Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Movie Bytes

I watched ‘Da Vinci Code’ and I really, really liked it. (One has now stopped taking mindless rickshaw rides to save money to visit the Louvre.) I think Tom Hanks was perfectly cast as the quiet and erudite professor and the girl was adorable. Lilting French accent, clear, innocent eyes, ability to run on high heels – is that perfect or what? My favorite character was the ‘Teacher’ though. Wicked, yes, but a wonderful sense of humor. I remember seeing him in some other very popular film, but I can’t remember which one. Maybe he played a role in ‘Gladiator’ or maybe in ‘A Beautiful Mind’ or..I could just keep naming all the Ron Howard films, but it is likely that he has acted for other directors.

So, as things stand, I have really liked the film. As for it not being as good as the book (as ageless as that contention is), I didn’t think the book was a literary masterpiece either. It was a story waiting to be a screenplay. And that’s what happened. Nice, but not extraordinary and ‘one of the best books ever written?’..I mean, really!

In my opinion, the movies that have really failed the books they are based on have been ‘Godfather’ (all of those Coppola films that went on endlessly.) I understand ‘Godfather’ was also directed by a Peruvian director, who is said to have done more justice to the spirit of the novel but I have my doubts. I have read THE Puzo novel and other Puzo novels, not as familiar but just as good (‘The Sicilian’, for example) sitting on a bench at Bandra Station for 5 hours. That’s how it ‘had’ me. Nothing else comes close. Nothing else ever came close to coming close.

Another book-to-movie letdown is ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (all of them – the TV series, the movies, the TV plays, the ‘produced only for BBC’ shows – every single one of them.) No matter how many times the story of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is told, re-told, interpreted, adapted, essayed, depicted, etc. etc. you still judge the caliber of the film by how it portrays the spark between Darcy and Elizabeth. It’s a timeless litmus test. You can have the costumes, the settings, the virgin, rough English countryside, excellent walks, well-orchestrated balls, fancy tea-parties…you could even have cast Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy perfectly (they could be great by themselves), but it all boils down to ‘how are they together?’ That play of wind and fire, the jostle of ‘tongue-in-cheek’ charm and ‘pearls-before-swines’ demeanor. While in many movies, Elizabeth rises to the occasion of portraying the classic Jane Austen character, Darcy usually falls short. Somehow, most actors in this role seem to equate sang-froid with looking like a cardboard. And when they must portray their ‘softening’ emotions towards Elizabeth, they are quite reminiscent of a cardboard that got soggy in tap water. The very worst let-down of the aloof gentleman, of course, was the guy with Aishwarya in Bride and Prejudice. Darcy is not supposed to be intimidated by Elizabeth, for God’s sakes. He was more Archie than Darcy, frankly.

Hmm, now getting to the point that I had to make..well…it was an interesting point but now I can’t remember…mustn’t get distracted by people’s screensavers..drat! Yes! I’ve got it now.

While watching ‘Da Vinci Code’, I had the kind of movie experience I hadn’t had in ages.

First, it was House-Full (and not just on the boards near the ticket-counter, but really, there were no empty seats.)

Secondly, and most astoundingly, I didn’t hear one mobile phone call attention to its quotidian purpose of disturbing people at very odd times.

Whatever it be said of the film, it certainly got people to behave.

The brave new world?

I suppose all kinds of education need people to take that leap of faith. Here's the link to an article Alka pointed me to: http://www.ibnlive.com/news/orissa-kids-nasa-dream-thwarted/11547-3.html

In my opinion, surely NASA could provide some aid even if the Rourkela Government can't?

Friday, May 26, 2006

Rain..yet again

If a hundred amethysts melted, and a handful of pink sapphires were crushed and diluted in ambrosia and spilt over bisque velvet, that would be the sky now. And white brittle splinters that aren’t glass but water fall so regally from its tender expanse.

Watch these splinters.

See them against the lamp light, see them on trees, on the roads, on the smooth cheek of a child, on the dull pane of a window, on a hawker’s brown wooden stall.


How easily it makes the longing worth it all.

Wet, wet, wet

I watched ‘Poseidon’ a few days back. I missed some part of the movie in the second half but I’ve seen enough to speak about it fairly.

First of all, there is a ship called ‘Poseidon’. It is L-A-R-G-E, H-U-G-E, B-I-G, M-A-M-M-O-T-H (yes, I do realize this is getting irritating. So suffice to say that the ship ain’t little.) And it is also ‘Greek’ (la-di-da). It is named after the Greek God, Poseidon, who had probably foreseen the overwhelming nonsense of real-estate prices and built his kingdom in the sea.

Now, anything big and Greek and named after a God has to attract a tragedy, doesn’t it?

So, this ship sinks. Some people survive. That’s the plot in a pinched, lego nutshell.

Because of this premise, expectedly, the movie has a lot of water. The deluge is caused by a ‘Rogue Wave’. And no, it is not a badly behaved rock band. (It would have been interesting had it been, though.)

There’s a huge flap of water that..ahem..rocks the boat – the very, very big boat while all and sundry are celebrating New Years. But not all of them are happy that night.

A gay architect is recently dumped and is so morose that he decides to go to the deck and jump off the ship. While on deck, he sees the garanguatan wave approaching the ship and he suddenly decides that he doesn’t want to die. Not when his death would be so ably supported by nature. Later on in the movie, the effete gentleman shakes off a hanger-on (literally. A guy hangs on to his feet while they are crossing some beam or the other) for survival.

Then there is this stunning woman with excellent repartees and a child who has agile fingers. (An excellent kind of motherhood I think.) She catches the attention of a handsome Nordic looking gentleman who saves her child towards the end. Interesting, because earlier in the movie he has no qualms of letting the other not-so-good-looking people die. Not that he kills them, per se, but he often seems to be proffering the ‘You die or he dies’ choice to other harassed survivors. And he has icy blue eyes – the color of the centre of a flame. Magnifico.

Kurt Russel has a simpering daughter with a pinched faced boyfriend. They alternately go ‘Dadddeee!’ and ‘Sirrrrr!’ at minimal instigation. They are hugely irritating and I suppose that’s why they survive. The more annoying you are, the longer you live. (One area where art mirrors life, I suppose.)

The photography is good (especially, when the gang is going through vents) but for everyone who has seen Titanic, many of the scenes evoke the ‘Been there done that’ ennui. (No-one has exactly been there or done that, but then.. when one watched Titanic, one lived a little vicariously.)

The dialogues – well, let’s just say that if people talked like that in real life and they drowned, nobody would be too sad.

Here’s an example:

Kurt Russell’s daughter and potential son-in-law get trapped in the disco. The ‘Rogue Wave’ hits the ship and much chaos ensues. Some noisy, steel parts of the ship clank ominously. Russell wants to find the disco to rescue the kids. He asks the Nordic guy, ‘You know where the disco is?’

Nordic guys wipes his forehead and replies, ‘What? You feel like going dancing now?’

Tsk! Tsk! PJs in the time of crisis. But well, his eyes were the lovely blue of the centre of a flame, etc., etc. So one forgives.

Getting back to the irritating twosome – Kirk’s daughter and her boyfriend who wishy- washily proposes to her before they all get very, very wet.

A situation arises where someone has to go and pull some plug or raise some lever or do any of those things that are not really material to the engrossing portion of the story. The pinch-faced boyfriend (who sometimes look like a scowling Sohail Khan) offers to go. The girl then turns away and cries her pretty tears while the boy tells her: ‘I need you to say ‘I love you’ now.’ What he did need was never to have left his pram for overgrown babies. The girl is getting all distorted with anguish while you are tapping your feet and curbing the urge to pound them.

In the meantime, Russell, to save his daughter and her no-good lover, jumps into the water and is gone. He didn’t need to know if anyone loved him or not when they were all so close to drowning. Thank god for grown-ups.

And of course, after they notice that he is gone, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dumb shriek ‘‘Dadddeee!’ and ‘Sirrrrr!’

The movie is pretty entertaining if you can get through all those hushed, mindless, excited carpings about the ‘Access Hatch’. They keep talking about that stupid hatch like it’s some religious symbol. Even the kid goes ‘Access Hatch! Access Hatch!’ and then those ‘Daddeee’, ‘Sirrrr’ marbles spout, ‘Did you see the ‘Access Hatch?’

I mean, they wouldn’t even recognize an Access Hatch if it were surrounded with boards saying ‘Access Hatch Here’. They would probably keep looking for an ‘Axis Hatch’ because they are stupid.

But it’s not all infuriating though. There is a lovely song that seems fitting to be a parting song, lamenting tearful separations and such like; except that it comes in the very beginning (And then again when the credits roll – the ‘who cares?’ period of the film.)

Also, there was a very poignant moment when Richard Dreyfuss, the gay architect, is leaving a phone message for the guy who dumped him. ‘Call me at midnight for old time’s sake’, he pleads. There is such beggary in his voice. Very sad and very, very excellent. Now, there’s an actor!

I have never really liked Kurt Russell much, but I thought he was good in this film. Or maybe I felt sad for him because he was saddled with kids who have such root-canal personalities.

The movie does make some interesting commentary on human anthropology though.

  1. Only when it is a ship and there’s a crisis and they’re all going to drown and there are is a very slim chance of survival and they need a way to escape… will men stop and ask for directions.
  2. Even though it is a ship and there’s a crisis and they’re all going to drown and there are is a very slim chance of survival and they need a way to escape…no-one asks a woman to read the map.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The face that launched a thousand ships

Centuries ago…

Both mortal and immortal.

Born of a swan and a God.

Daughter of Nemesis.

Men asked her to make them immortal with a kiss.

They fought for her until death.

You take a man - cool, calm, and swathed in equanimity. Ask him to give her up. Watch him become a zealot.

You take a man – hot, hurried, and angry. Ask him to give her up. Watch him become glacial.

Centuries later…

Both aggravated and somnolent.

Born of choice and craving.

Compared to enduring, faithful love that never forsakes the lips.

You take a man - cool, calm, and swathed in equanimity. Ask him to give it up. Watch him become a zealot.

You take a man – hot, hurried, and angry. Ask him to give it up. Watch him become glacial.

You don’t give it up. You let it go.

Cigarette - the modern man’s Helen of Troy.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


There are places and there are places. Some places you think you’ll never go to, some you think you’ll never leave, and some you think you’ll never stay in.

Strangely, Pune fits in all these categories. Although I have been here since last September, I still think of it as a freshly frequented place. My body tells a different story though.

My feet know the turns around Koregaon Park when I walk distractedly to buy sausage and bread. My eyes may be fixed on a proud crocus but I will deftly step over a pothole that has been adorning the road ever since I moved here. While my brain still wrestles with the new, odd, awkward, unbelongingness of Pune, my mind has already cozied in.

The other day, I was out with a friend. We went towards NIBM, and were driving up a slope. To the left were huge white buildings with whooshing driveways and to the right were big land crevices with billboards of property builders. My friend pointed to the right and was telling me how he wanted to buy a place there before he got married. I tuned off right about then, dreamily feeling the cool, night-air on my eyelids and cheeks. The nuzzle of the rustle. Ah! Wind!

As we reached the peak of the slope, all posed to drive down, I saw Edwardian, onyx-like gates open to an endless driveway. It was lined with fairytale lampposts that held bulbs as deferentially as pearls. Right at the edge of the driveway where it swooped down some more, I saw the moon. It was full and big, and just tipped the ridge of the road.

From my window, I was looking at the driveway to the moon, with the lampposts standing like regal attendants.

On our way back, we decided to stop somewhere for some chilled Coke. My friend went out to get us a couple of bottles, while I sat in the car and savored that beautiful, picturesque sight of astral sorcery.

As I looked around, I saw a building and my heart lurched. It was where I stayed when I first came to Pune. Beyond the white fa├žade and droopy trees, I remembered how I had met Z and J and her family, how I had befriended her daughter with a banana (yes, I know the ways), how I used to kill cockroaches while Z made khichdi, and J suggested we go out to eat. My bus rides from there to office, my howling arguments with the rickshaw fellows, the endless wait for the dhobi who took away my smart, pink shirt.

The night ended with me sipping my Coke in some gravitas and telling my flummoxed friend that days pass by so quickly.

Then, last Friday, I heard that my yoga teacher was moving to Mumbai. I felt so good for her. There’s a jump in my heart whenever I hear of people moving to Mumbai. I love it. They’ll get roughed up and rowdied and ultimately, tentatively find their sconces.

On my way back from my final yoga class, I was thinking of how she would discover the ready nearness of the Barista at Versova or the soothing escapism of Mount Mary Steps in Bandra.

Suddenly, I saw the guy from a nearby grocery store waving at me.

‘You weren’t there yesterday?’, he smiled.

‘No, I was in Mumbai’, I replied. I am always mildly surprised when people actually expect me to be in Pune, when I can so easily spend some time in Mumbai.

‘Oh, going home now?’


He teetered off on his bicycle.

A few paces ahead of me was the building I had occupied since the last seven months or so. I had always mentioned that that was where I stayed, that was my flat, my apartment, my 1BHK living accommodation. Today, someone called it my home. Strangers are strange.

I don’t know how many tomorrows I have in this place. But now, when I think about it, I have enough yesterdays stacked up to miss it when I leave it.

Nostalgia sure is speedy.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

C’est ma vie…vraiment?

It is not as if I don't feel like working. I just wish that the deal was easier. The sun should be mellow until I get to office and there must be something very cucumbery to get me fresh during the afternoon slump. Maybe a spurt of chilled ice water, a slug of something sweet, tart, and cold served with a wedge of lime, a healthy nuts and fruit salad with pineapple and strawberry slivers, an ice lolly, a backrub, a yoghurt face pack, a quick snappy game of table-tennis. Something like that.

I like the discussions I have at work. They are intelligent, if not very articulate. Several times, most of us just lose the will to make our point. But we get by. There is such a thing as common consciousness, I suppose. People don’t really think very differently from one another.

Then there is the rigidity of a workplace. That is the straw that makes me feel like a camel. So many lines, such few toes. While I have never had a problem with discipline before, this one time I am finding it unpleasant.

Something inside me resists getting into work on time. Something inside me wants to write in long-hand in the middle of a meeting. Something inside me wants to paint a wicker chair on a hill-top while I am typing emails to clients. Something inside me tells me that it does not want to swim against the tide anymore, so I must get out of the water.

I am quite happy actually. I have a little bit of time to make my own precious moments of comfort. If I am careful, I get enough to profile my perfect day.

Like a tenuous workout in the morning. A walk home watching a raw sienna sky turn indigo. Lounging around at a friend’s place making plans for the weekend, watching TV, dipping into all her books and not borrowing any of them.

A quick stop at the grocery store and buying an astonishingly good jar of garlic and anchovy paste to be had with fried eggs and potatoes.

Making a simple, quiet meal – chicken broth and rice, having it while reading a pacy bestseller.

Lying down in the hot room letting the fan cool me down, slowly, until I start feeling drowsy.

I dream a wholesome, complete dream in color. They involve my childhood, quietly making sandalwood paste in my grandfather’s cool library in Delhi. Or my early teenage years, walking to Carter Road in the first rain of the season. Tiptoeing around puddles under canopies of wet, flaming orange flowers on Pali Hill..suddenly reaching the promenade and watching the sea roar and hum. In my dreams, the rain is strong yet kind. The clouds churn and the wind is wet and sloppy, like an enthusiastic kiss.

I dream and I feel that heady, hearty excitement of getting wet in the rain. It is so real. My head tilts on the pillow, I smile and curl up.

Later, I wake up awashed in a cheery pool of light. I’m still cuddled with that merry anticipation of last night’s downpour.

The day is full of little concessions. The favorite pair of underwear that I had thought had gone for washing is wrapped neatly and tucked away in the cupboard. There is loose change under the breadbox – twenty-three rupees – just right for my auto fare. A sudden SMS from a distracted boyfriend, ‘I love you again’. The beckoning last 30 pages of the book that I am reading. A smooth rickshaw ride.

It’s just the sort of day when, irrespective of the weather, I put out my hand to catch the raindrops.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Happy Birthday, O Wise One

Today, C, J’s daughter, turns four.

Last night, I stayed over at J’s place and wished C at midnight. Since C never really bothers with looking at the time, she was thrilled when Mommy and her seemingly homeless friend suddenly woke up from their lazy slumber and started singing enthusiastically. Then we lifted her and gave her birthday bumps. That too C didn’t know anything about, but the idea of being swayed and gently lowered to the floor was a hit. She didn’t want us to stop. I patiently explained the concept that she was four and that’s why she would only get four birthday bumps. She wisely informed me that she was actually six. It may have been a very well kept secret but I didn’t buy any of that.

She then sat on my lap and we watched a few stupid moments of Baywatch. (I hasten to mention here that this infernal choice of program was J’s choice. I, like my more discerning counterparts around the world, watched Baywatch only for Pamela Anderson. I think David Hasselhoff is a radish. But J ‘follows the plot’ apparently. Sigh!)

I have known C since the last 10 months. And it is still a mystery how she has come to know the things she does.

She knows that when her Mommy buys a bar of chocolate, she will have half of it.

She knows that when I buy her a bottle of Pepsi, I will have half of it.

She knows that when her Mommy and I get her a packet of chips, both of us will have half of it.

She knows that when we tell her that McDonalds is closed or they are out of French fries, we are lying.

She knows that when I ask her to change the channel, I’m ready to have tea.

She knows that when I say I won’t have tea, I will change my mind two minutes later.

She knows the distances she must stoically walk, and the distances she can rick.

She knows that I am probably the only person in the world who will gladly give her my no-nonsense, archaic mobile. In fact, she has entertained more imaginary calls on my cell than I have in my cellular lifetime.

She knows that the word is ‘scarf’ even though she resolutely pronounces it as ‘carf’.

She knows that when her mother is watching some horribly mundane film on T.V., and I moodily stare out the balcony, something is a little amiss. She comes and together we probably look at the pool or the dust rousing in circles in the construction site or a train passing by. She tugs my hand and asks me, ‘Aapko Bombay jaana hai, Mukta?’

She knows. And for now, I’m happy not knowing how she figured out that one.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Yoga Wisdom

This morning, my yoga class was rather challenging. I had to bend something that hadn’t moved in ages, I had to touch something that wasn’t getting down, and I had to lift something that wasn’t getting off the floor. The ‘somethings’ I refer to are body parts, although they do not feel like them anymore.

I would have managed this entire routine and more had it not been for one small fly in the ointment – I had bones – hard, clanking, dense bones. Any other softer ligaments, over the years, have solidified like old cheese into hard, clanking, dense bones.

Then there is the small matter of self-respect. (I don’t carry too much of it in the summers; makes it tough to get by.) When my lithe instructor stood on my toes and gently pressed my back so that my nose touched my knees (it’s a hoot when you try to visualize it), I pointed out rather acidly that I wasn’t an invertebrate. I said that the good Lord gave me a spine and if it is unwilling to bend, so be it. I said what was the need to be tyrannical with the long bony line of honor? I said that the spine must stand tall. I said that the toes were stupid dumpy little digits anyway. I said that their only purpose is to invoke a sense of inadequacy when you can’t touch them.

She listened and pressed harder.

I also asked her that while these exercises were fine, maybe I should try a little variation. Like instead of keeping the knees straight and touching the toes, how about keeping the toes straight and touching the knees? I could do that in one easy sweep. A veritable gem of gymnastic poetry.

She wasn’t interested.

So I went through the paces and my thoughts wandered to important subjects such as spinach omelet and the Indian civilization.

And while spinach omlets are enduringly yummy, I had several insights about the Indus creed.

No matter what is said of Indians, they just complicate matters ad infinitum.

What, pray, is the need to go through so many servile postures to salute the sun? You extend your back, you drop to the floor, you lift your body but keep the chest pressed down, you get down on all fours and look up, you drop to the floor again but look up, your chin stays on the ground but the heel point up, your heels are pressed down but the shoulders need to be elevated. All that for one suryanamaskar. What sodding madness!

Why can’t you just look at the sun and say Hi? And for an advanced version of this exercise, wave both your arms clockwise. That’s a plenty respectful namaskar, I think. No point in getting into all kind of squiggles reminiscent of my brother’s handwriting.

To further aggravate my agony, there is a German guy in my class who is all cartilage. He can get his legs over his shoulders, his nose can touch all the toes of his feet – one by one (not that he has actually done that, but I bet he could), his back gets off the floor like a soaring blackbird, and when he sits just so, you know that it is a lotus pose. I, on the other hand, shuffle into a position that makes me look like one of those things that squat on lily-pads during the monsoon.

Today, we had to do something that would strengthen the lower abdomen and ‘open up’ the pelvis area. (I am very wary of such language. If they’re shut, they’re shut. Keep out.) My instructor was helping me with a difficult maneuver involving the thigh and the pain-resistance level of a corpse. The German made his moves is silent rhythm.

To get me more interested, my instructor recounted the many virtues of this asana. This position was important for women because it helped them deliver babies more easily. The German heard this, stopped short, and asked the instructor in alarm, ‘I don’t need to do that, do I?’

‘You never know’, my instructor quipped.

I think I shall take her a bright, polished apple tomorrow. Need to be on the right side of this kind of wit.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Bouncy, bouncy

Birds chirp happily. Cows with bells amble along. Gulpacious mangoes on wooden carts sing to each other. Flowers bloom with determined gush of color. Dogs scamper. People smile and say hello.

Smooth stones shine, eggs cook easily, and every sip of every beverage is perfect. Bees buzz, pebbles in the stream laugh with the water song. Lilies are wrapped in bright yellow paper. Beatific foreigners collect them in their wicker baskets attached to their shiny bicycles and ride off. Cane chairs get dusted under gnarled banyan trees.

Every little, brittle thing is shiny and nice-old and fragrant. There is a quick, happy pulse in the air. There is also an ‘Om’ resonance in the breeze.

Tomorrow is happy, urgent, insistent, now, here. Today is full of tomorrow.

It is the most perfect day ever and it will come again.

To step out in the bright, white cape of sunlight is to remember, and after remembering to celebrate, and after celebrating to forget…that scrumptious Friday feeling.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

....yet again, beautiful

A glassy sun shattered through the sky and a tree held on to its splinters.

Yet again, I try to get over a heartbreak.

Anumita clicked this tree while we went for a ramble to the Osho garden. This photograph seems so prophetic somehow.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Genius alternative

My brother is a Scorpio. One of my ex-boyfriend’s exes is a Scorpio. One of my erstwhile bosses is a Scorpio. My dhobi, who can be trusted with the only designer garment I have, is a Scorpio. While all are nice enough people, I think all Scorpios (people, not cars) belong on another planet. That way they can happily be moody and tempestuous and distant, without other people going mad with plummeting self-esteem at their inability to ‘understand’ them. This would greatly reduce the number of self-help books on communication, leaving more space for Asterix comics and copies of Anna Karenina that get relegated to inconvenient shelves.

However, if such a thing were to happen, that the Scorpios of the world (including cusps who are such wonderful blends of bizarreness) had to vacate terra firma, I would insist on one Scorpio staying back. My good friend, Anumita.

She invited me to her fancy party – with crystal, candles, and a glass table draped in an elegant chartreuse, lace tablecloth. Usually, I am not allowed around such things – at least not without someone hissing ‘Don’t go there!’ in the background. And here, she actually trusted me to go and help myself to delicious food that could so easily drip and smudge and spoil the sheen of her extremely well kept apartment. I must say that I didn’t spill anything anywhere. I think holding my breath while I took the food helped me balance china and pasta well.

And while the dinner was excellent, the true glory of the evening was the dessert – whipped cream and mangoes.

First of all, I’m not really a dessert person. In fact, I don’t much care for whipped cream in particular. But this was a work of art – the blend, the chilled sweetness, the visual symmetry of folds of cream, the bright yellow chunks of mangoes, each evenly and richly textured– it was a gastronomic Rubin. It was just one of those dishes that got prepared when the stars were in perfect alignment; those rare, jewel times when a culinary wonder is born.

Anumita’s whipped cream and mangoes were exquisite. And I use this word the way some Spaniard may have used it when he held an orchid for the first time.

In fact, had I not been on a strict vigilance of my surroundings, I would have gladly licked the serving spoon in the midst of the meal itself. However, I indulged in this guilty pleasure only after all the other guests had left (each of them peeked into the dessert bowl at least three times, as if expecting more mangoes and cream to appear magically). I am quite aware that I run the risk of never getting invited again, but in my defence, I am only human but the dessert was divine.

Usually, my deal with good cooks is that I appreciate them, not emulate them. So while I secretly write love poems about how people make mutton curries and jeera rice, I have never been moved enough to get into a kitchen and try anything myself.
But that night, after tasting a little bit of the dessert, something deep inside my stomach or my heart, (it is so easy to confuse the two in such matters), stirred.

I realized that I cannot live by eating bread alone. I must try to bake it.

And try I did. It was for Anumita when she and her husband had come to visit me in Pune. Of course, it was monumental stupidity on my part – getting her to taste my very first attempt at anything involving cream when she was a virtuoso at it. But then, Anumita doesn’t expect me to be very intelligent anyway, so it was okay.

The cream was too liquidy, the mangoes were too sour..in fact, the only saving grace were the chilled glasses that they were served in. And to further distract her attention to what was a dismal attempt at a masterpiece, I served the dessert by the pool which looked pretty and poised in the moonlight.

Oh well, I’d get an A for effort.

But then, that wasn’t enough. I resolved to master that dessert – make it in such a way that people will actually like it even if it isn’t served beside aquatic elements. So last night, I decided to try it again.

I started grounding the sugar with a rolling pin. It’s a very pleasurable experience. I like the steady, methodical scrunching of the granules and the consequent waifish softness of powdered sugar – like snow that falls upon a glass city at Christmas time. It’s a little magical, the way you can get something ethereal with a wooden tool and some plodding.

Anyway, a few minutes later I had a neat mound of fine sugar. I tasted a little bit and suddenly, I had this yearning for something coarse, starchy, and sweet. So, what I did was mix a good bit of sugar with flour and asked my bai to make chapattis with that. The chapattis weren’t very thin though. They need to be a little thick so that the sweetness is more substantial. Then I heated some ghee, smeared it on the rotis, and topped it off with a lump of jaggery.

The best part of this kind of a roti is the layers of sweetness that roll on the tongue with each bite. There's the little melt-in-the mouth sugary taste and the hot, rich gooey jaggery and ghee mixture that's gorgeous too. You can have one such chapatti with a cup of tea or coffee without feeling overwhlemed with sugar.

It wasn’t in the same league as the whipped cream, of course, but my taste-buds, the ever objective ego-free critics, did say, ‘Yumm’.

The next time Anumita comes visiting, this is what I shall serve her. And I’m pretty sure she’d like that even if it isn’t served by the pool.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

I make do with little

There is a stall outside my office that makes and sells dabhelis. Not on the same day, though. I think the guy makes the dabhelis one day and sells them the next. So, the pavs are usually a little stale, and the sweet, red, potato stuffing looks like the remnants of the first deer killed by a cave man. All the same, the 5 p.m. hunger pang is not very particular about taste or form. Anything quick, hot, and greasy is good.

The stall is usually run by a very friendly, young chap. He’s a little, happy blitzkrieg with a spatula. Watching him work, I have thought how I could easily script a sitcom noting down his conversations with customers.

The very first day I ventured to that line of stalls, I was looking for vada pav. Because it was rather late in the evening, only a few isolated chunks of potatoes clung to the steel plates. So, the next best option involving a tava-heated pav was a dabheli. This guy with shining eyes smiled at me. Of course, I went there.

‘1 dabheli’, I ordered.

‘Which one? Kacchi Dabheli?’, he asked me eagerly. The spatula was in one hand, he had started the burner and the tavaa was hissing, the pav lay split on the wooden counter, he was all ready to work his magic and give me what I wanted. And here I was, this dense customer, who obviously had not thought through her choice. Ah! To suffer ineptitude…

‘Umm…ah..kacchi?..no..okay,’, I sputtered.

‘Here!’, he brightly handed me the buttery, toasty goody before I was done agreeing with him.

Happily I ate.

I wanted another one.

‘Another one?’, He’s a mind reader – that one.


Kacchi dabheli?’

It was really interesting – the way he asked me that. Like there’s this God, see, who takes a little star and asks what galaxy it wants to be a part of. This guy had flair.

‘What other kinds do you have?’ Since he hadn’t sprung to action already, I thought this time I’d make my choice carefully.

‘Nothing else. Only kacchi dabheli. You want?’

Talk about getting deflated. Forget the galaxy, the star was shooed off to decorate somebody’s velvet pants worn in one of those cheesy discos that are open in the afternoons.

After that kind of a let down, I didn’t want another one of those kacchi dabhelis, but then, what the heck – it’s quick, hot, and greasy. That’s always good.