Tuesday, February 28, 2006

My Grandmother's Almirah

It was made out of pure Burma teakwood, about 6 feet tall and a gleaming exterior. It seemed to survive through the years of humid climate without much wear and tear, it only got one coat of polish after it was broken open by burglars.

All through my growing up years, I looked forward to visiting my Grandmother in Calcutta and in long and lazy afternoons my favorite pastime would be to explore her almirah which she indulgently let me as I had the privileged position of being the eldest 'naatni'(granddaughter). Every time I opened the wooden doors, there was this smell of clothes, perfume and wood, there were many drawers with brass handles, some having secret chambers and false bottoms which added to the mystery of the almirah.

My Grandmother carefully preserved all presents, knick knacks, photographs and other things which various relatives got for her from their many travels. There was a Japanese fan, a miniature windmill, tiny crystal figurines, ivory paper knives, Czech glassware, glass tulips, lace handkerchiefs, my mother's wedding photographs, a complete miniature battle set with tanks and soldiers and so much more. It was like taking a trip around the world, going back in time and a lot of wonder for my young mind. That sense of wonder never really faded even as I grew up, opening the almirah was always quite magical.

I wish I had my Grandmother's quality of saving memories and then browsing through them at leisure. I wish I could make my almirah as interesting an experience for my son, but all he sees are neatly stacked sets of clothes and essentials, there is no room for memories, the past or clutter, perhaps it’s the lack of space in our hearts...

Monday, February 27, 2006

People I Remember

While we were growing up, we were protected, sheltered and safe in our parents nests, a lot of tragedies passed us by but the optimism of youth made us look forward to better things and better times ahead and our parents probably made sure that we did not get affected, but there are two people who still take me back to the very early school days.

Rohit Mathur

Rohit was a fellow back bencher in class 5 who sat next to me. We were thankful to be slightly away from Ms Sahay's watchful eye and at times we could whisper and copy work. Rohit loved to play football and often used to stay back after school for practice sessions. Apparently it seemed he had two good friends, Virender and Deepak. One day during the morning assembly, the principal gravely announced that Rohit was hospitalized as he was injured by a ball which hit him on the back of his head and asked us all to pray for him. Two days later, he announced that Rohit was no more and we should all stand and observe a 2 minute silence. At that time we all went through it in a daze but I can still recall how acutely empty the seat next to me felt and now that I look back, Deepak (Rohit's friend) retreated into a quiet shell and never quite came out of it. His other friend Virender went on to become a person who was frequently suspended for his various misdeeds. I am still scared of balls; I freeze everytime one is thrown at me...

Kalpana Dhingra

She was another of my neighbors in class. I can remember her from class 3 but I got to know her better only in class 4. She was the bright one, all teachers favored her, her copy was used as show piece and her handwriting was the best. She also had these huge braces on her feet, she could not walk without help but we never noticed, to us she was just Kalpana. At times we took turns to stay with her during recess instead of going out to play so she had company and at times we would take her to the washroom. Children unknowingly can be harsh, because of her many disabilities she did not have too many friends. Whoever she talked about at home were graciously invited to spend a day at their home. Kalpana's Mother took greatest care of us and I had some of the most delicious food there. I vaguely realized that somehow there was an air of fatality around, she had some sort of a degenerative illness which sapped her strength each day. We lost touch after class 5 but I used to hear things from here and there. One day I read in the papers that a blind girl named Kalpana had passed the class 10 exams with flying colors, I was due to give my class 12 exams; I guess she was brighter than all of us put together only her body betrayed her...

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A Recipe for Bird Flu

Like they say in Hindi, "ghar ki murgi daal barabar" (translates to "chicken at home tastes like lentil soup"). Now even the "ghar ki murgi" has disappeared and we are left with only daal and chawal and of course fish, which no self respecting Bengali can do without every day. Now of all times, ALL cookery shows insist on showing recipes only with chicken and egg - at least the ones on Travel & Living. The show makes me salivate but I am forced to practice self restraint and will power and avoid thinking that chicken and egg ever existed.

The canteen now seems like a dull and boring place, I miss the butter chicken, chicken kolhapuri, chicken masala, chicken sandwich, egg burji, omlette sandwich, frankies, chicken biriyani ... I could go on... Lamb, mutton and pork are not healthy meats; fish is not liked by all so now the office canteen is strictly vegetarian. Even cakes at the pastry counter are certified to be 'egg less' and are dry and chewy.

All I can say is dear chicken and dear egg, I hope you both are certified to be safe for human consumption soon - we sure miss you like hell!

Now here is a recipe for double dose bird flu:

Dim'er Devil (Devilled Eggs)
Recipe for 4 pieces

This is a Bengali rendition of Scotch Eggs

You need:
2 Hard boiled eggs - sliced in half lengthwise
2 Boiled potatoes - large
2 Onions - shredded fine
250 Gms chicken mince - cooked
Chopped Coriander - as per your taste
Chopped green chilies - as per your taste
1 tsp - cumin powder
1/2 tsp - red chili powder
1 Raw egg
Flour and breadcrumbs to coat
Salt - as required

Method

Mash potatoes fine, add a little chopped onion, coriander, green chilies, cumin powder, salt and red chili powder. Mix with mashed potatoes and keep aside.

Fry the remaining chopped onions in oil till golden, add the cooked chicken mince, add seasonings and spices as required and stir till the meat is dry and keep aside.

To assemble:
* Take the half sliced egg
* Cover the yolk side fully with the chicken mince
* Envelope the half egg topped with chicken mince with the mashed potato completely
* Shape into an oval with your hands
* Dust this with flour
* Dip in raw egg
* Roll in bread crumbs
* Deep fry on a moderate flame till golden brown
* Serve with mustard sauce

Guaranteed to give you bird flu and bliss (if you want it)!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Book & Movie Review

I have a few things which I can write about but blogging needs serious undivided time which I haven't had over the long weekend - it was long because I bunked office on Friday and did all the things that my heart desired.

I day dreamt (wonder if that is a correct phrase?), I slept, I ate, I watched Rang De Basanti and I picked up this book called Shantaram. All of these activities were equally excellent but since my day dreams are unmentionable and describing what I ate will not really interest the world out there I might as well write about the book and the movie.

Shantaram

I do keep saying that books are better than men, the reasons why books are better is not of interest here. The book is written straight from the heart and even though many situations seem to be over the top but one can still relate to it. As a story, it is free flowing and easy to read like a thriller. There are essentially two things that make this book special, a few lines in the book make you sit up because at some time or the other we have been through similar emotions and it puts into words which we perhaps just felt at that moment. Some of the lines and the contradictions are rather poetic and makes one stop and think for a while. The other aspect is Bombay, it gives the reader an insight into the spirit of the city and its people, the good and the bad often overlap and there are no clear demarcations. The book is a very real representation of Bombay. I'll finish this review when I read the whole of 936 pages!

Rang De Basanti

The whole world by now knows that this is a great movie so maybe it’s rather late to write a review on the movie now. So if anybody is still waiting to go and see it - just do it, it’s worth your money. What uplifted me about the movie was that despite the general apathy all around, rampant consumerism and the all important need of today's generations to satisfy self, someone has bothered to make a movie which attempts to wake us up, take notice and just go and change the world for the better. The new age movie with a message is here. The second point which made me jump with excitement is that it was shot in Modern School, Barakhamba Road - seeing your alma mater on the big screen is quite a kick and when I nearly shouted - "Hey, that's my school!!!", almost the entire hall full of people turned around and looked at me. Well, I have done my bit for dear old MHS sitting here in Bombay!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Love Makes The World Go Round

Rather popular line which a person hears off and on, however the over thirty five been there done that set will completely disagree and say that it's lust and not love that makes the world go round. With Valentine's Day becoming 'the' day to express your desire (or love), it has become the second largest revenue source for detective agencies as jealous significant others want to see what he or she is up to. Now love has to be expressed through diamonds preferably or some expensive gift which is again great news for the brands. The new love is more about money and lust and less about love - now whatever that may be!

As an impressionable teen and well into the twenties I did believe that I would find it some day but it seemed to be like that elusive yellow butterfly which rested on a flower briefly. Everyday I hoped that I would meet that person, in a bus, in a college fest, in a party or just bump into him and I would know that he is the one. I don’t know why romantic fiction makes us believe that this is as easy as water - if I waited I would I would turn gray I am sure. While I was waiting I did bump into many 'probable' cases but either there was too much of distance and lack of expression or it was too open ended or too cloying or too obsessive but never seemed to be just right.

The jaded say that love is an illusion, the believers say that true love lasts forever, the people who have loved and lost say its better to have loved and lost than not having found love at all. After so many thousands of years existence we still have not been able to decipher and understand this seemingly complex emotion.

Love between a man and a woman may be a big question mark but the love one feels for one's child is the most enduring, selfless and purest form of love till date.

All of secretly hope or hoped to find this sometime, perhaps we do find it eventually but in a different form or a different place, or a different source than we expected, perhaps most times we don’t even realize that we have actually found it and keep chasing that dream...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Delhi to Calcutta to Bombay

I guess that’s not politically correct - it should be Dilli (??) to Kolkata to Mumbai but who cares! I asked this question to myself once - does my personality change with the cities I stay in? The answer it seems is YES.

The Delhi Me
I was kind of young to be a true Delhi-ite but the school I studied in made sure that I caught on very fast. My new 3 tier pencil box from Germany made me the most popular girl in school for a day, short lived glory! My popularity meter rose with each trip to Disneyland or any country in Europe or North America. My status in the society was determined by how many political connections my family had, whether I lived in South Delhi, how many relatives I had abroad, the size of my house, gadgets and the size of my Dad's car. It became rather stressful to compete with the 'in' crowd so I veered towards the 'behenjis' who wore skirts beyond their mid thigh and put oil in their hair. I was a misfit in both the groups so I was used as a bridge between the two worlds. The men (boys then) were dishy who chased the 'in' girls; I stared after them wistfully through my thick specs. One day I revolted and wore contact lenses and voila, 10 dishy boys came and spoke to me that day - that day was also the last day at school - I almost wept at the lost opportunities! In Delhi appearances count and somehow it becomes a part of our lives.

The Calcutta Me
I felt I had landed in another planet far removed from the Delhi sophistication. I suppose any city looks far shabbier than the capital and Calcutta was well... shabby. The people did not seem to be as conscious of appearances as in Delhi. The college I attended was a girls college in Park Circus, the professors were strict looking ladies and half of the Economics class was full of married girls who discussed their in laws and husbands. The North South divide is present in Calcutta as well and it was near impossible to carry out a 10 sentence conversation with girls from North Calcutta - I have no clue why though - they are just different! After a few days I did manage to find a few like minded girls who were interested in music, movies, men and bunking classes - thank God! In Calcutta I learnt to be intellectual, I read Simone Bouvoir (tried to), Katherine Mansfield, George Bernard Shaw (I love him) and so on. I watched plays, I acted in them, I sang, went to book fairs and international movie festivals and I happily continued to wear my specs. My friend's boy friends were good friends of mine so I didn't feel the need to dazzle men without my glasses and get into a gooey relationship. Work life threw me into an all male environment with loads of attention - felt good. The specs had been replaced by lenses - I guess that explains it! Work was lazy and laid back, there was lots of time to do everything, at times heated discussions about politics, current affairs, food and literature took up most of the day. The men went out often for leisurely smokes and tea at the roadside tea shop. The pace was mostly easygoing and life was good. However there was this rather unsettling element of the hidden, people seemed to keep a lot of their most important opinions or thoughts hidden while over expressing the more irrelevant ones leading to many awkward and unpleasant situations. Calcutta was more about substance rather than possessions and appearances.

The Bombay Me
The transition from Calcutta to Bombay was relatively smooth. One is better equipped to deal with changes after having undergone the upheavals of marriage and childbirth. After a while I got used to the beatific face of 'Sarkar' waving out of the posters (he never seemed to smile) and the saffron flags. The obsession and creativity with potato and bread in various forms was commendable but not at all appealing after being used to street food in Calcutta. I have probably walked down every street in my locality trying to hunt for a fish fry or an egg role but found bhaji toast and the soggy drippy frankie instead. Work was a revelation, I discovered the efficient me who did everything on or before time and was taught to read minds of international customers and deliver as per expectations - stated or unstated. I casually mentioned to the electrician that I needed to change my lamp shades and he was at my door step promptly on the next weekend ready to do the work. The cable man appeared a couple of hours after we moved in so that we could get a connection. The neighbors were not interested if I could afford fish every day, they didn't care how many beer bottles were kept out for the garbage but helped when required - bliss! Gone are my lazy weekends, I am busy planning the next weeks grocery list, menu, shopping, cleaning, laundry, PTA meetings, socializing, gymming, movies and so on. Bombay is about always being on the edge, about activity and movement and about being a step ahead.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

No, this is not an outdated movie review! This is another account of my travel experiences. I have discovered that the degrees of bad and good behavior differ depending on countries and regions. Europe has a veil of politeness which barely hides what they think. The more open Europeans are the most wonderful people I have ever met. In North America again Canada is a much more pleasant experience than the USA, but USA is huge and depends on which area one is in.

I was in Salt Lake City, Utah trying to put together a convincing presentation as to why a corporate entity should dump all the small outdated applications and hire us to redesign and develop a spanking new system which would help them cut their manpower by half. We were a group of 5 people led by a rather tyrannical brute called VJ. At times VJ abandoned us and took off in the company car while we had to walk back to the hotel - a long walk of about an hour. The first day I promptly got lost and just remembered the hotel name. A lady with two kids rescued me from the streets and dropped me to the hotel - I was immensely thankful to her. On another day I was walking down on a street which did not have sidewalks so I walked on grassy patch adjoining the road or at the edge. Several cars passed by with warning honk (I was not supposed to walk on the road), one car slowed down and some people aimed half eaten hamburgers at us and screamed a few profanities. The hamburgers landed tamely missing their target altogether, I wasn't really shocked as throwing things out of buses and cars is almost routine in India! Another car slowed down and stopped right next to me and I wondered - now what?

The person rolled down the window and apologized and said that those guys were drunk and did not realize what they were doing. He said he had noted the number plate and reported their behavior to the Police. He apologized again and wished me a very pleasant stay and drove off. I was speechless and stood rooted to the spot for a few seconds and resumed my trek totally charmed by America and its people.

The French are of course known for their legendary hatred for the English language and I missed many buses and took several wrong turns because people did not respond to my questions but what the heck, it was great fun to explore a bit more and come across delightful sights at the wrong turns.

Germany was well ... cold. I recollect walking around Hamburg, along Alster Lake and saw some groups mainly teens dressed in black leather with shaved heads looking very menacingly at me which almost made me break into a run! I believe they were the so called Neo Nazis or some such thing. I was later advised to walk with a 'Tourist' badge on my coat.

I guess that’s what exploring is all about, experiencing the good and the bad.