Thursday, July 31, 2008

It's not lunch time, but I'm hungry and hallucinating...

White rice, pressure-cooked and roughly mashed while still hot with cooked thoram paruppu in a chatti in which nei has been freshly made so that the brownish kasandu at the bottom of the chatti are mixed properly with the rice and dal; then mashed some more with spicy thick vattha kuzhambu made with marathakkali and sundakkai (not with vengayam or poondu or verkadalai, although those variations are acceptable in other circumstances), and served in a steaming hot mound on your plate along with keerai masiyal with karuvadam in it, and crisp alu curry...

That, my friends, is a little bit of Tambrahm heaven.

For those not in the know:

thoram paruppu = tuvar dal
chatti = Indian wok
kasandu = residual milk solids from clarifying butter to make ghee or nei
nei = ghee/clarified butter
vattha kuzhambu = tamarind gravy to mix with rice
marathakkali, sundakkai = dried bitter/sour berries used in South Indian cooking. Dont know what they're called in other languages
vengayam = onions
poondu = garlic
verkadalai = peanuts
keerai masiyal = boiled mashed spinach
karuvadam = Click here for photo and explanation

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sunday Scribblings - "Solace"

Solace: always found in good books and usually also in bad – as in unhealthy – food… put the two together, and it’s ultimate comfort for the soul as far as I’m concerned.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Friday, July 25, 2008

A sticky topic

There is a bit of a controversy over the swanky Sharrow Bay Hotel in Cumbria forcing its staff to sign non-disclosure agreements over the “secret” recipe for its sticky toffee pudding. Even The Guardian seems to have got a bit hot under the collar on the issue of copyright and intellectual property - eminently debatable topics, I’m sure.


What I’m wondering is, how is it that nobody seems to have noticed - or been shocked by, or written an article about - the price of that dessert at the Sharrow Bay Hotel. It’s £40 per pudding. Let me say that again (and again) - FORTY pounds! £40! Forty POUNDS! Is that the most ridiculously overpriced pudding, even for a Michelin-starred restaurant, or is it just me? Did nobody else – in The Guardian or anywhere else - think that amount extravagantly, criminally, offensively on the overpriced side?

Even if I could afford it, I wouldn’t pay £40 for a single dessert, not even if it was made from the most exotic expensive ingredients and covered in gold vark (edible foil)... let alone for a lump of sweet sticky stodge that could be made at home by any inept - or ept, I won't discriminate - cook!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


No, really. WTF???

And if you're not considering having cosmetic toe amputation (LA surgeons have been offering this procedure for some time now, in order to help women fit into super-high shoes more easily) bear in mind that if you're going to subscribe to this trend, you're going to have to put the work in. Simply meeting friends, getting to your table in a restaurant or even visiting the loo will require military precision. Putting one foot before the other in super-high stilettos is anything but simple.

(Italics and emphasis mine.)

A passing thought...

Odd how the offspring of actors always take to the silver screen - or try to (and when I say "try", Mimoh Chakraborty comes to mind. The world must rue the day that Mithun married moon-faced Yogeeta to produce him.) Are there no cerebral movie star offshoots that might have shunned the career-path of superstar papa or cine queen mummy and instead chosen to be a scientist or doctor or teacher or someone who actually works for society's benefit? Does anybody know of any such examples at all?

Jodhaa Akbar zindabad!

Thanks to the package which I received in the post from a very kind friend, I finally got to see Jodhaa Akbar. And, like I said to said friend, I surprised myself by watching the movie from start to finish without wishing I could fast-forward through large chunks. Yeah, I actually liked the movie. Sure, there were a few scenes that were mildly embarrassing to watch for their ineptness, and some slightly overdone sword-fight scenes with Ash and Hrithik… but on the whole, the movie was very watchable.

I cant pinpoint any particular reason why I liked the movie, despite it being a looooooong one. But I’d say that the lack of crappy dream duet songs went a long way in making me feel very kindly towards Ashutosh Gowariker (incidentally, isnt that a glorious name? It’s got such an impressive mouthfeel. Ashutosh Gowariker. Ashutosh Gowariker. Ashutosh Gowariker.) and his historically inaccurate - or artistically rewritten, to put it kindly - extravaganza of a movie. The very few songs the movie had were really rather lovely – no unpleasant surprises there from A R Rahman – and very listenable. That was a plus too.

Also, Aishwarya Rai kindly desisted from acting coy and chirpy and was, instead, quite dignified and sad and restrained and stunningly beautiful in her role. If I was religious, I would have done an elaborate puja for that small major mercy. I much prefer her plastic sadness to her plastic contrived chirpiness. I will NEVER forget the two nauseatingly awful minutes that I managed to watch of her in "Bride and Prejudice"...

Back to Jodhaa Akbar - it didn’t hurt, of course, that Hrithik Roshan played Akbar. Having seen him in the movie, I cant conceive of any other actor – now or in the past – who could have carried off that role looking quite as gorgeous or impressive or aristocratic. Is that man eye-candy or what! I’ve not seen any of his other movies, but I’ve always thought he looked really good. And now I’m a firm Hrithik-as-Akbar convert. To think that I usually don’t like my men with any variety of moustache or beard whatsoever… and to think that Rakesh Roshan, with his fat baby face and bushy moustache, managed to part-produce such a stunningly goodlooking son!

Yep, I liked Jodhaa Akbar, even if it didn’t have rave reviews anywhere. It joins the (very short) list of movies of which I was (maybe still am, but I haven’t put my fervour to the test by watching them since!) unreasonably and inexplicably fond – Hum, Raja Hindustani, Khalnayak, Mr Natwarlal

Well, I did say 'twas inexplicable.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sunday Scribblings - "Ghosts"

I wont say I believe in the existence of ghosts, but at the same time, I cant state defeinitely that they DON’T exist, either. Ghosts are kind of in the same realm of belief (or disbelief) as God - although possibly they dont provide the spiritual crutch that God does to His/Her believers. A lot of people believe in the existence of both, sight unseen, but I would need more substantiation than that.

I’ve always been an avid reader of ghost stories and comics with vengeful skeletons and disembodied killer hands and evil possessed toys and all the rest of such scary stuff. When I was younger, I used to have nightmares about all those things and couldn’t sleep at night without a light on… but that didn’t stop me devouring more of those books in the daytime. I would of course try to think of pleasant things come bedtime, but no, the latest and most effectively scary story would be the only thing to come to mind.

I’d like to see a ghost, I think, preferably in daylight and in company, not when I’m alone. And definitely it would have to be one of those indifferent ghosts, the kind that go through walls and walk their favourite routes without bothering anybody in the vicinity. I don’t think I’d cope very well if any ghost said “boo!” to me.

I’ve gone on a couple of “ghost walks” in Shrewsbury and a couple of castles in and around here… but I have to say it wasn’t frightening. They were most tales of people who were killed or had committed suicide, and the better “walks” had people dressed in period costume jumping out unexpectedly and screaming in your face. Sure, I jumped – but it was out of startlement, not fear.

The one ghost tour that I’ve been wanting to do is the Edinburgh Vaults – the ghosts there are apparently quite physical in that people have been shoved and pinched and slapped while down there, apart from being privy to strange smells, noises and cold spots. The Vaults have quite a horrible history – About 150-200 years ago, Edinburgh was so overpopulated that tenement buildings of wood were built on top of the existing buildings. The poor people were forced to live in the stone vaults below, unsanitary and unsafe. Then in a great fire, the tenement buildings caught fire and people who took refuge in the vaults, thinking that stone wouldn’t burn, were trapped underground and basically cooked to death. Ugh. The Vaults are supposed to be the most haunted place in Britain. Not surprising, I suppose.

Another massively haunted place is Mary Kings Close, a street in Edinburgh now situated beneath the City Chamber. A plague epidemic meant that the hundreds of people living there – apparently mainly Catholics - were simply boarded in to die so that the epidemic wouldn’t spread. Since then the Close has been haunted.

I’ve read reviews by people of the ghost tours here, and a lot of them have said they felt spooked or scared or terrified, affected by the “aura of unhappiness” and so on. It sounds unbelievable, quite scary, yet something that I’d like to experience in person. But then, I’m sitting in a warm bright room, with the sun shining outside. I don’t know how I would feel underground in the midst of enclosed, dank rooms with a dark history and a reputation for being haunted – but the only way to find out is to go there. The next time we visit Edinburgh, I hope to be able to go on these tours. Who knows, there might just be the ghost of a chance that I’ll be converted to a believer in all things spooky and paranormal…

Friday, July 18, 2008

Yet again, the last resort of the imaginatively challenged...

Yes, yes, yes! It's a meme. Just a short one, this time.

1. If I could be a fly on the wall I would look out for insect sprays and fly swatters, I guess.

2. Jealousy is … very difficult to reason with.

3. If I see a shooting star my wish is that … it doesn’t crash into Earth.

4. I'd rather be the gossiper than the gossipee any day!

5. Certain songs when I hear them make me wanna … cryyyyyy.

6. If time were in a bottle … I’d leave the cork in or let it all out, depending on where I was (On holiday - cork in. At work - cork definitely out!)

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I’m looking forward to … hmph. A lot of cleaning

tomorrow my plans include … enjoying a mug of filter coffee at leisure, a trip to the optician and then potting two chilli plants and a tomato plant. Never say my life isnt exciting!

and Sunday, I want to … be a vegetable. The kind of vegetable that reads a good book while lolling in bed and listening to chill-out music.

So what would you, gentle reader(s), fill in the blanks with? (Is there a better - grammatically speaking - way to phrase this question?)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sunday Scribblings - "My Oldest Friend"

I’m not sure what “oldest” should denote here… age? length of time known? the first one? the one I’m in touch with still? Does it count if my "oldest friend" has not been in contact for over 20 years?

Oh well. Going back to my earliest memory of someone I considered a friend, someone with whom I “clicked”, I guess that would have to be Salma, when I was maybe 8 or 9 years old. She was a couple or three years older than me, a lot more mentally and emotionally mature, very pretty, tall and slender, with her hair in a “Sadhana cut” (short fringe on the forehead). She was an Ismaili Muslim – something I only gradually realised later. (I think I considered everybody to be like me. Indian or something. Religion didn’t come into it, anyway.) Salma was very fond of the daughter of an acquaintance of my dad’s, who was her neighbour – oddly enough, the little girl looked like Salma, fair and with the same hairstyle! We both loved the little girl, but Salma was her favourite.

Salma and I used to play elaborate games of make-believe when she came to my house... mostly her make and my believe. She was fun to be with, but she grew up a lot quicker than me and away from me. Maybe she even moved away, I dont know. A couple of years down the line, we met by chance on the street near my house. She was with her friends, a gaggle of teenaged African and Indian girls, but to my surprise she not only remembered me, she stopped for a chat and gave me a hug when we parted. Good ol' Salma.

When I was in the 6th standard, my best friend was a Bengali girl called Mahua. Again, she was vivacious, athletic, great fun to be with, very good at maths but appallingly bad at written English. I helped her a lot with her English homework, and felt excruciating jealousy when she seemed to play more with another girl than with me. I'm sure it was all in my mind, but I remember telling Mahua "Go and play with Pratibha, you're not my friend any more" and walking off. It was very satisfying (and oh the relief!) when she ran after me and said she liked playing with me more!

In the 7th standard it was a Mallu girl called Sunita Nayar with whom I had the best fun in class. Oddly enough, we never met up after school, never visited each other's homes, because for one she lived too far away and for two, our parents didn't know one another. Sunita had lived all her life in Gujarat (before her parents came to Tanzania, natch) and considered herself Gujarati, although she had traces of a Mallu accent (which she strenuously denied). She wasnt the most studious of girls, hated books and did quite poorly at school - worse than me at maths, which was quite an achievement. But she excelled at sports and games and had a great sense of humour, which I guess is why I liked her so much. Sunita and I kept in touch through letters for many years after we'd both moved back to India - me to Madras and she back to Vadodara, or Baroda as it was then. I think she was a State champion in table tennis and a kho-kho champion as well.

I was living with my grandparents when Sunita gave me the surprise of my 17-year-old life by simply turning up at the door one evening, along with her parents and grandmother. They were apparently spending a couple of days in Madras en route to visiting family further south in Kerala, and Sunita had insisted that they should visit me. When I saw her face at the door, for a few moments I was a total blank because it was so unexpected - a familiar face, grown-up, in a completely unfamiliar context - and then my jaw (and the penny) dropped and I flung the door open, yelling "SUNITA!" We had a great time reminiscing over our childhood days, and I still remember her telling me that if I had not recognised her, she would have just gone away without a word. I'm very glad she didnt have to do that. Unfortunately thereafter, she moved away and grew away as well, and the letters became more infreqent from both our sides, and eventually we lost touch altogether. I havent forgotten her, though, and I can still see in my mind her dark face, framed by curly hair, laughing like a loon at something rude I'd said about some innocent passer-by. I hope she thinks of me too, sometimes...

I guess this means I dont have any childhood friends that I grew up with to adulthood - unlike my brother, whose best friend now has been his best friend from kindergarten. The closest thing I have to an "oldest friend", known from school days, is probably Swarna. Brainy, very pretty, hard-working, intelligent, artistic Swarna, always fighting the world and sometimes making things more difficult for herself than they really were. She thrived on dramatic situations and lived and breathed for romance in her life. Unfortunately she was married off at 21 to someone who was the polar opposite of her, who had a job which meant much moving around, and over time we lost touch.

Ten years of total silence later, I suddenly got an email from her - she had moved mountains to somehow get in touch with me through an old classmate of ours who was in the army. She had remembered his battalion and gone to great lengths (and many many levels of army officiousness) to get a phone number for him, speak to him and get my email address (which was very nearly defunct, I'd checked it by sheer chance after a long time) and thereby get back in touch with me.

It was fantastic and very exciting to suddenly re-acquire a friendship that I had thought was extinct. But, best friends though we were then, time and tide and circumstances had changed, and changed us enough that we've had to kind of feel our way back into an adult friendship, try and re-discover things we have in common. But yes, she is the mother of two teenagers, still beautiful, still intelligent, still cynical, still very fit, still seeking romance and drama in her life... and still my oldest friend.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Sunday Scribblings - "Vision"

Vision – tunnel, blinkered, short-sightedness, lack of foresight - all these are perfect descriptions of a certain organisation with which I’m familiar. They’re getting a new accounting system in, and apart from the finance controller and his deputy who will have access to the system at any and all times, only one person will be able to log on at any given time. That’s not one person from each department, or even one person from each office. It’s one person from the entire organisation.

Doesn’t seem like much?

Consider that the organisation has over 100 employees. That it has over half a dozen branches in half a dozen places. That most branches have 3-4 people among the staff who have to use the system to raise invoices, make payments etc. And then think about this – if one person from any office is logged in, nobody else gets to use the system.

Why? Oh, because enabling more people to access the system means higher licensing costs, and never mind the chaos caused.

That vision I was talking about? The descriptive prefix is probably not tunnel or blinkered or short-sighted… it’s “lack of”.