Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mostly water !!!

On Aug 1st this year, I took up a resolution to eat only home-cooked food. I came to the disconcerting realization that having decided that all of vegetarianism in the US was either leaves, or cheese, I was constantly picking cheese. In turn, my body, totally supportive of that decision, had decided to store it. If my sins got carried over to my next several births, I’d be staring at several interesting possibilities including being a fat bird incapable of flying, a fat snail, which when stamped would result in an overmuch of putrid squish, a fat ant incapable of carrying over hundred times its weight, or a fat leaf leaving its eating to be very undesired. I wish I could post snapshots of my imagined rebirths but I try to keep my posts G rated. Kids and their PB&J sandwiches are welcome!

So I resolved to turn a new (leaf?). Having taken such a resolution, I came to my senses rather quickly. A fat leaf ? Na! I know my biology. Leaves don’t have adipose tissues. I’m saved! And of course, I faltered several times and broke my resolve more than once. I even made the untimely discovery that Panera Bread will serve you sandwiches without the meat. No more of just Mediterranean veggie sandwich ? Hurrah to even varieties of cheese between slices of bread. Down goes my resolution.

Be assured, absolutely nothing on the weighing scale went down. So my real strict resolution is going to start again on September 1st. I shall be including potatoes in my diet now. Potatoes, not being leaves or cheese will give me more variety and are in great abundance in the US of A. (God! I sure hope I am kidding.)
Meanwhile, all I can think of now is real vegetarian food. Indian food. I mean food served on plantain leaves during weddings. I used to detest the entire unholy mess and all the rasam dripping hands and the annoying way in which the servers get stingy with the banana chips and the even more creepy chunks of pumpkin. The wedding-food Gods (there must be one ?) are clearly having their sweet revenge. Would that I could go back to one of those weddings and eat the pumpkin sambar.

And then my mind drifted several times to Shatabdi express’s food. I haven’t been on the Shatabdi often enough. My mom never believed in wasting precious daylight time in a train unless absolutely necessary. It was always madras mail. Board at 10:40 in Bangalore. Land in Chennai at 4:30 am in the morning (by which time the entire city seemed like it was sitting down for lunch. Those guys start their days much earlier compared to Bangalore). And Shatabdi’s food, even back in India, where all kinds of sumptuous vegetarian food was available, was delectable. I have a particular fancy for anything train and train station related (except the restrooms of course!). And now, I am fully convinced that Shatabdi’s food is a cuisine in its own good. So of course, I had to know everything there is to know about Shatabdi food. Who decided to start it ? Who decided the menu? Does that minister or the civil service official have a statue yet ? Could he be coaxed into becoming prime minister? Is the Indian government generous with its budget for Shatabdi food ? Is the catering company up for IPO soon ?

And it was in this delirious mood that I went to Wikipedia fully believing that it would have an entire entry dedicated to Shatabdi food.

And what do I find ?

“Shatabdi Express travelers are provided with snacks, breakfast, meals, coffee or tea, a one-litre water bottle and a glass of canned juice.”
(and it's in the entry for Shatabi; not the entry for Food Service in Shatabdi)

I am pretty sure that falls somewhere in the zip-code of misrepresenting information. That line almost sounds like Shatabdi’s food is completely besides the point and atrocious and that the only thing worth mentioning is the 1 litre water bottle (it may not even come with water in it. Is that what I must make of it?) and a glass of canned juice ? I mean, what about the soup and the breadsticks and the candy and the ice cream and the hot coffee served in flasks and hot rotis and the rice and the yogurt (we call it curds), and the little earthern pot it's set in, and the pickle and the sabji and the dal all wrapped neatly in aluminium foil ?

This happens to be the only time I’ve wanted to edit a Wikipedia entry.

This also makes me feel very much like Arthur Dent(of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), who upon realizing that his planet Earth had been demolished, desperately searched the guide for its description, in an attempt to cling on to its memory.

All I can say is that airlines around the world must be described as giving snacks and meals and water bottled and canned juice. In fact, it would be perfectly alright to say that airlines are always in huge supply of ice.

But to relegate Shatabdi’s food to that pedestrian class is a gross injustice.
One that I plan to resolve in the next few weeks!

So long and thanks for nothing!

The Earth.

Visions of it swam sickeningly through his nauseated mind. There was no way his imagination could feel the impact of the whole Earth having gone, it was too big. He prodded his feelings by thinking that his parents and his sister had gone. No reaction. He thought of all the people he had been close to. No reaction. Then he thought of a complete stranger he had been standing behind in the queue at the supermarket before and felt a sudden stab — the supermarket was gone, everything in it was gone. Nelson's Column had gone! Nelson's Column had gone and there would be no outcry, because there was no one left to make an outcry. From now on Nelson's Column only existed in his mind. England only existed in his mind — his mind, stuck here in this dank smelly steel-lined spaceship. A wave of claustrophobia closed in on him.

England no longer existed. He'd got that — somehow he'd got it. He tried again. America, he thought, has gone. He couldn't grasp it. He decided to start smaller again. New York has gone. No reaction. He'd never seriously believed it existed anyway. The dollar, he thought, had sunk for ever. Slight tremor there. Every Bogart movie has been wiped, he said to himself, and that gave him a nasty knock. McDonalds, he thought. There is no longer any such thing as a McDonald's hamburger.
He passed out. When he came round a second later he found he was sobbing for his mother.

He jerked himself violently to his feet.


Ford looked up from where he was sitting in a corner humming to himself. He always found the actual travelling-through-space part of space travel rather trying.

"Yeah?" he said.

"If you're a researcher on this book thing and you were on Earth, you must have been gathering material on it."

"Well, I was able to extend the original entry a bit, yes."

"Let me see what it says in this edition then, I've got to see it."

"Yeah OK." He passed it over again.

Arthur grabbed hold of it and tried to stop his hands shaking. He pressed the entry for the relevant page. The screen flashed and swirled and resolved into a page of print. Arthur stared at it.

"It doesn't have an entry!" he burst out.

Ford looked over his shoulder.

"Yes it does," he said, "down there, see at the bottom of the screen, just under
Eccentrica Gallumbits, the triple-breasted whore of Eroticon 6."

Arthur followed Ford's finger, and saw where it was pointing. For a moment it still didn't register, then his mind nearly blew up.
"What? Harmless? Is that all it's got to say? Harmless! One word!"

Ford shrugged.

"Well, there are a hundred billion stars in the Galaxy, and only a limited amount of space in the book's microprocessors," he said, "and no one knew much about the Earth of course."

"Well for God's sake I hope you managed to rectify that a bit."

"Oh yes, well I managed to transmit a new entry off to the editor. He had to trim it a bit, but it's still an improvement."

"And what does it say now?" asked Arthur.

"Mostly harmless," admitted Ford with a slightly embarrassed cough.

"Mostly harmless!" shouted Arthur.

"What was that noise?" hissed Ford.

"It was me shouting," shouted Arthur.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Peepli Live

There is a scene in Peepli Live. The entire media has descended upon Natha’s house. Politicians and government officials make frequent visits, each offering things other than what Natha’s family needs most. At one particular time, the entire family comes out and regards the scene in front of them. There’s a quizzical look on each character as they look over their courtyard. In that single frame, the entire movie turns over itself and asks you to consider the world as seen through the family’s eyes as opposed to Natha’s family, as seen through the world’s eyes.

Peepli Live manages to make an inanimate character, called the Lal Bahadur come to life and manages to make all of Natha’s life a marketable commodity. The makers shrewdly sold itself as a satire when in fact, it may very well have been a well researched, remarkably executed documentary (the jokes too I believe are probably not too far from the truth). The movie even manages to stay away from both clich├ęd endings; in the end Natha is neither dead nor alive. There are two crucial deaths, written in to make a rather somber point, and they too are pulled off cleverly that you cannot completely explain it as karma, poetic justice or oh-that-awful-life. Shit happens, as they say (and describe in great detail). Natha’s own family members aren’t beyond manipulation or selfishness. Why then, must we expect anyone else to be ?

Peepli live is a daring take on India’s cold, hard brutal democracy and way of life. There was no happy ending. Yet it makes you laugh. Slumdog Millionaire was a stylized version of dreams coming true magically, even when you’re from cold, hard, democratic India. There was a happy ending and yet it made you cry.

When you're done laughing, it does make you wonder.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Don't go away.
I'm still writing the same ol stuff.

Am trying to give my blog a makeover it truly needs.
I have great dreams for my new template ( a whole day of surfing the net didn't really get me anywhere I might add).

So... my dream has now changed.

I do not promise astonishing results or better user friendliness or anything like that. Think of it as one of those haircuts you simply must get, because its been long, way too long since you had your last one.

Which reminds me, I also need a haircut. But fear not, I shall not blog about it.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Besan ftw!

For the past few days, I’ve been consumed by the need to write something about besan (or gram flour) – that yellow powder tucked away in the corner of the kitchen shelf (or pantry). < As an aside. I like the word pantry. Depending on my mood, the word “pantry” can evoke tendencies that hark back to the my childhood days of Enid Blyton. I imagine myself to be one of those boarding school kids devouring pies and puddings stolen from the pantry during midnight feasts. Or it can evoke more memories of real experiences, of 2 day train journeys in India, where the pantry always smells good, regardless of the cheap oil they were using, and the food pretty delicious as well. Indian train food must be given a whole cuisine category. There is a lot to be said about the gluttonous and pleasures of watery, peppery tomato soup, cutlets with so much oil that they soak the paper plates on which they were served, and pulao’s and kurmas and curd rice with little pickle sachets, and bread omelettes. And the tiny cups of tea, coffee and hot milk that come by at regular intervals. But most of all I like the world pantry. I’m one of those people that dream of houses with pantries just so that I can use the word “pantry” legitimately instead of creating elaborate contests in which their usage is justified – such as the one you’re currently reading > < END DETOUR. END INTERESTING PART OF THIS POST>

Now the praise of besan, despite all its value, is even less unsung than train cuisine. It’s the ingredient that is always forgotten on shopping lists. An accommodating sorta fella, besan doesn’t expect to be added to every dish. In fact, he’s not needed at all. I know of a few kitchens that do not even have besan. And it is likely they will remain that way for ages and will manage to satisfy the palates of many that dine there. Besan doesn’t seek to advertise himself unlike the multitude of other flours that seem to embellish themselves with free-flow and what not to enhance their appeal. Besan, the thick, lumpy chap cannot be bothered to change himself. It doesn’t ask for too much attention really. It seems as if producers of the product and nature itself have simply relied on the fact that cooks will serendipitously discover its need, and once they do, they will find it impossible to turn back. Like the use of tobacco without needing advertisements and despite all the statutory warnings. Besan, however is so much more healthier.

To use besan is to go that extra length, to make your food taste from good to “oh my God. What have you added. The taste just lingers and lingers. And it’s awesome”. Besan can make you aware of all your taste buds, and possibly sprout some new ones. Surprisingly, advice columns on women’s magazines ignore besan all the time when they have to reply to questions such as “What can be done when I add too much salt in my food ?”. Now, in my opinion, these people shouldn’t even be given any recourse. That’s the only way they’re going to learn to use a smaller spoon. However, they’re often told to add a potato to the food, which apparently simply absorbs the salt. Do people then go on to eat this potato, I’ve often wondered. No wonder then, that we're battling increasing levels of cholesterol and diabetes. Of course, in many parts of the world, they've decided to simply do away with the initial extra salty cooking and cut right to the potato with lots of salt. We know it as french fries. In my house, one just deals with extra salty food with huge helpings of yogurt on the side (yes yes. Homemade. Organic. Probiotic. Lactobacillus-uberexotica. Traditional. Goodness). Anyway. I wonder why these horrified cooks, couldn’t resort to adding besan. I have tried that, with good success. Of course, the food doesn’t taste the way it was originally intended. But the new taste is rather appealing.

Such is the power of besan. You can never screw it up. It’s one of those things that can make food taste roasted and shallow fried without adding much oil. It gives a certain fullness to the flavor unparalleled to any combination of spices that I have tried. It is the ultimate finisher. It can bind things together. It can give that tiny edge of sweetness that even ardent resistors of those Indian cuisines known for their sweet food, will not be able resist.< The fact that Indian grocery stores stock it in huge packets makes me wonder if this post and my fawning prose for besan is completely premature. But it gives me hope that there so many more uses that I am yet to discover.> For me though, a small amount will do. It just sits, in its corner on the kitchen shelf waiting to be drafted into service. And when it does, boy! does it do its job! The besan, when bought, sits in the *pantry*, serving at the pleasure of the cook forever and ever.

It’s as close to a fairy tale that most of us are ever going to get. Besan is why I decide to keep cooking, much less write about it.

Besan completes my kitchen.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Love All

America is a secular country. Secularism is absolute. It cannot vary in degrees. It cannot vary depending on the circumstance. There is nothing the government can do about the decision of some people to profess their faith, to gather peacefully and to practice their religion. And if those that gather there also attempt to reach out, to explain to others that they come there on good faith, that they’re tolerant, that they mean no harm, the government must simply stand by it. And so there is nothing the government can do about the decision to build an Islamic Centre merely two blocks from Ground Zero, where several people died by a Jihadist attack.

The very idea of an Islamic Centre seems to irk the sensitivities of many people. Perhaps they wonder if their yet-to-heal wounds are being rubbed raw. Perhaps they wonder if they’re being laughed at for putting up with other religions. Or perhaps they do not want to be asked for understanding and forgiving for they are not done grieving. Secularism occupies no place in their heart. Memories of loved ones do. And they cannot find it in themselves to understand, to support other religions again, a support that they offered once freely, a support that they feel was fully misused. And perhaps all they’re asking is for these people to go away for now, to come back later, when they can remember peace-time again. And they’re asking that an exception be made, an exception that takes into account their sensitivity and their vulnerability.

But the constitution does not grant the right to sensitivity, vulnerability or fear. It asks simply that people continue to be strong regardless of circumstance in order to uphold a higher value- that of tolerance. For its founders believed that one can find courage, strength and the will to do what is right under absolutely every single circumstance, no matter how trying.

Perhaps they would rather live somewhere else where everyone professes the same religion that they do. Alternatively, perhaps they would live somewhere where everyone practices their religion in secret so that religion is never questioned. But perhaps it would all of us some good to remember what tolerance feels like in peacetime.

I grew up in India, another secular country albeit Hindu dominated. On my street among a majority of Hindus, are also Muslims and Christians. Every Diwali ( a Hindu festival), my mother asks me to distribute sweets to the neighbours. We distribute them to all our neighbours regardless of religion- regardless of the Christmas Trees in the courtyards or the Quranic verse on the walls. I am certain that this act of distributing sweets is never interpreted as my trumpeting my religion, for I am always welcomed with open arms. Come Christmas, I can expect sweets from my Christian neighbor and come Eid I can expect sweets again from my Muslim neighbor. None of us is afraid of one another. Indeed we have often given them our house keys to help guard our house while we are out of town. We go to our temples, churches and mosques. My Muslim neighbor does not find any ill in asking other neighbours to contribute to the temple because the temple plans to use those funds to build a park. And my Christian neighbor does not refuse to pay the community maintenance fees despite the community leader being a devout Hindu. Nor does the community leader insist that the community consist of solely Hindus. It can be argued that we tolerate each other because we fear our lives. But the honest-to-God or whatever-you-believe-in truth is we tolerate each other simply because we care for each other.

Perhaps those of the Cordoba Initiative are over-reaching and are testing American secularism too much. But the test is so easily passed. If Americans only extend their once steady, now trembling hands, they will realize that what’s waiting for them is a warm, firm grip, a balm that will finally ease the pain.