Monthly Archives: January 2012

A Taste of Week-end Gastronomy

A Taste of Week-end Gastronomy

It’s that time of the week when the kitchen throws the ladles up in the air and screams, “Give me a break!”  I love this time. It means ‘change’. What’s a weekend if not garnished with the right delicacies to cater to a discerning palate, especially if it has lived off a pathetic lunch box for 5 full days!

We are usually not a family of early risers. But this Saturday morning, like most weekend mornings, the household stirred from its slumber even as the church bell nearby gonged six times. My hubby and I got dressed faster than we usually do on work days. Today, we couldn’t afford to be late. Disaster would prevail. We had a mission to accomplish. Our neighbours were in the know – requisite information had been gathered from them last night itself.

As we bid farewell to the family, they wished us good luck, and urged us with great fervour to return as heroes, to return successful! We promised to call them as soon as we knew victory was on our side.

The drive to the destination at that early hour on Saturday was a 10-minute breeze. As has been the practice for over a dozen years, the discussion during the 10-minute ride always revolved around gastronomical delights…particularly the one that we were about to conquer! My hubby would delve in to flashback – to the good ol’ days when food cravings would be instantly gratified by an always-ready-to-please chef mom. In the initial days, I would react like an enfant terrible to these uncalled for ballads of praise. I would vehemently justify my dal-chaval-roti-sabzi offerings to the family, with the all-pervading excuse of being a working woman. But, soon I realised that my hubby’s sonata on his mom was simply to build up a ravenous appetite for what would soon be tucked neatly into our paunches. I learnt to whet my appetite with these inconsequential snippets from the past.

Pulses raced as my hubby manoeuvred the car into the lane leading up to the target. We were there! We craned our necks to scan the coast. “I see four guys,” I warned, even as hubby dear counted out the currency notes in his hand – victory always favoured the ones who tendered exact change. “Not bad,” he said as he brought the car to a halt and cranked open the door. “Half an hour or so,” he said getting out.

I sat in the car, my attention focused a few meters ahead down the road, on the small narrow alley that hyphenated two shops.

Hardly a few minutes had elapsed when I turned to take in the current status. The four guys had been joined by six others, one of whom was my hubby.  He waved out to me reassuringly. I smile back apprehensively. One can never say…I sighed. Even as I did that, a couple of other burly looking men got off a scooter and joined him. As if they were the front pieces of a VIP procession, a car came to a halt behind the scooter. Now four, again burly men, got off, speaking in loud tones. My window glass was up so I couldn’t hear what they were saying. But, I could say with a certainty that only hardcore experience brings on that today the conquest was a formidable challenge.

I looked at my watch. The countdown begins…I said to myself between gasps. My eyes once again were trained on the narrow alley. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and …I…I sighted it!!

The man marched out of the alley, his palms upturned on his shoulders. Precariously perched on each palm, on a sheet of newspaper were twin deep-fried towers of sin. The Pakwaan – the king of Sindhi breakfast spread! Each tower easily comprised at least 50 pakwaans. But, let this number not cheat you into dropping your guard. Trust me, they vanish before you can say the shortest Sindhi word – “Sain” (it has a nasal drone, hence the ‘n’ for all you spell bees reading this).

Mission sighted, with a flushed face, I turned to the action behind. As expected, the sighting had triggered considerable pell-mell. A rush of testosterone swept the 25 or more men who now struggled to form a serpentine line outside a non-descript shop. I now lowered the window for a clearer view.

It always worked to clock wise precision. The minute the towers reached the shop awning, the line disintegrated into splinters…moving aside reverently to let the Guru of Gourmet, pass through. I almost always visualised people on either side of the towers folding their hands and bowing their heads in surrender to the delectable devil. Jai Jhulelal!

 This commotion had a soundtrack – that of the shop shutter riding up clumsily. The lad responsible for this orchestra, threw a royal glance at the milling crowd, raised his palm in a gesture of blessing and magnanimously promised, “sab ni khe milando,” (“everybody would get their deserved piece”). The men nodded at each other and politely echoed, “sab ni khe milando, sab ni khe milando.” The amazing thing is that the crowd had non-Sindhis as well… but the phrase they uttered here was obviously the effect of mass hysteria and many week-ends of tireless exposure.

 If the Pakwaan is king, then his spicy, hot, matured consort – the dal – was boiling over erotically in a huge hindoleum vessel that appeared on the scene as the shutter went up.  Instantly, the episode took on an exquisite aroma. Our olfactory nerves were ambushed by the freshly ground spices as they swam in a pool of tamarind pulp that frothed with the distinct flavours of the three lentils that make up the exotic concoction. The hapless men in the line closed their eyes and took in a deep breath. Divine!  

 My ringing cell phone startled my culinary escapade.

 “Hello mom, what’s the scene?” my son wanted to know.

“Papa is fifth in the line,” I updated him in a whisper, fearing an evil eye that would suddenly push hubby to the end of the line. The thought was appalling!

“Oh! OK,” son whispered back.

 If you didn’t know it already, whispers are contagious. (Try it out later…now please read on!)

“Let me know as soon as…” my son was saying. But, I hung up. How many times I tell him not to count his chickens before they hatch.  But these kids…huh!

My neck was bearing the brunt. I reluctantly turned away and found meek satisfaction in the not-so-clear rear view mirror. I could see my hubby’s hand.  It was stretched over the heads of two others.  After what seemed like eons, I saw two loaded white polythene bags hanging in the air, above a sea of pates. I watched with bated breath as my husband’s fingers curled tightly like a noose around the bags.

 Aha!

I reached for my cell phone. “Got it!” I screamed gleefully into the phone, and heard my son gleefully announce “Got it!” to the household.

All along the drive back, hubby waxed eloquent on his conquest. I am a result-oriented person, the end matters, not the means. I glanced at the bags sitting neatly on the back seat.  “Step on it, man”, I screamed impatiently as my hubby drove lazily through the streets, reconstructing the battlefield in his most lucid vocabulary.

The table at home was already laid out with the relevant cutlery! I didn’t have to give any prior instructions, repeatedly! This rare streak of voluntary sharing of home chores…okay let me leave this issue for another blog.  Don’t want to spoil my upbeat mood.

We began to sort out the spoils – 9 pakwaans for us (2 each for the 4 of us and one for the girl who helps me with my dal-chaval-sabzi-roti), 3 each for the two neighbours. The dal was already packed in 3 separate portions. What needed to be apportioned was the accompaniment – sliced onion, bright green chutney that had the sharp aroma of green chillies, sweet date and tamarind chutney, and tangy lemon wedges. This is a sticky situation. How much to give away to the neighbours? After a round of combat – take away some from this, no, no, reduce this, that should be enough for them… and after doubly ascertaining that we had a generous helping to ourselves, I stepped out with the neighbours’ share. On such mornings, my neighbours and I shared an unwritten protocol. No exchange of pleasantries. Ring bell twice in quick succession, smile, hand over parcel, and retreat quickly. No hard feelings.

For the next half hour, the household reverberated with the crunchy sound of pakwaans as we broke them into bite-sized portions, dipped them into the thick dal that was tastefully garnished with the accompaniment, and transported them into eager mouths.

 Hmmmmm!

This heavenly, yet very simplistic, no-fuss delicacy can make any American or Australian Master Chef wobble like weak jelly on a saucer!  

As I lick off the remnants of what had been gastronomically an invaluable lip-smacking experience, I mentally salute the unsung master chefs who dish out their hors d’oeuvres in the dark by-lanes of the colossal cauldron of culinary marvel that is India! My India!!

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Chechi Nightingale

Chechi Nightingale

Florence Nightingale was a Malayalee in her last birth. I have been in and out of hospitals long enough to have faith in this belief!

The nursing profession would dissolve without a trace, like absorbable sutures, if not for the Malayalee maidens who hold it aloft on their able shoulders. They converge from every nook and corner of Kerala – Thrissur, Kottayam, Allepey, Kozhikode, Ernakulam…or they are Gelf-returned. They win their patient’s heart with their beacon of service shining through as bright as the jet black, generously coconut-oiled hair, severely pulled back in a plaited bun.

Their effective and patient-friendly service is in stark contrast to their stiffly starched white uniforms. A fat, matronly, languishing Malayalee nurse is hard to come by. Most of them are trim, brisk and as lithe as the swaying palm trees that lace the banks of the placid water bodies back home.

Their names, like Sissy, Anamma, Theresa, Joby, Baby… resonate with your inner fiddler on the roof!

Perfect to a fault, the Malayalee nurse is much sought after not just in hospitals across the length and breadth of the country, but the world over! I fondly remember the Malayalee nursing contingent that landed as a swarm in a government-aided hospital in Kitwe, Zambia, three decades ago! Although, physically they paled in front of the gigantic, troll-like, mis-proportioned average Central African, they were the queens of the wards. “Verk is Vership” is their mantra to success.

The Malayalee enterprising zeal for being in the right place at the right time is often the subject of humour – it seems when Edmund Hillary (he was not Sir then, hence the miss) reached the peak of Mt. Everest after an arduous climb that spanned many a stormy night and day, he was rudely shocked to be greeted by a Malayalee in a folded lungi-banyaan, selling steaming chai in a hurriedly put-together shack!! “Chai veno?” he enquired of a startled Edmund whose tongue lay frozen in the pit of his mouth for reasons other than the sub-zero temperature! I wouldn’t be surprised if the Malayalee guy was there because his wife was working as a nurse in a nearby hospital!!

The Malayalee bonding in the nursing fraternity is striking. The older ones are respectfully called Chechis (elder sister), while the younger ones are endearingly addressed as ‘molay’ (child). If you are privileged enough to be placed in a ward that is graced by a Chechi-molay combination, it is fatal attraction, in a good sense of the word! You will be effortlessly drawn into the irresistible web of motherly instinct. Their largesse will hold you together like a cocoon and then, speedy recovery cannot be far away.

A dear friend recently recounted: This dusky beauty of a nurse walked up to him as he lay in bed one morning in hospital, and whispered in his ear, “Ungle, urine pass kiya?” The gentleness of her tone could make any bladder fill up to the occasion!!

During my brief sojourn in hospital last week, I had this Chechi pampering me. We got talking and I asked her the question that was uppermost in my mind. “Yeh nursing ka kaam kaisa lagta hain?” (“How do you feel about this nursing profession?”).

Chechi answered, “maa-baap ne paala, posa, beda kiya. Kis ke liye?” (Sorry, can’t find an apt translation for that!). As I racked my brain for an intelligent answer, Chechi answered her own rhetoric, “Tum log ka service ke liye. Hum nehin, toh tum nehin,” she said flashing a Colgate smile.

Wow, what a philosophy! I was belittled. Long live the Malayalee nurse! As long as they continue to walk through hospital corridors in their efficient demeanour, hospitals can promise their patients at least one happy memory!

Pale Memories of the Photo Album

Pale memories of the photo album

 

 

Photo albums take away a lot of storage space in my home. No, no, I ain’t complaining. I am being boastful. I love photo albums. Yes, even today, in an age where digital rules the pivotal, I couldn’t care less. For me, any day, an old, dog-eared album, maybe with a couple of silver fishes, snaking through it, gives me a high that cannot even remotely compare with its .jpeg contemporary.

 

At best, the digital version appeals to me because as soon as I capture something on a digital camera, I can view it right there…a habit that irritates my hubby endlessly. After each time he clicks, I run up to him and peep into the camera saying, “show, show”. Once I have seen it this way, I am satiated, and rarely see it again.

 

Unlike many others I know, I insist on getting my digital photos printed, preferably in matt finish, post card size or even larger, and placed in an exclusive album. Then, I make little notes on the inside of the album – dates, places visited, and not to forget the amusing, tongue-in-cheek captions to go with each photo! All this, for a delectable aftertaste. I find this activity so very cathartic!

 

I fondly remember what I had read some place: “A person is neither whole nor healthy without the memories of photo albums. They are the storybook of our lives. They provide a nostalgic escape from the tormented days of the present.”

 

Storybook of our lives! I love this phrase.

 

Sadly, today the photo storybook is almost completely replaced by the savvier, state-of-the-art CD – Compact Disc. But hey, not everything in life can be Compacted! Technically yes, but emotionally, at a subliminal level, a big NO!

 

In the hazy distant past are evenings when guests (read relatives) would come over and the photo albums would make an appearance. Perched reverently on the lap of the most elderly in the group, the album would unfold a carefully scripted drama…while other family members found strategic view points…to partake in vicarious pleasures. The album always lived up to its promise of great bonding. The album always had and will continue to have an instant replay quality that, I bet, no technology can nudge out.

 

Often, people do not even copy their digital photos on to a CD! The photos remain forgotten in the camera, or in their cell phones, or at the most, are copied into a folder on a laptop/PC. The photos just sit there, waiting forlornly for the day when people can pore over them with drooling memories. Then, sharing such photos with others when they visit your home is painstaking. You have to get the laptop out or pass around your cell phone…Well, for the more socially uplifted, you could always share it on Facebook…and draw a dozen ‘likes’!

 

 

On one hand, there is the mouse click. And on the other is the feel of turning the thick album page with your fingers; the feel of the thin plastic sheet that gently clings to the precious memory beneath. And of course, who can forget the feel of softly inserting your finger under the plastic sheet to free it of the dampness that gets collected over time?

 

Sigh! I wonder, am I penning an ode in praise of the photo album, or, am I inscribing an epitaph?

 

 

 

The High and Loo of it

The High and Loo of it….

I am finicky about loos.  I judge people by the standards of their loos.  I also judge them by how they use or misuse their loos.  Call it weird or crazy, but that’s me.  These fixative behaviours have been with me since my childhood.  Some of them have come and gone.  I remember I used to have this strong fixation about toes.  As soon as I would meet someone, my eyes would dart down south and desperately try to catch a glimpse of their toes.  What do you look for in them, you ask?  Well, many things…..To start off, a set of cleanly and adroitly aligned toes get my nod of approval.  I can get acquainted with this person. If they are well pedicured, they can even become good friends with me.  In fact, this sticky behaviour is a kind of legacy I am quite proud of; my younger brother has inherited this fixation for toes from me.

 

While many such fixations have come and gone, I repeat, this fixation about loos and their use, has stayed. I have meandered through the ups and downs of life, in lanes and by lanes, in mansions and tents, but I have always viewed loos with a critique’s lens.

 

My profession as a corporate behavioural trainer has taken me to myriad corporate loos, and I take great pride in the fact that my judgement of a company’s culture (through the loo, of course), could beat any human resource consultant’s rarefied observation, so what if he uses the latest human developmental or OD tools.  Believe me, it’s the loo that holds the view.  Of course, I speak only of the women’s loo. But, with the women’s populace on the rise in the workplace, the women’s loo is a brilliant indicator of the culture in the organisation.

 

Let’s get the basics right first.  Loos come in different sizes, shapes, colours, formats and utilities.  They also have varied nomenclature – rest rooms, wash rooms, toilet, cloak rooms are the run-off-the mill labels. Some progressive organisational cultures boast of more creativity – hers, ladies, for her, eve…Some even excel in their non-verbal communication – they paint caricatures or silhouettes of the female form.  It’s a different issue, that sometimes, there is not much difference in the shapes of the silhouette on the men’s loo door and the women’s loo door.  But, you can always resolve this by narrowing your eyes and staring sharply at the silhouette, or best, walk up closer and peer into the silhouette.  But, take care that no one watches you watch the loo door so closely.

 

I am always a bit apprehensive about the loos of organisations that boast of an ‘open culture’.  My apprehensions are not baseless.  I have seen it all.  This particular company has a loo that has a common lobby for both men and women.  You do your job in the respective gender loos. Then, to freshen up, you come into this common lobby.  So, while you are freshening up after your job, your neighbour at the next wash basin is freshening up after his job!  Open Culture!  What adds to the torture is a narrow glass pane that separates the lobby from the women’s loo. While you are on the pot doing your job, you can actually see the silhouette of the men at the wash basins!  The only saving grace is that the glass is not a Saint Gobain!  Don’t ask me what happens to the sound levels.  Embarrassing.  I mean, it’s quite a skill to hold back the sound. Those of you, who’ve been through such a thing, know what I am talking about.

 

Then there are companies where the women’s loo is hidden away in a nook and corner of a not-so-often used floor.  Visiting the loo then becomes a group affair.  Women adjust their bladder sensibilities and synchronise their ‘urges’, so that a group of them can trek up to this ‘out of the world’ experience.  When one member of the group visits, the others keep watch over her dupatta, handbag, et al.  Need I say anything about the organisational culture?

 

Every time a prospective client boasts of a transparent culture in his organisation, my heart skips a beat.  My mind immediately unleashes memories of a nightmare I had at one such company.  Alright, I know the mirror is a woman’s best friend.  But, goodness, when you have them all over the loo, on the ceiling, behind, in front, there is no escape!  You feel queasy when you suddenly see so many of you at the job.  Even a narcissist will find this a little too stretched.

 

So, the next time, you visit the loo in an office, make it an enlightening trip. You gotta actually feel loo and behold!!

 

 

A Date with the Calendar

A date with the calendar

 

 

I grew up with the quintessential vel murugan (Lord Kartik for the less enlightened) calendar. It hung majestically on the largest wall in every room of the sprawling Iyer mansion.  Then times changed. The mansion shrunk to a one BHK in a remote suburb of the very happening Bombay. But the vel murugan calendar continued to adorn the wall. I remember it distinctly. It was made of cardboard.  A glorious Murugan, with sparkling eyes and rose buds for lips smiled from it. His vel (spear) shone brightly by his side. Below the image hung a stack of thin white paper on which was printed the date in large black typeface.  I remember it vividly because it was my duty to wake up in the morning and tear off the past. I was in-charge of heralding the new morning. This action was extremely symbolic…it created a long-lasting impression in my life.

 

But that was not the only calendar in the household. New Year’s time was calendar time. My siblings and I would gather around Appa when he brought home the office diary and calendar. Each of us would take turns to pore over the glossy images on the calendar. Then, the next thing we always did was check the days on which our birthdays would arrive that year.

 

Amma had her own favourite calendar for the kitchen. Mutthu grocery and general stores always gifted their patrons with this ‘practical’ calendar, as she called it. It not only told her the date she was on, but also gave very pertinent information on when was amavasya, and other Hindu or lunar month details.

 

My Mama loved the calendar, but he was not Mutthu’s patron. There have been several afternoons in the early days of the year, when I have mutely witnessed the altercation between Amma and Mutthu for an extra calendar.  He always grumblingly relented. Mama would then visit in the evening to collect the prized possession. In turn, he would bestow his brotherly love on Amma with a string of mallipoo (jasmine flowers) which she would gracefully tie around her hair at the nape of her neck.

 

The Bombay Dyeing Calendar was the most sought after.  My second Mama worked with Bombay Dyeing and his visit home in the first week of January signalled the arrival of the much coveted Lisa Ray in a bathrobe, Lisa Ray in a flowing georgette, Lisa Ray and the green-eyed Karan Kapoor sipping coffee as their eyes met over the rim of the cup…so much oomph! The Bombay Dyeing Calendar was the fountain of all my girlie fantasies.

 

The arrival of this calendar also signalled a lot of bickering and chiding at home. Amma wouldn’t have any vulgar displays in the hall. “Chee”! would be her monosyllabic outburst. Appa would shrug non-chalantly, and eventually after a glare from Amma’s charcoal eyes, quietly enrol into her camp. Many arguments later, Lisa Ray would hang seductively from a wall behind the door in the inner room. 

 

But, the point I am making is that we grew up with calendars.

 

Today, the only calendar that is top-of-mind is the Kingfisher calendar. And if you tell me that you own one for quick date reference, I would at once say you are warped, you are wired differently… you are…

 

Anyway, I haven’t seen a Kingfisher calendar adorn walls in anyone’s homes!! Adorn dreams? Well, maybe.

 

The lowly calendar from my childhood years is fast retreating into oblivion. It does not even make a guest appearance in Bollywood, anymore. There is no coughing-the-lungs-out Nirupa Roy striking off dates on a depressing calendar as she counts the coins in her sweaty palm. Neither do we have an eye twitching Lalita Pawar tear a calendar off the wall even as the heroine counts off dates of separation from her beloved.

 

Blackberry, mobiles, Facebook, have wiped the calendar off the wall. Sad? I really don’t know…

 

We are two days into 2012. This morning, I received a slim long calendar in a white envelope from the snack corner near my office. He’s a brave man…is it his audacity, no sorry, his humility, no sorry, his ignorance (yeah, that’s better) that makes him spend money on printing calendars? In any case, I don’t know what to do with it. Aha! I will pass it on to my ma-in-law…I am sure at 75, she still has a soft corner for calendars.

 

What? She turned it down! It doesn’t go with the décor in her room, she says! “Aaj kal calendar kaun lagaata hai beta”, she scoffed at my offer. Disappointed, I trudged into my son’s room, the calendar hooked on my index finger. He gave me a dirty look as I treaded cautiously over the wires of his guitar. Finally, as my frantic last resort, I turned, calendar still hooked around my finger, towards my cook. “Mere ghar mein wallpaper laga hua hain…mujhe nahi chahiye,” she said with a firmness that is wont of cooks and maids.

 

So, here I am, stuck with the calendar. Kal tha calendar, aaj hain shamshaan ke andhar. Sigh!