Sunday, 1 April 2012

“Nostolgic Namaste Hanoi”
4 of 5 stars Reviewed March 25, 2012 NEW
Nostalgic Namaste Hanoi

As an Ex-pat Indian working abroad for more than 15 years, the first thing I ever sacrificed and compromised was the food. Gone are the days of steaming Idlies, crispy Dosas and hot coffee with milk! When I moved from middle-east a couple of years ago to Vietnam, I was told 'watch out veggie, you are entering into a strictly non-veg. zone'.

They were not totally wrong until I re-discovered my taste buds after a long dormant period, back in Namaste Hanoi. The first thing that strikes positively in Namaste is the ambiance. The dining halls with different Indian themes of places, dance etc give a momentary feeling as if I am back home in India. Neatly arranged clean tables with bold and bright lighting welcome us in Namaste.

Name it, a north Indian delicacy or a south Indian special, you are granted with a spectrum of menu. Most of us have the habit of ordering 'repeat items' or simply fall a prey to 'other table syndrome' to instantaneously copy the fellow dinners.

Mr. Gopi the owner and a pioneer for Indian restaurants in Hanoi, is there to guide us through a wonderful experience of 'random choice'. Surprisingly, he has a mental database that could compete with a super computer in storing your 'past eating records'. He chooses your menu like 'Google feel lucky'. Also you are protected from 'over ordering' your food, given the number of people joining you that day.

The food you eat is fresh and Masala or the spice does not feel refrigerated or long-stored any more. Sambar with onion tastes quite authentic south Indian. I tried a variety of items over my frequent visits to Namaste and added them to my favorites list.

This ‘Fine piece of Food industry' has still got a big room for improvement at any given time. Any big or small happening on every visit can change the situation momentarily and elevate or spoil the mood. If at all I have to suggest some improvements in Namaste, there could be a few in a positive sense.

Firstly Mr. Gopi can't be there practically at every table doing his miraculous service. Hope his staff pick his 'street smartness skills' and emulate him and relieve him to concentrate on further developments of Namaste. Of course any new restaurant will have the same issue for the staff to grow along with time and mature.

Other visible thing is the quantity of side dishes for food items, the variety of chutneys look merely smeared in mini-cups. While any requests for re-fills is never discouraged or demanded for extra cost, some shy customers may not venture to ask in the first place. Another thing is the beverages like juice/ rose milk etc. The satisfaction from sumptuous salivating food does lead to higher expectation for equally matching drinks and hope this will be taken care in future.

All said and done, Namaste Hanoi makes me feel nostalgic of my childhood days of tasty Indian food. Thanks to Namaste for keeping my Indian side alive with week-end doses of palatable Indian delicacies!

Friday, 17 June 2011

Dammam Times


Its more than an year I left Dammam, Saudi after 15 long years of harmonious and happy working together in Zamil Steel. I am posting some snaps of 'parting party' in remembrance of those glorious days. cheers!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010



By Dammam Bala

Friends, this is rainy season in Tamil Nadu. It all started with tropical

depression JAL and followed by heavy rain and subsequent floods in the south.

Its our usual complaint that Cauvery is dry due to Karnataka's denial, Mettur

dam could not be opened for irrigation and all. For a change, it was different

news in TV this time. They said people are happy to see the Sun after a week,

especially the road side merchants.

When it comes to clouds, they are often attributed as a metaphor for confusion

or unclear situation. They call as war clouds, a cloud of worries etc. For an

optimist, the cloud is a natural umbrella against scorching sun. It is god

driven `metro water lorry without wheels. His motto is `Be positive' in his

outlook towards all happenings or at least to look into the positive side of

every incidence.

This can be put in short as B+. As usual, I pondered over this B+ and got some

strange connection over words, they entirely change meaning with B+. This is

totally an uncontrolled thought sequence and I thought of penning it down for

your glance.

B1. Most of us keep complaining that whatever we have is less. Say less money,

less resources, less support or mostly in common very less time at our disposal

(as if Hon. Man Mohan Singh or Obama have 48 hours a day as a special grant!) Is

there any way to make this less as more? There is!

Less + B = B + Less = Bless (ing in disguise) !!

B2. Day and night, dawn and dusk, dark and bright, dry and wet, high and low

time we all have. Are you feeling low? Don't worry, you have Vitamin B for your


Low + B = B + low = Blow (it over)!!

B3. Remember paper roast? The dosa that is wafer thin and those varieties of

salivating chutneys! Not only to read, but also to eat with the magical additive


Read + B = B + Read = Bread(mummy, mummy modern bread!!)

B4. Is life taking you for a ride on those sinusoidal roller coasters?? Here is

the remedy in B..

Ride + B = B + Ride = Bride (yourself or for you, gender dependent)!!

B5. Well known ring.. the wedding ring.. is it giving suffering to you? No

problem, beat it with B…

Ring + B = B + Ring = Bring (happiness from inside out)!!

B6. Life is a puzzle. Let's solve it meticulously. Look for the missing links

and put the Bead B in its place..

Link + B = B + Link = Blink (ing is a sign of life, right?!)

B7. Life is utter waste.. says a pessimist. Open your mouth and utter any word

and I will kill you using it as a weapon against you, says your boss. Is there

any way to make this utter, a bit better? B complex can help…

Utter + B = B + Utter = Butter (your boss at home at least :-)

B8. Feel you lack something, add B…

Lack+B = B+ Lack = Black (is beautiful, white is waste)

B9. Can't figure out what IT is? Soak it in B..

It + B = B + It = Bit (by bit things will become clear!)

B10. Ever feel ill? It is to B or not to B situation?

Ill + B = B + ill = Bill (doctor's bill as well as US $ bill.. equally


Some more…

B11. And + B = B + And = Band( listen or face the music)

B12. At + B = B + At = Bat (man or Batsman, the choice is yours

B13. Estimate + B = B + Estimate = Bestimate (a new English word coined by me



B14. Alas, we never say in any situation, since the equation goes as

Alas + B = B + Alas = Bala's

My spate of discoveries and inventions on B+ end here (temporarily at least!)

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Chitapa                                                            For listening the audio, please click here

By Dammam Bala

While English has generalized the term ‘uncle’ for father’s as well as mother’s brother, in tamil it is unique. Uncle or mama refers in tamil to your mother’s brother. Chitapa is the other term.

Your father’s brother is your chitapa by default. However, as your mother’s sister is Chiti, her husband also falls into ‘Chitapa bracket’. Many a times the latter could be more affectionate to you, by the very basic rule, he needs to like what his wife likes!

This episode is about my ‘Narayanan Chitapa’ He married Ramani Chiti, my mother’s younger sister in 1975. Their marriage took place in 1975, when I was in grade 5. It took place in Bangoor chattiram, at the vicinity of famous Mamangulam (remember, the Maha maham or Mamangam that comes every 12 years?)

The marriage is memorable to me, because of our Bhopal thatha and family coming down all the way from North to do the ‘Kannika dhanam’ Having 5 beautiful daughters, it was my thatha’s pastime to combine annual vacations with marriage plan in tamil nadu.

The fact that my Ramesh mama, left me in the chatiram and went to Hindi movie ‘budda milgaya’ makes me remember the episode until today I guess. We also had Ganesh mama, who was two/three years old and keep running behind my Ramani chiti, shouting ‘Ammi, Ammi’

At that time of Ramani chiti’s marriage, we had most of our marital relationships in sondham. Mostly its like a unbroken magi noodles to name the relationships as we call in tamil as ‘Idiyaapa Sikkal’. Narayanan chitapa was also distantly related to my father and even before marriage, he was my ‘Ondru vitta chitapa’ and got promoted to my ‘Direct chitapa’ after marrying Ramani Chiti.

He had great respect and love for my father, calling him Anna and he visited us in Tanjore few months after his marriage. He was working in Pvt Firm in Coimbatore by then. Though chitapa had to truncate his education due his father’s early demise, he had a good job and looked pretty fashionable. In fact when he visited us, he had brought with him a fancy memento.

It was a hemispherical hollow glass piece, filled with water and some shiny particles submerging a Taj Mahal minature model’ and it was a night lamp. When my brother Radha said it looks beautiful, instantaneously chitapa presented it to him. (After many years only, he told he bought it for personal use and since kid liked it, he gave it away!)

Our relationship with our chitapa grew stronger as we keep visiting each other in Coimbatore and Tanjore. We travelled together to Kanchipuram, Chennai and Rameshwaram too. Narayanan chitapa had special interests towards English movies; but he genuinely admitted that ‘too many conversations sometimes make a movie, incomprehensible’ During my annual leave visits to Coimbatore , he took me to the famous Enter the Dragon and Invincible Six.

He was a pioneer in usage of electronics in our family; the first one to have a ‘Jumbo size- Panasonic Tape recorder’ (just a mono, but state of art technology of 70’s). He had a hand held mini projector, viewer to watch spider man cartoon movie. He decorated his house with beautiful things and he did influence me in many ways to become a gizmo later.

After schooling, I joined PSG and started my first year as a day scholar from Ramani chiti’s house. Even after moving to college hostel and subsequently to GD Naidu’s I kept visiting them during week ends. Chitapa paid great attention to my studies and kept paying my college fees even before funds arrive from my father’s side. One time he even paid my senior Cheenu’s college fees to support some unexpected delay.

What I like with my chitapa is his positive attitude and self confidence. At times he faced career reversals, but took them as challenges to make a come back every time. He kept learning by self and mastered ‘Tally and other accounting practices’. He could be found very strict and blunt with people in transactions and even in normal conversations. But to me, he was exceptionally kind and it was my week end responsibility to do massaging to him.

He stood all the way with me at my difficult times too. My dad was severely ill during my college final and went into critical condition during my masters. Chitapa supported as physically, mentally and financially all along those dark days. If it was not the case, I could have easily become as one of the drop-outs!

Chitapa galvanized my mindset and taught me to face the world. Once we took a house for rent and changed soon to another one nearby. The house owner kept dogging us without returning our advance money. Chitapa, guided me to put a second lock to the house, the owner came running to us to settle the amount, the very next day.

In the past 25 years, Chitapa has supported me in my decision making including my marriage with Radhika. And all these years I stay outside India , we keep visiting them during annual vacations. Chitapa has extended his love to my son Aakash and he keeps chatting with him, Thata, thata which makes me happy too.

He keeps telling that me the employers abroad are very clever. ‘The pay you a good salary, but they make you spend a lot of money in their own country by making you live there maintaining a good standard of living’. We keep visiting our Family Goddess temple in Karur, travelling together backed by Chitapa’s meticulous planning and excution right from Lodge, Puja items, ticket booking to every single detail.

Narayanan chitapa is 63 years old now and yesterday happens to be his birthday. In my busy firefighting in office, I missed to greet him yesterday. I no longer attempt to do massage to him at this age. But just a random thought on him, makes me think.. ‘Responsibilities are NOT to be given, they are to be taken!’


Bala G(ot to thank Ashok for inspiring me to write on my Chitapa :-)

Saturday, 17 April 2010


Dammam Bala

The departure

“You have 24 earth hours to leave this place” said Master is his soft silky voice.
“24.. WHAT? EARTH hours..? What is that new thing in the heaven?” I was getting little nervous while I asked that question to Master.

“THAT is your NEW destination. You will have a new name, new family and new assignment too. Don’t worry about it; I will be with you all the time. The only difference is you can’t see me or talk to me like this for some time”

Master… I am not feeling comfortable to leave this place. I have no idea of my new home. Can I carry some of my favorable items with me? I guess they will come to my rescue?!

“No. You can’t even carry your thoughts and memories* with you! Our teleportation requirements are very stringent and you need to off-load as much you can and stay the lightest. Memories will make you feel heavier and severely interfere your performance in the new place. It is better for you not to carry them along”

That was the last thing that I could clearly recollect. In no time, I was moving across the worlds if not universes, at a lightening speed that much exceeded the ‘speed of thoughts’, I crossed a main gate, before I could see what was written there, I lost my conscious fully!

The Arrival

“Mr. Gurusamy… CONGRATS! You wife has delivered a healthy baby boy! You can go and see them both. They are perfectly fine. BTW, there was only a small problem; the boy doesn’t even know how to suckle! I guess he is too innocent and delicate. He will need your nurturing and protection a lot.” – Location Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh India, PLANET EARTH!

From the conversation between the doctor and nurses I came to know that I was the first child for my parents, Mr. Gurusamy and Mrs. Sarojini. I tried to join their talk, but something in me prevented me from doing so. I was not aware, that I was too young to talk then!

The word

World was full of words, to start with. I was sleeping most of the time. In between I cried a lot and made crazy sounds to get my mom’s attention and subsequently the milk. My vocabulary kept increasing day by day with Inga, Amma, Appa and by this time I was even responding to calls “Mani” like a trained pet dog, later to realize that my actual name was Balasubramanian, when I was admitted in school.

One day, my dad took me and my mom to a strange place. From outside view it was like a big hall with sloped roof. People were standing in a queue and we joined them. We went through narrow and winding corridors and collected few slips with a counter foil against exchange of a few rupees. We then proceeded to the hall through a gate, where the person tore the slips, returned the counter foils to us and let us into the big hall.

When we settled into our seats, I could notice the doors being closed and lights getting switched off. A strange feeling and fear started gripping me and I was just about to cry aloud. My dad then gently touched my shoulder and whispered into my ears. “Mani, we are in a cinema theatre; just don’t panic”. The screen in front of was big, wide and white too like my dad’s dhoti. Soon, colorful images started filling the silver screen.

More than the screen, I was fascinated by the doors. Though they were closed, they were easy to recognize and they had some thing written on them and back lit in red color. My school had taught me how to read alphabets. I read them one by one.. E…X…I…T… yes… EXIT!

Though it was the first time I came across the word, it sounded very familiar to me as if I have heard of it even before my birth. Also I wasn’t aware that word would keep appearing now and then in different colors and different denominations.

Re entry of Exit

While I kept entering and exiting different stages of life through schools and college, the word exit was not explicit except the election times and so called exit polls. It was in my thirties, it re-entered my life and it was exactly when I entered Saudi Arabia as an ex-pat worker.

We Indians are familiar with government as well as private sector jobs. However even in private, the hire and fire is not common considering the fact that we are professionally qualified. The so called ‘job security’ is taken for granted in our place. But this mindset takes a big blow when we happen to work in Gulf. The job becomes contract based and subject to renewal every year.

At the end of yearly or bi-annual contract, if company stamps ‘exit and re-entry’ in the passport, you can be a guest in home country and return to make more riyals. It is all short time gain, redefining life styles and re-writing proverbs as ‘make money, while moon shines’

Initial jump in financial status, brings in more expectations and more commitments. Vacations become vicious spending trips to return to Gulf empty handed, to re-charge the wallets for future drain. With this situation, there is always a constant threat on ex-pat employee in the form of our famous word… EXIT. If the company is not satisfied with him, he can be sent on exit; never to return and never to dig the mine of fortune. I still remember very vividly how my colleague who joined my company along with me was sent on exit, within six months period, jeopardizing his life plans for ever!

Having come to Saudi with a short term plan of a year or two, people keep extending it indefinitely by bringing family in, putting kids in school and continue to live in the ‘Trisangu sorgam’ I was no exception to this. Five years passed, Ten years and finally Fifteen years went like this. There came the change in the form of Vietnam offer.

The office, home, friends, toastmasters, familiar roads, shops, hospitals and super-markets all were to be forgotten once for all; never to visit again. Fifteen days were enough to demagnetize the bond that took fifteen years to build. Mind knows very well that middle-east is not home land and one day, return to India is imminent. But the heart finds it difficult to believe that fact.

What makes this desert attracting our co-camels and keeps them glued to its invisible tentacles? I don’t know really. Is it the known devil is better than unknown angel concept? It could be so. Venkat and co from Dubai may have better answers.

The fact that I tried to evade exit might have held me so long in Saudi I guess. Once I decided to quit, things were moving fast. Fair well parties from toastmasters, followed by tamil groups, telugu groups and kerala groups of the company reminded the roots that have set in without my notice and realization so far.

When I was travelling back to Dammam airport, with my wife and kids, I felt as if the buildings were looking at me, with a mischievous smile and shouting…”Hey, you are not going to see us again! A sense of vacuum instantaneously filled my mind with emptiness. I was fiddling with my mobile phone and when I tried to close and application, it was asking me, ‘do you want to exit?’ I was telling no to myself and yes to the phone as my only choice of the moment!

Enter the Dragon

Now that Radhika and kids are at Chennai and trying to settle back, I here in Hanoi. Like a full grown date tree moved over night from one place to another, I feel plucked and planted into the new set-up. Life has changed for ever. The people around, the environment, the attire, the accent and the approach all look different. (From burka to bikini..)

I am back in the forum to read Sumathi’s moral stories, Ashok’s Silver Streak contribution updates, Pandy’s punch dialogues and many other interesting things that take place in our PSG planet. It is good to see Swarna back in the forum, at the same time we do share her worry related to her husband’s slip disc. Let us hope and pray that things clear up with her like passing clouds and she returns back to her usual major general status.

Slowly but steadily I am trying to gel with my new transit home. Like the feel of facing outside world after a matinee show in a theatre, one chapter is over and another has just began in my life. I have lot of pleasant memories with me that I have collected in Saudi Arabia. I begin to realize that every EXIT is nothing but an ENTRANCE to a new world of adventures and opportunities. Hope you do agree with me, folks.

Bala G(ates of happiness always open from inside :-)

PS 1: The intelligent ones among you (most of you in deed are) may question my memory retention contradictory to Master’s words. In fact this missing link was established during one of my recent dreams. If you need further clarification on this, you are welcome to join me in my future dreams.

PS 2: Just while I am posting this piece of writing in the group, the sad news of our friend Shanmuga sundaram’s untimely demise is in the air. I do pray for his soul to rest in peace and condolences to his family too. I would like to know more details about this and share the grief with you all.