Friday, 12 December 2014

New-food love

Disclaimer : I do not apologise for the usage of tongue twisting Tamil vocabulary in the following post. Pronouncing "zha" may be seem a bit daunting, but I promise you will get there. Yes, you shall. My dear non-south indian buddies/foodies, I hope this post enriches your knowledge pertaining to Tamil cuisine.

I am not sure if everyone will relate to this but of late, my taste buds have re-discovered comfort in food I used to detest as a kid and a teenager.

As a kid, I was not too compliant with food. I was a notch higher than a picky-eater and there were instances when my Thatha would threaten to shove food down my throat if I continued to make a fuss. This spelt hullabaloo, followed by tears and my Paati valiantly trying to defend me from her intimidating husband. "Aapudi bezhamuduthandengo! Paavum kozhandai." -  "Don't scare her! Poor child." And of course most of my relatives correlate this to my weight, even now. "Sappudata epuudi weight poduva!" - "How will she put on weight if she doesn't eat!".

As I grew up, this practice began to fade gradually. I learnt to appreciate the characteristic tanginess of rasam and sambaar.  As a six-year old, there were times when I would slurp rasam sadam (rice) from a mini-plate with gusto, just to see a smile of intense satisfaction spread across my grandpa's face. Honestly, I loved exaggerating the slurps at times. Not only was his grin satiating, but also the whole slurping experience was fun. The adulation I received  for merely finishing a meal was undoubtedly encouraging. "Kuuthu! Innu Kuuthhu! Mmmmmmm!"  which translates to "Pour some more! More!" Soon, I could proudly tell everyone that potatoes were my among my favourite vegetables. Garam masala and onion-garlic paste were mandatory in most of the sabzis. I developed a taste for omelettes and scrambled eggs. Restaurants began to hold meaning for their gastronomic appeal rather than for their air-conditioned ambience. Though meat was taboo in our household, Thatha unscrupulously introduced me to the world of seafood and tandoori chicken (and I haven't looked back ever since). Moreover, watching my baby sister happily guzzle mango pulp made me all the more curious about this fruit that had initially seemed revolting. By the time I was nine, Mum had introduced me to paani-puri and chaat, albeit with extra meetha chutney. All said and done, food definitely began to seem more appealing.

However, apart from the enthusiastic slurping of rasam, the Tamilian in me hadn't been stirred completely.

In our meals, rice, rasamsambaarkootu (vegetable stew), curd, urrugai (pickle), uppuma and yes, idi and dosai have always been regulars. Moreover, greens were, have and will always be omnipresent in every South-Indian preparation. Keerai (spinach), Pushanikai (Ash gourd), all types of beans, dudhi (bottle gourd), vendekai (ladyfinger),vazhakai (raw bananas), you name it, and it's bound to be there in our cuisine. I had never been too fond of kootu and greens prepared in this style always eluded me. To put it in simple terms, kootu is a dish with minimal spice, predominated by a single vegetable. The taste of kootu is such that if you were to be subjected to it frequently, garam masala cravings would take over your taste buds. I could hardly understand the relish with which my mother ate keerai kootu, and I'm pretty sure her sensitivity towards my disdain was mutual. 

In addition to this, I used to consider rawa uppuma to be the most lacklustre breakfast dish ever (to know that it was THE winning dish in the Masterchef UK finals was disappointing). Idlis weren't exciting, and after a point I lost interest in the good old dosai as well. Pongal was reserved for blocked noses and dormant taste buds. I didn't understand the point of eating food from a banana leaf, whilst managing those rivulets of rasam and sambar that formed along the veins of the leaf. Whatever happened to the good old steel plates?! Plus, eating a combination of cucumber raita mixed with rasam with traces of paysam (kheer) had never been a palatable experience. Consequently, I never looked forward to Tamil weddings. My elitist food habits probably earned me the reputation of being the posh Tamilian in my family. Much to my friends' shock, I felt South-Indian dishes were far from exotic. I was subject to questions such as "Dude how can you get bored of Dhosas?"  *cringe* I had even gone to the extent of eating chana-masala from a fast-food joint  in Chennai.

All this lasted till I was nineteen. This I say, owing to a change in my food habits afterwards. The change wasn't overnight, definitely. It was gradual, and the earliest I realised this was when I ended up eating lunch at five in the evening. Little did I know that lemon rasam could actually quieten my stomach's guttural tones. I couldn't believe that I had actually enjoyed a  humble home-made meal without onions and truckloads of masala. But then again, hunger is blind. I presumed this to be an once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence, only to be proved wrong again a week later, when a whiff of bhindi-do-pyaaza (one of my favourites) put me off instead of having me salivate. I was feeling ravenous after a day's worth of hard work, but the only thing I could visualize was a crispy cheese dosa, sitting regally on a steel plate, surrounded by a bowl of sambar traced with jaggery, and coconut chutney so smooth that even the world's best bhindi-do-pyaaza wouldn't do justice to it. I was probably being unfair to bhindi, but at the point I couldn't care much about it.

There were, of course, many such episodes of sambar/dosa/vada cravings that followed, some of them being fueled by chance encounters with South-Indian cooking shows on the TV.  I partly owe it to them chefs for their minimalist choice of words to describe the process, in their Tamil-tinged accents. "Ippo namba molgai podi podlaam, slight-a, summa konjum colour kahai" - "Now we shall add some chilli powder, slightly, just to obtain some colour."

However, I achieved a milestone when I helped myself with 3 servings of beans kootu  and avial at my aunt's place. The impeccable taste and texture of these dishes will be forever etched in my taste-buds. So technically speaking, I owe it to my aunt's magical cooking for helping me discover the delights of our cuisine. Soon after, I began to look forward to Sunday meals, much to my mother's relief. I learnt the art of eating out of a banana leaf, much to everyone's amazement. Curd rice and pickle were reliable on lazy evenings and on bloated stomach days. In a nutshell, the graph of my food tastes began to show a significant rise with time.

I guess I have changed as a person over the past few years..and this is by no means a prelude to a long rant. What I want to say is that, my food tastes have evolved as well, simultaneously.  I do not, by any means, consider myself to be an ardent lover of my regional cuisine. But I need it after a weekend of experimenting with oriental stuff, or on days when the pungent odour of bhuna masala ambushes my nose. Yes, THAT.

A quote from a favourite short-story comes to my mind - "The asparagus appeared. They were enormous, succulent, and appetizing. The smell of the melted butter tickled my nostrils as the nostrils of Jehovah were tickled by the burned offerings of the virtuous Semites" (The Luncheon by Somerset Maughum). Five years ago, the idea of asparagus had seemed totally revolting but now the aforementioned analogy serves as the ideal salivary stimulant. Mmm. Quick, serve me some asparagus.

Thursday, 7 August 2014


What began as an attempt to reorganize my blog, change its look and start afresh with bubbling enthusiasm fizzled out to be a long sabbatical from writing, not to mention a writer's block being the most convenient excuse to spout.

For starters, I deleted the Facebook page that I had created for my blog. Why? Because my neglect towards the poor page began bothering me to such an extent, that I began to feel like a hypocrite who had initially promised to blog regularly with fancies of hitting 500+ likes within weeks. No, that page didn't deserve my neglect, and nor did my blog deserve to anticipate audience.

Moreover, I recently read something in Derek K. Miller's blog (archive), that instantly struck a chord with me. He says, "... I can't not write, but I've never been able to keep a diary, because I've always wanted an audience. I write my blog for myself, of course, and as something for my family and friends, as a record of my thoughts. But deep down, selfishly, I also want an audience of strangers, people who know me because of my writing, and who find some value in what I publish on its own merits, not because they are my friend or my relative."

For the longest time, I had wanted to pen down something along the aforementioned lines, without making myself seem like a pompous idiot, mind you! And I'm grateful to Mr.Miller for making it easier for me.

However, in retrospect the page was a reminder of my overambitious tendencies. Not only this page, but also my Soundcloud and Flickr profiles serve as classic examples of my habit of biting off more than I can chew. Followed by vehement denial on my part to massage my ego, of course. Interspersed with spurts of devotion. I realised this when my blog page popped on my newsfeed after what could have been months, the latest post dated around January.

I'm pretty sure you readers (if at all, there are any), might go all deja-vu on reading the previous paragraph. The same disappointment,  the more-than-frequent lapses, the same rant, all over again. It is but ironical that I'm only answerable to myself at this point, and not a so-called audience. Because,

a) The so-called audience resides in my mind
b) The whole purpose of a hobby is misplaced whilst trying to please this imaginary audience.

I consider myself as another victim of the Jack-of-all-trades disease. I write, I sing, I click pictures. But, can I proudly flaunt any one of those with conviction? Probably not. I sense that my quality has deteriorated in the process of focusing my energies on my unknown spectators. Let me just talk about writing. I realise I have been restricting the content of my blog in order to be appreciated by my friends and other fellow bloggers. Previously, I had to force myself to come up with inspiring posts, when all I wanted was to whine about the weather, or vent out my frustration, or talk about my break-up, or probably just describe a delicious mango. And here comes the weirdest bit - I wasn't obliged to do so actually; the Facebook page just amplified the need to popularise my blog.  Good riddance, I suppose. But I feel sorry that I couldn't stick to it.

What have I been upto over the past three months? Well post an unforgettable whirlwind trip to Paris and Switzerland, I unhappily returned to the oppressive Pune heat only to get neck deep in a college hunting process. June was worrisome considering I had nightmares about not making it to a good institute to pursue a postgraduate degree in Bioinformatics.I had to eliminate some institutes from my list and additionally appear for a couple of examinations. I was subjected a lot of why-don't-you-go-abroad and what-about-that-college conversations, plus feeble don't-worry-it-will-work-out reassurance. I had to run around from one office to another, and likewise make my poor dad run around to procure a Domicile Certificate, an unnecessary document to prove my residence in Maharashtra. My admission in Pune University, depended on that damned piece of paper. After dealing with nerves for what seemed like eternity, I was finally offered admission in the said institute which had always been my first preference. College resumed a fortnight ago, and I have been happy and occupied, ever since. Besides a good campus, crowd and staff, there's a coffee stall next to my department. What more could I ask for...

On the downside, I haven't been writing, playing my guitar, or clicking photographs that often. It bothers me. Classical music has taken a back seat; the playlists on my phone are craving to be updated. The persistent rains have draped a blanket of gloom on the city. Plus, Pune tops the list of India's Worst Public Transport Systems (I just made that up, but you can imagine), and commuting obviously sucks. Moreover, I joined the Teach For India volunteering service, only to withdraw from it because of my (already) hectic academic schedule. Also, saying goodbye to some of my oldest friends who moved out of the city recently, has affected me to an extent.

As of now, my motive is to be consistent in all my endeavours. I don't want to be that person who turns to her blog only when "shit happens".  My blog is indeed a solace during rough phases, but it deserves better. I am also contemplating on deleting my Flickr account and switching to a daily/weekly photoblog. That way I can concentrate on writing and photography, simultaneously.

On a lighter note, I will be turning 21 in two days. I don't feel excited as of now but I hope to, by tomorrow! My resolution for my 22nd year is to hold onto my resolutions, develop a thicker skin, and write more. At this point, I can only wish myself luck.

Thank you Akoustik, for standing by me through thick and thin.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

There is no Secret

I never wanted to believe that book.

First of all, I love the comfort of staying in denial (well, who doesn't?). I applaud myself, as I type this because I swear, I'm not too comfortable with confessions. But then, I'm barely the person I was last year, who preferred basking in illusions. So hey, here's to self-awakening. Cheers.

For long, I have been trying to evade the law of attraction mumbo-jumbo. I must say I still disagree with it sometimes, especially its implausibility in certain scenarios. However, as much as I'd love to deny it vehemently, I think it's pretty fail-proof.

Oh man.

I'm not worried. I'm not. I'm not. I'm not..I'm..

Of course, I was worried. Worried about not getting into a good college. Worried about being subjected to a miserable social life. Worried about being in anyone's bad books. Worried about getting into a bad relationship. Denying simply brought me more grief in the form of anxiety attacks.

And it just attracted more worry. It still does, at times. I ask myself, what comfort did/do I cling to by perpetually floundering in a sea of unease? I suppose the answer lies within me. Oh, I tend to get intense, once in a while.

As I type this, I try to unwind or 'chill' (I loathe that word). But, anxiety is a loyal friend, that strives to stay as long as it can. I have tried or rather, am trying to abandon it with the help of my faithful Fender, or an occasional bottle of Old Monk (though I may add, this is hardly the weather to relish rum).

I think at this point, I'm drifting.

I don't remember what I intended to write in the first place. All I know is, I actually had no intention of finishing this post when I began typing and deleting word after word, two weeks ago. That was when my examinations were successfully on their mission of zapping my enthusiasm. But, strangely enough, I kept convincing myself that I was going to finish typing something that day, maybe spout some deep-seated wisdom that I usually reserve for myself and my moody conscience. Of course, that was a farce. I hope I manage to finish writing something, today.

I told myself I will steer away from romance (the sort that allures a girl on the brink of twenties, portraying itself to be rational) and the ephemeral rosiness it brings along, during my final year of undergraduate studies. I told myself a lot of other things like I'd blog more often. That I'd complete all the unfinished music, that bothers me till date. The fact that I had to constantly make a note of such things, makes me realize that I had always wanted to do the opposite. And that's why I ended up heading towards the opposite.

I entered third year, love struck. I now exit feeling blank.  I blog once in three months. My music lies unfinished in a virtual closet. Because, this is precisely what I wanted. I don't know why. But I think I do.

On the lighter side, the one thing that I did finish is my project. My final semester project was successful, because I wanted it to be so. And that time I didn't need to make notes, and set up reminders.

The book says the same. I don't follow the book. It's bullshit.

But I know I do. Subconsciously.

There's no secret. You get what you think.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Of opinions and Bollywood.

Here's the thing. It has probably been ingrained in every upper -middle-class Indian's head that Bollywood is the epitome of mainstream, and that it's meant to be detested. The invariable conversation starter, and the final resort to save a lifeless not to mention an awkward confabulation - Bollywood. And I'm referring to the new age plethora of forgettable Hindi films.

"Oh she just can't act!"

"Can't stand him. Kaise ban gaya actor?"

"I think that film was a total rip-off."

"The movie had some potential but the story fell flat. Pch."

Though these are a few snatches from a typical house party banter , I think the most pathetic one till date is the last one. It saddens me to hear to constantly hear the word potential tagged to Bollywood movies. On one hand, a banal plot line (or the lack of one, usually) can hardly qualify as potential. On the other, there are those films that just seem to have it all - a good plot, a good cast, good dialogues - technically speaking the film is right there, waiting eagerly to be appreciated, but that annoying yet extremely significant X factor seems to be amiss. That's when 'it is' turns into an 'it-could-have-been'. It is tragic, considering all that potential slowly fades into oblivion, only to be known as crap.

You seldom find a  Bollywood film, that makes you want to sit and ponder long after the film is over. Or one which makes you sigh in the end with the thought that three worthwhile hours of reel have finally come to an end and that it's time to greet the real and cacophony instead of background music. Even if one does come long, it usually gets lost in a sea of mind numbing mediocrity that includes many  Munnis, Sheilas, Dabaangs, Gundaays and the like.

Ah well, I'm done with my preamble. I finally managed to watch a movie that sort of defies the above said things. "Highway" was a breath of fresh air, with the perfect blend of simple yet excellent cinematography, a minimal yet great cast, soulful music and above all moments that were poignant enough to replay constantly in my head long after the film was over. I'm not here, however, to delve into details and provide an in-depth movie review. I think there are way too many of those on the internet. But of course, if you were to sit and analyse the script, there would be flaws, as it seems from the lack of a staunch plot. However, the film itself is along the lines of an introspective journey, which isn't about reaching the final destination. I suppose the whole point was to just enjoy various delightful aspects of the film, rather than being a Freytag stickler for a good story-line.

My sister and I barely spoke on the way back home. It took a while for me to come back to the ennui of a hot February afternoon. Right then, I got a call from a friend, and I'm still figuring as to what exactly got me all choked up on the phone instead of sticking to my customary "What's up?". I guess it was a classic case of post-movie feel. In that case, hats off to Imitiaz Ali, the director of the film.

I'm glad that there are such Bollywood films to look forward to, bordering along parallel cinema. There is going to be an eternal bunch of ravenous critics of course, waiting eagerly to pounce on every blip and glitch in a film, and probably write it off entirely with the paradigmatic use of "the plot falls flat" phrase. Well, each to his own.

If you happen to be one of them, do take this one lightly. "Highway" has made use of all that potential, collecting dust under the red carpet.



Saturday, 15 February 2014

Pictures in my mind

There are times when I open my blog feeling inspired, but then end up staring blankly at this box because inspiration seems to have disappeared in the blink of an eye, or isn't there to begin with because it probably must have been something I imagined.

Frankly, I'm not inspired to write today. I am writing because I feel like I should, and I am hoping I will get some inspiration along the way.

The year has begun on a tedious note, with academics and more academics, and one messed up entrance examination for a Masters degree in IIT (something which I had been looking forward to since the past six months). I know I'm beating myself over it;  I feel regretful and disappointed. I should have worked harder. I should have done this. I should have done that.
And these thoughts run a vicious cycle.

Sometimes, I wonder what is it that attracts to me to this institute. Is it the prestige? Its grand campus? Or the course structure? The crowd? I can picture myself studying there, but does the picture truly hold any meaning? Is it another chunk of my whims and fancies? I would like to say I don't know because it's convenient, but I do know. Let that be a secret.

Three months ago, I indulged in a counselling session with Mum. Yes, she was the counselor, and a good one that too. For those two hours, it wasn't my mother who addressed me. It was a counselor who had a third person perspective regarding my career and interests. We spoke about what worried me the most. I remember talking about dropping Biotechnology as a career option, and instead opt for a media-related field, something along the lines of photojournalism. And then began the tumult of questions.

"Why are you confused?"

"What appeals to you more?"

"What made you think about this?"

"Have you jotted down the pros and cons of both options?"

"How do you picture yourself in each field?

"Do you see yourself enjoying the field you've chosen?"

The first three questions seemed pretty straightforward, but the latter got me thinking. Imagining. Picturing. Maybe, the picture I had in my head wasn't going to be the real thing. I mean, it felt great (it still does) to see myself as a photographer, waltzing with a camera in hand and clicking pictures on-the-go . The flip side being monotony, extensive travelling, low stipends, and lack of creativity on a daily basis, was hard to picture. Not to mention, unpleasant to analyse. And yet the real thing is a mix of both. I just liked the former.

I had a stereotyped image of a career in biotechnology. I think I still do. I'm not too fond of wet labs, and research is something that doesn't appeal to me. On the other hand,  I haven't explored the field, and sticking to the stereotype seems to be a more convenient option.

I find myself asking the same question each day. What is it that I really want? Am I scared of flip sides and cons? Do I expect too much out of everything and everyone? Or do I just prefer seeing those pictures that I want to see?

One reads stories, hears rumors, swallows what the Internet has to say,  absorbs opinions flying around, or probably gets influenced by others, that invariably creates a slideshow of scenes in one's head. What are these scenes? Do they reflect the actual circumstance? Probably not.

Then again imagination always runs wild. It maybe positive. It could be negative. Rationality is something else altogether. And where imagination is, illusion exists. Illusions are unidirectional. Almost dreams.

"All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” 
- Edgar Allan Poe