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Aboard Orient Express with a raconteur

Photo: Rajeev Bhatt.

Githa Hariharan indulges her taste buds at Taj Palace's Orient Express restaurant in New Delhi.

IT IS a first class ticket all the way with celebrated writer Githa Hariharan. We are aboard Taj Palace's legendary Orient Express, when the dark ruby red Chianti wine expertly chosen by Githa, helps us celebrate the release of her fifth novel, "In Times of Siege". As the wagon rolls along, she recalls her work, dreams and desires through the eventful years of home making, her two teenage sons, their girlfriends, writing and editing. In the midst of this, her daily persistence for details and perfection can only be admired and her commitment to her writing stands out.

Power politics between men and women, prejudices in different parts of the world, an attempt to balance fiction and reality...the Orient Express journey continues to be exhilarating with Githa Hariharan's proficient ability for story telling. "In Times of Siege" is a passionate narrative of New Delhi in the year 2000 and promises its share of irony, humour, intrigue and relationships. A man in his fifties lusting over a young politically committed woman, twists, turns and revelations make the plot intriguing. All along, the train seems to chug along the tracks, gently swaying and rocking, as its wheels seem to roll beneath our feet, trying to keep pace with the melodies of the crooner from Texas.

Githa pauses to taste the exquisite Camembert Soufflé. Served with Paprika sauce, it is a sophisticated, cheesy starter. Having turned vegetarian two years ago, she feels that vegetarian food makes her more comfortable and healthy. But the lady is quite adventurous, when it comes to

eating good food. On a recent visit to Lucknow, she gives in to temptation and checks out a variety of traditional Lucknavi kababs. But certain things like squids are not relished.

Laughingly, she recalls her student days at Mumbai's Sapphire College, dodging the nuns, smoking `beedis' and then the good friends who `take you out to eat good food'. She touches on nostalgia,

when she remembers the Sea Lounge at the Bombay Taj - `a great place for a relaxing cup of coffee.'

Voila! It's time to partake of the Orient Express's Plat Principle. There are hints of mystery about this main course journey, since the chefs create a different itinerary, with visits scheduled from the kitchens of France, Austria, Italy and curiously Thailand. To provide a change for her palette,

Githa decides to check out a non-cheesy preparation - Flaky Asian vegetable roll with Thai red curry sauce and Lemon pumpkin chutney. In keeping with her nature of checking out new things, she finds this fusion preparation to be quite interesting.

The little bit of French every now and then aboard the Orient Express makes her look back through the years to her backpacker's sojourn in Paris. The writer was in her twenties, confident and passionate with a zest for life and landed on French soil after the hovercraft ride from Dover. She checked into a budget hotel in the Latin Quarter and then... her phone kept ringing with dinner invitations! Githa had also perfected the art of dining out with a Frenchman and giving him a fictitious address towards the close of the evening!

During a visit to the Hampi ruins in Karnataka, she relishes a `halli' (village) meal and enjoys its simple nuances. While cooking at home, Githa Hariharan prefers straightforward flavours, perhaps a baked dish or two and definitely not oily. She starts her day with yoga and ends it with a brisk

walk through the JNU campus, where she lives. About two winters back, Githa decided that it was time she had her own office. Now many hours are spent here, committed to her work that drives her on to further ambition, and yes definitely more books.

"The Winning Team" is Githa's set of short stories for children that will be vividly illustrated and translated into Indian languages and is set for a 2003 release.

Aboard the Orient Express, the last course is taken as seriously as the rest of the menu. We opt for the signature dessert Warm Chocolate Pudding with a liquid Chocolate Center. "With chocolate appearing, not once, but twice, it's bound to be stunning," says Githa.

The magnificently lit restaurant carriage of the Orient Express with all its gleaming brass fittings, polished wood panelling and steel stimulated exterior, mesmerises and takes one's breath away. The bright golden light spilling out of the carriage contrasts sharply with the toned down light of the platform area.

The list of indulgences is endless. Warm chocolate on a winter evening, Cordinu sparkling wine, the Davidoff 3000 cigar, Camomille tea and Githa Hariharan's sharp insights about the world we live in, punctuated with her subtle wit and humour. There are very few journeys left today of which it can be said, "It is better too travel than to arrive". This Orient Express ride is one of the very few.

SUMITRA SENAPATY

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