Friday, December 25, 2009

Recession Hit

Am I imagining this or have I slipped into the role of the 'real' journalist, those ones who complain and create a ruckus for everything that is dished out while taken on a Press trip?
No, I haven't created a ruckus, but what I have seen is a change in the way the media is being treated. Well, earlier we were taken on first class or business class with every detail charted out and followed strictly.
Earlier we were put up in hotels that were in the lap of luxury. Rooms overlooking the London harbour, rooms that spoke volumes in comfort and understated luxury with bathrooms equally big as the rooms. wifi catered too, well you just had to ask and someone would make sure it was done...
Recession now has this burden to bear too - of taking the comforts away from us poor journalists taken on press trips!
This time around, no first class, just economy, but that is fine, no dinner except for the small roll handed on the plane. (I wasn't hungry but the fact that I was without food for a long time, bothered me)
The rooms were fine, not dipped in luxury but very economical and practical! No wifi and when we (me and a fellow journalist, who didn't speak a word or understand English, yet we managed to communicate quite well) ask the hotel authorities, our organiser (a marketing guy) looks away as if this was of no concern to him.(He did eventually pay for it)
All these are fine, really, aren't we supposed to be accommodative when the times are bad, but the thing that most irritated me was the talk from this guy of how privileged we should be to have come here. Ofcourse, I was but to say it so bluntly made it sound downright cheap...
And as we enter the Motor Show, he warns us, don't even look at other cars. We laugh at his seemingly good humour only to discover in a few hours that he was dead serious. We just had to turn and gaze in wonder at a Bentley or gape at an Aston Martin and then he would gesture asking us to hurry for an interview that inevitably got late. And when we talk to a (good looking) Rover guy, he gives me a missed call, standing right in front of me and has the cheek to say, "Hey, I saw u!"
(And silly me, at that instant I felt like a kid caught at a crime!)
When we take interviews he guides or directs us with the questions we ask, to get the right answers about the brand and the group.
And not to mention the questions on coverage even before we start on the trip. Well, others ask too, but isn't there a virtue called subtlety! If there is, then this man surely lacks it!
If Recession has done this to one of the money minting companies then imagine how we should react! Counting our pennies, eating bread every single day and taking our maid on an outing and reminding her of her luck every other moment? Chee!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A restaurant review

I had to write a review for my course and I thought of sharing it here:

Review: Al Koot Café
Location: Souq Waqif, near Qatar Central Bank, Doha
Sindhu visits AL Koot Café situated in Souq Waqif and finds herself in an Arabian fairy tale, horses, hookahs, exotic herbs et all.

I am a born multi-tasker. I read in the loo, I read while feeding my kids. I check mails while attending meetings; I open two different online editions of newspapers while I work on articles. And now when the idea of writing a review popped up while I was trying to fix a meeting for a story, my brains worked overtime and I plotted and schemed to finish two things at a time. Have the interview with the Architect for a story I was doing at a café that I intend to review. And so here I am, notepad in hand, questions jotted down and the tape recorder running with Simon Gathercole, Associate Director of Allies and Morrison, Architects, beside me and our photographer, Sampath, in a world of his own, clicking away. While Sampath tries to get the best picture, I judge every nook and corner of Al Koot Café in Souq Waqif.
But I cannot talk of the café without speaking more of the Souq, where the café is situated. Enter Souq Waqif and you feel that you have gone back in time. Stone pavements meander through forts clustered in an odd progression that form a beautiful picture. Merchants roam around the place, mixing with a steady flow of tourist, carting merchandise in ancient small steel carts. Soldiers on Arabian steeds trot around the place adding to the Arabic ambience. But aren't this a common sight in a Middle Eastern country, one would quip. No, not in Doha, would answer any resident of this place. Qatar is a country that has progressed leaps and bounds banking on its hydrocarbon resources, seen as a modern country with glass buildings lining the horizon, like any other country with little or no cultural imprint. But with Souq Waqif, it seems as if the country is slowly waking up to revive old customs and traditions.
Coming back to Al Koot Café, situated in one of the side lanes of the Souq, it fits snuggly into the cultural role that it has to play. Maroon tinged glass lanterns hang down the entrance lined with hookas. Simon opts for the cane chairs outside and from this vantage point I take in the surrounding. We start with the interview and then comes the efficient waitress, Dalia, who takes our orders. Come to think of it, the order did take a while to materialise but then, this is not a place to drink a cappuccino in a jiffy. Come here only if you have the whole evening free, to relax, smoke a hookah and just breathe in. The smell of exotic herbs fills the air with the hookah fumes adding to the 'souq' aura.
Our cappuccino arrives tasting like it should, strong, and hot. Sampath sips a mint lime and declares it as excellent. While he takes more pictures of Simon, I pop inside and look around, the same Arabic flavour continues though the seating is huge comfy red cushioned ones with glass lanterns lighting every nook of the small café. I talk to Jherald, who is in charge at the cashier's desk that is lined with cookies and sweets. I ask for a menu card and Jherald says they don't have any.
"But we can make any juice you want, any mix," he declares.
Al Koot is new, just three months old, in this surrounding and gets packed during weekends according to Jherald.
The interview is done, the bills arrive, a tad expensive I reflect, but my photographer gently reminds me, "Half of what you paid was for the ambience."