Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Cavalier Cook - Numero Dos

2009 is ending. Officially. And so is this marathon. I will post one last recipe tomorrow however. Provided it turns out the way I think it should! To put it midly, I am taking what in polite company may be called, a risk.

Let me not prolong this year waxing eloquent a few thousand words more; I am now going to get straight to the point.

One word. Chocolate. Enough said

Orange truffles and what else does a meal need now?

This recipe and most of its execution are courtesy my wonderful friend Mridula who wields her tools with the precision of the scientist that she is. And a very good one on both counts. Be warned, what comes ahead is not for the faint-hearted. We will throw chocolate, butter, cream and caution to the wind. Recipes like these bring back fond memories of Pune's Vohuman Cafe. The perpetually curmudgeonly owner used to sit at the entrance, Zarathustra above, cash register below and to the left, a big, overflowing pot of yellow butter. The cheese omelettes oozed with well, cheese and butter; the sandwiches likewise. Long bike rides later, my friends and I would troop into the cafe in the wee hours, nearly always hung over and starving to boot. Butter always did the trick.

For Vohuman's fare, you will need:
(a) One Enfield
(b) A copy of "Riding bikes for dummies"
(c) Vodka
(d) One mountain
(e) One city from the 1990s
(f) A strong constitution

For 30 truffles you will need:
(a) 1/2 a cup bitter-sweet chocolate
(b) 1/2 a cup semi-sweet chocolate
According to Mridula, the better the chocolate, the better your results; Ghirardelli trumps Nestle and everything else more expensive than get the drift
(c) 2 tablespoons butter
(d) 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
(e) 1 tablespoon orange zest
(f) 2 tablespoons of your liqueur of choice; we used Grand Marnier
(g) Candied orange peel; you should find these at most specialty grocers -- if not, feel free to use any candied fruit or not. This really doesn't make much difference to the taste which comes from orange zest

* Heat chocolate in a double boiler

* Simultaneously, start warming the cream. When it's warm, add butter and mix thoroughly
* Stir the chocolate till it forms a smooth paste

* Add orange zest to the cream
* Mix all these together
* Cool for a few hours and refrigerate for about 5-6 hours
* Form truffles in shapes of your choice; incorporate pieces of the candied peel. Forming these tiny sinful delights can be a tricky process and might necessitate to and fros from the refrigerator.
* Keep the truffles refrigerated
* Swallow whole and no, you aren't dreaming. They really are that good.

Thinking about: A year gone by; but of course. And time or the experience of it. I am reading up on time for a dissertation chapter and there is some wonderful academic writing on temporality or how is it that people inhabit, live and understand time. So today, I give you something that I think says so much about time.

And the days are not full enough

And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass

Ezra Pound

Listening to: The Decemberists

Have a wonderful new year everybody and I will see you all in 2010!!!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Cavalier Cook - Numero Tres

The marathon is officially done with tomorrow. But the cavalier cook will only be on day Numero Dos, because the new year is officially Numero Uno! Tomorrow, we will start the run up to 2010, but tonight, much like the rabbit or wait, much like Alice, we are LATE! More on the day later, but let's get to today's fare, shall we?

Paneer Chilli Stir Fry Wrap and a little cherry topped sweet nothing

My friend Mridula and I returned from an afternoon of shopping at Costco (more on that cultural experience some other inebriated time!). We needed something quick and preferably something Amuse-Bouche-like; and yes, I watch Top Chef too:). In twenty minutes, we were stuffing ourselves silly.

I mostly stuck to Nupur's wonderful step-by-step recipe, with one important difference; the paneer. Now paneer or cottage cheese is something you have to make your own. Some like it fried, others sauteed, others raw and untouched. My favourite paneer is again, another variation on a recipe I learnt from my dear friend Ruchira. I get to visit her once a year and she always dishes up the usual suspect stir fried with Maggi hot and sweet tomato chilli sauce and green bell peppers or capsicum, and yes, it's different.

So for this recipe you will need:
(a) 1 Green bell pepper, roughly chopped
(b) 1 Red bell pepper, roughly chopped
(c) 3 large black cardamoms
(d) 200 gms paneer chopped into 1/2 inch square bits
(e) Cashew tamari salad dressing
(f) Soy sauce
(g) Hot sauce/ Chilli sauce
(h) 2 tablespoons olive oil
(i) Rotis or tortillas (I use Margarita's Raw White, but any will work fine as long as they are light and airy)
(j) 2 carrots, grated
(k) Lemon juice
(l) Salt to taste

* Heat oil and add the cardamoms; fry for 2-3 minutes
* Add chopped bell peppers and saute for 10-12 minutes until they begin to grow soft
* Add paneer
* Add the cashew tamari dressing, soy sauce and hot sauce (liberally)
* Cook this on a medium to high flame for 6-8 minutes; you don't need to add salt

* Heat the tortilla and then assemble
* Add carrots and paneer to one half and then roll tightly into a wrap
* We had these with tamarind-date and coriander chutney

To wash it down, I stirred one part sour cherry syrup to eight parts sparkling water with a sprig of mint. Sweet cherry nothings that I learnt to make from friends in Turkey.

Today, I have no thought to share. I am thankfully blank :). On the last day of 2009, I imagine that this is fitting:). Quick tip of hat to all the bloggers who have been unflagging. I wonder how those of you who maintain regular food blogs do this! I mean, really. While I have enjoyed stepping back to photograph my food before eating it, paying attention to its presentation as much as to the process of cooking it and planning long and hard for things to whip out the day after; I am now officially huffing and puffing!!!

Really, you guys are quite spectacular. And yes, I know I am on the list, and no, I wasn't including myself and no, this is not a devious self-congratulatory ploy.

Off to my other errands now and I have many parties to plan for over the next few days. Hope you are all ending 2009 well; here's something to help you along:

Also listening to: Sarah Vaughn

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Cavalier Cook - Numero Cuatro

This morning, I could barely be coaxed to emerge from my warm blanket. And when I did, I was ravenous. Given that breakfast is the one meal I hardly ever miss, I set forth grabbing things from my refrigerator to put together what turned out to be filling, tasty and pretty. I give you:

The Breakfast of Titans or An omelette and a smoothie

I converted to eggs rather late in life. When I did, I set about perfecting the art of omelette-making. I like mine well-done and they generally end up rather browned on one side. They remind me of all the omelette sandwiches made by pushcart vendors in Bombay and Pune. These are also standard breakfasts when I have people over and we wake up langurous and holiday-like. I serve these to early morning drop-ins and brunch visitors alike. They make me feel, both physically and mentally wholesome. Today's creation I call the "Everything and your kitchen sink" omelette.

To make one omelette, you will need:
(a) 2 eggs; I use large brown ones
(b) 1/4 cup spinach leaves
(c) 1/4 cup shredded carrot
(d) Mint leaves
(e) Red chilli flakes/ Finely chopped green chillies
(f) 1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
(g) 2 tablespoons of grated parmesan
(h) 2 tablespoons olive oil

Making an omelette in theory is rather easy. When I began to make these, I would rarely ever end up with an un-tattered creation. Increasingly though, I can make these left-handed (and no, in case you haven't guessed, I am not left handed)

*The trick is to add oil, swirl it around the pan to coat it thoroughly and then get it really hot
* Lower the flame, add chilli and garlic and make sure they don't burn
* Beat eggs thoroughly with salt and pepper and add to the pan. I beat these at least ten minutes before I begin the process. The longer you beat the eggs, the fluffier the omelette will be
* Swirl pan again and let the loose liquid float around and set
* Cover the pan and cook on medium flame for 10 minutes
* When the omelette begins to rise, add carrots, spinach, parmesan and mint leaves to one half

* Slowly prise the other half up and cover to form a half moon
* Let this cook for a few minutes before you tuck in

The crunchy carrots and fresh spinach were absolutely perfect. Mint added a little zing and I sliced up some cinnamon raisin bread to go with it. At the end of it all, I was one happy stomach.

And in case you are wondering if I could take any more after this, I topped it off with a fruit smoothie.

For this blend together:
(a) Frozen peaches
(b) Frozen cranberries
(c) Fresh blueberries
(d) 2 cups of yogurt
(e) 1 cup of pomegranate juice
(f) 2 spoons of honey

A rather humble meal but one that will serve you well for the rest of the day. Do go look at what everyone else is upto; Nupur, our host has a daily summary here.

Listening to: Edith Piaf

Thinking about:
I am running short of time today, but have something rather trivial to share. Last night, driving back from a friend's, I almost got a ticket for speeding but was let off with a warning (before you let loose a raised eyebrow, I was doing 28 in a 15 zone and it was midnight and the road was empty!). But my encounter reminded me of various other encounters with the bureaucracy and the state; here and in India.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Cavalier Cook - Numero Cinco

In honour of having completed a chapter, I temporarily hung up my boots and set out clothes shopping. A morning and some later, I'm poorer by a few dozen dollars and richer by 1 lipstick, 1 t-shirt, 2 lotions and the same pair of shoes that I set out to exchange (don't ask). In the meantime, the busy bloggers have been making hay; for an update go here.

This evening, I have dance lessons and will then head out to dinner at a friend's. We are going potlucky, so for today's recipe, I need (a) quantity, (b) quality and (c) colour. See if this fits the bill?

Rice Tricolor and Pachai/ Raw Morekozhambu

Rice tricolor is a misnomer; yes I lied. I am merely going to list ways of presenting a large quantity of cooked rice in differently spiced assemblages. All these require the same set of spices, so with minimal effort, one can gain maximum credit. And not all of it undeserved either. These rice dishes used to be a once-a-week indulgence for my family. I grew up associating these with large lunches and long siestas. Also gaggling cousins and snoring grandfathers. Ah well,why malign just the men; snoring grandmothers too.

For eight larger servings, you will need:

(a) Four cups of rice

Cook with a little less than twice the proportion of water and make sure the grains are all well-separated, Basmati works best. This should yield eight servings/ cups. Once the rice is cooked, leave it out to cool thoroughly.

Assemble these before you begin spicing:
(a) Chana dal or Bengal gram dal
(b) Skinned white urad dal
(c) Rye/ Mustard seeds and Jeera/ Cumin seeds
(d) Red chillies
(e) Green chillies
(f) Hing/ Asafoetida (optional)
(g) Turmeric
(h) Curry leaves
(i) Vegetable/ Canola/ Groundnut oil

Rice Coloured Once: Lemon Rice

Blink and miss has beaten me to the post on this one, but "Rice duotone" just seemed wrong. So here's more or less the same recipe. One can never have too much south Indianness anyway.

For this, you will also need
(a) Peanuts
(b) Juice from three medium-sized lemons

* Heat oil in a deep wok
* Add a pinch of hing, lots of mustard and cumin seeds, turmeric and 2 red chillies
* Let this fry for a few minutes
* Add chana dal, urad dal and curry leaves
* Fry for 3-4 minutes until the lentils begin to brown
* Add 3 cups of cooked rice and add salt to taste
* Mix thoroughly and let this cook on medium heat for 5 minutes
* At this point you should be able to see the various lentils and spices peeking out at you like so many chocolate chips in a generously chocolated cookie
* Lower the flame to minimum heat, add lemon juice and mix thoroughly
* Fry peanuts separately and add to the rice

Rice coloured twice: Coconut rice

For this, you will also need:

(a) Cashewnuts
(b) 2 cups of freshly grated coconut

* Yawn yawn, by now you should have caught on
* Heat oil, add rye, 1 red chilli and a pinch of hing
* Add chana dal and urad dal and wait till then brown
* Add two finely chopped chillies and curry leaves
* Finally add the grated coconut (Fresh works best; go ahead and use frozen ones if fresh coconuts are not easily available). Fry for a few minutes until the coconut begins to brown and lose its raw smell
* Add salt and 3 cups of rice
* Mix thoroughly and lower flame
* I like to add a pinch of sugar right at the end; two years of living in Gujarat have left an indelible mark on me and I love the combination of slightly salty, sweet flavours.
* Add fried cashewnuts before serving

And sold: To the rice in the Sandman's garb!
Yogurt rice/ Curd rice/ Thayir Saadam

Where would I be without my thayir saadam? This used to my thachi mumum or in other word, rice that make you sleep. And oh yes, this will knock you out.

For this, you will additionally need:
(a)Ginger, peeled and chopped fine
(b) Coriander leaves
(c) Cucumber, peeled and chopped fine if you feel so inclined
(d) 1 cup - Whole milk
(e) Ghee/ Butter/ Clarified butter (do not skip this!)
(f) 3 cups of yogurt

* In a large bowl, beat together yogurt and milk with salt
* In a shallow frying pan, heat ghee. Add rye, lots of ginger, 2 green chillies, chana dal and urad dal and let this fry for a few minutes
* Add curry leaves and fry for a minute
* Add this mixture to the yogurt
* Into this, add 2 cups of rice and mix thoroughly
* Set this to chill in the refrigerator for 15 minute before serving

Accompanying, the trio, we have:
Pachai Morekozhambu

This is a watery yogurt spiced with the usual suspects. For this, you will additionally need:

(a) Whole coriander seed
(b) Chopped okra, squash or pumpkin.

* Lightly fry coriander seeds, chana dal and 3 dry red chillies
* Let this cool down and then blend into a viscous mixture with a little water
* In a seperate pan, heat oil and add rye and urad dal. Add chopped okra, squash or pumpkin and fry for a few minutes
* Add all of these to 2 cups of beaten yogurt
* Add salt to taste
* I added fresh minced coriander too, but this is optional for those not seeking to OD on the coriander family

And as Quick Gun Murugan might emote, Ensoy!

I am off to siesta and then a night of tango. Therefore, today;
I listen to: Astro Piazzola.

Such divine music!

Thinking about: Telangana and the myth of the nation-state form

From Benedict Anderson's "Imagined Communities", an excerpt:

My point of departure is that nationality, or, as one might prefer to put it in view of that word's multiple significations, nation-ness, as well as nationalism, are cultural artefacts of a particular kind, To understand them properly we need to consider carefully how they have come into historical being, in what ways their meanings have changed over time, and why, today, they command such profound emotional legitimacy.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Cavalier Cook: Numero Seis

One chapter down, many more to go! My fellow cooks are rocking the marathon trail. Nupur, our diligent host has summaries here and here.

I, on the contrary have been lazy today and the only tastes I have in my mouth right now are that of endless cups of coffee, downed as I gaped at my computer screen. Now I see the world in letters. That’s right; one “c-a-r” that I must “d-r-i-v-e” as I go buy “c-u-r-d”; oh wait sorry, “y-o-g-u-r-t” for “t-o-n-i-g-h-t”. (Incidentally, the letters I actually see are “p-a-n-o-p-t-i-c-o-n”, “h-e-g-e-m-o-n-y” and “p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-t-i-v-e”, but after I tried and tried hard to string them together, I ended up wanting my “m-u-m-m-y”).

So my lovely ardent, arduous marathoners, in anticipation of the next week where I will dunk your collective gastronomies in heavier fare, I give you….

Coucous with cauliflower peas curry and onion raita

For the couscous, to serve two, you will need

(a) Couscous (Uh Duh): I use this one. And no, don’t buy all four packs. Resist capitalism. Buy 1 pack. Be capitalist, socialist, humanist and carnivore in equal measure. Okay yes, I have lost it.
(b) Assorted fresh herbs: I used rosemary and sage.

*This one’s as easy as Sarah Palin’s understanding of the word “recuse”. (Once you know it, you will do it again and again and lord almighty, again)
* Alright alright, here it is
* Boil two cups of water with a drop of olive oil and salt
* Take off flame or out of microwave and add couscous about 1/8th of an inch below the water level. For this step, I would suggest vernier calipers.
* Add a sprinkling of chopped herbs
* Cover and leave for six to seven minutes
* Uncover and fluff with a fork

I have discovered couscous to be much quicker fare than white rice, which I do not like to eat too often anyway. Brown rice is wonderful but takes as long. And forbidden rice is lovely but takes too long, and wait, isn’t it, sort of, you know, like, forbidden?

And no, that’s not it for today.

The cauliflower peas curry recipe was generously shared with me by the wonderfully adept and superbly talented Miya. To serve the progeny of the army mentioned in Day 2’s recipe, you will need:

(a) 1 medium-sized cauliflower head
(b) 2 cups of peas/ I used frozen ones, thawed and microwaved for 7 minutes
(c) Jeera or cumin seeds
(d) Red chilli powder/ Paprika
(e) 3 tablespoons garam masala
(f) Oil and salt to taste
(g) 3-4 tablespoons of yogurt
(h) Endless patience
(i) A non-stick frying pan

* Heat oil and add cumin seeds
*When they brown, add finely chopped cauliflower florets
*Saute for around ten minutes on low flame until the florets begin to turn brown
*Drain green peas and add to this mixture

* Add garam masala, chilli powder and salt to taste and mix thoroughly
* Cover partially with lid and let this stay on medium flame for ten to fifteen minutes until the cauliflower begins to be thoroughly cooked (Yah yah, bite into one and see; my mother wouldn’t approve but she isn’t here right now, so it’s all good)
* Add yogurt and mix
* Let this cook on low flame until the curry achieves your desired consistency; I like mine dry

And lastly, the easiest one of the lot; raita.

For this, to feed you for the rest of the week, you will need

(a) 3 cups of yogurt
(b) Mint leaves
(c) 1/4 of a red onion

*Chop onion finely. When I say finely, I mean within 1/8th of an inch of your epidermis. For this you will need a screw gauge and a sharp knife
* Chop mint; roughly this time. Just so you have a break
* Beat yogurt with salt and a few spoons of water to desired consistency; I like mine viscous. Your options are watery like the buttermilk they served in my undergrad dorm, or gravity defying thickness like the pile of books on my table.
* Mix all these in a bowl. You could also add a little chilli powder and/or freshly ground cumin powder.

Listening to: Balkan Beat Box

Reading: Bidoun magazine

An excerpt from Achal Prabhala's "Thirty One Flavors of Death" in Issue 15:

Zibahkhana is a supremely satisfying romp. The Burqaman-definitely the world’s first burqa-clad serial killer-is an instant icon. Omar admits that the idea derived from a childhood fear of the burqa, “a fantastically gothic and dramatic outfit that manages to strip all expression, emotion, and warmth from a human face.” He is both perplexed and delighted that it didn’t cause more controversy.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Cavalier Cook - Numero Siete

Another day, and we are inching ladle by ladle to the finish line. I have vowed to finish a chapter by Sunday night so in steeling myself for an invariable all-nighter, I decided to stock my tummy with good old pulao and dal. So my fellow comfort food veggie afficianados, I give you...

Carrot Spinach Pulao/Pilaf and Dal Makhani

The pulao is a dish inspired by my friend Madhu's carrot methi pulao. I merely replaced the methi or fenugreek. My guess is that most greens will work fine, so feel free to use your creative vegetarianism.

For the pulao, to serve three, you will need:

(a) Two cups of basmati rice, washed and soaked for fifteen minutes
(b) Bay leaves
(c) Cinnamon sticks
(d) Half an onion chopped fine
(e) Jeera/Cumin
(f) Fennel seeds/ Saunf
(g) 2 green chillies, chopped fine
(h) Four or five carrots, peeled and grated
(i) I cup baby spinach leaves, 1 cup washed and chopped
(j) Olive oil
(k) Ginger garlic paste/ Fresh ginger and garlic finely minced

* Heat oil, add cumin, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks and let them fry for a minute or so
* Add green chillies, ginger, garlic and onions
* Fry until the onions begin to turn transparent
* Add carrot, fennel seeds and spinach
* Let this cook on medium heat for 10 minutes
* Now add the rice and mix thoroughly for a minute
* Add a little less then four cups of water; add salt generously
* Cover with lid, leaving a small gap for the steam
* Let this cook for around 20 minutes or until you begin to see craters in the rice
* Turn off the flame at this point and let it set for the next 20 minutes

Dal Makhani or Buttery lentils

The other day, my friend N commented on how he had tried to make this, but had skipped butter and it had turned out, well, to put it mildly, different. Therein lies a lesson. Don't skip the butter. Else you will end up with a Starbucks chai tea; in other words, tea tea without the tea. This recipe I have adapted from Nupur's delicious one, merely modifying a few things to suit my couch loving, butter fortified behind. She has some pictures if you need help groping around the lentil farm. And if you do need such help, what you will do around a place like this I wonder

For the dal, to serve a minor army of a medium sized princely state, you will need:

(a)2 cups whole black urad dal, soaked overnight
(b)3 cups rajma soaked over an evening and a night
(c)Ginger garlic paste/ Fresh or store bought
(d)Three green chillies
(e)1 large red onion
(f)5 medium sized tomatoes, pureed
(g)Oil/ Butter (pick your poison, I will allow you to skip the butter here)
(h)Cumin/ Jeera
(i) (1) Garam masala OR (2) Red chilli powder, freshly ground coriander seeds, freshly ground cumin powder, cinnamon powder, freshly ground pepper
(j) Red chilli powder/ Paprika
(k) Salt to taste
(l)1 stick/ 5 tablespoons of salted butter (Yes I know and no, you can't)

* Wash and pressure cook the life out of the lentils until they are soft and pliant as a soggy chocolate truffle. Sometimes I add other regular dals that one doesn't need to soak, just for fun. To ensure the aeration possibilities;)
* Blend together chopped onion, chillies and ginger garlic into a moderately thick paste
* Heat oil, add jeera and wait? wait? wait?
* Okay, now that the jeera is popping, add the onion paste and fry for 2 or 3 minutes until it begins to smell cooked or rather un-raw. The raw and the cooked, from the boors to the civilized...and one still has to wash off the smell of cooking and brush teeth. God, civilization extracts a price!
* Add tomato puree and let it cook for a few more minutes
* Add red chilli powder, salt and garam masala. Instead of garam masala, you could add the other set of spices mentioned. The latter are a pain but if you experiment, you might come up with unique interesting variations depending on your spice of note.
* Let this cook for a few minutes until it begins to bubble
* Now dunk the lentils in
* Cover and forget. Well, not quite. Let this cook for twenty minutes
* Slice butter and add
* Cook for another ten minutes
* If you are not from Turkey, top it off with coriander. Else try parsley;).

M and I went for a walk around the lake after stuffing ourselves silly. And now we are hungry again.

Today I listen to: M.I.A

Thinking about: Sherlock Holmes
I saw the movie last night and much as I love Guy Ritchie's work and Sherlock Holmes, even more so, it was alright. It seems like a pastiche of various episodes from the books, coupled with some great editing and an inkling of insight about the drug-addled, culturally specific, notably eccentric character that Sherlock Holmes was. Super thin plot though.

Net net, I want my classics back. Now. Including the wonderful music that was part of the televised series. And I love Jeremy Brett.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Cavalier Cook - Numero Ocho

Fire the guns! We are off.

In the words of my friend Y, who is, in Madras lingo, quite a Peter, or perhaps even a Pierre ;), Joyeux Noel!

It's a chilly yet beautifully sunny day in Austin. The semester has ended which means that on most mornings, I work from home. An essential part of morning activities involves cooking lunch. Today, I was in the mood for pasta. My cousin A gets all credit for introducing me to the art of pasta and vegetables sans sauce. It's much lighter on the palate and easier on kitchen time. That he also taught me how to swear in two languages is a tale I will reserve for other marathons. Without further ado, I give you...

Pasta with Roasted Vegetables and Feta

You will need:

(a) Spaghetti works best; you could use Orecchiette, Fettuccine or even Elbows
(b) 1/2 a teaspoon of butter
(c) Balsamic vinegar

(a) 1 Zucchini, Red and Green Bell peppers: 1 each, 1 large red onion, 2 carrots, 6 or 7 portobello mushrooms. (You could also add halved cherry tomatoes
(b) 2 tablespoons of Olive oil
(c) Salt and pepper
(d) Herbs (Fresh or dried): Basil, Sage, Rosemary
(e) 3 Garlic cloves, peeled

(a) I used Bulgarian sheep's milk feta

* Boil water and wait till it comes to a rolling boil. Add salt and pasta and cook for about 10 to 12 minutes until al dente. And no, that doesn't mean that you cook until the pasta is no longer hard enough to break your teeth. Bite into one; if it feels just a little bit uncooked, then you are done. And no, don't wait until it comes to the consistency of yogurt rice.

* Slice onions and bell peppers lengthwise. Round slices work for the mushrooms, carrots and zucchini.
* Sprinkle large amounts of pepper and a little salt
* Add olive oil and toss
* Add herbs
* Assemble this mixture in a baking dish or if you don't have one, a foil basket. Wrap each garlic clove in foil and add to the vegetables. Broil in the top shelf of your oven for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven when the vegetables are slightly browned; my cue is when my fire alarm goes off but I wouldn't recommend that as a reliable signal.

* Unwrap garlic cloves and either chop and add to the vegetables or store for future use
* Heat butter in a non-stick pan and toss pasta and vegetables for a few minutes
* Drain feta of brine and add generously to pasta and vegetables
* Add a dash of balsamic vinegar

Lunch al dente! I had mine with a glass of pomegranate-cranberry juice.

I assembled a lighter lunch for a friend who didn't feel like pasta. Coucous, vegetables, mushrooms sauteed in butter and chilli flakes, and feta.

Listening to: Los Fabuolosos Cadillacs

Reading: Samedi the Deafness
An excerpt:
You live your life, you try to live compassionately, and that's the end of it. You do a little more than you should have to in order to be a good person. but you don't go making big changes in the world, trying to fix things. It presumes too much to do so. There's only this: if everyone acts quietly, compassionately, things will go a little better than they would have otherwise. But people will still suffer.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Cavalier Cook - Numero Nueve

And now for something completely different! In a gesture completely uncharacteristic of my blogging habits thus far, I have foolhardily signed away my reputation and sensibility to Nupur's year-end cooking marathon. I have been following her blog for a few years now and have much to be grateful for; both to her considerably culinary talents and to those of the people she follows. Nupur and I knew each other many years ago, for a little blip of time at the end of our high-school years in Pune. Many years later, I chanced upon her blog and put two and twenty together and have been since then, a devoted trawler. Enough said!

Ground rules:
This series of posts is exactly what it claims to be; cavalier. My cooking is like my dissertation; sometimes fiery, at other times just not there. Sometimes I think I'm fabulous although all audience will claim to the contrary and at others, what I think mundane turns out to be marginally soul searing (perhaps I exagerrate). In the hope that some meaning will emerge, I am setting myself ground rules.

(a) Full meals only: Every day, I will post a series of things. Not one, not two, but enough to make my civilizing ancestors proud.
(b) I will recommend music one must hear while either cooking/ eating aforementioned cuisine. Look for it on your right under "Today I listen to".
(c) Each post will end with something to read, watch or merely gaze at. Yes I know, it's all quite shi shi foo foo. All hail the bourgeoisie!

So as a warm-up for today, I am going to post the easiest recipe ever.

Coffee and a Sandwich

A sandwich is the first thing I ever learnt how to make. School (as is the wont of most fascist educational systems) ran really early in the morning. By early, I mean 9 am and for those who know my nocturnality, you will know that 9 to me is pre-dawn and just about heralds the end of REM sleep. So most mornings, my mother would deal with my socks and attempt to peel my peepers open, while my father fed me a sandwich. This is the sandwich. This post is for my parents: my mother who told me many years ago that there was no need to learn how to cook so early in life, I'd have to do it often enough anyway and my father, who precision cuts vegetables and everything else to the nth of an inch.

You will need:
(a) Sliced bread: I use nine-grain. Purists will swear by the merits of good old white.
(b) Salted spreadable butter
(c) Firm red tomatoes
(d) Salt and pepper
(e) Basil (Optional)

* Toast bread. I like to keep the edges; if you do cut them, leave them out for the birds
* Cut thin tomato slices
* Lay them two to each bread slice
* Sprinkle large amounts of pepper and a little salt (especially since the butter is salted)
* Add a few leaves of fresh basil if you want
* Put the sandwich together, press with palms down and slice diagonally

I have converted to black coffee ever since grad school. Now I'm a bit of a coffee snob. I like mine black and highly recommend stovetop esperesso makers.

And don't snigger/ cock and snook and/or be smug. Things will get tougher tomorrow onwards!

Listening to: Lila Downs

Reading: Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World.
An excerpt:
To understand who Shakespeare was, it is important to follow the verbal traces he left behind back into the life he lives and into the world to which he was so open. And to understand how Shakespeare used his imagination to transform his life into his art, it is important to use our own imagination.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Art of the Object: A mini essay on fetishism, loss and longing

I lose lip balms. Beeswax and rose essence and mint and vanilla. Cocoa butter, sunscreen, raspberry and lime. Those tiny objects of bright colours and wide-eyed shine, those little tubes and tubs of winter cheer and summer solace; I lose them. One by one they nest in the corners of my purse, my backpack, my tote and my clutch. Some I buy because they are pretty, others because my lips are chapped. Slowly, they slip out into the world. All because I change bags I imagine.

My bags. They lie clustered around the house. The big red one from New Jersey. The mirrored maroon cloth bag from Cauvery in Bangalore. The tiny clutch from Bombay. The even tinier one from Poona. They are in my photographs and my people and my memories. X helped buy the big red one. S was around complaining while the tiny clutch was bought. V and I negotiated and held hush hush talks over the naivete of bargaining over the beautiful patchwork bag I bought in Bombay. If they could speak. The red bag has held food and scarves and pens and books and every now and then, the entire contents of my travelling wardrobe. It has most always stayed stuck to my hip and has probably given me an imperceptible limp by now. The tote silently attended conferences and drunken post-conference parties and disapproved of lecherous men and women who are intellectual by day and silly by night . The backpack was frisked and x-rayed and silently allowed to pass through many an airport and mall (yes they frisk bags at malls in India now).

There is always a book in my bag. Sometimes a moleskine, at others a humble loose-leaf pad. The red one (yes, red is wonderful) was a gift from A who now teaches in Thailand. Some loose-leaf pads I have pilfered from conferences and classrooms. My two dog-eared hardbacked notebooks were bought in India when I began fieldwork. They carry long forgotten passwords to accounts that have expired an even longer time ago. And endless phone numbers of never accessed contacts. Also lists, timelines and journal entries. Also changing handwriting samples. The polka dotted spiral bounded notebook is relatively new and far more self-conscious. It reads better than the rest.

Sometimes, my books have a pen tucked in. But only sometimes. Countless burnt orange ones I sneaked away at the health centre. The thick felt-tipped marker I lose all the time. The two pens that my parents' friends gifted me when I was home this summer (Something so incredibly touching when people who knew you as a squealing two year old give you adult gifts; things that recognize who you have become and treasure it). The fat brown artisanal one that K brought me back from Delhi. The many uncapped ones that lie waiting in my black wine glass to be picked up as I rush out in the morning coat tassels flying harum scarum.

My pens make lists, Of things I do in the world. Of errands I need to run. Of bills I need to pay. Of letters I need to write. Of objects I need to obtain.
(a) Shoes
(b) Scarf
(c) Earrings
(d) Bookstand
(e) Coffee table
(f) CDs
(g) Gifts

Sometimes I am given gifts. A watch, a stole, an armlet, a locket, a photograph, peacock feather earrings.

Objects. Attachments. Fetishes.
And yet...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Some day, many days from now, this day will have been forgotten. Its doubts, its faint pleas, its lily-livered will to survive, will have been defeated by other pleasures, other desires, other conquests. Such is the nature of memory. But I want to remember. I want to remember that on this day, I carefully reasoned and pleaded the case of this life against all other possible futures. Even in the face of things I could not have predicted and hands I could not have seen, I carefully measured and held together the vitality of this life. In all its possible futures. And I want to remember.

Monday, December 07, 2009


It's our age. We think we know that the miracle is a lie and we always look for a hidden or suppressed explanation. We would rather have greed and lust as motive than love. We are reassured by slyly mocking references to our squalor, our smells and our expulsions, than our trembling modesty, or to our quivering desire for affection. We are not even allowed souls any more, and our secret inner spaces are merely sites of unresolved turmoil, raw with throbbing wounds.

-- Desertion; Abdulrazak Gurnah

Monday, November 23, 2009

On this bright Austin afternoon, I have endless deadlines and overwhelming work. The right thing to do would to be to get to them. But frankly, I would rather not. Instead, I give you my two critical engagements of the week.

Such a beautiful movie. Cinematographically and in terms of narrative, one of the gentlest films I have seen in recent times. This despite the harsh, barren Armenian landscape it chronicles. Prose will only take away; go see it.

Jhumpa Lahiri's work is so interesting despite being fairly unilinear in tone, mood and intent. At the heart of it is an almost unshakeable commitment to structure (reminds me faintly of Murakami). Her characters are so intent on being complicated. And yet, they are so quiet. Not quiet in an eerie, suburban America, "Im going to slash somebody" way, but just quiet within the norms of daily life. Even their passion is quiet. It feels like Lahiri is always going to figure things out for them, which is why I am rarely excited by their turmoil. If anything, they all make me faintly depressed. The depression is soothing however. A certain kind of reassuring melancholia.

Read/ See/ Feel anything interesting lately?

Friday, November 13, 2009

An Ode to Melancholia

How do I kill this strange thought?
It took root some time ago and will not die. But it does not live either.
The thing it thinks about has long been dead.
All that it left behind was this thought, its ghost, a specter.
Now the thought is the thing. Or so it thinks.
And it remakes the thing everyday.
Until the thing as it was is now the thing that the thought thinks.

Friday, November 06, 2009

A Breakthrough

It happens. It does. Sometimes you stare long enough at something and something else begins to emerge. And no, it is not holistic, or contextual, or big picture, or any of those cliched, banal, horridly unimaginative senses of the world. Not figure and ground. Not front and back. Not yin and yang. (Lord save us from antonyms)

So what exactly is this sense of the world? At the risk of being similarly unimaginative, I might contend that it is a sense of parallel time and space. One which can comprehend at the least, an affective or bodily sense of simultaneity. That is, one that doesn't ask why is this red and that blue but knows that these are different schemes of color, comprehended by a unique biological visual mechanism, mediated by language and judged by a value system configured by cultural codes of beauty and apprehension. And all of this at the same time.

A breakthrough. A minor one.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Go on, ask me

And just because I have had a song floating in my head all morning, this is what I would say....

How are you?
Haal Chaal Theek Thaak Hai,
Sab Kuchh Theek Thaak Hai,
Kaam Nahin Hai Varna Yahaan
Aap Ki Dua se Sab Theek Thaak Ha

What have you been doing today?
Main Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhata Chala Gaya
Har Fikr Ko Dhuen Mein Udata Chala Gaya

Any applications come through?
Kiska Rasta Dekhe Aye Dil Aye Saudaai
Meelon Hai Khamoshi Barson Hai Tanhaee

How are you going to deal with this bleak job market?
Nafrat karne waalon ke seene mein pyaar bhar doon
Main woh parwana hoon, pathar ko maum kar doon

Day ended well?
Kahin Door Jab Din Dhal Jaye
Sanjh Ki Dulhan Badan Churaye
Chupke Se Aaye
Mere Khayaalon Ke Aangan Mein
Koi Sapnon Ke Deep Jalaaye

Want to take a break and catch some dinner?
Nahin nahin, abhi nahin, abhi karo intezaar

Got to go; catch you later then?
Abhi na jao chod kar ke dil abhi bhara nahi

Sunday, November 01, 2009

I am writing now. In this time. In this space. In this body.

I wish I could tell you how much that means to me. To inhabit this moment in all its modes.

I am supine on a blue couch, the light is behind me; yellow light. My glass of wine rests on a red coffee table and the light falls softly on a sienna rug. Tango music in the background. The weather is lightly chilly.

I am reading. And I will now write.

I wish you could hear the music and feel the light. It's warm in here.

argentine tango music songs
free mp3 | free music


argentine tango music songs
Download free music | Download free mp3

Monday, October 26, 2009

My life has no clarity which is why I have no stories to tell. The frames are now all slightly awry and we are thick into the messy process of imposing structure, albeit temporary, albeit arbitrary. Which is why I have no stories to tell.

Instead, I will throw at you random bits of information and song, in no specific order of meaning or intent.

A. How to dress like an intellectual

-- Whimsy, whimsy and more whimsy. Whatever you do, dress carefully so as not to match.
-- Oversized/ Quirky glasses
-- A scarf is quite essential
-- Shop at thrift stores
-- Watch your footwear (for women and for men)
-- Carefully tousled, never perfect hair; the whiter, the nicer
-- Moleskine notebook where you scrawl notes most meaningless
-- Anachronism (shoulder pads, boleros*, Bata Quo Vadis**)

When all else fails, copy these and these (and yes, it's true, we can't afford them, but gape and get by)

* are those in fashion now?
** Thank you Vidie

B. Today I have gotten through the day on:

1 no. stupid song

P.S Can you spot Zubisco? When I was ten, I wanted to be named Zubisco.

1 no. most meaningful song

1 no. Item song (Fabulous fabulous movie)

Speaking of sound and voice and all the good stuff, Lotte Hoek was in Austin this afternoon and did a talk on the Bangladeshi film industry; most fun.

C. I would like to play Word Twist; ping me here or on facebook if you are game. I must warn you; I'm fairly good at it. Am awful at Scrabble, so I will refuse all invitations to play.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Quiz Time

Life, I have realized, is full of things we want to know. Many questions, if you will. Also doubts, queries, puzzles. Maybe conundrums and predicaments. All of them need answers. And for reasons of either time, wisdom or plain impossibility, not all of them are answered or solved when we want them to be. Even worse, they are often answered but not in the ways we want. In all cases, dissastisfaction is more often than not, guaranteed.

Sometimes it helps to realize the joy of asking and avoid postponing pleasure to the point of resolution.

Another ploy I have recently developed is to break my questions down into chota, medium and bada (Much like bada bhai, medium bhai and chota bhai of Kaizad Gustad's doomed 'Boom' fame)

Here are some samples:

Big or Bada: These are questions that everybody from the Buddha to Rakhi Sawant ponder at some point of time in their lives. They have no answers in recognizable linguistic form, are often only the symptoms of other disheartening answers and are questions we seek recourse to when philosophy is our only refuge. Or alcohol. Or moonshine.

(a) What is the meaning of life?
(b) What is our duty to the world?
(c) Am I real?
(d) Is there a higher power?
(e) Is everything transitory?
Medium or medium: These are questions that plague me regularly. (They are also questions that I can afford given the basic food and shelter security I enjoy; class position, education and all the sociological jazz). They bother me, inspire hate in the business of living without knowing, and make me stay in bed an extra two hours once every twenty days.

(a) Is this the work that I am supposed to be doing?
(b) What would be a good place to live?
(c) Is it good to lead a bourgeois life?
(d) Will I ever be able to handle suburbia?
(e) How will I deal with growing old?
Little or Chota: These are the questions I love the most. They niggle, nag, plead, cajole, beg and in totality, keep me interested in living this daily trudge and joy we call life. They are the nuts and bolts, the icing and the marzipan rose, and the only ways to stay attached to this life mine. They are about things that enter and leave my body and the sheer, heady, physicality of it. These, I can touch and they most certainly demand and receive answers. Super quickly too.

(a) Do I want rotis or rice for dinner?
(d) Did I lock the door or not? Did I turn off the gas?
(c) Can you see the pimple at the corner of my cheek?
(d) Will the cat in the cafe come and sit on my lap?
(e) Can I hold my yawn until the speaker has finished answering my question? (Yes, he is looking straight at me)

What are your questions?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Rigor Mortis -- A story in many parts

Part III
(Go here for Part I and Part II)

She was also a naturally quiet child. She rarely cried, perhaps whimpered every once in a while. Her eyes would well and hold the tears in for many minutes until Sandhya noticed. Sandhya would then rush to feed her or check her nappy or hold her until she returned to her pose of quiet, wide-eyed contemplation. Sandhya loved her child and yet, marvelled at this little being that had sprung from her in such seething pain. Sometimes, mother and child would gaze at each other many minutes in the same wide-eyed stance.

One night, when she was two, she broke her silent spells with a slightly louder whimper than usual. Sandhya and Arun, both at the dining table, looked up surprised. Soon, she began sobbing, then crying, then wailing. The not-so-new parents checked her temperature, held her up to smell for sudden excrement, tried to feed her, failing all of which they resorted to the usual rocking and error. She didn't calm down for the next two hours. Exhaustion finally caught up, and she slept only to wake up the next morning with the same saucer-eyed calm. The night seemed to have been a dream.

Sandhya knew however. She knew that the baby hadn't cried for no reason. Shravana had visited the previous afternoon. And Shravana was bad news all over. She had come into the house, reeking of resentment and ire. She had poured out her woes and let her anger seep into the many cups of tea that Sandhya poured her. She had yelled under her breath at her husband, her job, her maid and the world. She had derided the government, lamented the roads and dismissed the possibility of any life outside of complaint. And then she had left. Sandhya jumped into the shower right after, trying very hard to peel off the layer of anxiety that she had left behind. She had scrubbed herself hard and rubbed two layers of soap into her peeling skin. She had found herself a bright yellow skirt and a white shirt, brushed her hair out until it shone and creamed herself to smell of tea rose and vanilla instead of the world in ruin. Incense let out smoke trails and the sounds of classical piano greeted Arun as he returned from work. The living room was allowed new doilies and the bedroom new pillow covers. Arun knew better than to question Sandhya's cleaning fits though. He showered and they sat down to dinner at which point Maya began wailing.

The anxiety hadn't left Sandhya. And it must have crept into her milk, she thought. And the baby.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Sometimes one needs a corner. Or an attic under the stairs. Some darkness. Some candles. A match. A pencil. A few torn papers. And a story.

So quiet today. And so dark.

The nature of sorrow is immensely difficult to comprehend. It needs little reason and it comes to stay awhile. It is seductive and soft and demands no work. It merely asks that you stay still. I am still.
Song for the Rain

Monday, September 07, 2009

Ode to absence

Once there was a bar up a floor and a half in a decrepit corner of a city known for its decrepit corners. The building was hardly noteworthy, one among many structures trailing behind the capitalist revolution, refusing to abandon valuable land to the shiny mirrored surfaces of the new age. Greying, scarred, ravaged, it gave away nothing but evidence of its struggle to stand. Drenched in the sour, steamy odours of unfiltered tobacco, the room was dark but for dim, uncased candles and the flickering lights of bidi edges. Men scurried around cleaning, serving and taking orders. Some very young, most very old and none in between. Dusty elbows rested on dustier formica table tops. The shiny plastic laminate used to be better known as sunmica. Voices clustered and waned, only beer could be ordered and peanuts came unasked for. Voices waxed and waned, some clear and angry, others mumbling and unfocused. Some sat quietly, sipping beer and staring into air. Their faces were tanned and their fingernails yellowed. Now and then, one could see the distended, extended nail of a manly little finger, painted bright pink. An earlobe or two shone bright with pink stones and American diamonds. Men, everywhere you look.

This used to be a world of men. Men who walked out of the days of textile mills and construction sites and stock markets and into the nights of unlit corners in unwashed buildings. Their women laid claim to the shanties and chawls and apartments in other decrepit buildings. Their children played on the streets and in the corridors. Outside the city lay bare, neon lit and scurrying past.

The worlds have faded. Textile mills have moved, unions have been gheraoed and disbanded and decrepit buildings are making way for bright, mirrored, air-conditioned malls. I wonder what the new spaces of the working class are. I wonder if there is a working class anymore.

On a related note, check out Clare Arni's exhibit on disappearing professions in the wake of capitalist hyper-modernity.

On a completely unrelated note, as I was writing this, I was listening to this song....

The light is aptly seedy, the content a suitable critique of nostalgia?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Rigor Mortis -- A story in many parts

Part II

(For Part I, go here)

One heartbeat. Beating hard down the length of the small torso.
One pulse. Traversing the breadth of the miniature hand.
One breath. Sailing deep into the awakening lungs.
Such was the evidence of this life.

And she was alive. Delivered safe into the hands of a life we know not why and the mercy of a God we know not where.

Her name was Maya. This was of no importance however. Names as we all know only gain importance through consciousness. And she, was as yet, only partly conscious. She flailed her limbs, she opened her eyes, she cried out loud and she had a name. She was all animal except that she was named. Well, sometimes animals have names too. So really there wasn’t that much of a difference.

There was something about her though. Something that could only be touched carefully. With clean hands. Something so delicate it seemed almost like she would be erased if held hard; melt into the cradle and disappear into the tiled floor. When hands approached to hold her, she would fold into herself. Cringe. Diminish and hold still. This they would remember many years later. When she cracked.

The vagaries of time. The things people move back and forth in memory and recollection. Many years hence, they would say almost as if they had had a premonition, “Even when she was a baby, there was something about her.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dreams are surprisingly energizing. I go to bed every night hoping that I dream well. Many a time I don't. Many a time my life extends into my dreams and many horrific things that I hope never come to fruition release themselves into my non-waking hours. They are so obviously a result of my fears that clearly, the Freudian preconscious has been quite useless in censoring them. The lazy bastards need not even employ subterfuge; they come to my dreams just the way they do to my conscious life.

Other dreams are un-interpretable though. They are full of danger and intrigue and Bond-like* plots of fate and pistols. Surprisingly detailed too. Last night for example I dreamt of a protagonist who escaped from a room with a large iron door sealed by one of those revolving seals, the kind you find on a ship hatch (Too much Battlestar Galactica?). The same dream also involved a housing tenement off North Lamar. Not to mention many fields of beet, potatoes and flowers that I/ the protagonist (who was sometimes a man) skipped and scrolled over in an attempt to flee a clearly slow antagonist (one who wore a cap with a frond). I/we were also surprisingly nimble around corners, fleeing many durwans in a house that looked like a cavern. Oh, and the part where I/we were jumping over beets is when I woke up, heart threatening to jump right out of my lazy body that craved a little more sleep.

And now I am up and about, rustling breakfast, breathing deep, stretching, sinewing and slowly getting out of these interesting dream worlds, so much more desirable than this morning mine.

I hope you all have wonderful days/ nights wherever you are. I leave you with a thought for tonight.

* James, not Gold and not even Jail.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I do not like working in the evening. The day demands release while the mind insists that so much more can be done. My mother was right when she said that one must go play in the evening.

I feel like playing. I feel like galloping. Rolling, twisting, turning, falling. Until the body heals, I must hibernate.

The night is an altogether different story though. It is so nice this night. The crickets hum, I can hear myself go clackety clack on the keyboard and the mind is quiet, but not dull. It can think, but not so much that it stem action. The lights are dim and warm, the window wide open and the brick walls still and comforting. And outside, a vast land that cannot come into my warm home. For tonight at least.

Since I can hardly say it well enough, another one for the night.

From Vikram Seth's Golden Gate; an excerpt

Dark night, and silent, calm, and lovely,
That stills the efforts of our lives,
Rare, excellent-kind, and behovely
No matter how the poet strives
To weave with epithets and clauses
Your soundless web, he falters, pauses,
And your enchantment slips between
His hands, as if it's never been.
Of all times most inbued with beauty,
You lend us by your spell relief
From ineradicable grief
(If for a spell), and pain, and duty.
We sleep, and nightly are made whole
In all our fretted mind and soul.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rigor Mortis -- A story in many parts

Part I

It began unknowingly. Life. One the first day of her life she was but a foundling. As we all are on the first day of our lives. A screaming, misshapen, monkey like foundling. Her parents were in the room, she was surrounded and cosseted, she was protected and loved. People waited at the end of long telephone lines and invisible satellite waves to hear of her coming into the world. Future aunts gossiped about the length of her mother's labour and grandmothers hoped she would be fair. Grandfathers grunted into the phone their approval while uncles yelled across the room to their nieces and nephews, the news of another. She was willed and she was wanted.

Foundling nevertheless. For death had abandoned her. Her being would now solely be defined by this. By the act of life.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Letter to somebody I knew

We haven't spoken in a while. But today I read something you wrote many years ago. You wrote about confusion and force and love and wrangling, rambling touch and sound. It reminded me of who you used to be. It reminded me of who I used to be. And I am still that. And I trust you are too. And yet we do not speak.

It is perhaps well. Because imagine wanting to be who we were. And reminding one another everyday of the person we used to know. Forcing one another to be what was most dear to us about ourselves. Imagine.

You were beautiful though. As I think, was I.
Write before the word escapes you. I woke up and was reading old emails from old friends, confidantes and rivals. They are sparkling and ticklish and staccato-ed and all over the place. And so driven. Life gushes out; the words gush out like the life they are struggling to remake. One rock at a time. Smoothing over; strangling, jumping, words. Stumbling over each other struggling to say something.

And this is what is different now. This is what we struggle to find; in beer bars and jazz concerts and airports all over the world. We all maintain our weakening bodies and our tired minds even as we seek that time when things were open.

Is it possible? To be quiet and bright at the same time?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Back in Austin after what seems like an eternity. The day is ending and more shall be said soon enough. Until then, a little Shakespeare for the night.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148–158

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ars Poetica

I have always aspired to a more spacious form
that would be free from the claims of poetry or prose
and would let us understand each other without exposing
the author or reader to sublime agonies.

In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent:
a thing is brought forth which we didn't know we had in us,
so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out
and stood in the light, lashing his tail.

That's why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimonion,
though its an exaggeration to maintain that he must be an angel.
It's hard to guess where that pride of poets comes from,
when so often they're put to shame by the disclosure of their frailty.

What reasonable man would like to be a city of demons,
who behave as if they were at home, speak in many tongues,
and who, not satisfied with stealing his lips or hand,
work at changing his destiny for their convenience?

It's true that what is morbid is highly valued today,
and so you may think that I am only joking
or that I've devised just one more means
of praising Art with the help of irony.

There was a time when only wise books were read
helping us to bear our pain and misery.
This, after all, is not quite the same
as leafing through a thousand works fresh from psychiatric clinics.

And yet the world is different from what it seems to be
and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings.
People therefore preserve silent integrity
thus earning the respect of their relatives and neighbors.

The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

What I'm saying here is not, I agree, poetry,
as poems should be written rarely and reluctantly,
under unbearable duress and only with the hope
that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.

- Czeslaw Milosz

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Musical Chairs

I saw Goran Bregovic & His Wedding and Funeral Band at the Bass Concert Hall a few weeks ago. They were quite spectacular. Think of your neighbourhood brass band, perhaps like this one....maybe a little less savvy; one Bregovic in resplendent white, beautiful hair and a swaying right hip (very manly in a showman way); a loud raucous, ebullient, brass section; a couple of jugalbandi-ing Romani singers and oh, not to mention the super hot Alen Ademovic later, I was ready to sell my Dravidian soul and turn Serbo-Croatian. Of course, if you really want perspective, I would refer you to my friend who accompanied me to the show and kept insisting that these East Europeans are just like the Punjabis. I guess he was looking most of the time at the very Punjabi like wild arm waving, shirt twirling (once they had taken them off) pale faces in the audience. In his persuasive company, I ended up eagerly seeking jalebis and lassi in the break.

A teeny weeny teaser

The band and Bregovic played for an hour and a half straight and the crowd would not let him go. I had first heard his music on a film called "Time of the Gypsies"...strange strange film and if you haven't seen it, I suggest strong fortification if you want to truly enjoy it. And no, not the kind that employs canons and a hundred and forty Marathas.

Before I digress too far, let me come to the point of this post....musical chairs.

Bregovic and the band played a song called "Gas Gas" which reminds me of Daddy Yankee's "Gasolina" which has a tune remarkably reminiscent of Dick Dale's "Misirlou" which is of course, on the opening soundtrack of "Pulp Fiction", which also features John Travolta dancing to Chuck Berry's "You Can Never Tell", which reminds me of Elvis Presley's "All Shook Up" and from there to another Elvis, who sang "Poisoned Rose" and a version of June Carter Cash's "Ring of Fire"; put them together and you have "Ring Rose" or "Ringa Ringa Roses" or Goran Bregovic & His Wedding Funeral Orchestra singing "Ringe Ringe Raja" ....

What musical chairs can you rustle up?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Writing Visually

A red curtain
A red flapping curtain
A red flapping curtain with the bottom curling inward
A red flapping curtain with a ray of light that creeps in as the curtain curls inwards at the edge
A red flapping curtain with a ray of red, dying light creeping in as the curtain curls inwards all along the left.

A ray of light splayed across the woman who sleeps on the blue couch
A woman sleeping on a blue couch
[Blinking against the sudden light, she draws herself up on her elbow and gets up to go across the room]
A ray of light splayed across a blue couch
[The sun goes down. The woman stretches and turns on the light.]
A couch of a different colour.
A room of a different light.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Thoughts for a sleepy afternoon...

From Peter Funch's Babel Tales.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tales of Dusty Books Unsold -- Part II

So after the Garden Book Centre and dear old woman of the beautiful saris and the blunt cut that I, of the unruly hair so envied, there was the British Council Library in Pune. Now the BCL as it is fondly known is a library in the most colonial sense of the word; remote, forbidding, and overated. But to my 19 year old self, it was infinitely better than doling out parental generosity on literature that I had not yet discovered. It was here that I found Arthur Wesker and Iris Murdoch and Graham Greene. Also Rushdie and Marquez. It was here that I learned to use online catalogues and strange library coding. Here, I added my name to random lists of strange events that I never attended and pretended to read highbrow newspapers in long rooms populated by hypermetropic doyens. Lesson number twenty five in the long list of lessons on how to be bourgie.

Of course, one might be forgiven for thinking that BCL was actually an Irani cafe sans the food. No computers, no checking out movies (limited student memberships), one notepad only, no sleeping:). The things that one could not do in the library made sure it had a very tight USP; in three words -- come, read, leave. And yet it was surprising how much those constraints helped. I actually did read.

James Wood says it better in a recent review of Shahriar Mandanipour’s novel “Censoring an Iranian Love Story"...

Sometimes, the soft literary citizens of liberal democracy long for prohibition. Coming up with anything to write about can be difficult when you are allowed to write about anything. A day in which the most arduous choice has been between “grande” and “tall” does not conduce to literary strenuousness. And what do we know about life? Our grand tour was only through the gently borderless continent of Google. Nothing constrains us. Perhaps we look enviously at those who have the misfortune to live in countries where literature is taken seriously enough to be censored, and writers venerated with imprisonment. What if writing were made a bit more exigent for us? What if we had less of everything? It might make our literary culture more “serious,” certainly more creatively ingenious. Instead of drowning in choice, we would have to be inventive around our thirst. Tyranny is the mother of metaphor, and all that.

While Wood contends that Madanipour's novel is actually a tough reply to strange dreams of such constraint, I wonder how this would apply to reading? In this world of hyperlinking excess, sometimes I just want a blinkered chamber to read. Perhaps even a word processor sans an internet browser.

[To be continued....]

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Why I watch Battlestar Galactica....

What lovely thoughts for a bright June morning.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tales of Dusty Books Unsold – Part I

A large part of my waking life has been spent in libraries. Yes, those boring institutions associated with curmudgeonly men and women, eccentrics and bookworms. Smelling of books, dust and filtered daylight, libraries have been very important to my life. My first memory of a library is of a steel Godrej almirah stored at the corner of a large cement godown that had been converted into the colony club. I am sure there was a time before this when it was an almirah at the corner of a dingy apartment, but I don’t remember. Uncles and aunties of various antecedents donated books, mainly pulp fiction and cold war novels. My first memories are of borrowing Richmal Crompton’s William stories about a schoolboy and his friends, who called themselves the Outlaws. And then there were the Enid Blytons, the Nancy Drews and the Hardy Boys. I rapidly moved onto Arthur Hailey, Sidney Sheldon and Robin Cook. There were also the random James Hadley Chase-s (am not sure that counts as moving on as much as maybe just moving, like drunken derelicts…) but the covers of the latter didn’t pass maternal muster so I rapidly digressed. Lest you think these were porn disguised as thrillers, more like the other way round. The covers were hardly there and the insides all square [I rhymed, I rhymed!]

Exhibit A

Incidentally, for those interested in my find of the year, the opening frames of “Johnny Gaddar” have a dedication to James Hadley Chase. And speaking of pulp fiction, Chase's real name is Rene Brabazon Raymond.

One year, my father, in his aspirations to dictatorship took over the helms of the library and club. I have fond memories of sitting by him while he painstakingly bound and covered books with titles like “Airport”, “Tiger by the Tail”, and “The Dead stay Dumb” [as a Hindi film, would that read “Murda Goonge Rehte Hain”?]. It was also from him that I learnt to judge people by the way they kept their covers.

The school I went to had a nice little library on the first floor where I spent many hours reading encyclopedias. Yes, not very exciting, but in the process, I also got roped into writing the school’s yearbook. In the 1980's of no computers and a typewriter guarded fiercely by the accountant, ten year olds ended up being slave labour/ scribes. Somewhere in the annals of the Jagdish Chandra Mahindra Memorial School is a record of my handwriting as it used to be.

For my pleasure reading, there was the Garden Book Centre at Chembur opposite Diamond Gardens. Run by a wonderfully straight-faced lady whose name I wish I could remember, it saved my parents many years’ worth of savings in Enid Blyton and comic books. For the princely deposit of Rs.250 and Rs.2/5 per comic/ book, I had my fill of scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam and wafer thin cucumber sandwiches (ugh) and traipsed around in macintoshes and galoshes [read obscenely cream-filled puffs from the neighborhood bakery and many hued colors of raincoats and ugly oily gumboots]. I also dated freckle-faced boys and scowled at snooty heiresses [Is he really getting married to her? Really? Really?]

More libraries ensued, but that will be a tale for another sunny morning.

[To be continued…]

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Couch. Books. Humans. Conversation. Bliss.
There are things one knows. With certainty. With force. About goodness, about trust, about possibility. In the face of every logical outcome that predicts otherwise, there are still things one knows. Or maybe these are merely things one wants to have come true, and hence the supposed certainty of knowledge. Knowledge being power and power being the will to make come true. At the end of it, one can never really know anything....