Over king prawns and river sole, Niret Alva talks about food and fun
Ten minutes past 1 p.m. Niret Alva darts into the lobby of The Taj Mahal hotel on New Delhi's Mansingh Road. As he hurries towards Machan, the popular restaurant on the hotel's ground floor, he punches your number. On the first ring, you tell him you are just behind him. With a dash he turns, and laughs. "Very sorry, I am 10 minutes late. It took me a lot of time to reach here from our new office in Gurgaon," he apologises. Functioning till recently from a Greater Kailash basement, his production company Miditech has now shifted to Gurgaon, fearing the Government's sealing drive. "You don't know which building is legal in Delhi. So we didn't want to take a chance," he says. Right at the door of Machan awaits its smiling Chef Manager, Tapas Bhattacharya. We get a table with a good view of the greens that ring the hotel. Over a glass of fresh juice he leafs through the menu. "I am a seafood fan. My Konkani genes are quite strong here. Also, I prefer rice." Having said this he quickly picks crispy king prawns with rice as his choice for lunch. The waiter leaves with the order but soon Chef Tapas returns. He insists that Niret try the buffet spread, particularly because he loves seafood. Pan-seared river sole with orange and chives, grilled lobsters and king prawns vie with grilled tenderloin, stir-fried vegetables and pot roast lamb leg among other dishes in a rich spread. With diners' heads turning at the continuous flash bulb, he helps himself to some sole and prawns with steamed rice, and you know from Niret's nervous grin that he is getting a little conscious. Despite having former union minister Margaret Alva as his mother and a father who served the high echelons of the public sector for years together, neither Niret nor any of his three siblings ever lived their life in the public glare. "We grew up like any other kid. We ate what our nanny, Eppa, made for us. I am so glad that now she looks after my kids too," he says. Perhaps naturally, none of the four children of the Alva household took up politics or government jobs as their calling. In fact, all four are now looking after different operations of Miditech which has come a long way from the acclaim it garnered initially for documentaries like The Lions of Gir and tele-shows like Living on the Edge and Top Gear. Now they produce documentaries for channels like National Geographic, reality shows like Indian Idol, Pogo Amazing Kids Awards and Galli Galli Sim Sim among many others. As he is done with the river sole and the prawn dishes, the Goan prawn curry lands up too on the table. Without much fuss, he takes a helping and comments, "Too good." He says he hasn't touched the lobster as "it would become messy here."
Over tasty morsels, Niret talks about the craze that Machan was for his generation. "We used to keep exact change ready before coming in here for unlimited coffee." Also, he relates the story of a friend who had a meeting with a prospective bride here. "That girl ordered a lot of things and my friend was not carrying much money. Those days there were no credit cards and so I had to come running in here," he relates, laughing. Yet another incident he narrates about a friend in great detail: "He is an MP now but in the 1980s, he came here once dressed as a dehati and did all kinds of things even as we enjoyed the fun sitting in the lobby."Recounting many more such incidents related to Machan, Delhi's first coffee shop, Niret now relishes a piping hot coffee, giving dessert the go-by. "My wife says your type is quite rare. You eat a lot and then go for a run while others eat less and exercise too," he says. In the same breath, he adds this too with relish: "Among desserts, Agra ka petha is superb, isn't it?" Well, yes, Mr foodie! SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY