Saturday, March 7, 2020

The Chestnut Tree Café—Stop For a Snack to Stab Your Friend in the Back

This article was first published a long time ago during my undergraduate days. 13 April 2012, to be exact. It was written by me and edited by Apoorva Tapas for the News that Matters Not website, where Apoorva and I were both interning in the 2012 Internship-cum-Training Program. It continues to make me smile even today. Since the website no longer exists, and the only way to find it is if you download the archives and browse to page 60 of the 122 pages long Staff Pick-2, here is a slightly modified version for easy laughs.  

A 24-year-old, who says that the act of stabbing people at their back is an in-built trait, has come up with a café which deals with something interesting: betrayal. The Café aims to provide the customers with a rich experience of deceit and depression. Set in a backdrop of Judas kissing Jesus, and an Aashiq Banaya Aapne poster, and with Mark Zuckerberg at the inauguration, it will reaffirm that we all need to cheat someone to reach to the top, and that it’s nothing to be guilty about. 

Literally taking a leaf out of George Orwell’s famous book 1984, a young entrepreneur is all set to open up a unique venture named ‘Chestnut Tree Café’ in upscale Bandra, next Friday. He calls himself Big Brother.

“Those who aren’t familiar with the Orwellian classic 1984 would not understand the significance of the name, but I am confident my café is going to be a big hit.” Justifying this statement in an exclusive interview, BB said, “Chestnut Tree is a café with a cause; while all other establishments are concerned with trivial services like food, entertainment and a good time, we cater to the deepest and most important qualities of a human being—betrayal and deceit.”

The twenty-four-year-old explained that humans are basically selfish creatures and the act of stabbing people at their back is an in-built trait. “Orwell wrote about it half a century ago, and we continue to see it every day in the news; the act of selling people out is something that each individual commits over and over again. Be it a regular teenager dumping his latest flame for a prettier version, or a businessman sabotaging his partner, everyone betrays someone. Unfortunately, the society we live in today is in denial of its true nature—of a backstabbing, twofaced snitch. So I decided to provide people with a place where they can be true to themselves and discover their inner Brutus. This is my life’s mission. Well, at least until I steal another one.”

Features of the “Betrayal Café”: The Chestnut Tree is a 70-seater café, overlooking the sea. It has dingy yellow walls with symbolic cracks in them, chess boards to motivate strategic scheming and an assortment of clove-flavoured bites and gin. To set up perfect dates for friendsthat-were, each table is illuminated with a single yellow bulb, creating a fitting ambience of uncomfortable interrogation. Since no act of treachery is complete without background music, a Tele-screen has been installed that always plays a selection of songs with betrayal as their theme. The greatest attraction however, is a giant poster that hangs in the middle of the largest wall— depicting the face of a man, about forty-five, with a heavy black moustache and ruggedly handsome features. His eyes seem to follow you wherever you go; BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU.

Captioned underneath, is the heavily inspired (to the point of plagiarized) by 1984 motto of the Café:

“In Chestnut Tree Café, overlooking the sea, 
I sold you and you sold me.” 

Enquired about the kind of crowd he is expecting, BB revealed that his café was open to anyone—from a schoolboy who decided to ditch his best friend to work on a project with the class topper at the last minute, to a colleague who snitched about you at work, to a girl fooling around with a friend’s boyfriend. “My services are offered to every Indian without a bias, ranging from Sonia Gandhi—who can finally break it to Manmohan Singh that he’s just a poster boy—to Ranbir Kapoor to ditch his latest fling. We are quite versatile that way!” exclaims BB.

The Café aims to provide the customer with a rich experience of deceit and depression. The artwork in the Café is carefully chosen—Judas kissing Jesus, a family portrait of Adam and Eve with the Serpent and Apple, and an original poster of Aashiq Banaya Aapne depicting romantic betrayal. “It is our aim, to not only provide the perfect setting for treachery, but also to inspire and bring out the worst in our customers.

The Café has some exciting activities lined up—debates, guest lectures on how to intoxicate the mind from a guilty conscience, book clubs to study the history of treason etc. I am very excited to announce that on the grand opening, Mark Zuckerberg has agreed to put in a special appearance via the Tele-screen. He will address the crowd on the intricacies of betrayal and share expert tips on theft of intellectual property.”

BB’s confidence in the Café made me wonder out loud, if this had always been his plan. BB revealed that he had initially wanted to be a social entrepreneur, but after reading 1984, he just knew for sure that this was the venture he wanted to work with. “I mean, so many people are into mind-games and guilt-free deception but what about the rest of us; the ones who need the reassurance that it’s okay to sell someone out for the greater good? I mean, do you have any idea about the kind of health hazards and trauma people go through in life, over-analyzing their inherent trait for survival? This café will reaffirm that they are not alone, that we all need to step on someone to reach to the top, that it’s nothing to be guilty about.

“Take the Café for example; do you think it was my idea? Hell no! My best friend came up with it. I convinced him that it was no good and made him accept the MBA offer from Yale so that he was out of the way. I went behind his back and set it up. He will be the first person I’ll bring here. I think we will move past this and remain good friends. His friendship means a lot to me. So you see, I have cheated, you have cheated. We don’t need to make a big deal out of it, but just focus on the bigger picture. That is what the Chestnut Tree is all about—the bigger picture; because ends always justify the means now, don’t they?” BB confides with a smile, “I intend to bring a revolution. Just as ‘we need to talk’ is synonymous with breakup, people saying ‘let’s meet up at the Chestnut’ would mean betrayal in the near future. I have high hopes for my Café!”

The Chestnut Tree promises to be the perfect setting for that ultimate showdown you’ve been putting off. BB and his venture inspire great confidence in your ability to finally push that dagger in.

The Chestnut Tree Café opens coming Friday in Bandra.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Heart of the Hatia

-Can you give me one kilo of those onions?
-You should take one and half, these are really good.
-But you have priced them very high!
-Let me give you one and a half, you won't find them next week. 

-Little snippets of conversation from my local hatia.

The hatia had been such an integral part of my growing up in Bokaro. The hatia or haat is a biweekly market, mainly selling fresh vegetables and fruits, but almost selling everything you can think of for your everyday use- from seeds and clothes to brooms and utensils. 

It was only after I came to Delhi, since I was also used to daily markets in Kolkata that I realized Hatias are not as normal as I had assumed them to be. And that it was perfectly normal to buy vegetables in the supermarket. 

I remember coming back to Bokaro after about a couple of years in Delhi and going to the Hatia with my dad. And being shocked at the level of camaraderie between the buyer and seller. It was very very normal to have conversations such as "Are you insane for charging 16 rupees a kilo? I won't pay anything more than 13." or "Look at how fresh these  beans are, you have to take atleast 1 kilo to do it justice". I remember being indignant when they were bargaining between 16 rupees and 13 rupees, but my dad explains there is a rhyme to it, and people actually enjoy it. At some places, the sellers said there was no way they could reduce the prices, in some shops we got more vegetables than we would need, and in some other we got little discounts of 2-3 rupees. All accompanied by a lot of banter. 

We would also meet random other people from the city, with one-liners such as, 'the brinjals being sold at the end of this lane are really fresh' or 'they don't have any good fish today'. There would be cows walking among the people, and trying to steal a cabbage or some other leaves for dinner, and people constantly shooing them away. There would be younger boys selling all kinds of leaves- from spinach to coriander, and older women with seasonal vegetables. Many would come from Purulia, and other nearby parts of West Bengal to sell their produce. 

All in all, it was a lively half an hour to a quarter of an hour, every Wednesdays and Saturday, all throughout my childhood. And I never knew what special vegetables or fish would bought, since it all depended on the quality and the price of that day's hatia. 

And this February when I visited the Hatia after maybe 3 years, I could still see familiar faces, and one of the regular potato sellers asked me where I was and what I was doing nowadays. I said I was in Spain. He asked if it was in America. And I said it was closer to England. And we shared smiles without exchanging names or formal niceties. 

And this made me remember of all the times in Barcelona when I would visit the Pakistani or the Bangladeshi owned green groceries stores, and would get free chilies or coriander or ginger, over discussing how many years have we not been in our respective countries. 

I realized I had tried to unconsciously find the heart of Hatia, and fleetingly found it in the heart of Barcelona, in the little streets of Raval, in the corner shops of Sant Antoni, and the late night  department stores selling samosas at 3am in the morning.  

And I was leaving the hatia, I was almost reminiscing this oft-familiar quote on the price of chili which I couldn't hear anymore. And I was consoling myself thinking it has been so many years, maybe the chilies are not that cheap anymore, till I heard-

मिर्चा में भारी गिरावट !

And left with a smile on my face, happy that some things never change. 

Thursday, January 31, 2019

तीन साल बाद

My last post was published on February 5, 2016 and ended with " I think I am going to strive to make more of my morning super awesome everyday!" It was during my Delhi days when I was in a phase of following blogging contests and writing about some pre-determined topics. 

Fast forward three years, I neither live in Delhi, nor follow blogging contests. But what I do is miss blogging from time to time. 

And like countless times before, I got inspired by Anubhuti's new blog to document her PhD journey, and made the decision to return to blogging! (Full Disclosure- I often make these decisions at the starting of a year, and then discontinue soon after)

I am still not sure what it will be this time around, maybe travels, maybe 3 am musings, maybe dark thoughts that sometimes like to escape into words, who knows! What I do know is that I want to bring the blog (and the followers if any) up to speed about my life!

Starting backwards, a couple of week ago, I came back home to Bokaro after being away from India for more than 13 months. Months which had been intense, challenging, rewarding and a whole lot of fun! From editing an issue of a Spanish magazine to talking about the said issue in the Chiapas, from travelling around Europe for a month to witnessing snowfall on my way to the university in Barcelona, it has been a bundle of new experiences.

With Ecologia Politica, very close to the Guatemala border. 
Here are some snapshots of what I have been upto, to get this blog restarted-

Spring 2016-
Convocation of the masters at TERI and sharing some quality time with my Delhi family! I was already looking for ways to continue studying, and these months were spent in a lot of uncertainty.

Summer 2016- Summer School, Climate Camps, Conference and Europe travels, and the first taste of the city which is my current home.

Autumn 2016- Living and trying to leave Delhi's polluted air. Treks to the mountains for mini-respites. Saying goodbyes in Delhi, and hesitant hellos to the new life!

Winter 2016- Paperwork, and more paperwork to fly away! And finally celebrations after getting the visa. I will write about my visa woes one day in details, but I have to thank all the people who stood by me while I was completely losing my nerves over the delays and the amount of paperwork required!

Spring 2017- Settling in the new city in a new continent. Making friends, making memories, and falling in love with the sea!

Summer 2017- Fiestas and a terrorist attack, and lots and lots of travels within Europe!

Autumn 2017- Homewards Bound! Three months of bliss!

Winter 2017- Back to Barcelona, and witnessing snowfall on the way to the university for the first time. This was also a time of realization on how I am just not suited for the winter in Barcelona. 

Spring 2018- Mostly spent at the university, attending lectures and seminars, and working from the office there!

Summer 2018- Visiting distant lands, and having friends visit me. Not to mention summer schools and conferences which took me places as well. 

Autumn 2018- Among other things, it was five weeks of Mexico! It was a lot of fun and joy, and new experiences that I would cherish forever.

Winter 2018- Coming back home after more than thirteen months away!

And now that we are up to speed, this is where this entry ends! 

Friday, February 5, 2016

What Turns My Morning Golden- Striving for #Colgate360GoldMornings

To be very honest, I am not a morning person. I do not enjoy waking up at the break of the dawn. And more often than not, I have to run to catch my ride to office, because I end up waking late.
Yet, there are certain mornings which transform into something way better than the other, and I think it is a bunch of reasons that result in that. So in this post, I am going to list a few instances/events which invariably turn my mornings golden-

·         Travel Plans
When the “travel bug” bites you, there is nothing you can do! And fortunately, I was bitten a long time ago. Cheesy I know, but it is the truth! And so, whenever I am travelling, and it can be anything from just catching an early morning train to my home, or going on international conferences, but my mornings when I know I am going to be travelling are always, always amazing!
I firmly believe that I learn more while travelling than I do in an entire semester. And the main reason behind that is that I really enjoy doing it. Thus, waking up feeling happy and looking forward to the day makes the mornings golden.

·         Birthdays
I am one of those people who love celebrating birthdays. And by that I don’t just mean mine! I love elaborating planning birthdays of all the important people in my life. So, whenever someone who is close to me has their special day, I wake up early peppy to prepare for a fantastic day for them. So, starting from creating a smoke-screen so that the friend doesn’t know what we are doing, to getting the perfect cake, to giving a surprise, it is a lot of effort, and a lot of fun!

·         Sleep-Overs
Although the norm of sleepovers is that you generally sleep in late the next morning, I love to get up early and have an entire day of fun (which usually involves an amazing breakfast followed by some travel plans) mapped out. I like to wake up happy, and super-early when I am hosting friends over, and surprising turn into a morning person.

·         Festivals
You know what they say about festivals in India! It is a never ending series of celebrations. And in my households, festivals, especially those involving pujas at the house always means waking up early, taking a quick bath, wearing new clothes, and assembling all the things required in a Hindu household puja. Not only were these little tasks like washing and cutting fruits, picking up flowers etc. fun, we also did it together with a bunch of cousins, and the work started super early! And these really made my mornings golden.

The more I think, the more I remember all the wonderful morning spent at home, with family and friends, when I would be super active right from the start of the days. I think my childhood has many, many golden mornings. But the more you grow old, and become boggled with careers and pointless, materialistic pursuits, something as simple as being happy when you wake up starts to be a challenge too.

So, since it’s just been a month into the New Year and the wonderful #Colgate360GoldMornings has made me miss all the wonderful memories, I think I am going to strive to make more of my morning super awesome everyday!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Have you ever really had a teacher?

"Have you ever really had a teacher? The one who saw you as a raw but precious thing, a jewel that, with wisdom, could be polished to a proud shine? If you are lucky enough to find your way to such teachers, you will always find your way back. Sometimes it’s only in your head. Sometimes it is right alongside their bed.”
-Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
I have been blessed to have found amazing teachers and mentors throughout my school and college life. Starting from my Class 4 House Warden who allowed me to supervise Nursery students for 10-15 minutes in the morning which made me fall in love with the idea of being a teacher, to the HOD of my undergrad college who was extremely supportive and never lost confidence in me while I was going through a particularly rough patch. I owe a large part of who I am today to my teachers. They taught me so much more that just what was given in the textbooks!
To fully understand the impact of this undeniable #madeofgreat person in my life, I will have to back up a little and discuss about my undergraduate days, and that rough patch I just mentioned.
I was pursuing my bachelors in Economics, and thoroughly hating it! The teachers were good, the classmates not so bad either, and I was living in the city of joy, Kolkata, so it took me a long time to figure out what was so wrong that I consistently under-performed in my exams. In fact, I finished my Bachelors, enrolled in a Masters programme in a new city (because I really needed a change of scenario), and was already halfway through my Masters that I realized what was wrong.

I was starting the third semester of my M.Sc. course, and could choose electives based on my interest areas. One of the courses being offered was "Key Concepts of Ecological Economics" by a Professor who had done his PhD from Barcelona and post-doc from Harvard. And not only were his credentials amazing, I was already interested in Environmental Economics and wanted to learn about this new field too. And so, what started as a need to learn more about the ecological and environmental scope of my field soon turned into me finding what I think is my true calling. And I owe it all to the professor- Dr. J. F. Gerber.
Not only did he make me realize what went wrong with me during my undergrad coursework, which is simple terms, was my inherent objection to valuing everything monetarily. I didn't know anything about the incommensurability of values, the different languages of valuations that are being used in the different parts of the world, and the increasing need to search for alternatives to the growth theory, and yet I could not accept the theories and models I was being taught. Dr. Gerber taught me about these basic concepts which made all the sense to me. And it is not very often that someone, without any deliberate effort, makes you realize all the doubts and confusions you had were for a reason, and opens a whole new world for you. These people, who change the whole way you think come once in a while, and always stay with you, whether you actually stay in touch or not.
But lucky for me, I was so inspired I picked an ecological economics theme, and had the honor of writing my thesis under his supervision. And during that time, whenever I had any problems, doubts or difficulties, he always made sure to solve them for me, motivating me when I couldn't analyse the figures, or found hurdles in catching hold of people for interviews. What made him so amazing was his genuine concern to make sure that I stay motivated and get aid anytime I faced any difficulties.

And although today, due to my continued involvement in the field, I know a lot of other Ecological Economics scholars, he will always not just be the person who introduced me to the subject, but also the mentor whose comments will matter the most. 

To know more about the new collaboration between Tata Motors, and football legend Lionel Messi, another once in a lifetime alliance, check out

Monday, August 24, 2015


So, I have said it before and I will repeat again, I love lists. It might just stem from an education system which encouraged us to list down important points for answers. Remember questions like- write 5 properties of igneous rocks, or list 5 disadvantages of deforestation? Well, I am getting a little off track here. This article isn’t about why I love lists. It’s why I think BNLF is awesome, and what better way to illustration that than by, you got it, listing down all the cool things about it.
So, here it goes-

What’s In a Name- Well, apparently a lot! The name pretty much sets the pace of the entire package! And BNLF is pretty much awesome! Think of all the conferences that you have been to- the International Blah Blah Blah Conference on La di Dadada, remember? Well, ever been to conference without the word “conference” or “Symposium” in it? Ever even heard of one before? I haven’t! And Blog Now, Live Forever gets brownie points for being narcissistic in the sweetest way possible! If you don’t love blogging enough to believe it has the power to make you immortal, you might as well not register for it at all!

Every Note is a Keynote- Another amazing USP! I finished my M.Sc. a couple of months ago, and let me assure you that I have been to my fair share of conference. One uniform feature of most of them is that the keynote seems to be the more interesting, and the rest, well, not so much! The keynote speakers are also one of the most eminent personalities, and so most people turn up to talk to hear them speak. But at BNLF all the speakers are keynote, which essentially means, everyone is at par. And if you just look at the line-up, you would know exactly what I mean. Which brings me to my third point in the list-

THE Speakers- These people are some of the best in the field! I have admired Anshul for years now for what he does not only with Youth Ki Awaaz, but also for the awesome campaigns that he is associated with, and his advocacy of youth journalism. I could go on and on about most of the speakers who are scheduled for this seminar, and then some more!

The Venue-The Lalit, Mumbai. Enough said.
If you don’t believe me, look at the picture below, and you would know what I am talking about.

Source The Lalit

The Date
- Although I am sure there are quite a few of us who would have loved to bunk work (or school/college) to attend BNLF, for the majority of us, skipping work seems to be a bit of a trouble. Fret not! Indiblogger has us covered there too.

For the Bloggers, by the Bloggers, of the Bloggers- The second day of the conference is exclusively for people who have been stalwarts of blogging. Not only does that mean you get to hear about real, get your hands dirty approach to blogging, but also the fact the wonderful people who have spent years honing their knowledge of creating content and blogging are acknowledged in an international platform. And that is a feat in itself.

If you want to know more, go have a look at their page.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Mona Lisa Smile

3 A.M. Musings

I am just finishing up with my post graduate. Well, technically, I have a little more than 2 weeks of being a student of M.Sc. yet. And tonight, while going through the hard disk of a fellow movie buff, I came across Mona Lisa Smile. I had seen this movie a long time ago. And more than a couple of times, to be honest.

I remember the good ol' days when Star Movies did not have compulsory subtitles, and they played such awesome movies in the afternoon, and I would either delay lunch or beg my mother to let me eat in front of the television, instead of in the dining hall just to watch these amazing movies.

And every single I watched this movie I would wonder how awesome it would be to have a teacher who compels you to change the way you think and open your eyes to look at things a different way.

So, tonight, when I found the movie I thought I would just go through a few of my favorite scenes and then call it a day. That was 2 hours ago. I finished the entire movie, and surprisingly, this time around I didn't wonder how awesome it would be to have a professor like Miss Watson. This time around, I realized I was fortunate enough to have such a radical teacher who introduced me to the concepts of ecological economics and degrowth theory.

I do not wish to go into the technical aspects of the theories and ideas that inspired me, but what it was is exactly what Mona Lisa Smile showed- a new way to look at things by challenging what we have known to be right for so long.

And it is not everyday that you watch a movie and realize that you have been through it in your life, and when it does happen it is an amazing feeling.

I am too brain tired right now to think of other examples, but I will try to think of more movies that I can relate to very soon.

Also, watch Mona Lisa Smile. And Julia Roberts is the ultimate thing. Period. 

The Chestnut Tree Café—Stop For a Snack to Stab Your Friend in the Back

This article was first published a long time ago during my undergraduate days. 13 April 2012, to be exact. It was written by me and edited...