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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Shiva's ignorance


This post is a part of the 'Shave or Crave' movement in association with BlogAdda.com

Ganesh and Karthik were nowhere to be seen – no doubt attending to the numerous requests they received every day. Parvati had been waiting for this moment for a long time.


“My Lord!” She chimed in her musical lilting voice.

“Yes?” He bellowed.

She cringed, but decided not to back down now. “Shall we go for a spin?” She asked.

“Why?? The Earth seems to be functioning normally. Why destroy it now?”

Parvati gave an exasperated sigh. Why couldn’t he think beyond the destruction of evil? She took a deep breath, curbed her condescending tone, and said “No, I meant the two of us. Let’s go for a ride around Kailash. It has been so long, and we have been so busy. We rarely get to spend time together, and I thought…” She murmured, lowering her lashes.

Shiva was fully aware now. He looked at his beautiful wife and how much she had put up with in the last few years. She was right. They needed to spend some quality time together.

“Let’s take a 3 minute break” Said Shiva gently, “ Nandi, let’s go!”

Shiva and Parvati on Nandi
Source: Wikipedia

On jumped Shiva and Parvati, and Nandi, uncharacteristic of him, maintained a healthy gait. They discussed everything under the sun – from Ganesha’s nose block to Karthik’s pet peacok. After a minute, they were riding on in companionable silence when Nandi stopped abruptly, throwing the two off balance.

“Are you hurt?” Shiva asked Parvati urgently.

She checked herself. She felt a searing pain in her cheek, but apart from that nothing.

“Bring me a mirror.” She said quietly.

Shiva immediately took her to the mansarovar lake, waiting for her to scrutinise her reflection.

Parvati saw the cause of her pain – her cheeks and shoulders were bleeding. She knew the cause of it - Shiva's stubble. She closed her eyes and let anger wash over her. Shiva was getting increasingly nervous.

“Did you see that?” She almost whispered.

“I am sorry. I didn’t mean to…” He spluttered.

“I will have a scar for days now. What will my devotees think when they see me?” She asked quietly.

Shiva knew and dreaded that tone of her voice. He had to remedy this quickly before they had another silent fight. The last one had lasted for eight years, and he had ended up doing tandav every other day.

“How can I rectify this?” Shiva asked.

Parvati was lost in thought. Then she took out a phial filled with a clear blue liquid and gave it to him. “Give this to Vishnu.”

“What is it?” He was almost afraid to ask.

“0.1% of that liquid mixed with a bit of fire will be now common for all female creations. It will instantly turn then off against any man with a stubble. On the other hand, they will have an uncontrollable attraction towards any clean-shaven man”.

“But isn’t that cheating?” Shiva asked, scratching his chin.

“Not really. I can put up with it since I get only three minutes in a year with you. Lakshmi can put up with it because Vishnu is in his final avatar now. But the rest of the women don’t have to.”

Shiva knew when he was defeated. He immediately asked Nandi to take him to Vishnu.

Nandi looked back at the receding form of Parvati and winked. She winked back.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Of fornications and war declarations

She was pregnant.
But that did not stop the attacks. On the contrary in fact. It had taken all her strength to run and hide from the heartless monsters, but she realised that it was time to move on. With a tearful prayer, she climbed out of the window, and started a long and dangerous trek through uncharted terrains.
 
She walked through jungles, sewers and tunnels and finally reached a housing development. While most of them looked cheerful and festive, it was the dark unlighted one that she was instantly drawn to. She had gone through enough in one night to realise that darkness was her ally, her friend. She quickly slipped in, and found ample food to keep her happy.
 
Suddenly, she felt the pain.The capsule dropped, and in a few hours, her children were born - almost 30 of them. As they grew darker in color, she crooned:
"There is enough food for all of us. Do remember to fornicate frequently, for our strength is in numbers."

 
....which was when I switched on the light in the kitchen. The mother and her children roaches were surprised to see a screaming woman (that would be me) and her enchanted-and-eager-to-analyse son. They ran, while I decided to take  a crash course in armed combat. Now, equipped with a spray and boric acid, it is apparent that a brutal and bloody war is imminent - sans the screaming.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Birthday Bumps

So, my son is going to turn two in 1.5 months and it is already giving me nightmares.Not because we would officially enter the "terrible twos" stage (unofficially, we are very much there), but because there is incredible peer pressure to host a birthday party.
 
With that, let me enlighten the fortunate souls who are yet to have a child. Every parent, with an increasing percentage of disposable income, are ready to spend most of their savings on the apple(s) of their eyes. Combine that with a creative parent and a realm of opportunities opens up. For example, there was this lady whose four year old son liked "Chota Bheem (CB)" (yes, the cartoon character). So, she hired a decorater, leased a hall, included some lifesize scenaries, characters, games, arranged for a giant themed cake, return gifts and dresses (but of course).
And then, there are moms on the other end of the spectrum - those who think they are above such cliches, and hold creative parties - making their own cupcakes, creative activities for kids at home (like organising a finger painting contest) or outside (like workshop-parties where all the kids are invited to a toy/pottery workshop). The possibilities are endless.
Next year, the parents say the obvious - I dont know how I can outdo "that" party.
The kids say the obvious - I want something better.
Needless to say, the bank balance mutters the obvious too.
And this is where the heart of the issue is. Worse than competing with other moms for a beautiful birthday party is competing with previous party-thrown selves.
We attracted a lot of flake for not hosting a party for our one year old (apart from the traditional homam). And I am sure that we will attract more so for not intending to throw a party this year as well, and for opting for a boring idea of taking him to a zoo or a lake or an adoption drive, because that seems to be very much in tune with our whimsical son's idea of fun, instead of cakes, screaming/fighting kids, non-stop talking ladies (read - me) and hassled elders (also me).
 
As Ashwin, my partner in crime, put it, "The only reason I can think of giving a party is because everyone else is doing it." And we can safely agree, that's not reason enough.
 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Stumbling in the canine world – Part II


A day after Diwali, the roads were uncharacteristically empty and the buses were running free. That of course did not mean a respite from office with its share of deadlines. By the time I had clocked in close to 11 hours, it was almost 7 pm, and I was ravenous. After quickly getting a take-away (a very spicy Frankie), I was walking towards my bus stand, when the title of the post happened.

A stray dog was greeting almost everyone coming to the bus stand enthusiastically. Tail wagging, eyes shining and tongue hanging, he came and welcomed me by trying  to lick my hand. For once (in my life), I wasn’t scared, and sat down to pat him. He was wagging furiously and looking hopeful. It then struck me that he might be hungry. I thought about the packed Frankie, wondered if all the extra chillies would benefit him, and told him sorrowfully, “Unnum ille da enn kitte”*. He immediately ran to the next guy and started giving him the look.
Well, that was mortifying. There were two practical things I could do: Give him the Frankie, which was sure to cause him some harm, or ignore and catch a bus. So, I did neither, walked about half a kilometre to a local paav waala and got a pav.  I had worn my only dressy-pointy heels that day, and my feet were killing me. I drudged on, waiting to see his look of happiness (Ya, I am very selfless like that).

When I finally reached the bus stop, it was close to 8 pm, and he was nowhere to be seen. I waited for about 15 minutes, and then walked around to see if I could spot him (at one point, even trying to closely inspect an overturned garbage can). By 8.30 pm, I was ready to accept that I had made a fool of myself and caught the next bus home.
At home, of course, I told my mom that I had a lot of work in office.

PS: Do dogs like Paav? It is the second time a dog has rejected my humble offerings

*I have nothing to give.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Impressions..


It was one of those days where everything was going wrong. It was getting dark, the autos weren’t coming and I had promised to be home by 8.

By the time I reached home, it was already 9. I had had an absent-minded conversation with the auto-guy who was very curious about computers and where he can do courses on basic skills. I smiled while I got out, said a hasty “Thank you”, had time to notice a couple sitting on a bike having a conversation in a low voice, and bounded up the stairs…

..when my phone rang suddenly. It was my friend’s friend – a guy I knew barely through a farewell gift I was doing for my friend.

I: “Hi, how are you?”
He: “Tell me, do you stay at.."(followed by my street name)?

I (Surprised – he did not seem like the stalker kind): “Um, yeah”.

He:”I am standing right outside your building with my sister. I just saw you get down from the auto”.

Aah. The couple in the corner.

I: “Oh?”

He (Uncomfortable now) : “I just got a call, so decided to stop my bike and take it.”

I: “Wait, I will come down”.

I have to admit I was very reluctant about this. Not only was my mom sounding pretty furious, I had no enthusiasm to meet a guy outside my building (with its share of nosy neighbours) at 9 pm.

As it turned out, the sister talked more than the guy and I talked more than both of them put together. After some hasty plans to meet the next day to exchange books, we bid goodbye.

I (thinking): “What a bad timing!”

He (thinking): “What a snob! Couldn’t she talk in tamil?”

A little more than a year later, we were engaged. I wonder about the person who said that the first impressions were the last impressions.  In fact, in my case, the best impressions are the last impressions.

A Cupboard full of coats - Yvette Edwards


A Cupboard full of coats
ISBN:1851687971
First Published in: 2011
 
Synopsis:
A first-person narrative of a 30-year old woman who revisits her mother’s murder fourteen years ago through flashbacks and confessions.

Category:
Simple-Wordy,Serious

Genre:
Fiction

Language:

Not exactly profane, but does involve some graphic descriptions.

Favorite Quote:
None.
Review:
Before delving into the review, I have to admit I was very taken with the title of the book, and more importantly, the relevance of it with the plot. Seldom does one see an appropriately named book. (One flew over the cuckoo’s nest is the other one that immediately comes to mind).

This book tells the story of the murder of a woman about fourteen years back. It is seen through the eyes of her daughter, Jinx, in a series of flashbacks evoked through her conversations with Lemon, one of the three involved in the murder. Living alone, hardened and bitter, these conversations between her and Lemon help bring perspective and eventually a closure to her traumatised past.

First and foremost, this book can make you hungry. Lemon, part-lover and part-father figure, in an effort to unwind Jinx, ends up in the kitchen creating one amazing dish after another. I could taste the pumpkin soup, the millet, the sorrel and the Guinness punch. I could feel myself loosening, and could only nod my head as Jinx articulated what I was thinking:
For a moment, my longing for the breakfast Lemon was cooking so intense, I actually felt afraid.
This book can make you angry - at Jinx for her attitude towards her son; at Lemon for the part he played in the murder; at Barris, the jealous lover of her mother, for his violence and disregard for everyone else; and most of all, at Jinx’s mother, for being so gullible and blind to her daughter’s feelings.

However, the ruling emotion for me after reading this book was an overwhelming sadness. In what I am sure was just meant to be a passing narrative, I found the interaction between Jinx and her son, Ben as the most arresting. It may have something to do with my being a (relatively) new mother; I could strangely empathise with Jinx. But that did not prevent me from getting teary-eyed imagining what Ben must have been going through. All through the narration, I struggled to keep the rejected boy out of my mind.

I am sure that this book will evoke different emotions in different readers. A mother with a healthy relationship with her son will be shocked at Jinx for her damaging attitude towards her son. A daughter who loves her mother could only nod her way through Jinx’s confessions about feeling left out and being angry at the latter’s apparent callousness. But I am sure that everyone would, at least once while reading, want to stop-midway, go to the kitchen and make something delicious.

If the book falls short (and it does, though slightly), it is because of its writing style. I think the author wanted to strike a balance between a simple narration and some dramatic revelations. Yvette Edwards is brilliant as a simple narrator. However, the dramatic revelations, like the names of the protagonist and her mother (which is revealed only in the last chapter and there wasn’t enough punch to warrant that) seemed a tad unnecessary to me.  Then there is the description of emotions, which followed a standard template almost throughout (and sometimes, annoyingly, multiple times in a page):
Cause: Description of the event in one paragraph.
Effect: Description of the resulting emotion in one line.

For instance:
It had been the first time since he’d moved in that she’d spent any time with me on my own, two or three hours on one occasion in nearly two months, that’s all.
 And he was jealous.

Somehow, these one-apparently-loaded line-endings to a paragraph seemed forced, and broke the simple, almost clinical narrative of the book.

Verdict:
The only drawback of the book is so minor that I feel guilty mentioning it here. Indeed, considering the narrative style, the power-packed plot and the delicious cooking, this flaw seems negligible. Though not exactly a fast read, it is a very engrossing one, and can be finished in a couple of sittings. Very strongly recommended for everyone.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Language Conundrum

First week into my college in Chennai, I was coming to terms with speaking in Tamil and getting ridiculed whenever I made a mistake. Which was painfully often.
The first one was fairly straightforward:
"Can I have 1 packet Thirtham*?" I asked the shopkeeper, only to have the girl next to me breaking into peals of laughter.
"Thirtham and all you will get only in temple ma. I will give you Thanni", Said the smug shopkeeper giving me the packet.
 
With that extreme-brahmin and grammatically incorrect Tamil background, I had my first major issue when a couple of the loafers around the college started following me to the bus stand. After about 100 metres, one of them gathered enough strength to come and talk to me.

"Madam, time enna?"
"3.00 pm.".
"Enga poreenge??".
Annoyed by then, I shouted:
"Enna vittudoye da! Please".
He smiled and went back to his friend.
Friend: "Dei, enna sonna??".
He (all excited): "Da Sonna da!".**
 
 
And they giggled.

That incident taught me two very important lessons:
  1. The first step in learning a new language should be knowing all the bad words. No really. Else you leaving a trail of gigglers behind you. 
  2. We humans are predominantly vain, and end up seeing compliments or terms of endearments even in straightforward insults.
     
* Thirtham means pure water that one usually gets in Temple. Somehow, the Brahmins (I think) call normal drinking water as Thirtham too.

** (Translated)
"Madam, What's the time?"
"3:00 Pm"
"Where are you going?"
By then I was nervous and shouted:
"Leave me Dude/Yaar. Please."
He smiled and went back to his friend.
Friend: "What did she say?"
He (All excited): "She said Dude/Yaar!".
 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Product Review: Borges Farfalle Pasta

Borges Farfalle Pasta[/caption]
(Photo Credits: http://cynublog.blogspot.in/2012/06/new-pasta-brand-and-freebies.html)


Price:

Rs.145 for a pack of 500 gms.

Description:

Perenially a Macaroni and Penne Pasta fan, I was surprised to discover that the partner preferred Fettucine and Farfalle more. Though hesitant, I decided to buy Borges Wheat Farfalle Pasta.  This came with a very intriguing "Mediterranean starter kit", which contained:

  • One Recipe book.

  • Extra virgin olive oil, 37 ml.

  • Pasta Seasoning, 100 gm - Containing Oregano, Paprika, Onion, Basil, Garlic, Thyme, Lemon Peel, Black Pepper, Lemon Oil.

  • Cheese and Italian Herb Seasoning, 100 gm - Containing Cheese Powder, Garlic, Oregano, Thyme, Salt, Rosemary, Basil, Black Pepper, Red Chilly, Lemon Peel.


Review:

  1. Farfalle: It definitely has a lot of things going for itself. Considering that it is a wheat pasta, the price is not too steep. Though they take a longer time to cook than their counterparts,  Borges' Pasta did not break easily or stick together. I found them to be a bit thick and chewy, but maybe that is how Farfalle is supposed to be (It is my first time after all).

  2. Extra Virgin Olive Oil: What’s not to love? :)

  3. Pasta Seasoning: I did not expect to like it, since I have already used a herb mix which failed to stimulate our taste buds. However, this seasoning has a very pleasant smell, and adds a nice and mild flavour to the dish. It seems to get lost in the red sauce, but a spoon with the white sauce works wonders.

  4. Cheese and Italian Herb Seasoning: This is quickly turning out to be my go-to-spice mix when I run out of options. Be it pasta or fried rice, the seasoning adds an interesting and not-too-subtle flavour. The smell of cheese is an added advantage!


Verdict:

Very strongly recommended.

Two Fates - Judy Balan

Synopsis:
Two Fates
ISBN: 9381626006
First Published In: 2011
A parody of “Two States", this book takes us through an unexpected and funny struggle of a couple to get a divorce.

Category:
Words-Wordy, Witty

Genre: 
Fiction


Language:
Profane.

Favorite Quote:
Sometimes we both cared more for the institute of marriage than we did for each other.

Review
The review has a very high potential to be biased since I am a diligent follower of the author, Judy Balan’s blog. In fact, I came to know about the book through one of her posts; which is as well, for the cover of the book is nothing to write home about. Though I like minimalism/caricatures/ cartoons, this was borderline immature, and not in a good way. The designer seems to have lost interest midway through the rope-loop drawings. The fact that the book is still doing well “despite” a bad cover is a testimonial in itself.
I was however, surprised to find that most reviewers have mis-read(!) the book so thoroughly. Looks like Balan was too, as her post suggests

To summarise: The book is about an IIM-couple Deepika, a Tamilian and Rishabh, a Punjabi. Their families seem to have overcome their basic differences and are bonding well, much to the chagrin of the couple who want to have a divorce. Through London, Scotland, Chennai and Punjab, this incompatible-yet-wanting to be together couple stumble through relatives and various issues leading to a lot of situational comedies and emotional drama.

The book is primarily a parody of the Chetan Bhagat novel, Two States. I can imagine the author rolling her eyes at its corniness, and deciding to write Two Fates just to bring it out in sharp relief. Hence, as a parody, it is bang on. There are a lot of tongue-in-cheek references – to the original book as well to the author. For instance, Balan has coined the term “Gandhi complex” for the male protagonist, defining it as “a delusional condition that the future of the nation rests squarely on his shoulders”. – A not too subtle nod to the lofty ambitions of Bhagat himself.
The coup-de-grace was this exchange between Deepika and Rish:
“Winning is about strategy as much as it is about choice of words”, he gloated. 
“And that’s precisely why I think you’re not meant to be a writer”, I said. He remained silent. 
To me, writing was an art form. It was as much about beauty, form and style as it was about content. But Rish could never get that. For him, the story was everything. 
“If the story is good and the language simple, people will read”, he often said. 
But my point wasn’t about people reading as much as it was creating art. He argued that if I wanted to create art I should paint or write poetry, making me want to shoot him down for landing on my turf and lecturing me on what I was obviously better equipped to do. 
“I am going to make India read” He finally announced getting up from him seat with a dreamy look, as if he were the Mahatma and he had just made up him mind about ahimsa. 
“Drama King”, I said, “You’d do so much better in Bollywood”. 
“Yes maybe, I should make a movie about the fateful day I married you” he said, taking his seat again. 
“You could call it Two Idiots”, I grinned.
Interestingly, though Balan has also done the North-South stereotyping, she has fared much better. While Bhagat could barely conceal his annoyance and bias, Balan worked at creating stereotypes only to contradict them later – be it in repeatedly showing how “simple” South Indians are, only to be followed by the groom’s (south-Indian) mother happily accepting a Honda City, or to Rish and Deepika’s argument on who was more obnoxious - The balance seems equal, and hence, funny.

However, as a standalone book, it did have its drawbacks. The flow was unsure and shaky initially, which progressively improved with the story. The initial attempts at funny one-liners and interesting comebacks seemed a tad disjoint and broke the narration. Admittedly, no fault can be found with the language, which was witty, intelligent and slightly wordy with sporadic doses of swear words.  There were poetic lines like these:
Conning the audience was the aim and the client was the unsuspecting fat cow about to be milked like nobody’s business. So, come hell, high waters, weekends or lunch time – ours was not to reason why; ours was but to write clever headlines and lie.
Or funny ones like these:
Sure, we can’t give our lives for the country, perform open-heart surgery or help prevent global warming. But we know how to make people buy things they don’t want to buy. And that makes us way cooler than everyone else.
There are ample doses of dry humor in these pages, which are guaranteed to bring out a chuckle or two from the reader. Though it shows a lot of promise, for a non-TwoStates reader, I don’t think it is enough to hold fort.

Verdict:
The book is strongly recommended for those who have already read “Two States”. As a parody, it is remarkably funny. As a standalone book though, it fell a bit short. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Getting the Chapatti Right!

Arch had once suggested doing a post on soft chapattis, and I had conveniently forgotten about it (read, chickened out - it is a recently acquired talent).  Chapattis are so easily underestimated, and so difficult to do it right. The science of it is simple: Keep the moisture in.It is the “How” that is kind of confusing.



I seem to have tried many variations and finally settled on one. For starters, here is a list of the tried options:

  1. The ghee (clarified butter) paratha:


      • Take a ball of the dough and roll it to about half the size of a chapatti.

      • Spread a teaspoon of clarified butter evenly over the surface of the chapatti.

      • Now fold it in half, and then again in half to form a quarter.

      • Use the rolling pin to form a uniform and thin paratha. Needless to say, it won’t be as thin as a normal one.

      • While putting it on the tava, keep pressing it gently with a spoon so that it is well cooked.




  2. The oiled dough: While making the chapatti dough, add about two teaspoonful of oil. This makes the dough very soft.

  3. The vegetable roll: To be fair, this is a coward’s way out. If one is very doubtful about the chapatti coming out well, the side-dish can be rolled into it and stored. Ideal for lunch boxes, the chapatti absorbs the moisture of the vegetables and becomes very soft.


I have tried all three, but have finally settled on a method that suits and serves me well. It is a multiple step approach:

  1. The consistency of the dough: Contrary to normal expectations, the dough should be soft and slightly sticky. We tend to worry that it’ll end up creating trouble while rolling, but it can be adjusted by adding the flour (either to the dough or to the chapatti being rolled). If the dough is too hard, all the moisture is absorbed when we cook it resulting in dry and hard chapattis.

  2. Resting time: Perhaps the most common mistake one makes is giving the dough absolutely no resting time. Try giving it at least half an hour to settle before cooking.

  3. The Fluff: Needless to say, the softness is directly related to the ballooning of the chapatti while cooking. I have never had trouble with it, so am not sure what the reason for that is, but I am guessing it is the uniformity of the rolled chapatti, and of course, its thickness. Thinner, the better.

  4. The Storage: If all else fails, this ought to work. Even if the chapatti is hard while cooking, when they are stacked one over the other, they end up absorbing each other’s moisture (through steam) and become soft. The roundabout (and technically sound) way is to cover them in a thin cotton cloth to hold the moisture in. The lazy part of me is content on stacking them one over the other, and then inverting the bunch and storing it in a utensil in FIFO (First In, First Out) order.


If you have any other methodologies do let me know in comments.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mixed Vegetables in Spinach-Poppy Seeds Gravy

I had my Eureka moment a couple of days ago, when we decided to have Pooris and the usual culprits (Kabuli Chana or Potatoes) were not present in sufficient quantity. Bored out of my shoes, I decided to make mixed vegetables in  green gravy, and ended up adding ingredients I had no intentions of adding and worse yet, had no idea how the combination will end up tasting. The result was a subdued and rich side-dish with many interesting taste-layers.

Mixed Vegetables in Spinach-Poppy Seeds gravy


Preparation Time:

40 Minutes



Ingredients:

  1. Carrot: 1

  2. Potato: 1 Medium sized

  3. Beans: 8-10 Medium sized

  4. Capsicum: 1 Medium Sized

  5. Peas:  a handful.

  6. Spinach (Palak): Half a bunch.

  7. Tomato:1

  8. Onions: 2

  9. Green Chillies: 2

  10. Ginger: 1"

  11. Poppy Seeds(Khus-Khus) – 2 tsp

  12. Cashew Nuts: 5-7

  13. Corn Flour: 1 tsp mixed in water.


Methodology:

  1. Cut the carrot and beans into long stripes. Cut the potato and capsicum into cubes (and squares).

  2. Blanch the Spinach leaves. Immerse them in cold water immediately, and grind them with tomato when cooled.

  3. Use the same water to boil carrot, beans, potato and peas. Add about ½ tsp salt to this water. Take the vegetables out after about 5 minutes on high flame and about 5-10 minutes on low flame. When in doubt, always take them out when they look half-cooked.

  4. Needless to say, the residual water makes for a great soup.

  5. Grind the Onions, Green Chillies and ginger into a smooth paste.

  6. Heat some oil in a pan. Add  Mustard seeds.

  7. When they cackle, add the onion paste and stir for a while.

  8. Add turmeric powder, cumin powder and coriander powder.

  9. Add the tomato-spinach paste and the vegetables,  and keep stirring in medium flame.

  10. Meanwhile, dry roast poppy seeds and cashew nuts till they turn a bit brownish. Grind them together.

  11. Add them to the pan and mix well.

  12. For a thicker and uniform consistency, add the corn-flour-water mix. Add about half a teaspoon of sugar to bring the flavors together.

  13. Garnish with Coriander leaves and serve.


Notes:

  • The dry roasting of poppy seeds and cashewnuts is done to ensure a smooth paste. Poppy seeds are surprisingly difficult to grind. If you have any other ideas on how to make the paste smooth and consistent, let me know.

Palak Methi Chaman

Palak-Methi Chaman
 Palak(Spinach) and Methi(Fenugreek) are two of my favourite leafy vegetables. Though we Indians usually kill them by over-boiling or over-frying, if done right, the dish can not only taste and smell good,the refreshing green look is a treat for starved eyes.

Starved we have been – with the partner contracting Jaundice, and the cooking options becoming severely stunted. However, it took me the better part of two months to realise that tasty need not necessarily mean unhealthy. So, armed with a couple of leafy vegetables and a twist to the original Tarla Dalal’s Palak Methi Chaman recipe, this dish originated and turned out to be lip-smacking.

Preparation Time:

35 Minutes

Ingredients:

  1. Palak (Spinach) - Half a bunch

  2. Methi (Fenugreek Leaves) - Half a Bunch

  3. Potato - 2

  4. Peas - 1 Cup

  5. Cumin Seeds - 1.5 Tsp

  6. Asafoetida - a pinch

  7. Ginger - about 2"

  8. Green Chillies - 2

  9. Turmeric Powder - 1/2 Tsp

  10. Chilli Powder - 1/2 Tsp

  11. Coriander Cumin Seed Powder - 1 Tsp

  12. Garam Masala - 1 Tsp

  13. Corn Flour - 1 Tsp

  14. Milk - 1 Cup

  15. Sugar - 1/2 Tsp

  16. Salt - as Required

  17. Olive Oil - About 2 Tsp


Methodology:

  1. Grind the ginger and green chillies together to form a paste.

  2. Mix the Corn Flour with water to form a thin paste.

  3. Wash both the leaves thoroughly and blanch them together.

  4. Drain and keep the water aside.

  5. After cooling, grind the leaves into a smooth paste.

  6. Meanwhile, shell the peas and cut the potato into medium size cubes. Boil them with about ¼ tsp of salt and minimal water.

  7. Heat the oil in a pan. After a minute, add cumin seeds. When they start to cackle, add asafoetida and the ginger-green chilly paste.

  8. Add turmeric powder, red chilly powder, Coriander-Cumin Seeds Powder, Garam Masala, Salt and Mix well.

  9. Add the Methi-Palak  (Fenugreek-Spinach) Paste, and the boiled potatoes and Peas.

  10. When the gravy starts boiling, add corn flour-milk  solution and stir till the gravy thickens. Add Sugar and stir on low flame for about two minutes.

  11. Garnish with Coriander leaves and serve.


Notes:

  • Corn flour, a recent discovery for me, is a boon for gravies. The consistency it gives is perfectly appetizing. More importantly, there is no change in taste (unlike rice powder).

  • The residual water of blanching the greens can either be used while making the gravy or can be made into a simple soup by adding salt and pepper. (I did the latter. It tasted great!).

  • Blanching involves boiling the leafy vegetables for about 5 minutes on high flame and about a minute or two (tops) on low flame. Anything more and the leaves will turn soggy and lose the color.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Two States, The story of my marriage - Chetan Bhagat

Book Title Two States
ISBN: 8129115301
First Published: 2009

Synopsis:
The story of a North Indian boy falling for a South Indian girl and his struggles in convincing both sides of the family into accepting this relationship.

Category:
Simple, Funny

Genre:
Romance, Drama

Language:
The couples live-in together and have sex before marriage. The language, however, is not very profane.

Favorite Quote:
Forgiving doesn’t make the person who hurt you feel better, it makes you feel better.

Review:
Two States is the story of a Punjabi boy and a Tamilian girl falling in love, and instead of taking the usual route of eloping to get married, believe in convincing their parents for their union. The book is funny in a simple sort of a way and packs some lessons too – like being Indian instead of being North or South Indian and the importance of forgiving.

The book can be divided into three sections, and these sections evoked different emotions from me: Tolerant, Incredulous and Annoyed.

Tolerant:
The language is juvenile. That in itself is not a reason to dislike a book – I loved the writing style of Twilight, Percy Jackson and Harry Potter. I was not expecting a Salman Rushdie from a Chetan Bhagat. However, when a juvenile style of writing is combined with cheesy lines and shallow emotions, more than losing its edge, the book becomes a caricature of bad writing. Consider, for example, the dedications page:
This may be the first time in the history of books, but here goes: 
Dedicated to My In-Laws.* 
*Which does not mean I am henpecked, under her thumb or not man enough.

Ever since the movie Lives of Others, I give a lot of importance to the Dedications page. Considering that this book is inspired from his own marriage, and also that the book makes ample fun of the in-laws (to be), whose positive traits have been conveniently ignored, I found this page to be a very poor joke.
Or maybe not. I am a Tamilian, and as Bhagat mentions in his book:
The Tamil sense of humor, if any, is really an acquired taste.

Incredulous:
The book is full of stereotypes. Punjabi and Tamilian stereotypes to be precise. Of course, Bhagat has added this disclaimer in the beginning:
I would also like to tell all South Indians I love them. My better half will vouch for that. I have taken the liberty to have some fun with you just like I have with Punjabis – only because I see you as my own. You only make digs at people you care for.
With that out of the way, let’s look at the stereotypes now:
Punjabi:
  • Primarily concerned about food.
  • Usually on the heavy side.
  • Overdressed and with a preference for bling and gaudy jewellery.
  • Love showing off their wealth.
  • Usually outspoken, loud and dramatic.
  • Believe South Indians have a complexion complex.
  • Love to shop.
  • Education is not exactly a priority, especially for a girl.
Tamilians:
  • Love the IIT tag and foreign degrees.
  • Eat only Idlis.
  • Almost all of them are black (not dark), and most of them use generous doses of talcum powder.
  • Listen to horrible Carnatic music.
  • Docile, repressed and the only sign of rebellion is talking in Tamil to non-Tamilians.
  • Tamilian men usually have thick glasses and oiled hair, and since they cannot get girlfriends themselves, prefer arranged marriages.
  • Tamilians don’t like to have fun and like to follow the rules. Fun, for them, is usually associated with guilt.
  • They like reading The Hindu, and are comfortable with silences. The dinner is a quiet affair with everyone exchanging dead looks.

To sum it up:
Marble flooring is to a Punjabi what a foreign degree is to a Tamilian. 
When people land at Chennai airport, they exchange smiles and proceed gently to the car park. At Delhi, there is traffic jam of people trying to hug each other to death.
In the beginning of the book, Bhagat through the protagonist Krish, mentions the following reason for wanting to be a writer:
Someone who tells stories that are fun but bring about change too.
Now, what does the author do to serve the bigger cause – vis-à-vis, make inter - state marriages acceptable?
  • Does he finally understand the city and its people or his girlfriend (or vice versa)? No.
  • Does he show the positives of the stereotyped parents and South-Indian (and North-Indian) bosses? No.
  • Does he show some exceptions to the stereotypes – like an educated Punjabi girl, a non-blingy Punjabi parent, a non-gossipy relative, a cool south Indian friend, a drinking and meat-eating Tamilian? No.
  • Does he lie his way through to the girl’s parents' hearts? Yes.
  • Does he expect the girl to lie to his parents and do the household work to impress his mother? Yes.
  • Does he manipulate the brother, the girl’s parents and his mother into accepting for the marriage? Yes.
  • Despite the lofty talks of wanting to bring about change, and constantly putting down a multinational bank like Citi, does he, in the end, resort to the traditional method of flattery to get his job done? Yes.

After all, in his own words:
No matter how accomplished people get, they don’t stop fishing for compliments.
Annoyed:
When the parents of the boy and the girl finally meet, the protagonist tells the girl to make her parents buy a lot of gifts for his mother and not let him pay or do any work. He convinces his mother that the girl will be docile and submissive after marriage. The boy’s only defense is that he was lying and trying to get both the sides to like each other. Of course, how a girl's side will like a boy or his mother for forcing them to buy "gifts" is debatable.
Forget the feminist angle, but this looks like a life full of lies and a lot more gifts from the girl’s parents just to let the parents get along. Again, the ever eloquent author, provides this conversation between the boy and a girl as a gist of the issue: 
Girl: “No I want to marry where my parents are treated as equals”
Boy: “You should have been born a boy”.
Girl: “That’s so sexist, I would have hung up if I didn’t care for you”.
To be fair, the girl ought to be smacked too. She assents to marry the guy who didn’t like her wearing shorts, asked her parents to buy gifts and thinks that only a boy can demand equal rights for parents.  
This is not the first book with a manipulative or a non-likeable protagonist. There is Gone with the wind with a raunchy heroine and Fifty Shades of Grey with a sex-starved lead, not to mention all the unreliable narrators. The reason why this was as glaring as it is was because of the promise that the book is about change. If the change in inter-state marriages can be achieved only through lies and manipulations, then the marriage is not worth it.

Verdict:
It is an easy read - the language is simple and easy to follow. Of course, it is light on the pockets. But please read the book with minimal expectations. Bhagat does not disappoint, at least in terms of mediocre writing and shallowness that is expected out of him.

How do you describe fun?



He never drank  or ate meat or smoked (or had fun, by extension)

This is one of the lines in Chetan Bhagat’s book Two States. I don’t think he meant it as an anti-South Indian sentiment, but as a general observation – if you are vegetarian, a non-smoker and a teetotaler, then you don’t have fun.
That made me wonder – when did I have maximum fun? As usual, I have a list:
  • 1.  Snorkeling with dad: Apart from realising that my serious dad could be cool, the parallel underwater universe was breathtaking to behold.
  • 2.   Standing under a waterfall: I don’t know if it can cure insanity, but standing under a waterfall should be a to-do in everyone’s list.
  • 3.   Treks: Not all of the treks have been fun, but two have been unforgettable. I can still vividly recall climbing hills in torrential rains, running from the leeches, watching the fireflies light up a tree and the welcome bonfire in the night.
  • 4.   The Terrace get-togethers and cousin outings: Who cares about the drink and food when the company is awesome?
  • 5.   Goa: We didn't drink in Goa (must be one of the very few couples to do so) – we went to farms, saw waterfalls, para-glided and walked along the beaches.
  • 6.   Watching a play, dance drama or a music concert: Watching a story unfold right in front of your eyes is difficult to describe and heavenly to experience.
  • 7.   Travelling in Mumbai Trains and Chennai buses: I am a sucker for public transport, and can't explain why I enjoy it so much more than autos and taxis.
  • 8.   Reading a book with Cup Noodles: That is my personal piece of heaven on earth.
  • 9.  Playing Catch with Ashwin: All couples have their own stupid games. :D
  • 10.Singing Nursery rhymes: I am not sure if the boy enjoys it, but I sure do – especially if they are the ones with action, like “Wheels on the bus” or “If you happy and you know it”.

None of the ten required drinking, smoking or eating non-vegetarian food. It is this thinking that gets all teenagers muddled up – smoking is cool or drinking is necessary. Not really. While I don’t condone any of the three habits (to each his own and all that jazz), please don’t make it sound like a prerequisite to have fun. In the same book Bhagat mentions the reason for the protagonist to become a writer:
Someone who tells stories that are fun but bring about change too.
In the quest for a larger change (promoting inter-state and inter-caste marriages), he seems to have let all the smaller things go. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

We Yare like thatu Wonly :)


The letters to North Indians by South Indians (and vice versa) seem to be flying back and forth a lot more often nowadays. Sometimes they are defensive, but mostly they are sarcastic, funny and offensive! Spending almost exactly half of my life in Chennai and the rest in North India*, my loyalties lie in the middle. I was initially very antagonistic towards the North Indians hating Chennai - "How dare you? Do you even know where the library is? Do you know how intelligent the women here are? Do you know our rape statistics are way less than yours? Are bars and malls the only way to have fun?" and so on. 

But when I sit down and think about it, I didn't particularly take to Chennai when I came here too. The reasons were manifold:
  1. Language barrier: My Tamil was laughable when I joined college, and since I didn't want to be the butt of all jokes, preferred speaking in English. That in turn got me the name of a snob and show off.
  2. Dressing: I couldn't get the conservative-yet-hep mode right. I didn't know how to handle duppattas, or have enthusiasm to change (or buy!) multi-hued earrings and chappals. I couldn't be conservative-cool, with well-fitted salwar-kameezes and neatly styled hair. I was always a tomboy in collared shirts and stray flying hair. In chennai, I became a mix of all - ill fitted dresses, hair tied back (and then, frustrated, switched to the boy-cut). My classmates took turns to educate me on what's IN and how to dress well conservatively (many many thanks to them).
  3. Crowd: Travelling in buses and even a walk in Ranganathan street is a lesson in being careful. (Despite all that, it was love-at-first-ride with chennai buses for me)
  4. Traffic: Shout all you want, but the road layouts are completely chaotic in Chennai - be it the narrow roads of Virugambakkam, the potholes EVERYWHERE, the jugaad-type highways or the myriad speed bumps. Compare that with Mumbai and its well-planned highways and you'll know what I mean.
None of the four points are minor by any stretch of imagination. I had a daunting task 11 years back of adjusting to the city and its people. My friends and relatives asked, almost as a challenge, if I  liked the city. every time we met. The language especially was usually frowned upon - "How can you be proud of not speaking tamil well?". It was difficult to explain that I was neither proud nor ashamed of the fact - I couldn't help it. My short hair was a sign of my modernism. How could I explain that it was more a sign of frustration?

But within a year, I could convincingly lie that I loved the city, and in another two years, I realised I actually did.
I love Chennai because I finally understood the city.
It was easier to accept the annoying rickshaw-wallahs, the temple-talks, the disdain for Hindi and English (OK, I could never accept that, but I learned to ignore the jibes), the bus-gropings and the traffic. Once the negatives were accepted, the positives started shining through:
  1. Some rickshaw-wallahs are very knowledgeable and compassionate. They talk about the troubled economy, importance of computers, and give free rides to really tired people (true story!).
  2. Education is of paramount importance to everyone here - including the vegetable vendors, conductors and drivers.
  3. Malls are lesser and the ideal getaway is still the beach, park or Mahabalipuram. The idea of unwinding is NOT shopping in a confined space, but walking in pondy bazaar. The Children are not dragged along on escalators, but taken to carnival rides, waterparks and boating.
  4. Though mocked, steamed idlis, pongal, sambars, rasams and south-indian vegetables are the healthiest dishes you can find in India - minimal oil and maximum use of pressure cooker. Just like there are no Sikh beggars, there are no obese south Indians (Generalised of course).
  5. Once you get adjusted to the bus crowd, there is nothing like it. The men get up immediately to offer seats to pregnant or old women, and once, a lady got up to give seat to me because I looked read-to-drop.
  6. Leaving the big names out, Chennai is dotted with small-scale doctors who aren't after your money - for my back pain, instead of asking for an x-ray or MRI, one of the doctors just asked me to take up yoga - worked like a charm. Homeopathy, Ayurvedha, Siddha and Yoga are believed in down south much more than it is in north.

All that said - South India is an acquired taste. We look dark and ugly and It's a customised hell for the guys. To be fair (no pun intended), it is quite a shock to see a shift from gelled/straightened hair, bleached and powdered faces, manicured and pedicured hands all your life and then suddenly move to a city where everyone is black with minimal skin-show and with calloused hands and feet. My sympathies with the men here - we can't help our color -we didn't ask for it, and now, we are not ashamed of it.

A far worse habit of the south Indians is being rude and talking only in the mother tongue despite knowing Hindi and English.Some do it for fun, for it doesn't take much to annoy an already frustrated North Indian (Kindly refer to Chetan bhagat's Two States). Some are aware of the stereotype and want to live up to it. Most are just defensive - a city of humble people does not tolerate superioirty complex well. They do not like a white person (:-) ) coming to the city and whining about the city's lack of night life, healthy and oil-less food and the narrow-mindedness.

We know what makes us bad. Please try to focus on what makes us amazing. This city is a cautious lover and requires one to understand and trust it.

PS: As Dips once pointed out, It should not be North India - it should be North, West and East India. But I didn't want to type that big a phrase every time and took an easier way out. :-)
PPS: I ideally want to say that we shouldn't stereotype people, and that there is no North and South, and we are all brothers and sisters and we are all Indians and so on - but I was aiming for an two-sides-of-a-coin  post and not a gassy one.