Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Wit is a smile in the mind

Somewhere near East of Kailash is a really cool billboard. It has a big, bright sneaker with the line: ‘Levis so low, that your ankles will show.

Advertisement for Levis footwear.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Appetite and eating

There is nothing new about me eating a lot. However, the last week has me a little worried. I think I go through a week’s provision at every meal, and this doesn’t count the amount I keep grazing off and on.

The thing is, despite the enormous amount of consumption, I don’t feel uneasy. I, in this heat of nearly 40 degree C, can digest - an omlette of 4 eggs, 4 chapattis, 6 jalebis, 5 bowls of dal, 1 helping of salad, 1 plate of pani puri (6 suji puris), 3 bowls of vegetables, 1 glass of rum and coke, and 1 platter (not plate) of sheek kababs.

And this is one day. And this has been happening for over a couple of weeks.

Strangely, other than the niggling notion that I shouldn’t be eating so much considering my level of activity, I feel okay. I don’t feel stuffed; I don’t feel that ‘I can’t have another bite for the rest of the day’. As soon as it’s time for the next meal, there I am sitting in front of a heaped plate, waiting to finish it off.

I have done mindless eating before. But usually after going through a big packet of chips or several burgers, I have felt queasy. I have not enjoyed the stuff I have eaten. In fact, I have regretted snacking, and I genuinely, at that moment, regard the consumption as junk.

But lately, it isn’t like that. I enjoy every little bit. As I eat, I know that I can comfortably finish off whatever I have taken and go for seconds and thirds.

I seriously wonder if I am developing some kind of a bottomless pit.

In Delhi, this seems to be happening around the last ten days of every month. My appetite suddenly jump starts and actually finds food delightful. I mean, I have always loved food, but this feeling is different. It’s as if something inside of me (my stomach, to be precise) is inviting all the happy food groups to come in for a party.

Like when I get excited on a Friday evening, I decide to go for a movie. Then I invite my friends, I invite the friends of my friends, and anyone they know - let’s ALL go for a movie.
I am taking a similar approach with food now. I see kadi and I take some to be had with a small mound of rice, and then the plate needs something else, so a bowl of dal and raita follow. What about the raddish and carrot? Come on over!

I have always had a very hearty appetite. A couple of years ago, I was suffering from malaria. The doctor told mom that my appetite would be weak for a few days until I recovered fully; it was normal. Grubby me slurped through gallons of chicken and onion soup the same evening. Mom worriedly called up the doctor to ask her if that was normal.

I think I should seriously get a grip and stop Bon Appetiting soon.

But all that food just feels so good.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Cooking 101

In an unprecedented burst of enthusiasm, I decided to cook last Friday. I realized many things about cooking and being adept/ inept in the kitchen. But those are stories for later. Now, I need to jot down the dish I prepared whilst floating from whim to whim.

There were 3 medium-sized potatoes, cubed, and 1 onion, sliced.

Prettily frothing in a steel vessel were 3 tablespoons of curd (I used the curd set at home - it’s slightly sweet with higher liquid content than the variety one gets from the market). Added to this were a pinch of sugar, two teaspoons of salt, little mirchi powder, jeera powder, amchur, smidgen of haldi (for some color.) All this was mixed nicely with a spoon. Blending is not required, unless one is using very thick curd.

Then I marinated the potatoes in the curd. A tip here - it helps to poke the potato pieces with a fork so that it cooks faster and is completely flavorful. After one has sufficiently felt the liquidy coolness of coating potatoes by hand, cover the vessel and set aside.

In the meantime, heat some mustard oil and when it’s hot, add mustard seeds (all that mustard must be the Oriya lineage) and the sliced onions. An aside from the topic, but a little eulogy is required here. It is very poetic to see frills of onions get transculent; to lose their solid purpleness and succumb to a dreamy coat of brown.

Anyway, back to the sputtering pan.

Once the onions are translucent, snip three green chillies (with a scissor instead of a knife, because of the cute sharp sound and fine pieces.) Add the chillies to the onions. Once they are browned, pour the bowl of curd and potatoes into the pan. You may need to add a half-cup of water or whey to really soften the potatoes well. Check for salt and finally cover the pan and cook for fifteen minutes.

The dish was quite tasty...even though it has no name, as yet.

Friday, April 20, 2007

About writers

I had a thought
That spilled out once
On to rough, black paper;
It sploshed and blotched
In dim-bulb light
From a skip to a caper

It was a purple idea
A pretty hue of grape
Not to mention, it was fluid
And not so sticky as a tape

But even though it was watery
And the black parchment it stained
It stuck on sort of enduringly
The way mud does after it’s rained

I couldn’t make much of it
With its tinges of blue and red
I suppose one can’t make much of an idea
Once it’s spilled out of one’s head

Then came a time when the flurry
Of purple rivulets didn’t stop
And there was this purple puddle
That the black paper was used to mop

That was that of the puddle
Nothing much to say
That was that of the idea
That the black paper was used to wipe away

Sometimes I think the notions
About wordsmiths is just hype
All do they do is spill liquids
And then just swab and wipe

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Fresh from the closet

I have a very irritating habit when it comes to books and clothes. First of all, I am a hoarder. Second of all, I get mighty interested in properties of others. A book that a friend is currently reading will pique my interest more than the one I just bought. Or I will covet a slightly faded shirt of a cousin even though I have a brand new one waiting to be worn.

When I moved to Delhi, I brought along most of my unread or half-read novels from Mumbai. There’s ‘Grimus’ and ‘Midnight’s Children’ - my essential Rushdie components, Fitzgerald’s ‘Tender is the Night’, Virginia Wolf’s ‘To the lighthouse’, John Updike’s ‘Poorhouse’, Oscar Wilde’s collection (I must try and commit to memory ‘Ballad of the reading gaol’ - my favorite, favorite poem), Gladwell’s ‘Blink’, Clarissa Pinkola’s ‘Women who run with the wolves’, ‘The Jane Austen book club’ by Karen Joy Fowler, ‘Franny and Zooey’ by Salinger, a few volumes of poems by Tagore, Darlymple’s ‘City of Djinns’ and ‘Age of Kali’, etc.

Added to this list are the various gifts I have received thus far - ‘Namesake’, ‘Shantaram’, a biography of Sonia Gandhi, ‘Last Temptation of Christ’, 'A suitable boy', a version of the bible if Judas had written it (co-authored by Jeffrey Archer), etc. Yet, one evening, I felt as if I had ‘nothing to read’. (akin to the ‘nothing to wear’ syndrome.) Everything I had was either too breezy or too grave. Nothing was just right.

So, I started scrounging for ‘something to read’ in a rusty, dusty steel almirah. Here, I came across some gems. There were books of poems that belonged to my mom-in-law when she was studying literature. I also found ‘Magnificent Obsession’ by Lloyd C. Douglas. This one comes highly recommended by mom-in-law, so will pick it up soon.

There was also a delightful book, ‘Couplehood’ by Paul Reiser. (He was Helent Hunt’s husband in ‘Mad About You’.) It started off as being a regular okey-dokey affair by a celebrity author, but then I found myself chuckling through a few pages. A few paras later, I guffawed loudly, and woke A up to read stuff out to him. A couple of pages more and A asked me to read aloud some more anecdotes.

This book is about the song-and-dance routine that all couples go through in a marriage. The reason this book is such a hoot is because it is so spot on about the native quirks of the matrimonial province.

Like when Reiser describes how, when you sleep with someone for the first time, you suddenly realize that there are too many limbs on the bed. Where do the hands go and what about the legs and if you are cuddling up to someone, what if your nose is getting squished on someone’s chest and you risk getting smothered?

Then there is an absolutely brilliant bit about couples going to the movies. First, Reiser poses the very incisive question: Why don’t you see a whole lot of single people inside movie halls? Because they can’t manage to get tickets.’ Then he goes on to explain how couples have a distinct advantage. (And this is very much what A and I do when we go to Saket for a flick.) One person drops the other off at the ticket counter and glides forward into the parking lot. The other one dashes to the counter, scans for the timing, knows whether 5 seats from the screen are okay or not, understands that aisle seats are a must because the partner has to take at least two smoking breaks (all these details have been discussed on the way to the hall). No time is wasted on deliberation.

Here’s what a single person is thinking:
do I really want to sit 5 seats from the screen? Maybe I can go for a nice coffee and a read to Barista? Or wait, there’s Bennigan for a superb apple crumble.

This is what’s going on between a dating couple:
What would you like to watch?
Anything, what would you like to watch?
Would you prefer going for a play?
No, movie is okay.
Really?
Yes. Sure?
Yes.
Is 10:30 too late?
Not really.
Because, if it is...

A scenario for married couple:
One person parks. One person gets tickets. Both have voices in their heads pounding: go, Go, GO!

There are other hilarious snippets. (I am giggling just thinking about them.) One day, Reiser’s wife mentions that they need a tea cosy. He turns the two words in his head, and in his own admission, cannot fathom what possible relation they may have with each other. So he asks his wife what it’s all about and she says it’s a sort of a coverlet for a kettle.

‘Why?’, Reiser asks.

‘It keeps the tea...

‘Cosy?’

There you go.

Reiser also discusses some clichés at great length. Upon reading, one realizes why they are not really clichés but some sort of anthropological truth. Like why most men cannot dress to the satisfaction of their wives. And one reason, a big reason, is because they refuse to grow up.

My husband is a reasonable man with good taste in clothes. But he has a pair of shoes that drives me crazy.

It makes an annoying tock-tock-tock sound which A is in love with. Every time I tell him that he must change into something less ear-grating, he looks hurt. More than that - he is hurt. Apparently, there is some cult-classic movie of Amitabh Bacchan where the depiction of childhood into adulthood is testeronically rousing. Only a child’s feet are shown as he walks, and in the same continuum, these feet change into the feet of a man; an angry young man. (I guess it’s Shakti or Deewar or Kalia or Khuddar or Sharaabi or Mr. Natwarlal or Coolie or Kaala Patthar - is AB versatile or what!) And as an adult, those feet go tock, tock, tock, tock.

In respectful memory of that frigging scene, my husband will walk on all hard surfaces wearing those shoes. Our bedroom has marble flooring and often A wears these infernal shoes in the middle of the night and goes tock-tocking around the bed.

In any case, getting back to ‘Couplehood’, Reiser raises some interesting points about how deviant from normalcy marriage is.

But what makes this bumpy ride worthwhile?

To use the limbs-on-bed scene as a metaphor - initially, it’s all awkward. It’s all bones and elbows and tangled hair. But with time, with love, and with loads and loads of good humor, you find that perfect spot on his chest or her shoulder - and it’s a spot you can count on for life.

Ironically, this lofty longing is echoed in another brilliant bit that I read - a bit about loving and losing - a bit in the end of the script of ‘Annie Hall’:

Woody Allen as Alvy:

After that it got pretty late. And we both hadda go, but it was great
seeing Annie again, right? I realized
what a terrific person she was and-
and how much fun it was just knowing
her and I-I thought of that old joke,
you know, this- this-this guy goes
to a psychiatrist and says, "Doc,
uh, my brother's crazy. He thinks
he's a chicken." And, uh, the doctor
says, "Well, why don't you turn him
in?" And the guy says, "I would, but
I need the eggs."

Well, I guess that's pretty much how how I feel about
relationships. You know, they're
totally irrational and crazy and
absurd and... but, uh, I guess we
keep goin' through it because, uh,
most of us need the eggs.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Delhi vibes

If you attract hostility in Delhi, you must be:

1. A person from Mumbai (Bombay people being those bloody regional chauvinists)
2. A pedestrian
3. A cop
4. Allergic to paneer
5. Not interested in potato
6. Not interested in Amitabh Bacchan
7. A rice-eater instead of a roti/ paratha/ kulcha/ naan/ laccheddar roti, paratha, kulcha, naan eater
7. Punjabi (as a concept, not a community. As in ‘Yeh Punjabi wale harkat mat kar.’)
8. An occupied parking space and finally....
9. The law

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

On my trip to some place

I am currently planning a swift getaway with husband. It is taking me every ounce of determination to not just pack up and leave for home now. This feeling to be out of here, to hurriedly pack a couple of shirts, a notebook, and a pen, to be the willing adbuctee of an open road ...this is such a precious tug.

Here’s a wonderful poem that toasts the spirit of a wanderer:

A Wanderer's Song

A WIND'S in the heart of me, a fire's in my heels,
I am tired of brick and stone and rumbling wagon-wheels;
I hunger for the sea's edge, the limit of the land,
Where the wild old Atlantic is shouting on the sand.

Oh I'll be going, leaving the noises of the street,
To where a lifting foresail-foot is yanking at the sheet;
To a windy, tossing anchorage where yawls and ketches ride,
Oh I'l be going, going, until I meet the tide.

And first I'll hear the sea-wind, the mewing of the gulls,
The clucking, sucking of the sea about the rusty hulls,
The songs at the capstan at the hooker warping out,
And then the heart of me'll know I'm there or thereabout.

Oh I am sick of brick and stone, the heart of me is sick,
For windy green, unquiet sea, the realm of Moby Dick;
And I'll be going, going, from the roaring of the wheels,
For a wind's in the heart of me, a fire's in my heels.

John Masefield

Friday, April 06, 2007

The night of red, black, and silver

One Saturday, A and I went to ‘Veda’ for dinner. It’s not listed in the Times Food Guide, a manuscript I thumb through routinely for gastronomical directions. But I had seen it on T.V. (‘Zoom’ to be precise), and it had looked really promising. All I knew was that it was owned by Rohit Bal and it was in Delhi.

On moving here, I wondered if I had dreamed it up because no-one I met had heard of it. But one evening, as we searched for our car at Connaught Place, I saw the sign (and it aced my base - tsk! tsk! Poor joke!).

‘Veda’, it fluttered on a white, square piece of fabric - like the symbol of a sweet, discreet flag of invitation.

Now, I really had my heart set on going there. But because it was in CP, A’s notion of hell - what with limited parking space, we couldn’t make it any time soon. It took days of steady brainwashing and proper planetary alignment before we went.

Visually, it seems soundlessly unobtrusive on the outside, but inside...it’s a symphony - complex, demanding, and ever so slightly, mind-altering.

The walls are red and the soft, leather/ rexin seating is black. The tables alternately have white and red candles. Behind them, tilt silvery mirrors in vintage metal and iron frames. The placement is quite clever and you can’t really see the reflections of the diners unless you contort yourself. Reminiscent of 16th century fortress trivia.

From the ceiling hang huge, heavy silver platters with candles lit along the periphery. The entire base and the rims of these platters are intricately filigreed and their effect of these on the room is stunning. It just makes the whole place look so opulent. It instantly reminded me of the Jaisalmer palace described in Gita Mehta’s ‘Raj’.

But where my eyes wandered and stayed transfixed is the panel behind the bar. It’s a wall that looks like fabric. Much like what you would probably see as a choli or ghagra or maybe, even a sari. The texture, in that light, seems ambivalent - it could be raw silk or tissue. But it’s not fabric, it’s a regular wall. Another nod to a bygone era where perhaps, a little trickery was part of seduction. Charming chicanery.

The backdrop is in muted gold with flowers outlined in silver. In fact, it almost looks like a weave. There are little glints of gems - dots of red, tints of diamantes, vermicelli-fine strokes of peridots and lotus-pink.

Very regal and yet, wistful and timeless.

I was so taken in with the ambience that I honestly couldn’t eat. I had never had that experience before. My senses were suffused with a strange, placid, aesthetic vigor. It stimulated and it sated. But since we had to eat something, we ordered a little bucket full of ribbon-shaped fritters of potato and some other tube stems. Crispy, salty, and tasty.

What really took me in, however, is....one could easily go wrong with that kind of an ambience. A red-and-black décor, a haveli-jashn type feel in an area that probably wasn’t much more than a medium sized flat, a contrasting wall panel that almost goes unnoticed like the subtlety of a poem...And yet, it had struck just the right chord.

It could have been safe - all white, wood, and minimalistic. Or urbane - yellow, vibrant, and yuppy. But it was spirited and panache - red, black, and silver.

On my way out, I looked up at the ‘Veda’ cloth again. Now, it was still in the summer night - like the symbol of a sweet, discreet flag of victory.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Meal time conversation

Mother-in-law: Have this sabzi. Iss mein soya hai.

Son: Toh isse jagaa doon?

Daughter-in-law : (chomp chomp)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

One day today

My heart is full of sparkling wine. My world is full of river shine. I feel the tickle of bubbles on the tip of my nose. There’s a swell of hope, there’s a surge of joy. Outside my window I see it all - summer, winter, and the fall. Today doesn’t feel ordinary at all. There’s a glittery giggle in the wind, and there’s this shiny petal, a pretty pink. It feels like the upsweep of a swing, the merry tinkle of a holiday ring. I have a shirt with sloppy sleeves, I have a smile that doesn’t leave. I hear little phrases in a song, it promises to be such all day long. It feels like a kiss on the hand, it feels like water and shifting sand. It feels like a storm on the beach, it feels like the Orion’s within reach. I have some moon in my purse, I bobble in a balloon that will not burst. My eyelids are shut with Saturday nights, there’s my crazy fantasy on whizzing flights. There’s a beautiful, pretty, darling bird. And there’s me -- who was born on April third.