Friday, June 29, 2007

That one fabulous zinger..that lone, slender finger

I have always considered smoky, smoldering eyes to be very sexy in women. I would have loved to have eyes that hinted at labyrinths of mystery lurking in a finely cultivated mind.

Instead what I have are orbs that give the impression of a forager who has just spotted tasty bison meat.

Suffice to say, I do not have sexy eyes.

One day I tried, though. J and I were supposed to go to Fire and Ice. To achieve the said fetching look, I brought to my aid little pots, swabs, and wands. I applied a ‘charcoal’ eyeshadow and ‘ash’ base to my lids (it’s Maybelline, see, so it can’t be ‘grey’. It’s ‘charcoal’ or ‘ash’.) Then I coated my eyelashes to volumize or voluminize my lashes. (I have a problem spelling the word, so I leave it to the reader’s imagination on how I managed the process.)

At the end of it, I thought I looked nice. My eyes looked capable of giving the ‘come hither’ look. Some of the signature gluttony was masked by the mascara.

All done, I waited outside for J to turn up.

In the meantime, a neighbor I spoke with off and on, came by.

‘Hi’, he said.

‘Hi’.

‘How are you?’

‘Good.’ I fluttered my eyelashes, but only because three of them were clumping to form some sort of a solidarity club.

Then he looked a little more keenly into my face. A few lingering moments into my eyes and asked with concern, ‘Lot of work in office?’


******************
Anyway....I have made peace with the fact that I can’t have sexy eyes. But I think my fingers wrapped around a tea-cup are pretty enticing.

And not in the way that suggests that I will pick up the tab.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

For future reference

This is a moment I would like to file away for times when I get fed up with my job. Or office. Or Noida. Or Delhi. Or life.

The office lunch, today, was excellent. ‘Kiss the cook’ type of excellence in dish after dish. There is a common notion that food in office canteens is bad. Our caterer, in a definite sweep, has thrashed this idea to smithereens.

He served kheema that tasted like it was cooked for a nawab. (Not Saif per se, but I don’t know what he eats, so maybe him too.) It was stewed, flavored, and cooked with tender peas to meticulous perfection. It was flavored, not spicy. It melted in the mouth without the aid of extra lard. And this wasn’t the kheema at ‘Bukhara’ or ‘Kareem’s’ or ‘Jashn’. This was kheema served for office lunch and had for free.

And before I hailed this as piece de resistance, out came the dessert. A fabulously composed bowl of Shahi Tukra.

When such fantastic things happen on ordinary days, it takes a force of will to be a pessimist.

And my next job change is when this caterer moves from here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

And it’s not even the fine print....

The company I work for has several training departments. One department imparts language training and usually has the glossiest posters dedicated to it. I proofread the last one that was printed.

This morning, a colleague was peering into the poster with a question mark dangling in a thought bubble above his head. He’s a graphic artist - our most whimsical one.

“What happened?”, I asked.

“What’s happening in Poland?”, he asked.

Umm...Frankly, I didn’t know they had news there. Am not really the globally aware sorts.

“Why?, I asked cautiously.

“Poland is getting famous and all...everybody wants to go to Poland.”

Wasn’t it China that was building the pass to the Everest? Or now was there a pass to Poland instead? I mean...

“Why?” Further caution.

Arre...all the firangs in London want to be in Poland.”

If my colleague was getting such deep insights into international affairs from a language poster, it meant trouble.

“Who told you?” I got defiant now.

“See here”, he pointed. Written in bold was: Polish your English.

You can never proofread enough.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Late night learning

It’s midnight in office and some-one is playing the title track of ‘Jhoom Barabar Jhoom’.

I am sitting with a graphic artist overseeing the design of a page we had to design a week back but had completely forgotten about it.

He goes to Windows Explorer and does something so nifty that I immediately decide to share this with the world.

He needs to copy all the files in a folder except for two. These two files are not arranged in a sequential order. So, ordinarily, I would press the Ctrl key and select the files I wanted or copy all the files and then delete the unwanted files. But this is what my colleague does: he selects the two files that he doesn’t want to copy, goes to the Edit menu, and selects the ‘Invert Selection’ function. Now, all the files except for the ones that don’t have to be copied are selected.

So, first we select and then we ‘invert’ the selection.

Sorry if I sound plebian but man, that is clever!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Interesting dressing

A friend who is shifting back to Bombay (from Delhi) gave me a bottle of balsamic vinegar. The last few days, I have been seasoning my soups, rice, steamed pulses, and cutlet stuffing with it. And it’s been tasty.

Today, I experimented with cherries, vinegar, and bread.

I chopped up thick slices of brown bread in cubes and toasted them. Then I cut up the cherries after removing the pips and put the bits in a bowl. (A second after that to lick the sweet tartness from the fingers. I think it adds to the taste.) I drizzled no more than a tablespoon of the balsamic vinegar on the cherries and mixed them. I let this stand for maybe a minute or so. Later, I smeared some on a bite-sized toast and had it.

The taste was pretty unexpected, but pleasant. In fact, the balsamic vinegar that I used was slightly sweet and mild to begin with, so it didn’t really jar with the fruity taste and texture of the cherries. The crisp bread soaked in the cherry juice and the vinegar, so any kind of sharpness was rounded off.

It’s a neat snack.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

i HATE, i HATE....

Sometimes, I don’t like women. They irritate me. I think they are double-faced and hypocritical at worst, and mindlessly confused at best.

Most times they don’t know what they want - from themselves, the world, life in general, etc.; So obviously, they don’t know what they want from men they are involved with. Given that, they have an awful lot to complain about.

(If you don’t know what you want, how do you know you are not getting it?)

First of all, there is a very strong truth to the idea that you teach people how to treat you. So, if a man doesn’t respect a woman, she must step back and think: ‘What have I done that made it acceptable for him to treat me that way?’ But no. Why should there be any kind of intelligent introspection? It’s just easier to call men dogs, liars, cheats, bastards, scums, etc.

I mean, who gets involved with married men and not expect complications? Forget about moral rectitude and all that, but just the brainlessness of it. The man is lawfully wedded to someone, he is one step away from attracting criminal liability with his actions, he deceives, keeps things under wraps, hems and haws like a see-saw...and the woman generally has the notion that he is supposed to brighten up her life? Yep. The man is this, that, and the other. And it is all his fault. Because he dangled like a tempting forbidden fruit and how can one use the good sense to not complicate matters, right?

Where exactly is the empowerment in passing the buck? How can anyone who is reasonably mindful of that pseudo-stockinged term ‘liberation’ not even THINK that maybe, just maybe, she has brought it on to herself. Somewhere between the scumbag inhabiting the crevices in a urinal and later becoming an intrinsic part of a woman’s life, she made a choice. To want him and have him. She chose to be where she is.

And suddenly, when he is wrapped all around her like a public-toilet stench, there begins the rant - all men are d***, all men are ch****. Well, if they are, then it was a perfect match, wasn’t it?

Also, for all that vapid vehemence, one would think that women look down upon men. That becomes a muddled mess when you witness how clingy, desperate, and needy they become for a man. Of course, the men never know that because the women are always strong and in-control in front of them. But once the guys are out of sight, and once those women are in the company of other women, all that wailing neediness pours out. Why? Why must you inflict the very worst of your self, that immensely annoying pitiable state on another one of your kind? Oh wait, because birds of a feather, etc. etc.

There is this seminal piece of sociological literature on the trends of urban womanhood. It’s called ‘Sex and the City’. There are unnerving insights on what it is to be educated, employed, rich, maybe good-looking, urban, and woman. In short, what all that makes you is immensely avoidable.

It’s very easy to dismiss off ‘Sex and the City’ as garbage. It is probably that, but personally, I have seen some merit in the way it has catalogued and profiled certain mindsets. But even if it is trash, one may need to think - where does trash come from? From something that was good, wholesome and useful at one time, right?

Earning a paycheck is like a license to gloat and bull-doze over other people’s feelings. It becomes an arena to belittle those who do not earn money - such as maybe a partner who is studying or a friend who has decided to stay at home after having children or a sister who decides to not go back to work because she wants to enjoy marital bliss.

Then there is this whole charade of how a woman is in control of her own body, how virginity is for the wall-flowers, and it’s some sort of a championship victory if you lay so and so. When does one become that way? If you bloody smoke and drink and eat like a glut and don’t have the basic awareness of shutting your face when you are full or becoming anorexic, you have the cheek to say you are ‘in control’ of your body? Why? Just because you have had sex so many times with so many people? THAT’S the bottom-line of being in charge of your sexuality?

Then there is that trembling mirage - the marriageable age. That’s akin to global warming, when steadily, seemingly imperceptibly, something inside a woman melts - namely the brain, and then the spine. And then, when they are all wishy-pulpy-washy, they can’t stand themselves (who can blame them). So, who is responsible for this unfortunate state of affairs? Men. And then ‘SOCIETY’. Suddenly, one hears a lot of talk about ‘social conditioning’ and how there is this ‘pressure’ to marry. I mean, you were educated enough to know how to take charge of yourself. You learnt how to read and write and drive and swim. You learnt to hold your own against the world, you learnt to alienate your family for a career, you learnt to peddle your brains and brawns with the best. And then, as you get closer to using the fulcrum of all this, suddenly, you decide to go phut! Because of some imaginary societal pressure which would rather not get in the way of anything so cantankerous, negative, waspy, and bitter.

There is an elaborate web of how the ‘society’ wants women to marry, but the truth is that they want to get hitched. Badly. If a woman is naïve enough to be honest to admit this, she is regressive. If a woman is tough enough to genuinely decry this, she is a hypocrite.

It’s pathetic how many words a 30 something woman will waste to go over an incident of how a man looked at her so or talked on the phone like that. And after all that talk, they’ll turn around and say ‘Oh! Men are so blah!’

Really? Would’ve been more believable if the drool didn’t dribble down the coral-pink lips.

Women then go on this trip of male bashing and yet make male behaviour their yardstick for right and wrong. Adultery is more acceptable because men do it. Avarice is appealing because men are that way. Superficiality is a good place to be because it has served men well. How can you denounce something that you obsess over so much?

With such crippling complexities, did women really need men to make life miserable? They managed to suck in the rot by themselves pretty well.

Suffice to say, women tire me. I don’t like them. And I don’t like men either. They are worse than women because they are boring. It’s so useless to get riled.

I only like babies. They are uncomplicated. Sure, they need you to survive, but catch them admitting that. No. They will howl and wail and give a LOUD cry to make you attend to them. That’s the spirit! You ought to consider yourself lucky to be washing my poop.

And then there is the heartwarming gurgle. Simple, genuine, and unaffectated.

I wish I could move to another planet with all the golu babies and then, in a show of triumph, wave a red and white spotted diaper to this stupid Universe of women and men.

And to think, it takes such nincompoops to make babies in the first place.

Shit.

While he was sleeping (Poems from my trip to Mc.Leod’s Ganj)

We were at St.John’s church. Just A and I. If mist could be melodious, it was. The graves were somber, cold, and peaceful. Beyond that, there were large, tall trees that played with the fog the way long fingers work through yarn.

A was tired, so he put his head on my lap and slept.

I was inspired, so I wrote.


I]

There are solid cubes of rocks
Parts of an unfinished wall
Wonder what they’re there for
To alleviate or to stall
Passage of lazy time
Or quivering lapses of history
Or hush and give a logical end
To sudden bursts of mystery.



II]

The scene here
Is mechanized to be a poet’s pen
The trees weave stories of ‘How’s’
The clouds sift through texts of ‘When’
But fodder for poetry
Comes either to the imaginative
Or to the brave
Not too many
Tread to find tumult
In a quiet, historical grave.


III]

I keep writing verses
As my husband is in slumber
Amidst ancient memory
And seemingly vintage lumber
In the fashion of a Byron’s poem,
His breaths leave a trail of nuances taken
From pools of dreams and memories, stirred and shaken,
But now, I simply wait
For my sonnet to awaken.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

These come in a bunch

Last few days have been scrumptious, even through the smothering heat. Tranquil jogs around the park at night. Cleansing tantrums and sobs through the afternoon. Yummy ice-cream squares and foot massages later. Gulps of paper back reads. Bad movies in perfectly chilled cinema halls - an experience that is all the more delightful when you are clad in breathing cotton shorts and singlet. An after-dinner outing with friends to India Gate - just soaking in a revelry that can only be described as summer madness. Lying down amidst scampering kids and looking up at stars that resemble distant surfers riding black waves. Making plans and weaving dreams during a lazy drive to Jor Bagh market. An indulgent head massage with fingers pressing my temples and those tense muscles at the nape of my neck. My hair, after the hair pack and a gentle rinse, looked and felt so nourished. Crazy little trips to Jaipur highway for tea at dawn.

Each of these memories looked bundled prettily in red, thorny litchy skin. Making the flesh plumper, the juice sweeter. My husband had just got the very best litchees I have had in a long, long, long time.

It’s summer now. And hot is not the only way to describe it.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Fruit gems

It’s 10 p.m. on a Friday night and I’m still at work. Waiting for certain technical issues to be sorted out (issues - those teeny things that get a phoenix-like quality when you have to leave on time for a movie) and chit-chatting with a colleague.

He mentions that mangoes are popular only because this world is male-dominated. So? (I asked) So, most men find mangoes similar to breasts, even in the manner they are sucked, therefore.....

My question is: where does that put the bananas? On the pedestal as a monkey’s favorite food?

Lot of thinking there to ‘peel’ through.


P.S. - I do not know why I was having such a conversation in office. Maybe I am sick and I need an apple to keep the doctor away. Hmm...what’s up with that now?

Dessert dreams

I have been craving sweet, thick, soft, beautifully fermented jalebis for a long, long time. Since six nights now. One would think that the craving would be easier to satisfy in Delhi - a place renowned for food and desserts. But the thing is, I don’t like the jalebis made here. They are too thin and crisp. Probably, that’s why they are more treacly than sweet. I guess that makes these thin squiggles excellent accompaniments with hot milk. But, I don’t enjoy the snap and crunch of these thin, flat jalebis. They remind me of recalcitrant aunts - these wafer-type crackles.

What I love are the soft, largeish, thick, fat jalebis of Mumbai. They are almost soaked to their core in chaachni and flavored discreetly with cardamom. Your teeth sink into the syrupy sponginess, past the golden syrupy crust. Then you reach a spot that is mellow and soft. Like the big, generous aunt who always gave you extra helping of ice-creams when you went to visit. You chew it with a little dribble down the chin and it is so heavenly.

I wonder where I can find such jalebis here.

I asked around. Most of the people pointed me to Evergreen in Green Park which makes jalebis as thin as ginger-snaps. The other recommendation was Haldiram. Just for the record, I dislike Haldiram a lot. A L-O-T. The aloo tikki had kaju-kishmish and something else that could have been either paneer, khoya, maava, or sooji. It was horrible. (If you have to speculate between 3 food groups to determine what exactly is going into your mouth, the experience is bound to be unsatisfactory.) Once before I had tried the Raj Kachori and the curd may as well have been rabdi, considering the amount of sugar they had put in it.

Coming back to my hunt for jalebis.

The people I asked have all been born, bred and corrupted in South Delhi. So, besides Evergreen and Haldiram, they know of no other halwaais, because, you see, no-one eats jalebis here. There’s the Hot Chocolate something at Nirulas or some other death by chocolate stuff at Barista or Flavors.

Or the other sweeping referral is ‘Old Delhi’. “Go to Chandni Chowk”, they say, sipping their expensive whiskeys. “You get that sort of stuff there.”

Now, “that stuff” is literally what is keeping me up at nights. Hopefully, this Sunday, I will go to Old Delhi. Chandni Chowk. My dream will be sated there, they say.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Roses requiem

If every raindrop carried
The scent of a wine-red rose,
It would drip with drunken poetry
And sustain like structured prose.

If every shaft of sunlight
Lifted a rose’s scent
It would trip over shards of sun
And slip off moonlight bends

And what about notes of music
That unfurl with a petal’s groove?
They’d dance with ephemeral bodies
While silence stood by and approved

Sometimes the benign redness
Though gentle, does not hide,
The story of how it got awashed
In a whelming crimson tide.

The history of the flower’s skin
Recedes as it gets yellow;
It got its scarlet lushness
When I cried blood into the pillow.

Friday, June 01, 2007

But she is so good

The weekend began with an excellent buy for mom. We were at Dilli Haat and I was sorely tempted by a luscious, maroon bedspread embroidered with dull gold zari. It would really brighten up my parents’ room, given that it is lathered in beige and white, and has several panels of polished mirrors.

Then, because my brother was here, we treated him to our Haat staple of fruit beer and momos. With his astute sense of stall observation (or observation of any kind related to food), he asked me why no-one ever sat at the Kashmiri stall. It was an interesting question, and in response I burped and ordered another fruit beer.

Finally, as we exited through colorful huddles of hair-beading enthusiasts, I saw a pavement book-seller. The first thing I noticed was the enthusiastic way he slurped his mango. When I looked beyond the delectable victual, I noticed that he had ‘How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life.’ I remembered the plagiarism stir and also the fact that the author is a Harvard student. (If anything asides from the pyramids has inspired awe in me, this worship-like hush, it is Harvard. To me, the institution is stratospherically superb. People with a rarified bloodline of good karma get in there and what’s more, any person from Harvard can do no wrong.) So, despite the risk of attracting some sort of punitary damage, I bought the novel.

I read it.

I loved it.

I absolutely, completely, thoroughly loved it.

The book is about a high school student, Opal Mehta, who wants to get into Harvard. Ever since her baby gums spouted baby teeth, her parents had been working on the HOWGIH plan. They are so driven that every little step to Harvard comes with flowcharts and reports. Nothing is left to chance. Opal is a very willing subscriber to this dream. She’s interested in academics and physics, and not much else.

One day, she goes for some kind of an early application interview to Harvard. Here, she meets the Dean of admissions, who will basically gauge her chances of getting into THE school.

He skims over her resume and is duly impressed with the accolades. And then he asks her what she does for fun.

Opal is stumped.

He further asks her who her close friends are.

She names her cat but fudges details so that he is introduced to the Dean as her relative.

After the interview, she is left with a sickening knot in her heart that she may never get into Harvard unless she loosens up a little, unless she gets a little down and crazy. Her parents, enthusiasts who will aide her no matter what, work really hard on the ‘HOWGAL’ plan. A plan that is as ambitious as ‘HOWGIH’. A plan that is as determined to make Opal succeed.

But while HOWGIH is ‘How Opal will get into Harvard’, HOWGAL is ‘How Opal will get a life’. Slightly more difficult, slightly more twisted, and slightly more messy.

From here on, the novel deviates from being just another chick-lit flake. It becomes a book that resonates with something real, fragile and endearing.

Sure, sometimes parts of it read like the script of ‘Mean Girls’ and there are characterizations that seem exaggerated (what kind of teenage bimbos actually swear pledges on the ‘Elle’ magazine? No-one’s that vapid.) There is also a healthy portion dedicated to matters of the heart. As expected, one of the objects of Opal’s affection is a Darcy archetype.

But somewhere along the way, the book stole my heart. Maybe it is when Opal wonders if Harvard is what she really wants or whether she is just dreaming a stereotypical FOB (Fresh of the Boat - derogatory term for immigrants, I think) fantasy. Then, she spends one weekend with a Harvard student on campus and realizes that, irrespective of how clichéd her choices may seem to the outside world, she would love to be there. She sees Harvard as a world where people are just allowed to be. They are not persecuted for being intelligent or academic. An option of choosing reading over clubbing does not bring with it a catalogue of judgments. The students she interacts with are happy, grounded people, whose self-esteem doesn’t depend on making some-one else feel bad. So, even though Harvard is regarded as a petridish for avaricious,, highly competitive, and successful people, Opal truly believed that she would fit in. Because she saw a community of people who were simple and sweet, yet driven to structure their lives and live up to their potential. And what was so wrong about that?

Now, why did I like it so much?

Of course, there is no explanation for why one may like one book over others. But there’s this thing that Salinger says in ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. A good book makes you want to call up the author and talk to him. And this time, after finishing the novel, I wanted to talk to the author. I guess, after a really long time, I felt a bond with the author, as apposed to the book.

I know there are portions that are lifted substantively from another novel. (I haven’t read the original though.) But, somehow, those are not the portions that connected with me. And that’s why, I don’t think ‘How Opal Mehta....’ is any less of a novel than the original or any other.

I felt a tug in my heart when the author describes this scene. It’s Diwali and Opal’s house is hosting a family dinner. Around this time, Opal is in the throes of getting sexy and happening for Harvard. (All part of the HOWGAL plan.) But there are times when she feels unsure. That night, she watches people drive in, go about eating laddoos, watching the neighbor take out trash, and she realizes that the world is so large. Harvard may be such a big deal to her, but out there, float so many countless big deals - somebody’s son, somebody’s job, somebody’s marriage. There is a solace in knowing that you are one of many. Sometimes, insignificance is comforting.

It’s in the way this bit is written that....I don’t quite buy the plagiarism bit. After all, you can’t copy an insight and you definitely cannot plagiarize the connection with a reader.

Maybe, this novel will be remembered as a tremendous faux pas by a novice writer. But this post is just a record that the book was a lot more for me. It was a terrific find....just like the maroon, zari-embroidered bedsheet.