Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tele Cooking

When I changed jobs this June, little did I know that it would be more than just a career move. For the last three years while slogging away at my old job, I had been living as  a paying guest with a kind lady living alone. She provided good healthy and delicious home made meals three times a day. When I had moved in, I was fresh out of college, determined to make a mark with not much time for anything other than work, least of all cooking my own meals. It was an arrangement from heaven.
And then I decided to move on. After the recession, the market was beginning to boom again and I soon discovered that there were employers ready to pay me the double of my then current salary. So I packed my bags, kissed my dear landlady (more of a surrogate mother) goodbye and moved. Into my new job, my new life.
This me was the new independent me. I decided that it was time I took responsibility for myself. So I rented out a real house with a few friends. I was all fired up. I dreamed of doing grown up things like paying my rent, the electricity bills, locking the door on my way out every morning, doing my own grocery shopping, making lists for the weekly household shopping ANDcooking. It was like playing house but this time around, for real.
Three months  down the line, I can’t say I am disillusioned but my expectations have sure come down to more realistic levels. I now know taking time out to go to the electricity board office to pay the bill is not as easy as it looks especially when you try to do it during your lunch break and when there a queue miles long and when there is only one counter with a clerk and when you have already violated the deadline by a week and when you have to explain to your housemates why you had to pay a hefty percentage of the bill as penalty. I now know that plumbers did not drop miraculously from the sky everytime the kitchen sink pipe broke like you expected them to. They have to be tracked down and you have to be there on a working day when they come. Shopping too can become inconvenient when you try to balance kilos of goods and at the same time open the supermarket  door to exit while fishing for the bill receipt in the said bags of goods so that the security will let you leave.
The real eye opener was however cooking. I had always believed that cooking was all about instinct. All you had to do was stand before the stove and things would  automatically happen resulting in a meal…somehow.
How wrong I was. The first time I tried meditating before the stove waiting for inspiration to hit, I almost fried the frying pan. I did not try that again. I always got by by hiding in the shadows of my more culinarily adept housemates. I always cut, chopped, ground and cleaned for them and somehow managed to stay away from the holy altar, the real center of action, the spotlight, the stove.
And then things changed one evening when the friend who donned the cap of the regular head cook called me at office to tell me that she would be held up at work and could I please take care of dinner. I agreed. To refuse would have been uncharitable and I could not have confessed my ignorance. I am too proud to do that.
So that evening I did what any well brought up, smart, grown up, independent woman would do…called up Mom to bail me out. After a few snide, humorous (to her), humiliating (to me), told-you-so remarks she started to tellycook. Or tried to.
“OK, is the oil hot?”
“How do I know, shall I touch it?”
“$%^^  Is it smoking?”
“Yes it has been for some time, I am waiting for it to boil..”
“Good once it boils, drown in it and fry yourself. Lower the flame, you idiot”
“You need not get so hypercritical, everyone cannot do everything. I am sure you cannot write a program to save your life.”
“I am disconnecting right now.”
“YOU CANNOT. I NEED YOU. I am sorry, let us start over. OK the flame is down, the oil is hot, note – not boiling. Yet. And then?”
“Put in the onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, salt and the powders .”
“You did not chop them?”
“You did not tell me to.”
“I am sorry I assumed you knew that you cannot fry whole and unpeeled onions and garlic.”
“I thought you were trying out a new dish with stuff that was whole. OK shall I chop them now.”
I can hear her counting to ten and then “Yes do that please and turn off the stove before the skillet explodes.”
Cutting chopping done, flame back on, stuff in the oil, “Mom you said powders, what exactly did you mean?”
“Turmeric, chilli, coriander and garam masala.”
“How much of each?”
“Just pinches of each.”
“And how much is a pinch and exactly how many pinches?”
“Do you have scales nearby? There must be a pinch weight. For God’s sake girl three pinches of each. Pinch thrice from the jars and each time empty your fingers into the skillet.”
“Sarcasm…I see. And salt?”
This time I heard her count till fifty. “Five. Pinches.”
“Can you only only cook in pinches? Isn’t the metric system good enough for you?”
“I will pretend for both our sakes that I did not hear that. Now pour in a cup of water and once it boils, put in the boiled beans. Turn down the flame and let it simmer till the gravy is reduced to half.”
I heard from my father that after the call she had to take her blood pressure pills. However the bean curry turned out fine (edible).

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I was running late. The only consolation was that she would be shocked if I wasn’t . She was the one who dragged me from my bed in our apartment to the classroom all those years ago. She was the one who’d make me gobble my breakfast at the cafeteria before we rushed into class at the last minute, a split second before the lecturer entered. I used to joke that she had become my surrogate mother during those four years of college. She had just rolled her eyes.
The only argument we had ever had was over a bad relationship decision. She’d stormed out when I had refused to see it for the mistake that it was. We later made our peace.  She never approved and though I was defiant enough to continue in the relationship through all the emotional and mental turbulence, I secretly acknowledged to myself that she had been right from the start.  But by that point in time, I was neck deep and truly believed that I could never find a way out. She stood by me, telling me at every juncture that whenever I broke free, she would be there to guide me through the hell that would inevitably break loose.
Then I grew up. We both found jobs at the same places but decided for different reasons to take two different ones. Jobs became careers and family life claimed us both. We still kept in touch but the intensity was long gone and what remained was warm casual acquaintance.
The years in college, the threshold years, in retrospect feel like a dream; the kind of dream that you have just before you wake up. You never know for sure if the bird song you heard was real or if the voice that woke you up was heard by your ears or your mind. I know I went to college because I have a degree to show for it, photographs and lists of people in my Facebook friends list. But my memories of what happened, how I felt, what I saw, how I reacted, what I thought, have nothing to prove their accuracy. Engineering was what I learnt the least in those four years.
If she was everything I remembered her to be to me and to all the others, how did I let the strength of our friendship get diluted so?
When fate got me a chance to work in her city, I promised myself to not waste this second chance away. I was going to build our friendship all over again.
I called her the evening I received the final contract.
She was overjoyed. The clock turned back and we planned our life as neighbors.
We forgot for an hour our husbands, her child, our jobs, we were just us, roommates, friends who had lost and found each other.
The day before I boarded my flight, she called me. I had asked her to look around for a suitable apartment for us and answered the call fully expecting to hear her tell me that she had found me the perfect home at a perfect distance from hers.
I was partially right. She had found me the perfect home. Only it was hers. She was relocating on short notice due to an emergency at her parents’.
She said there was nobody else she would trust her precious house with. We were to use it till we found a place of our own and then to put it on the market on her behalf.
A suggestion of rent for the months we were to stay in the house, was dismissed with a scoff and a rebuke.
I am now at her threshold, waiting for her to answer the door.
The door opens and she stands before me.
I will never need to doubt my memories again as at this moment in time I am living them all again.  

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Weekend Reading

I am not one for the award winning books and their award winning authors.

I like my books simple and comprehensible. Jhumpa Lahiri's Namesake and Interpreter of Maladies are definitely my cup of tea but Naipaul's 'The Magic Seeds' went off at a tangent no sooner than I had read the first few pages.

After 'Inheritance of Loss' and 'White Tiger', I had all but decided that award winners were just not me. And then I went and bought myself The Finkler Question on an impulse. I was bitterly regretting the impulse by the end of the first part. I only ploughed through the second half because of my commitment to the money I had spent on it.

And as I closed the book shut, I vowed, never again.

But after a Sunday totally devoid of any commitments and plans and plenty of time to think, I think that Jacobson may just have managed to reconcile me to the Bookers.

I felt the book was like alcohol, difficult to swallow, but once inside, a great feeling. I enjoyed the book in hindsight. Does that even make sense...?

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Wedding Crasher - Romantic Friday Writer'

She had always liked coloring within the lines. She had never wanted to rebel, to do something different for the sake of doing something different. In her late twenties now, she had begun to feel doubts creep in. Had she really missed out on something? Was she insane for being so completely boring? There was only one way to find out.

She decided to have an adventure. She had no idea whatsoever about she meant to do. But instead of letting this tiny detail ruin her plans, she boarded the next bus that stopped at her stop and bought a ticket to the last station, a place she had never been to before.

The rain had fizzled out into a slight romantic drizzle and she gazed aimlessly out of her window, her mind wandered off and when it returned, she found the bus idling at some stop. She focused on the scene outside. It seemed to be a sequel to her daydream. A shamiana in peach and white decorated with flowers of all colors imaginable stood on a grassy bank behind the bus stop. People milled about the grounds and there were more inside. The slight drizzled was a nuisance to no one. In fact it seemed to envelop the whole tableau in a happy mist. It was a dream and she wanted to live it, to touch it, to feel it.

Just before the conductor rang the bell, she hopped off ignoring the calls of the conductor who feared she may have got off at the wrong stop.

She walked towards the huge canopy of flowing fabric. The flowers were being kissed by the rain and the droplets of water lingered on the petals and folds like the lips of a lover so far gone that physical separation was death. She could not help touching, the flowers, the satin bows inside, she caressed the carpet with her feet, her sandals kicked to the side. Her finger tips lingered on the backs of the chairs as she walked down some random aisle. She was oblivious to everything around her except the texture caressing her fingertips. Her whole existence at that point was concentrated on the tips of her fingers.

And then she had to stop. The scene in front of her brought her back to her senses as effectively as a dip in the Arctic would have. A ceremony was about to take place. And from the looks of it, it was going to be a wedding. The crowd milling outside had started to trickle in. With them came attention and she felt the inquiring glances like needles all over her inappropriately clad body. She turned about and was about to make a quick getaway when the shehnais started to serenade. Half turned away, she halted as if arrested by a spell she saw the bride enter. A vision in red and gold. Had she ever seen anything prettier…. she could not tell.

The needles were forgotten as the angel walked to the hawan kund in the centre, her groom in white seated there already awaiting his princess.

He looked up and the bride looked down. Eyes met, smiles escaped and hearts fluttered, all witnessed and understood by the wedding crasher.

Every gesture, every touch, every look between the couple in the center of dream bubble was now what held her there. She was seeing love, was feeling it like she had felt the flowers, was caressing it, like she had caressed the seats.

The crowd forgotten, she wept unabashedly as the couple took their vows, circling the hawan kund. She prayed as the sindoor colored the parting of the bride’s hair, she was awestruck as the ring encircled the fingers and sighed when the mangalsutra embraced the swan like fair neck.

The applause was thunderous and burst the bubble of ecstasy that had formed itself around her. Soon murmers started trickling into her consciousness.

“It must be her…”

“I never would have thought that she would dare to turn up.”

“She was invited of course….”

“Look at her….shamelessly crying, right where he can see her…”

“I wonder he didn’t falter….as if he had seen nothing…”

“And her…no reaction at all…today’s generation…so insensitive…like the robots they create.”

“I almost feel sorry for her.”

“I pity her parents….and a nice looking girl too, would have made a nice match for some nice boy.”

“She looks half mad, turning up here with her hair all wild and the clothes….wet and shabby. She means to create a scene. It will be fun to watch. These weddings can be incredibly boring. Diversions such as her are rare. I am glad I didn’t stay home like Mrs. B.”

“You mean Mrs. B lied about her mother in law, wait till Mrs. C hears about it…hey look, she’s leaving….what, no drama…”

“She cannot have come all this way just to see the guy marry her lover….I hate these sentimental fools….She dared to love…I mean love a woman(I can hardly imagine) and now she doesn’t dare interrupt the wedding. She did create a big scene however the other day at Mrs. C’s house.”

“Imagine poor Mrs. C coming back all thrilled after shopping for her daughter’s wedding lehenga and walking right into her daughter’s torrid tryst with this homo here. It’s a miracle she is in her senses now, even three days later. Although I did hear that she was at the psychiatrist’s for the rest of the day. I am sure if she were to see this girl here, the nervous breakdown averted that day would be right upon us.”

“Poor thing….who can blame her…for liking a girl….with the guys all turning girly these days, with their clean shaven faces and long hair….And with test tubes and all, they don’t need a man even for a baby nowadays…”

She was in the bus when she finally dared to think and thinking giggled helplessly, causing another set of murmurs, this time suggesting asylums…and psychiatrists...

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

How I joined the ranks of the married

So as the grand old age of 26 (plus 9 months), I have finally succumbed to the malady that still claims most youngsters in this country. Yes an arranged marriage. ::Cue : drum roll::

The only part that was arranged in my case was the first meeting, or the first chat (for the sake of accuracy).

You know how these things go... There's this family, who (Insert father's friend's name) knows. They have a son, MBA, works in a MNC. We tried the horoscope and guess what it matches. Why don't you have a chat with him? Everybody (as in all our friends, or all Mallus in our town), have only good things to say about him. So will tomorrow be fine?

All this while I am still trying to settle into my week long (?) vacation. Since every vacation of mine for the past three years have kicked off inthis manner, I don't take offence. In any case, even if I did, the rhetoric of In-our-time-the-horoscope-was-enough-and-nobody-asked-us was already loaded to be fired.

So this time since the guy in question was in a hurry to fly off to the USA on business, the question of a traditional (read tea-cup-in-hand) visit to check out the girl did not arise. Had my parents been less tech savvy, I would have taken this exit option. But they were not and they set up an internet date for us.

Yeah, Indian parents setting up dates for their children..that's what the world has come to these days.

Anyway, we chatted, me irritated by this sidepleot which threatened to take over my much anticipated vacation and he irritated by this unnecessary drama during his own visa and other travel related hassles.

All we got to ascertain that day that we both knew to type correct English and we both didn't mind chatting a time more convenient to us...without the whole family peering over our backs at our chat windows. To be continued...