Chapter Open.

I’ve never read a single book in my life (other than my school text books) and yet, I house a significant library, both at my home and in my office. I’ve also published 2 books of my own plus I write my own blog and sometimes, also for leading publications as a guest writer. Never ever have I felt the temptation to read (other than Rumi’s quotes) simply because my world in purely visual, the books in my library are coffee table books full of wonderful images and my own books are also based on photography. What this essentially implies is that I am more than content in my world of visual nirvana where words are merely used to express thoughts connected with strong imagery.  Yet, I have scores of friends who are avid book readers; some almost go weak in their knees when they get their hands on a paperback or hardback they’ve been (im)patiently waiting for; so whilst I’ve never understood the euphoric moments of such beings, I’ve always respected the literary types for their passion and knowledge. Recently however, I almost secretly wished, perhaps for the very first time, that I had the interest of reading in me and what triggered this rare desire was a simple book shop!

Chapter 101, a bookshop located in the New Delhi suburb of Gurgaon (now dismally renamed as Guru Gram) is pure romance! It is owned by my friend, Raju Singh (a fact that i was not aware of when someone suggested that i visit the store), a book-crazy banker and entrepreneur to fulfil his lifelong dream of owning such a bookstore. In their own words: “A den, a private retreat, the charms of a classic understated era… Chapter 101 is a bookstore intended to build a quiet literary atmosphere with carefully curated books beyond the bestsellers. It draws on the quiet to create a space where people are encouraged to spend time with the books and browse at leisure – a safe space for revisiting the time-cherished classics and also to find a new favourite among contemporary authors.” To drive home the point that there is pure passion behind the concept, the store is also managed by Rohan Dahiya, a young author, blogger and visual artist whose love for books drew him to the store.

As always, I find it unfair to give away too much in a blog (the images will speak as much as they can) as it is my belief that spaces created with such love are meant to be experienced to be able to assimilate the romance that they permeate.

Whilst i may still never get down to reading a book, I do see myself visiting C101 several times… to listen to the great background music, to enjoy the (free) coffee (and hopefully some interesting company), and to witness several enlightened individuals select, from the multitude of options available, a place to rest their derrière on, to browse through an inspiring and rare collection of published treasures whilst simultaneously experiencing what i am sure would only qualify as induced literary orgasms.

PS* Raju Singh, whose baby this wonderful store is can be spotted in shorts matching his hair in one of the images.

Copyright: JJ Valaya/ All rights reserved. All images are the sole property of JJ Valaya. No part of this post/publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval systems, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of JJ Valaya. This applies to all acts of use, in particular such as the reproduction of pictures and text, their performance and demonstration, translation, filming, microfilming, broadcasting, storage and processing in electronic media

 

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Sky ~ II

Take away the colours of the Sky (and its inhabitants) and the monochromes heave a collective and triumphant sigh before proceeding to create grayscale magic in Whites and Greys albeit with an occasional dalliance with Noir.

Copyright: JJ Valaya/ All rights reserved. All images are the sole property of JJ Valaya. No part of this post/publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval systems, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of JJ Valaya. This applies to all acts of use, in particular such as the reproduction of pictures and text, their performance and demonstration, translation, filming, microfilming, broadcasting, storage and processing in electronic media

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The Sky below us…

 

Whenever I fly (not metaphorically), one of the most difficult choices I’m faced with each and every time is deciding between the window seat or the aisle seat. The aisle seat enjoys the advantage of easier (and quicker) access to the loo and to frequent walks on long hauls (hate jumping over someone napping in the adjoining flatbed!)…the window seat on the other hand offers an uninterrupted view of a forever evolving canvas through the small rectangular transparent gap right beside it. I eventually take the decision based on how full the flight is, praying silently that its not, so that I can enjoy what I call “Glimpses of God” for at least the duration of the flight.

The sky above, as we see it every single day, is a fairly mundane experience when compared to the dramatic vistas one is treated to if one were to peek into the sky from above. That, my friends, is sheer poetry in motion… it is God’s domain, and man’s opportunity to actually experience what it must feel like if the “Gods were actually looking down upon us”. The sheer volume of it, the colours, the textures, the rays of the sun and several other elements come together to create the perfect awe-inspiring visual; one only needs to look, and take in the wonders that lie before us, to imbibe the magic of nature and feel deep gratitude to be able to behold an intense canvas that no artist in the world can ever create!

I thought I’d share some of the images that I have made from this vantage point; though spread across a few flights, do remember that these images are a mere mortal’s attempt to capture momentary, yet privileged flashes of God’s magic. For when has it ever been possible to cage a spirit?… and specially one that incubates life itself.

PS* Please excuse any marks/scratches on the images as the images are made through the double glass of the aircraft using a smartphone. I have also added a grain to the images to bind them into a cohesive story.

Copyright: JJ Valaya/ All rights reserved. All images are the sole property of JJ Valaya. No part of this post/publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval systems, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of JJ Valaya. This applies to all acts of use, in particular such as the reproduction of pictures and text, their performance and demonstration, translation, filming, microfilming, broadcasting, storage and processing in electronic media

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Weight or Watch. #WOW

WOW

Okay then…this is going to be a first, but I suppose it just needs to be done! Perhaps the most difficult obstacle that I’ve ever faced in my life has been my weight issue. All that excess has been a constant companion of mine since many decades, and though I’ve managed to get rid of some of it several times, the kilograms lost seemed to (like the proverbial bad pennies) possess a magical ability of coming right back! I think I’ve tried every possible diet in the world and can now write a thesis on how diets can never work unless there’s a radical shift in one’s own mindset for initiating and sustaining change. Not doing it for lack of motivation is an age old excuse… Worse, and God forbid, the onset of a medical condition where you just have to lose weight is avoidable… reaching out for seemingly easy and effective means such as Bariatric surgery are both un-natural and unsafe…so then where lies the answer?

As i said, it all begins with a shift in one’s mind-space first, and eventually, that positive shift needs to regulate what goes into one’s mouth…essentially, its all about the number of calories consumed. Typically, diets push fatties onto radical paths…. eat steamed vegetables, don’t eat ice-cream, eat an apple, don’t eat fries, eat wheat, don’t eat rice…i think you understand what i mean. But this is exactly what does not work for most people who’ve lived their life seemingly only to eat and have never really eaten to live. Deprive yourself the goodies and failure is imminent! A couple of years back, I think I cracked the formula wherein, you could eat whatever you wanted and whenever you wanted with just 2 caveats: (a) You halve the portions and (b) you enter everything you eat into the nifty little app called ‘My fitness pal’. What this app literally does is ask you some direct and basic questions and then works out the exact number of calories you should consume to reach your target. Thereafter, you simply have to record everything you eat or drink, and it keeps deducting the calories consumed and keeps showing you how many you have left to feast on. There are many other things it does but I’m going to let you discover those for yourself. Anyways, what you eventually end up with is a virtual dietician who lets you eat or drink anything under the planet without fear as along as you are honest about the quantities. I’ve tried this in the past and successfully managed to knock off 14 big ones (but gained back 10) so the art is in going on and on till you reach your goal…just don’t give up!

Every person with a weight issue has one favourite word: TOMORROW. This, in actuality is the tomorrow that never arrives. So I’ve decided that my word is going to be TODAY. Which also means that today is when it all begins for me and I decided that perhaps the best way for me to start this journey of honesty with myself is to put it out there in this public domain. Also, since putting their weight down can be downright embarrassing for most, I’m going to keep my tracker in percentages e.g. If today’s weight is a 100%, the posts that follow would be about how much % have I reduced it to, eventually reaching my target of weighing 70% of what I do today i.e. a drop of 30% of my body weight. Its not going to be easy, but if i’m disciplined enough and hang in there, i envisage between 14-16 months to achieve this healthily.

Lastly, you may be wondering as to why you should be subjected to this at all? Selfishly to be able to finally do something about my weight but also, this one is really for all those who have battled and lost to weight… I’m going to try and visually also show food art, which is delicious, healthy (not always) and looks pretty as well, and yet, helps you knock of the excess (a calorie count will be shared as well). I’ve always believed that Art exists everywhere, and this time around, I’m going to speak to you about my journey through visually appealing gourmet experiences (along with the % drop in my weight) which eventually and with time, i am hopeful may also inspire some others to join me in conquering their handicap and simply living a better and healthier life.

Wish me luck!

(BTW* Starting today also makes it really tough because I’ve just about sat down as the  host for an intimate dinner at this lovely new place in Delhi called PAPAYA and I’ve already consumed 50% of my calories allowed…Start tomorrow? Nah!)

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Macchiato.

We Indians are indeed a strange bunch. We look down upon our own if they cannot converse in English OR even if they speak Hindi fluently. We look people up and down in disdain if we see them wearing a kurta-pyjama or dhoti in public (signature Indian garments). I don’t really know what it is… Is it a British hangover that we’ve still not been able to get rid of entirely?… or is it that we choose to interpret the lack of one’s fluency in the English language as being uneducated… or whether we consider wearing clothes native to one’s own land as backward! I don’t see this happening anywhere else …Go to China and you’ll tear your hair out trying to communicate with the locals… The Japanese flaunt their beautiful Kimonos with pride and are thus revered by all and sundry.

Yet, perhaps what surprises me the most is the fact that we propagate (quite unabashedly) a heady dose of fairness creams in a country which is largely, well, brown skinned. I find it utterly disturbing that girls who are dusky or dark have to struggle their entire life fending off a social stigma, which makes no sense in the first place!

We’re children of Nature…of God… and how we look is exactly how we’re meant to be accepted. I’ve never quite understood why the colour of one’s skin is such a big issue anyways…Black, Brown, White, Yellow (!!??), what difference does it make? If at all, it makes us all unique…beautiful in our own signature way… comfortable in our own skin. As a matter of fact, I find dusky and dark incredibly sexy (stated purely because the visual seems to affect so many) and is in no way, a handicap. It might be wise for many to remember that eventually what matters is the inside of a person… the heart…the intellect…the spirit.

The last I heard, no colour (except maybe orange?) was ever the reason for any individual to be singularly causing any form of catastrophic distress in any form whatsoever.

But I guess I should speak for myself and for me, Dusky is incredibly exotic! From Maidens (unfair) to Macchiatos, Brown most certainly gets the Crown!

Copyright: JJ Valaya/ All rights reserved. All images are the sole property of JJ Valaya. No part of this post/publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval systems, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of JJ Valaya. This applies to all acts of use, in particular such as the reproduction of pictures and text, their performance and demonstration, translation, filming, microfilming, broadcasting, storage and processing in electronic media

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The Sixth Sense

Let’s talk about food.

Traditionally Taste is classified as one of the 5 senses, but for me personally, it takes on the mantle of the Sixth sense…The sixth sense is essentially another term for extra-sensory perception; and food for me is one of the best barometers of what to expect from the rest of the experience, be it in a restaurant, a cafe, an airline….you get the drift?

I have 3 wonderful stories to share, which perhaps will ably also elaborate my point…

Story 1: If one is to fly Business Class within India, you have 3 choices: Jet airways, Air India and Vistara. The first has been around for a while, has good connectivity but sad planes, the second is the oldest (besides being the national carrier), but unfortunately is not too good with punctuality and the third, the newest, has limited connectivity as of now (plus the uniforms suck!)… I personally refuse to fly Air India (too many comedies of error), I was a regular with Jet (still a platinum card member, I think) but have now gravitated towards Vistara. What made me switch? Proximity of the boarding gates to the baggage belts at Mumbai airport was one reason, but more importantly, and you may not believe it, the reason was…A Kulfi (an Indian ice cream) that they serve in flight! Surprisingly, on subsequent social evenings, I discovered that I was not the only one who fancied their delicacy and that indeed, this was one of the factors that many had connected with when it came to Vistara. Sometimes, no highly paid consultant will tell you about the little things that make a difference and listening to the customer can be a great alternative. Net result: I now fly only Vistara in India.

Story 2: This one was a journey of self discovery! I love good coffee, and though I’ve had several moments of coffee coups in my life, I ended up discovering the best coffee ever, existing right in my own backyard..literally! A butler at my flagship store in Delhi somehow figured out the perfect recipe for the perfect coffee! Don’t take my word for it… just visit our space in Delhi.. don’t buy anything if you don’t want to but try the coffee! Net result: I’m visiting my own store more often now.

Story 3: The Oberoi Gurgaon is a lovely hotel and one of my favourite haunts when I need to chill a bit in ‘Gurugram’. At 361, their coffee shop, they serve a particular kind of bread called the Flaky bread which is an absolute treat. I can assure you it’s a definite contributor to the girth but its worth every millimeter that you add on! Net result: The ambience and superb service aside, this lone bread has become one of my core reasons to make the hotel one of my favourite meeting spots.

Finally, while still on the Oberoi, I must make a personal recommendation. A few nights back, I had a chance to sample visiting Michelin star Chef Mario Paecke’s seven course tasting menu and what a treat it was! I’ve always been a bit of both, a hearty Punjabi (a posh one?) and a connoisseur of fine gourmet experiences (though slightly conservative in my approach to what goes into my mouth)… I’ve oscillated between the draw of the generous calorie-laden portions of desi food and the art of the elegant droppings of fine cuisine… I’ve debated constantly within myself about the simplicity of the classic Dal-Roti vs. the complexity of mysterious sauces and garnishes. Frankly, there’s magic in both, but on this particular night, the Oberoi with its ambience, its wines and Chef Mario’s talent and his artistic presentation had a fan in me. Many thanks Amitabh Rai for the experience.

If in Delhi, do visit and give yourself a treat!

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Copyright: JJ Valaya/ All rights reserved. All images are the sole property of JJ Valaya. No part of this post/publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval systems, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of JJ Valaya. This applies to all acts of use, in particular such as the reproduction of pictures and text, their performance and demonstration, translation, filming, microfilming, broadcasting, storage and processing in electronic media

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Dub-eye

 

I’m on a one day trip to Dubai today, and as luck would have it, the skies are dotted with pregnant clouds with the sun’s rays trying to sneakingly break through here and there. It’s easily amongst the most beautiful days that I’ve witnessed in my over 40 visits to Dubai in the past several years. The juxtaposition of modern man made structures rising from the desert sands trying desperately to embrace, and perhaps rival God created Prussians and teals against the sky make for surreal imagery and indeed, awe inspiring visuals.

I’ve always called Dubai “India’s best kept city”, simply because of the overwhelming number of Indians that have made it their home. Yet, it is also an evolving modern city and it is quite remarkable how its rulers have created something so modern and incredibly advanced in the middle of a barren desert. That said, Dubai has never quite fascinated me as a city simply because of its unfortunate lack of character… you know…the kind that one sees in abundance in Europe and Asia; and what disappoints me more is because its not because the UAE does not have history to fall back on. However, although stone tools have been found at many archaeological sites, little is known about the UAE’s early inhabitants. Many ancient towns in the area were trading centres between the Eastern and Western worlds. The remnants of an ancient mangrove swamp, dated at 7000 BC, were discovered during the construction of sewer lines near Dubai Internet City. The area was covered with sand about 5,000 years ago as the coast retreated inland, becoming part of the city’s present coastline. Pre-Islamic ceramics have also been found from the 3rd and 4th centuries. Still, this past is not celebrated as much as it should be in present day Dubai… I’ve always felt that its culture could have been much better integrated into the mega city that Dubai is fast becoming.

But for now, I’d rather appreciate the effort that has been put in to create what has been created and revel in the fact that i could capture the images that i could today!

Man, in his throes of modern acceptance, may have chosen to neglect the past of this great region, but God, thankfully, never fails to complete the picture by blessing it with nature’s unlimited bounty.

Copyright: JJ Valaya/ All rights reserved. All images are the sole property of JJ Valaya. No part of this post/publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval systems, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of JJ Valaya. This applies to all acts of use, in particular such as the reproduction of pictures and text, their performance and demonstration, translation, filming, microfilming, broadcasting, storage and processing in electronic media

 

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