Friday, June 28, 2013

The Expat Life: Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa

I just got back from a lovely trip to the Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa. It had been a few months since my husband and I had taken a trip and we were looking forward to a nice break. Bab Al Shams means “gateway to the sun” in Arabic and the resort is about 2 hours away from Ajman. We’ve never been to a desert resort before and Bab Al Shams was offering some good deals for the Summer, so we thought of trying this one out. We set off on a rather hot Tuesday afternoon and we kept going… and going…. and going!

This resort is located off Exit 37 near the Dubai Outlet Mall. Apparently, we missed this exit and kept driving. After several frustrating calls to the resort concierge we finally figured out the mistake and somehow managed to get to the resort – after spending nearly double the time than was necessary on the road. After the sweltering drive, the complimentary mint lemonade and the fresh cold towels that they offered was indeed quite soothing.

The resort is designed like an old Arabian dwelling and has a traditional Arabic feel to it. The rustic décor and earthen colours were a welcome change to the swanky hotels that one is so used to these days. It really felt like being in an oasis with sparrows chirping away and the sound of water flowing enveloping us. There are several sit-out spots scattered around the resort – with comfortable swings and cushions strewn around. However as we went in the peak of Summer, the idea of lounging around in the blazing heat was far from appealing.
The Bathtub
Wall Art
A Painting
Wall hangers
Wall decor
We retreated to the cool confines of our room. Our room was spacious and was well equipped with all basic amenities. We were greeted with fresh fruit, chilled water and a box of gourmet dates to munch on.

My favourite part was the bathroom – which gave off an earthy aroma when wet due to the earthenware accessories and fittings! Later, once the sun had set, we took a leisurely stroll around the resort. It was beautifully lit up with Arabic style lights and lamps, which gave a golden glow to the surroundings.

We started the next day with a satisfying buffet breakfast at the Al Forsan restaurant. With the sun beating down mercilessly, where else could we head to other than the swimming pool? Bab Al Shams has 3 pools – however the Infinity pool is the largest and also the only one open since the other pools were closed for maintenance.

The infinity pool looks out into the sand dunes of the desert and is again done up in an Arabic style – with large vases and rough walls. The entire pool is not too deep, for which I am thankful for since I do not know to swim. At the end of two hours of splashing around in the pool, I was blessed with slightly chafed knees and elbows – thanks to the rough floors & a lack of swimming skills – as well as a terrible tan – thanks to forgetting to slather on the sun block!

A giant jug
Once again, the mighty sun forced us to head to our rooms and we decided to order room service. The Butter Chicken arrived promptly, accompanied by steamed rice, roast pappad, raitha and chutney. It was lip-smacking and I had to stop myself from licking my plate clean!

After a short siesta, we headed out to the lawns where I tried my hand at golf and table tennis. There was also a falcon show and a complimentary camel ride. I wasn’t too keen on the camel ride and the falcon show was a little too cruel to watch for entertainment – as it involved the falcon hunting and killing a pigeon; so we gave both a miss and instead settled down into the sands to watch the sun set gracefully over the desert.
Beautiful lamps

That night, we decided to check out Bab Al Sham’s Italian Restaurant – Le Dune. We were served some complimentary bread sticks and garlic bread along with a sun-dried tomato dip and a black olive dip. The bread sticks were fresh and the bread was soft. We were waiting for our food when a lady who was also dining at the restaurant walked up to us and gave us an extra coupon that she had – which entitled us to a free main course! Thanks kind lady – that was really sweet of you! We ordered Caesar salad, Spinach and ricotta tortellini and Spaghetti with shrimp. The portions were generous and everything was yummy. 

Bab Al Shams also has an Indian restaurant called Masala and a rooftop lounge called Al Sarab. Plus it also has a couple of bars. In addition, Al Hadeerah which is located a little outside the resort offers Arabic style entertainment and food. Since we’ve had more than our share of desert safaris and belly dancing, we decided to opt out of it.

On the whole, I completely enjoyed our short break away from our daily grind. I would definitely recommend Bab Al Shams to anyone looking for a relaxing stay.


  - The concierge staff really need to be able to guide guests to the resort better. We wasted a lot of time, energy and money in finding our way to the place.
 - The resort was hardly full and yet we were told that a late checkout was not possible. This was a disappointment.
  -  In my opinion, the activities at the resort should ideally be free of charge for the guests. While golf, table tennis and snooker was free, other activities such as archery, yoga and rental bikes were not.
 -  The lighting in the room could be better. Also there is no wi-fi in the rooms – which is surprising in this day and age!


  - The staff were courteous and pleasant.
 -  Clean, neat and well maintained.
  -  The Arabic style design and hospitality lends a unique character to the resort. 
A Desert Sunset

Friday, June 7, 2013

My Weekend Gourmet Party - With Kitchens Of India

UPDATE: This post won second place! Yay! 

This post is my entry to Indiblogger's contest in association with Kitchens Of India.

If you were to host a party for your friends or family, what would the theme of that party be?

I love experimenting in my kitchen and trying my hand at various dishes. But at the same time, in today’s busy world when one is juggling a hundred things to do, one doesn’t really have the time or energy to plan and whip up elaborate meals. The idea of slaving away in a hot kitchen and stressing over a grand meal is simply not appealing to me. But does that mean that we always have to order food from restaurants or just completely skip entertaining family and friends? Of course not! Having family or friends over for a pleasant meal can be an enjoyable experience – with a little help from the experts.

There are several brands of ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook delicacies available in the market today. I have tried several of them but I must say that the range of products from Kitchens Of India are a step above the rest in terms of freshness, flavour as well as choices. Their authentic Indian fare comes to my rescue quite often – be it for a quick and tasty dinner on a busy weekday night or for mouth-watering fare at parties and get- togethers.

My Weekend Gourmet Party - Theme:

With our wedding anniversary coming up in a few months, I started thinking about throwing a memorable party for my dear ones. The theme that I would like to choose is retro-Bollywood. So all the guests need to be dressed up in vintage 80s style. Just to paint a better picture, imagine the male guests with bell bottom trousers and puffy hair while the female guests could really indulge in their fantasies of imitating the yesteryear queens of the silver screen! How about some short, form-fitting kurtis with chudidhars and the dupatta tied cross-wise to the side, paired with huge sunglasses? Or colourful saris in flowing chiffon with short pallus and hair done up in a big bun? Throw on some bright lipstick, winged eyeliner and a diva attitude – and you’re all set to have some fun! Let’s get the polka dots and loud colours back ladies!

Take a hint from Bollywood!
Pic source:
My Weekend Gourmet Party - Venue:

I prefer having my parties at my home sweet home. I feel it gives me more freedom to experiment as well as more control over the arrangements. To set the ambience I would do up living room with some cool posters of old Hindi movies in strategic locations. Antique brass urlis filled with water and pretty rose petals, fragrant jasmine and floating candles would add a warm glow to the entire room.

Photo credit: Niyam Bhushan
 (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License)
All of us have a few old silk saris sitting deep inside our wardrobes. We don’t really want to wear them any more nor do we have the heart to give away such precious pieces. Why not repurpose them? A party with an Indian theme like what I am planning now would be the perfect opportunity to do so! One can use them as attractive curtains - just drape them over the windows and when the zari catches the light from the candles and shimmers it will truly be magical! Or we could also convert them into eye-catching cushion covers instead. A couple of couches with comfortable bolsters to lean on plus some nice chairs should complete the look.

Of course, what is a party without some good music? In the background, there would be classic Bollywood hits of the 80s playing along softly to indulge all of us in ecstatic nostalgia. The lilting melodies of R.D. Burman and Kishore Da will transport us back to a time when life was simple yet enjoyable.

Sari cushion covers from Indian Selections
Sari curtains from Indian Selections

My Weekend Gourmet Party - It's Chow Time!

And that brings us to the most important part of any party! I don’t know about you, but for me that part is definitely the food! While I want my guests to have a good time and enjoy themselves I also want to join in the fun – afterall it is my party, isn’t it!? Trust me, if I have spent the whole day sweating it out in the kitchen, by the time the party rolls around and my guests arrive I am going to be tired and washed out – not what one wishes an ideal hostess to be! Therefore I am going to make my life a little easier and reach out for Kitchens Of India.

Photo courtesy: niseag03
 (Used under the
Creative Commons Attribution License)

Drinks: To start off, I intend to greet my guests with a bright smile and a chilled glass of strawberry mojito.

A mojito is a classic Mexican drink made with lemon/lime juice, fresh mint and rum. It goes really well with Indian food and I would like to give my own spin to this refreshing drink.

To make this delightful drink, add a few teaspoons of Kitchens Of India’s Strawberry & Mint Conserve with a handful of ice cubes and some freshly squeezed lemon juice into a food processor. Blend till the conserve is well distributed and the ice cubes are crushed. Pour this mixture into glasses, top it off with some white rum, club soda and ice cubes. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint and place a fresh cut strawberry or a wedge of lemon on the rim of the glass. Ta da! For a non-alcoholic version, simply skip the rum and add more soda or some lemonade. Cheers!

Appetizers: Everyone likes to munch on something as they savour their drinks and chit-chat. This is where, appetizers come into the picture. I think I will place brass platters of masala pappad on centrally located and easily accessible tables.

Small triangles of crispy roasted pappads topped with a zingy mixture of diced onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, green chillies and coriander with a pinch of salt, pepper and chat masala – yum! (Note to self: remember to deseed the tomatoes and cucumbers – there is nothing worse than mushy papad! 

Condiments: As an accompaniment to the masala pappads, I shall warm up some of Kitchens Of India’s Mango Jeera Chutney as well as Tamarind & amp;Date Chutney and place them in brass bowls. The tangy chutneys will go quite well with the crunchy masala pappads. Of course, I shall also stack individual plates and napkins near the platters and bowls, no one wants double dippers!

Main Course: Moving on, the star attraction of the party (apart from me, of course :P) would be the aromatic biryani. I am going to stick with the vegetarian version this time and with Kitchens Of India’s Vegetable Biryani Mix I cannot go wrong! All I need to do is add basmati rice and fresh vegetables to conjure up a delectable vegetable biryani. 

Side-dishes: For the non-vegetarians I choose Kitchens Of India’s spicy Mutton Kolhapuri masala mix and the flavourful Murgh Methi. As for the vegetarians I think I shall go with creamy Mughlai Paneer and the fiery Mirch Ka Salan. Bonus? I don’t even have to cook the Mughlai Paneer, Mirch Ka Salan and the Murgh Methi –they come in hygienically sealed packs that are ready to heat and eat! Not to forget, the comforting staple – a raitha to cool down all the flaming taste buds around the room!

Dessert: To round off such a wonderful meal, I will serve some vanilla ice-cream topped with a vibrant syrup of mango and saffron. The syrup can be made by melting some of Kitchens Of India’s Mango & Saffron Conserve with a few teaspoons of water on medium heat in a saucepan for a few minutes. 

The Kitchens Of India’s Mango & Saffron Conserve is made with juicy Alphonso mangoes and sweet-smelling Kashmiri saffron for an exotic twist. Once the conserve loosens up to a pouring consistency, just spoon it generously over boring, plain old, vanilla ice cream and kick it up a notch! The contrast between the cold ice-cream and the warm and tingly syrup – Ah! A match made it heaven indeed!

A Memorable Return Gift For The Guests: Once everyone’s appetites are satiated I shall present them with a thoughtful return gift to takeaway from my party. The Kitchens Of India’s gift packs are ideal for this. Each pack contains Jodhpuri Moong Dal Halwa and Awadhi Badam Halwa. Perfect to indulge your sweet tooth! Afterall there is nothing wrong in spreading the joy and sharing the pleasures of Kitchens Of India with my friends and family right!?

I am sure that my weekend gourmet party will be a treat to all the senses! I bet my party is going to be a super-duper hit and that my guests won’t forget it for a long time – thanks to Kitchens Of India! Now I'm off to draw up my guest list! 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

We Cannot Afford To Ignore Those Warning Signs Anymore

This is my second entry to Indiblogger's "The Moral Of The Story Is...." contest in association with Colgate. Check out My Healthy Speak Blog.

My first entry can be read here.

5 year old Raju wakes up with a start. For a second he wonders what woke him up. Then he sees his father – his thin figure swaying back and forth. He takes a menacing step forward and aims a kick at his cowering mother, completely missing her in his drunken stupor. Enraged further, he grabs the little alarm clock on the bedside table and throws it at his wife. The clock strikes her on the forehead before hitting the floor and smashing into a hundred pieces. Satisfied, he collapses on the bed and almost immediately starts snoring.

Little Raju had been huddling under his thin blanket with his heart beating furiously. Now, he slowly creeps up to his mother and buries his face in her lap. His mother strokes his hair and whispers to him, “It is okay Raju. He is drunk. He is not in his senses. All men are like this – remember how Mani maama created a ruckus yesterday? It is my fault, I should not have asked him why he came so late. Don’t worry, everything will be fine in the morning.” Raju nods silently and gradually falls into a dreamless sleep in his mother's arms.

10 year old Raju shouts frantically at Lakshmi who is sweeping the floor, “Why are you not wearing your uniform? Hurry up! It is getting late!

Your sister won’t be coming to school anymore Raju. You get going,” says his mother.

Why not?!” asks Raju perplexed.

Well there is a lot of work to be done at home. I can’t manage everything all by myself can I? Besides what is the use of her going to school? Anyway she’ll get married in a few years; she’d better learn how to run a household properly.

But… but…” stammers Raju.

You’re going to be late. Run along now!” says his mother, gently shoving him out of the house.

12 year old Raju is walking back home from the market. He hears someone shout, “Hey Raju! Come and see what we’ve got here!” He turns and sees that three of his classmates are kneeling in the dusty alley looking at something. Curious, he goes over to find out what is happening. “Oh my God! What are you doing?!” he shouts in horror.

The boys have tied the legs of a puppy with a rope and are poking and prodding it with a sharp stick. The poor animal looks terrified and is obviously in pain. The sight moves Raju to tears. Noticing this Mahesh laughs, “Haha! Look at this cry baby! He is going to cry!” Kanna chimes in, “Are you going to cry? Are you a girl? Go home and wear your sister’s skirt!” Raju runs away with jeers of “You’re a girl!” “Cry baby!” ringing in his ears.

16 year old Raju is lounging in the tea stall. As he is about to take a sip of the steaming hot masala chai, he hears his friend Kumar shout, “Super figure! What is your phone number darling?

The girl in the yellow chudidhar, across the street, stops in her tracks and gives him a hard stare. Raju and his friends break out into sniggers while Kumar starts whistling. Disgusted, the girl turns and walks away. Kumar too joins in the laughter. He hitches up his shirt collar and says, “These girls think too much of themselves nowadays. How dare she give me that look? Everyone knows that she is a slut. I saw her come home late last night – that too in a miniskirt. She deserves a bottle of acid on that pretty face – that’ll teach her who is the boss."

18 year old Raju is dancing in the movie hall. On screen, the heroine is gyrating and moving her hips enticingly in the latest item song. It is a peppy number with suggestive lyrics that has become a chart busting hit almost as soon as it was released. Raju and his friends can not stop clapping and jumping around to the beats. “She is so hot!” Raju thinks as the heroine gives him a sly wink and bites her lip, seductively.

20 year old Raju is cruising in his auto looking for a fare. It is quite late. Just as he is wondering if he should give up and head home, he sees her. She is standing in front of that big, shiny building and looking up and down the road. She notices him and waves her hand to signal him to stop. She gets in. “K.R. Nagar,” she says and settles back into her seat. Raju turns the meter on and starts driving.

Thoughts are racing in Raju's mind. “What is she doing here so late? Surely, upto no good. Otherwise why would she be wearing such figure hugging clothes? I’m sure she is one of those snooty bitches who needs to be taught a good lesson.

He looks around carefully. There is hardly anyone to be seen. He steals a glance at her in the rear-view mirror. She has plugged in her ear phones and is listening to some music with her eyes closed. A side road is coming up ahead. Raju turnes into it.

In December 2012 the entire nation was shocked to hear about the brutal gang rape in Delhi. We all shuddered to think about the plight of the young woman and we all wondered how men could be so cruel. Want to know how? You have your answer above. While this is a much simplified version, it is by ignoring such warning signs that we, the society as a whole, create such monsters.

Raju’s mother must have told him that his father was a hooligan. She should not have justified his actions, thereby validating that it is okay if men use their physical strength to intimidate women. Instead of standing up for him and accepting that this is how men behave, she should have taught Raju that hitting a woman is wrong. She failed to see that the domestic violence that Raju grew up with as a child was a warning sign that told him that hurting a woman is acceptable.

Raju’s sister should have gone to school with him and studied just like him. Denying her an education and confining her to the hearth just because she is a girl, is a warning sign that implies to Raju that a women’s place is in the kitchen and that she should be limited to the house.

When Raju found himself feeling sorry for the helpless puppy and sympathising with it, he ended up being made fun of by his peers. In our world today, boys are not allowed to express their true emotions because it is considered too “feminine” to be sensitive. The message that is ingrained in us is that men are supposed to be steely and strong – if not, they are not man enough. Such gender stereotypes are a warning sign to us – it places unnecessary pressure on boys to conform to the restrictive idea of masculinity and equates masculinity with power. But we continue to ignore them.

There can be no Indian woman who hasn’t experienced street sexual harassment – or “eve-teasing” as it is lightly referred to. Yet, hardly anyone does anything to stop it from happening. Public spaces belong to us too and we have equal rights to be wherever we choose to be, with whomever we want to be with, wearing whatever we want to wear. But sadly, this is far from reality. A woman on the street is an easy target – to catcall, to bump into, to brush against, to grope, to pinch, to whistle, to ogle at, to threaten… and the list goes on. This deep-rooted social evil is again a warning sign – of how deep the rot runs. What do men gain from it? Power. The power to intimidate a woman, the power to keep her in her place.

Movies – the most popular form of entertainment for our masses. Movies are a huge industry in India and this industry regularly churns out “fun” in the form of racy numbers with obscene lyrics which serve no other purpose than commercial, cosmetic ones. Most of the songs - and often the entire movie itself - are focused on objectifying women, reducing them to a sum total of their body parts. These movies give out such loud warning signs as they shape the public psyche; the guy who hounds the girl incessantly will eventually make her fall for him, if a girl says no – oh she doesn’t mean it! Keep trying and she’ll say yes! But we don’t see these signs. We continue thronging to cinema halls and applaud the mindless trash that is churned out religiously, we make our daughters dance to risqué songs and show off to our friends, we take pride in our sons mouthing lewd songs and dream of them winning in reality shows.

The moral of this story is that it is high time we noticed these warning signs in our society. Remember, a man doesn’t turn into a monster overnight. It takes years and years of social conditioning – subtle messages that permeate his consciousness – until right and wrong becomes too muddled up and the day comes when he thinks being a monster is alright. Being a monster is fun. Being a monster is the right thing to do because it makes him feel like a "man" - not even realizing that there is a difference between being a man and a monster.

Spot the warning signs. Do not ignore them. Do your bit to prevent such monsters being created so that India – and indeed the world – will never have to bear witness to another Nirbhaya.

Saturday, June 1, 2013


Room by Emma Donoghue is a unique and intriguing tale that unfolds through the eyes of a 5 year old boy.

How long will it take for you to go crazy if you are locked up in a small room? Emma Donoghue’s Room is the impressive story of a little boy, Jack, who lives in a small room with his mother. The story is narrated by Jack and it is both sweet in its innocence as well as incredibly sad.  

The resilience and enterprise of the mother, called simply as ‘Ma’ is nothing short of amazing. Perhaps one’s survival instincts come to the fore only when one’s ability and strength are tested to their limits. I was thoroughly impressed by the author’s imagination. Anyone who has spent some time with kids will tell you how easily and quickly children get bored and how they seem to have boundless energy. To confine a child and his entire world to a single room, then, and to spin a gripping yarn based on it is by no means a simple task. I mean, just think about it for a minute: what on earth will you do day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year with a small child locked up with you in a tiny room with only a few bare necessities?

Room speaks to the reader on so many different levels and challenges our perceptions and perspectives. The contrast between a woman who grew up in the outside world and is now confined to the four walls of a room and a child who grows up only within the four walls of the room and is not even aware that a larger, outside world exists is sharp. For instance, while Ma wants the doors of rooms to be left open – because she can’t bear to see a locked door after years of forced confinement – Jack wants the doors closed – because that is what he is used to since birth, that is what he knows, that is what is familiar to him and offers him comfort and safety. This simple example so easily highlights the fact that we are afterall creatures of conditioning, who will however, eventually adapt to changing conditions if we have no other choice.

It also subtly drives home the fact that different people are entitled to have different opinions about the same entity – be it an experience or an object or even, a way of life. It simply means that each of us and thereby our thinking has been shaped by our own experiences and the conditions that we were exposed to; that our brains come to a conclusion about anything based on our side of the story – because that it is what it knows and that is our reality. It might seem strange to someone else, but that is because their reality is different from ours.

Room is set in contemporary times and the language is modern. There are many heart-in-the-mouth moments when you wonder if the book is going to end in triumph or tragedy and it kept me turning the pages.

It was while reading this book that the news about the Cleveland abductor who held 3 women hostage for many years in his home surfaced. The coincidence was somewhat disturbing to be honest. Here I was reading a work of fiction on one hand and the next thing I know, reality imitates it! (Actually the book is inspired by real-life events.)

Room was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2010 and is one of the most memorable books that I have savoured of late. Definitely a must read!



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