i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!
Date: January 20th 2010.
I am on my way to my friend Md Asif’s house for dinner with my son, Aniruddh, and my wife, Meera, when my mobile phone rings. It is from my school friend Pramod as it shows on the mobile. (I had met him in Hyderabad on the 21st of December 2009 and we had a great time together after nearly 27 years! He met Meera and my son Aniruddh for the first time back then.)
I decide not to pick it up, hoping to call him back after dinner.
Pramod lived in a place called Nasik in Maharashtra. He was the chief engineer of the Maharashtra State Transport Board, having worked with them ever since he graduated as an Electrical Engineer from the JNTU in Hyderabad and had risen up the ranks to be where he now was.
He was quite a big fish in that company and was looking forward to retiring after six more years of service to spend time with his son, Abhinav, and his wife. But that was not to be. And I also forgot to return his call.
We returned back to Sydney on the 26th of January 2010 and on the 28th of January I receive an email from Abhinav that says: “Hello Uncle Ajoy. I am Abhinav, your friend Pramod’s son. Dad was trying to get in touch with you. But destiny had other things in store for him. Dad passed away on the 27th. . .”
I wish I had picked up that phone call from Pramod. Maybe I could have been of some help and maybe. . .!! But it’s too late to dwell on maybes and what-ifs.
But I can dwell on some memories and here’s mine of Pramod. I met him for the first time when I joined the Kendriya Vidyalaya Trimulgherry in Secunderabad in 1975. It was also called the Central School.
Pramod belonged to the ‘cool’ group that included John Zacharia and Biswajeet. Every student in the class wanted to be a part of this group, but only the lucky ones got in!
Some got in for a day, others for a week while some only got to be a part of it for recess!
However, thanks to Mrs Sharma, our Geography teacher, I got to sit next to Pramod in every class!
Now it was up to me to prove my worth. I made my moves with caution and slowly but steadily got into the group. Once in I was there to stay. I soon realised that Pramod was born with a rare heart disorder called RHD (Rheumatic Heart Disease) which meant that he was exempt from sport but it also meant that he could spend that time in the library and read while we did the physical activities!! He had spent a year or so in the military hospital and the doctors had warned him that his life might be short-lived.
Time passed and we both carried on in school but in 1977 both John and Biswajit decided to change schools.
This happens, families take different paths.
Zach joined the Loyola College and Biswajeet joined the army!! Back at our school we are now down to a team of two, although we do get Subodh and Ajit in the group for a short period.
Then, by other curious twists of fate, Ajit and Subodh move to Delhi and Chandigarh, respectively and so we are back to the duo.
Fast-forward to Year 11 of school, that’s 1978, which was a very special year to be in Year 11. We were the first batch to embark on a new education system called the ‘10+2’. We were allowed to sit competitive exams for entry into medicine, engineering and even the defence forces.
Pramod, even at this young age, is very clear in his mind. All he wants is to do a degree in electrical engineering whilst I am not sure about my future. So I end up sitting all the exams and go nowhere, fast.
I wasn’t interested in studying. Whilst Pramod read quite happily I was busy playing cricket for my school and boy, did I take that seriously!
Pramod joins the JNTU for his engineering degree and I join Nizam’s college for a degree in science which I was never going to complete, as my heart wasn’t in it and life for me at that point was going nowhere!!
However, it is here that Pramod introduces me to one Mr Madhava from the Food Craft Institute in Hyderabad who gets me an apprenticeship in the newly opened Banjara Hotel. I last there for a few weeks and decide to move to Madras and thus begins my journey into the food industry.
So, thanks mate, you saved me from. . . well, you know. . .
So, we stay in touch and in 1982 Pramod graduates from JNTU and moves to Mumbai. I go to Mumbai the same year to train at the Sea Rock Hotel and am hoping to have a good time with my friend. The odd hours of my shift work means that I sleep all day and work late at night, and it also means no bl..dy partying!! This also means that, as happens with life, I lose contact with my friend for the next 27 years!!
Fast forward again a few decades and we’re now in Sydney, 2009.
My family and I are planning a holiday to India when my son says to me, “Hey Daad (sic), can we meet your friend Pramod this time when we are in India? You can always Google his name and maybe you. . . well, you know. . .” Google! Okay, son, got it!!
So after 27 years we decide to meet in Hyderabad at our old school. We both are to come along with our sons and our wives.
So, we enter our old classroom and it really felt as though time had stayed still for almost 30 years! Koi Lauta De Mere Beetein Huay Din…….!!
We have lunch at our old favourite, Paradise, and we have our old favourite dish mutton biryani and it still tasted just how I remembered it, damn good!!
Pramod offers us his company car to drive us around Hyderabad while he takes off to Nasik for work. We agree to meet again, this time with his wife and son Abhinav when we’re in Mumbai next in 2012.
Unfortunately, I will never be able to meet Pramod again. The doctors’ warning came true. After nearly 32 years of having a ‘good’ life, my friend decided it was time to take off!!
R.I.P my friend, I will finish the bottle for us both!!
Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!!