with this tea. Tea Trails is definitely doing well on the food front, unlike most of the coffee chains that serve terribly stale and insipid snacks. Image

I also sampled the Burmese Salad (pictured above)—a crunchy mix of cabbage, lettuce and nuts doused with a tangy vinaigrette and sprinkled with fermented tea leaves. Next up were some tea-infused cookies, which didn’t really carry a strong taste of tea. Still, they weren’t too sweet at the same time. Kavita Mathur explained that the food infused with tea leaves is not meant to have a strong taste of tea. After trying the salad and the cookies, I felt that the tea leaves served to balance the sour element and the sugary sweetness of the salad and cookies, respectively.

Most of the dishes on the lunch and breakfast menu are served with complimentary tea. Of course, if you visit at any time of the day, you can indulge in comfort food from India and across the world ranging from Bun Maska and Pakodas, to scones and pound cake.

Or, if you make it in time for breakfast ( 9 am – 11 am), you’ll get to try out the famed tea-marbled eggs. Other basic breakfast items include Poha and Upma, which are bound to be a hit with office-goers in vicinity.

But if you are only here to sample and learn about new tea variants, opt for the Tea Explorer, which offers a choice of four tasting-sized teas (you can choose from White, Oolong, International, Green and Tisane), served with cookies, palmiers and cheese straws.

A good old cup of chai comes in two flavours—Masala and Adhrak; both are brewed using freshly pounded spices and herbs. While caffeine-intolerant folks can opt for the caffeine-free Tisanes in flavours like Himalayan Spice, Turkish Red Apple and Mixed Berry, the caffein addict can get his or her dose in a brilliantly brewed cup of South Indian filter kaapi.

`ImageSome of the cold teas on the list include Lemon and Mint Iced Tea, Tea Frappe and the exotic Pinacolada Iced Tea. But we suggest you sample their Taiwanese Bubble Tea (pictured above; image courtesy: Tea Trails). Available in lychee (left) as well as mango flavour, the bubble tea makes for a refreshing drink with a surprise element—fruity liquid spheres that explode in your mouth. Thankfully, Tea Trails doesn’t throw in Tapioca balls, which are not exactly fun to chew on unless you’re a teething toddler!

With the amount of seriousness given to the good old cup of tea and the rather reasonable price tags, we think Tea Trails is just what the city needs and it couldn’t have come at a better time! Imagine this: Sitting at one of the window-side tables, with a book in hand and a steaming cup of tea, while the rain pours down outside. Yes, we can’t wait to return very soon!

A platform for writers to share their portfolios

There was always Behance for designers and SoundCloud for musicians, but when it came to a platform for writers to share their portfolio—there was none that I knew of. I just discovered Contently, a wonderful website that costed nothing but a bit of my time to showcase all of my published articles. Yes, the name of the website itself sounds bright, and now that I’ve discovered it, I understand why.

It’s really quite amazing. As soon as I registered and filled up all the publications I had ever written for, Contently automatically sourced all of those pieces that were available on the Internet and compiled them to my portfolio! The rest could be uploaded manually, using the PDF format.

I also like the no-frills, minimal design of this platform. In this age of SEO-centric articles that aim to do nothing but sell you products or services, or list-centric websites like Buzzfeed that vie for your valuable time, it really is imperative for writers to have a place to showcase their work and to connect with their readers via a single platform.

While personal blogs are the first choice of most writers, I really like the idea of having all my work, or at least some of it, up on a single website. Head over here to have a look at my portfolio! I’ll be sure to add more stories soon!

Dreaming in Black and White

An illustrated novel explores Hinduism’s colourful mythology in monochrome


John Jackson, the author of the recently released Brahma Dreaming, prefers to call his stories legends or folk tales than to classify them as mythology.“Mythology cannot be dismissed as something trivial.  Myths have their roots in what Jung called ‘the collective unconscious’. They are part of the human heritage and can teach us much about human behaviour.”

On a trek in the Himalayas, in 1978, Jackson encountered Hindus near the Indian border, at the foot of the Annapurna range, and Buddhists in the middle areas. “High up, in the final layer, there are animists, who see spirit in everything,” says Jackson, now 84, and a keen student of world religion.

The Milk Ocean“Mountain people are excellent storytellers. I was fascinated by their legends and myths, passed on by itinerant storytellers who told them for a bowl of soup and a crust of bread in the villages they travelled to.” After the trek, the London-based polymath writer, lawyer, campaigner and founder of JJ Books, Jackson, spent 35 years researching Indian and Nepalese mythology, including the Mahabharata.

His encounters with wandering storytellers, and extensive research on ancient Mesopotamia, the breeding ground of many of the world’s religions, culminated in the creation of Brahma Dreaming. The 248-page illustrated book re-imagines some of Hinduism’s foundational myths using rich yet simple storytelling paired with black and white artwork by Italian illustrator Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini.

Tales Of CreationThe story opens with Brahma, who, in the Tales of Creation, dreams the world into being. The focus later shifts to Vishnu and Shiva in the Tales of Preservation and Tales of Destruction. Jackson’s take is not a significant departure from Hindu mythology as we know it. Yet, it does not glorify characters to godly proportions. “The idea was to create a book that would use words and imagery to draw the reader into these timeless stories. It can well be seen as a successor of the mountain storytellers’ of erstwhile times.”

Terrazzini has taken some creative liberties with the imagery, depicting mythological figures in ways one may not be used to. There’s a lanky Shiva with a roaring tiger on his back and a lovelorn goddess Sati in a sweeping gown and floral head wreath. Another chapter depicts Ganesha effortlessly balancing a ridiculously large head on a human body while he rides atop a gigantic rat.

bd2“Using pure black and white, and, in a sense, being limited by such a choice, helped me to be expressive and free in my imagery,” says Terrazzini, who usually works with watercolours. “These stories, with their dark and surreal nature, served to benefit from this.” Not always adhering to traditional iconography, her versions of Hindu deities personify the characters, if not make them more approachable.

The hardcover, cloth-bound Brahma Dreaming is, as much as anything, an exploration of the imagination. “I hope the book will appeal to the imaginative and intuitive child that lives in all of us, whether we are 10 or 110,” says Jackson.

Published in Man’s World (MW) in October 2013

A Play of Light

DSC_0370I  came across an interesting TEDTalk by Alexa Mead titled, Your Body is My Canvas, in which she shares her journey as an artist. When she was younger, Mead was fascinated by shadows, and often found herself painting over them. Much like creating a permanent shadow.

Over time, she began highlighting not just the shadows she saw but also the light that fell upon objects and beings. In essence, she was actually painting what she saw — on friends, objects and surfaces.  In the TEDTalk video,  Mead is first seen painting a backdrop. She then paints over her subject (a man) to match the textures of the background. When viewed from a distance, or as a photograph, the entire creation appears two dimensional. Simply put, Mead transforms a 3D object and its environment into a two-dimensional creation that looks much like a painting. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before, and really got me thinking about my own fascination for light and shadows.

I was left inspired after watching this video. Mostly every TEDTalk leaves me this way. But this time around, it gave me a gentle nudge to step out of my comfort zone to write a blog post after what might seem like eons. And, this brings me back to my love for light, and mostly, the way it transmogrifies as the day turns into night.

A sunbeam piercing a dust-filled room. A shadow created by natural light. Silhouettes of objects, forms and structures. Most interesting is the fact that these figures, shapes, rainbow hues and symmetrical forms are created by a natural source, reminding you, ever so often, of the small, simple and organic pleasures of life.

Ripples in the water during a blissful sunset













I shot the photographs (above) just before sunset near Vadivali Lake in Kamshet, a little town that’s a couple of hours out of Mumbai. As soon

as the sun began to set, everything around us – trees, shrubs, flowers, cows and dogs – took on a silhouetted effect. When the sun was at its lowest, nestled between the silhouetted hills, the lake took on a purple-hued rippled effect. It’s really quiet in Kamshet, and if you’re looking to get away from the madness of the concrete jungle, this might just be the place.

Light and shadows at the Hawa Mahal

When I think of light and shadows as strong elements, I can’t help but think of Rajasthan, particularly when I visited Jaipur a few years ago. Hawa Mahal in Jaipur (pictured above) is a photographer’s paradise. Light enters the erstwhile home of Maharana Sawai Pratap Singh through hundreds of tiny windows that also bring in generous gushes of wind. The windows allowed the women of the house to get glimpses of life outside their home.

Shadow and light symmetry

It was on one of the terraces that I, yet again, spotted a sharp play of light and shadow. A perfectly symmetrical shadow intersects the adjoining wall makes it seem like I was in the right place at the right time.