Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Plan M

I don't know what it is about new year's eve that gets people into panic mode. Either you don't have a plan and are not happy about it, or you have plan A but would happily trade it for plan B. Point is, almost everyone is wondering if what they are doing is cool enough or they ought to do something else.

A month ago, the usual suspects declared with much bravado, "We don't really feel like doing anything this year," Turns out, most of them have fled the city by the time this article goes into print. So much for plan A.

Even so, I never ask people what they are doing for new years'. I just think it adds to the pressure, just in case they don't have a plan. Like I never do—I am best left at home with the felines, or in the company of close friends and a single malt, or any suitable beverage that works for all. But even in my absolute lack-of-new-year-spirithood, I have had some of the most amazing potluck parties on new year's eve in my singleton days—it was an open house for all those without a plan and with something to offer.

Now the dynamics have changed. I am married, and hosting a party has become tougher. The singletons don't want to come unless they have a date, or another plan to flash, and the married ones are a complete pain-in-the-ass to coordinate with.

I have almost always regretted venturing out and 'joining the gang' for a new year do, whether it was last year's Bombay Gym Bar Nite, or a few years ago at the Renaissance Powai, or many many years ago at Esselworld (yes!), taking those surreal rides post midnight.

The ones I remember enjoying were a midnight walk in the coffee plantations in Madikeri (Coorg) or a trek along Tulsi dam in the Borivili national park (yes, we had inner line access, courtesy a forest guard connection, I confess) . Clearly I am a child of the wilderness and the husband better come up with suitable plans in the coming years.

Last week, one of my (hitherto) cool single friends called to ask me, "So what plans for new year, babe?"

Since I don't have a day off (again!), and I don't want to blow up a month's salary doing Goa or Dubai or wherever it is everyone is going, I was just warming up to the idea of staying at home, playing board games with the husband, music on shuffle, a celebratory glass of wine and the cat nibbling my feet and other body parts. So I said, "Nothing. I am home."

Her response rattled me. "See, you have a plan already," she said. "When you have a man, you usually have a plan!"

Correction. When you have a man, you have one plan. When you are single, you have several. Actually, you are the plan.

Happy new year and all that!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Men-who-pause

Okay, the title has been taken by a budding rock band, but it explains the subject of this blog the best, so with due respect to intellectual property, I am going to borrow it for a while.

The story is about men who stand still in the dating game somewhere after their mid 30s. Not that they really played the game earlier, but just that they feel they can now officially retire and allow life (read women) to happen to them. In fact I used to hang out regularly with two such men and the weird thing is, they actually thought I was one of them. Like I had paused too, and given up on romance, love and things that followed, and was perhaps the same shade of cynic as them. When I announced last year that I had found my man and was getting married, one of them turned a queer shade of purple.

Why? He said, plaintively.

Why not? I replied, bemused.

One had a legendary love story (my gut says it was one-sided) whose remnants lie somewhere in Australia. The other allegedly had a girlfriend, although in the five-six years of hanging out with him, I had never met her, but occasional references would be made to “Woman is coming over” or “Woman wants to meet” and other such. Till a common acquaintance told me she existed, I honestly thought she was fictitious. Anyway, at some stage, “woman” upped and left, perhaps irked by his lackadaisical approach or constant denial mode.

I still meet them occasionally, they still have the same peeves, they hate the same people, they hang out with the same randoms plus more randoms, and they have the same lack of initiative.

The fixit in me would suggest things like:

Want to go river-rafting?

No yaar, too much effort.

Want to join a salsa class?

I can’t dance, and don’t want to look silly..

Want to go wine tasting?

I am not really into wine yaar..

Want to come for a film appreciation workshop?

I hate watching movies that other people choose

Want to do brunch?

Would rather sack on a Sunday..

I feel like saying, “No wonder you are single, moron. You don’t put yourself out there. Where on earth are you going to meet the love of your life? She is not going to come waltzing into your office any given day. And since your building has no elevator, that’s ruled out too…”

So if the question is, “What is that point in singledom when you say enough is enough?” my answer would be “Never…” ( I know it sounds sexier when Brad Pitt says it to Julia Roberts somewhere in Mexico, but you get the drift)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Delhi belles

Okay, at the cost of being accused of stereotyping, here is a subject that has always interested me. I have always wondered what it is about Delhi girls and Bombay? Why do Delhi girls love Bombay (boys included)? And why do Delhi boys hate Bombay (girls not included)?

Here’s my simplistic understanding of the situation:

Delhi girls love the way Bombay liberates them.

Delhi boys hate the way Bombay restricts them.

Delhi girls finally can be what they want to be in Bombay.

Delhi boys can never be what they want to be in Bombay.

Delhi girls love the Bombay guy’s lack of aggression.

Delhi boys love the Bombay girl’s lack of aggression.

Okay, some more. Delhi boys try to look for Delhi in Bombay and are pissed off—hot phulkas off the tava, gym next door, wide open ring roads, signals that can be broken, half dozen servants to order around, clubs where they know your daddy’s name… The Delhi girls on the other hand look for Bombay in Bombay and are pleasantly surprised. That about sums it up. Now for the gory details…

Feisty, well groomed, spirited and often loud, the quintessential Delhi girl is a treat to the laid back, not obviously ambitious, non-flashy, mostly grunge Bombay boy who is still unused to a package of aggression and beauty in the opposite sex. But when the picture perfect eyeliner and the well-ironed t-shirt coexists with an appetite for whisky with water, and a loud mouth, the result is something else. Delhi girls on their part love the fact that finally, they don’t have to shout to be heard (pun unintended).

As for Delhi boys in Bombay, they already come with such an excess baggage of testosterone, anger and insouciance that the Bombay girl with her nonchalance and cool tends to take the edge off it. Not to mention she is one girl who will never ask what car he drives on the first date and never make a face when he mentions a not-so-cool address. But since he for years has been under the “Beta, sweater pehen lo” cloud, something’s gotta give somewhere. Also, for him, the transition from, “Do you know who my father is?” to sounds of “What goes of your father?” is not a happy one. He feels emalsculated. But kudos to Delhi boys who survive the two-year acid test, because then they go on to adopt the city like no other.

In the meanwhile the lazy Bombay boy is happy to let the Delhi girl do the work. It’s only when it comes to the 1BHK-happily-ever-after situation that Delhi girls fully realise the impact of what has happened. Suddenly, they miss their phulkas and daddy’s big car and driver, their winter wardrobes and entourage too.

Win some, lose some.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

F.R.I.E.N.D.S

At a house party recently, I ran into someone I kind of knew a few years ago, at best as a work colleague, although there was a fair bit of random socializing involved. Since I don’t believe in making friends at work, and since our sensibilities were as different as chalk and cheese, I had unwittingly checked her off my list thereafter. However when we met this time, there still was residual warmth, and we kind of bonded. The husband asked me if we were friends, and I didn’t quite know the answer to that. “Not really,” I said. He was perplexed.

The problem with women—at least most of the ones I know, is that we have higher benchmarks in friendships compared to our male counterparts. The transition from acquaintance to friend takes a while, that from friend to close friend, or someone that forms part of your inner circle takes even longer, and that from close friend to best friend takes a lifetime, and usually never happens.

Men on the other hand have very low expectations. In fact they don’t even care if the friends never show up, except when it is convenient to them. Notice how easily they use the term “best friend” while you analyse to death even before you use it for someone you’ve known over two decades?

It’s quite simple for them:

Anybody you drinks the same beer as you is your friend.

Anyone who smses you is your friend.

Anyone who answers your sms is your friend.

Anyone who supports the same football team as you is your friend.

Anyone who loves making tequila shots is your friend.

Anyone who plays pool with you is your friend.

Anyone who shows up… anywhere is your friend.

It doesn’t matter if they never showed up at your wedding.

It doesn’t matter if they never called when your mother was in hospital.

It doesn’t matter if all they did was freeload off you, and never delivered when it came to their turn.

It doesn’t matter if they don’t know where you live.

It doesn’t matter if they don’t know your cat’s name. Or the fact that you have one.

It doesn’t matter if they got you into a financial mess and then threw their hands up.

It must be truly liberating to be a man.

I have several male friends who are never sure who will show up at their parties, so just to add numbers, they invite absolute randoms. On the contrary there are others who only hang with one or two select friends for years, decades, and are not embarrassed having a birthday party for four people. I totally get that.

Which is why, whenever there is talk of inviting people over, and we are down to a list, and the husband says, “Lets invite four or five extras in case people don’t show up,” I am amused. If you are a friend, you show up, there is no two ways about it, at least in my book.

May be if men invested as much emotion in their friendships as they did in their beers or football, they’d end up not so poor after all.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Bean there, done that

It must be hard to be innocuous.. and it must be harder to be innocuous, yet elegant. Being a vegetable is work enough, but one that is always the bridesmaid, never the bride perhaps deserves a special mention, or lets say, a critics’ award. So goes the tale of Phaseolus vulgaris, the common green beans, whose life is not half as exciting as its name threatens to be. The story of the string beans is kind of the story of the not-so-good-looking supporting actor, who has to meet very exacting standards if he ever has to stand on his own.

Not that it doesn’t happen. I have seen many a disaster south Indian meal—like a recent one at Banana Leaf (a south Indian restaurant on Juhu-Versova Link road desperate to please the north Indian) that is capable of being redeemed, just by getting their beans right. Many a sambar has been salvaged by the gentle intervention of the beans poriyal, and many a stir-fry has jumped a few notches higher just because the beans were at the right degree of crunchiness.

To me, a rasam rice with beans made the south Indian way together with papadaams rates very high in the list of soul food. So does a very English recipe where you just string them, simmer or steam them, and then toss with butter, salt and pepper.

The trick is to find them young, when they are tender and succulent, as you usually do this season. The test being, breaking them using your thumb and index finger—if they do so with zero resistance, they are a prize catch. If not, nothing can really uplift their existence. So bean it.


Mike's Tangy string beans

A quickie that even inept bachelor boys can whip up in no time—it's high on taste, low on performance pressure, and the perfect accompaniment to barbecues.


Ingredients:

Beans: 200 gm

Garlic: 3-4 cloves

Soya sauce

Salt to taste

Olive oil



Method:

String the beans, wash and drain. Keep them whole, unless very long, in which case you can break into two.

Now heat olive oil in a pan and sautee the chopped garlic.

Now add the beans and sautee on high flame for 2-3 minutes, and then on low for a minute. Add soya sauce and salt to taste, mix well.

Serve as a side and mop up the liquid with a baguette or good old pao.





Beans Soudi style

You can take a south Indian out of poriyal, but you can’t take poriyal out of a South Indian. Here is my dad’s recipe for not quite the poriyal, but a less elaborate version of it, which in my opinion ranks higher simply because of its coy quotient. Colour is of essence, so whatever you do, don’t mess with the green hue.



Ingredients:

Beans: 200 gm, chopped fine

Green chillies : two

Udid dal- one teaspoon

Mustard seeds – one teaspoon

Grated coconut (optional): one tablespoonful



Method

Heat oil in a kadai, add mustard seeds and when they splutter, add the udid dal, and fry till brown.

Now add the green chillies and the chopped beans, salt to taste, and toss.

Cook on slow fire, stirring occasionally, and preferably uncovered. You can add water if you feel the beans are sticking to the bottom of the pan.

The beans should still be a bit crunchy and very green when you are done, which should take 5-7 minutes. Switch off the gas, and garnish with grated coconut. Serve hot with sambar rice or rasam rice.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Carrot Confidential

In the pink


There is a reason why the carrot is not taken seriously as a vegetable. Maybe it doesn’t approve of being cooked—in fact it seems to question why, like it were a fruit or something and is affronted by thermal violence. Personally I have always noticed that carrots in subzis or gravies always looked like afterthoughts—or at best a filler. If you must cook it, try the recipe in the box, its soothing and total comfort food material.

The carrot is however, happy to be chomped, grated, chopped into rounds or turned into those weird florets you often see in salad decors at gauche buffets.

Then there is this whole divide between the slim, slender pink ones with the real juice, and the short, orange fatties who have the meat, and make great candidates for soups or even our indigenous gajar ka halwa. I prefer the former, even though they just finish before you even start on them. They just have more attitude, me thinks.

I like mine raw, washed, but not necessarily peeled. I think it is unnecessary and too much work. Just as I think juicing a carrot is. When we were growing up, there was this whole big deal on carrots and your eyes at some of my friend’s houses. My parents, I think, took their gene pool and our good vision for granted, so there was never any of that spiel. But mom would regularly grate them, and throw some lemon juice and a chilly or two into it with a hing and rai tadka and it worked great for us. Who gave a damn about beta carotene anyway. She also made this amazing carrot pickle in a lime-mustard and chilly marinade that was out-of-this-world. Must tell the mother to send me a consignment of the same pronto, as I suddenly have cravings and cannot seem to focus on anything else.

But more than anything, there is a visual aesthetic about carrots that perhaps soothes the eyes—the orange pink bodies, the green leaves, the barely-there to robust fibre on their bodies. I don’t think Pankaj Kapur would have looked good chomping on anything else other than a carrot. And I still think carrot cake (especially the one at Moshe’s and Theobroma) is the best thing to happen to desserts, at least for those (like me) who believe chocolate is seriously overrated.


Sautéed carrots in pepper


Ingredients:

Carrots: 4-5

Olive oil

Salt

Pepper



Method: Slice carrots into rounds. In a pan, heat some olive oil, and throw the carrots into it. Cook on high flame for a minute, uncovered, and then cover it and allow to cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve as an accompaniment to anything.




Carrot kheer

Ingredients

Carrots – 200 gms

Milk – ½ litre

Sugar – 100 gms

Almonds – 8 -10

Cashews – 8- 10

Elaichi powder – ½ tsp



Method

Soak the almonds in hot water to peel the skin quickly.

Now grind the peeled almonds and cashews to a fine paste by adding little milk. Set aside.

Peel and chop carrots and pressure cook with little water. Cool and grind to a fine paste, adding sugar to it. Now cook the carrot paste for some time in the milk, stirring and adding more milk as required. To this, add the ground almond and cashew paste. Cook for a minute and switch off gas. Add elaichi powder, mix well, cool, refrigerate and have it chilled.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Staying alive

(This was written a few days after the 26/11 attacks on Bombay. It was shocking to me how people used tragedy to gain mileage in different ways)




Three days ago, I received an email marked to the world and its chihuahua that read, "So… I did a blow by blow of the terror attack. Here's a link…. Hopefully this will do wonders for my career, even if not for my country"


I was shocked. It thought it was in pathetic taste. Leveraging on another's pain for your own gain is the worst form of self-promotion in my book.

The problem with tragedy, especially of the proportions that occurred last week is that some people regret being a part of the action, however peripheral it might be. For instance, "I could have been at
the Taj lobby when it happened… I just changed my mind last minute and chose to meet friends at Dragonfly."

The point is, you weren't… someone else was. And that someone else got killed. You didn't. So stop making it about you—it's about them.

But people want their 15 seconds—real or engineered. They also have different ways of reacting to something like this. Some, like the father or the husband spend all night staring at the television and smoking their lungs out. Others call or sms every number on their phone book. A few forward inspiring emails to their lists or initiate petitions, some start Facebook threads or groups, collaborate on silent protest marchs, holding placards, and the like.

The real people go out there and do the work. They seldom talk about it, unless pressed for information by people like us. They seldom facebook, blog nor mass mail their work to groups to say, "Look, here's my lens' view of what happened… just in case you don't read the papers." Or "This is my full-length interview with a commando or Mr. X who escaped from the Trident that had to be edited."

They just do the work.

***
Oye Richa Richa Oye

There was another message—an unapologetic kind… "My first film Oye Lucky Lucky Oye releases today amidst all the hatred. Please catch the film, because it's a labour of love.”

The message was from a girl who came to work with me in a magazine three years ago. She was straight from college and was full of zest, idealism, passion, hunger and the right kind of anger. Six months into the job, one day, while we were having chai on the landing, she told me, “I want to do something else.. and if I don't do it now.. I will never do it…"

I had grown to depend on her, so it broke me a bit, but I tried not to flinch, as I assumed she had a dream. "Go for it, " I said. “You must always follow your gut. What is it that you want to do? "I want to act,” she said.

I was speechless. Should I burden her with the usual clichés of, “It’s not easy, you don't have a godfather or a filmi father… it can take years before you get a break..”

I didn't.

And thank god for that.

Because this weekend, when I took a break from gory images and shooting blood pressure to watch her film, she made me proud. In the near full-house, I saw her stealing the thunder from the lead actress. It was just three years after that balcony chat.

I was glad I set her free. It made me believe that if you want something real bad, it usually comes to you—that is if you do the work.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Playing by the rules

“If you really like the company, but only a third of what you intended to buy,” said my good-on-paper rational investor buddy.

“And why is that?” the stock virgin in me wondered. I was taking lessons from him in the stock market, having noted that this was a good time to join the fray, and wanting to learn from the best.

“For example, X may be a good company, but market sentiment is weak in the near term, so you might see quotational loss,” he explained.

“Hmm…interesting logic,” I said, “Almost sounds like rules of the dating game”

“Ummm… I didn’t quite get that,” said he.

I explain. “If you really like someone, show only a third of your interest. Else you are unnecessarily inflating value and market sentiment.” His face changed colour.

“You do have a point there. You know, I always have trouble hiding my interest. In fact, I’m too simple in matters of the heart, I tend to show my eagerness too soon. Thank god, at least I’m a rational investor,” he sighed.

I found it interesting that for someone who was really good at the logical game of finance, there was a kind of naivety when it came to the dating game. But it’s not just him.

I have been there too, and have always had friends or near and dear ones at any given point, who have had trouble “getting it right”. May be I can see it clearer now that I’m out of the game.

The signs are many - the commonest ones are rapid-fire messaging, missed-calling, being available for a booty call at midnight, constantly readjusting your life to coordinate with the other person, frequent inclusion of said person in your Facebook status updates, incessant tagging and commenting on said person’s photos and walls, slow dancing, kissing, doing shots, hi-fiving, and the whole shebang.

So relationships replete with status messages like, “X is so thrilled that Y is coming back next week” or “X just can’t wait to meet Y” are entering danger zones. As are talks of trosseau and wedding details when there hasn’t been so much as a proposal.

There’s also something to be learnt from the rules of poker here - a game I’m not very initiated in, but I know that it’s defined by the logic of ‘it’s not what you have, but what others think you have.’

So if one of the duo makes the other believe that he/she is the best thing that happened to her/him, well, it’s easy to start believing that.

Coming back to my savvy-in-money-but-not-in-love buddy, we have a deal now—he will teach me money, and I will teach him dating moves. Together we may both get somewhere, although I am not sure either of us will make a killing. But then, you never know.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Aye aye sir!

I have come to realise, through infinite wisdom garnered from eight months of marriage—that the only way to stop the husband from whining about his never-ending wish list is to act supremely excited about whatever he wants, and make it seem like he can get it pronto if he so wishes. I found that the way the male psyche works is that denial gets them into possession mode, while instant gratification makes them lose interest. So when in doubt, say yes! You can always do as you please later, no one is looking

Here are a few tried and tested nuggets, for those who care:

He: Lets get some plants for the balcony.. it will be nice no?

Me of yore: Arched eyebrow followed by the words, “Too high maintenance. Just because you can feed the cat occasionally does not mean you can parent a plant.. it is too much supervision..”

Me now: Is there a particular nursery you’d like to go to? I know this really nice one opposite the Bandra talao.. it will just take us 40 minutes to get there.. shall we go now or on my day off?


****

He: How about we go and buy some nice assorted cheese and olives and make a nice cheese platter? We can also get some lovely wine to go with it and have a romantic dinner..

Me of yore: You know there’s still cheese from last time, plus there is no space in the fridge, nor in the bar for any more wine.. so may be it’s not such a good idea..”

Me now: Excellent idea.. why don’t you go buy it while I set up the table?


****

He: I think our phone is really ugly.. we really need to get ourselves a nice cordless phone..

Me of yore: But we hardly use the landline. Why bother?

Me now: “How cool. I saw a sleek one at Croma. Why don’t you go pick up one and meet me at PVR for a movie later?


****

He: I have been dreaming about this game Elder Scrolls Oblivion for the last three nights. I want it so bad..

Me of yore: But you just bought four games last week! And we had agreed on one game a month, so you have already consumed four months of your quota.

Me now: How cute! Why don’t you go to Alfa and buy two instead? One is from me.. they are open till 9.30 pm, so you still have an hour.


***

He: I need new clothes.. I am running out of shirts to wear..

Me of yore: “What about the 57 shirts, the 246 T-shirts and 22 pairs of jeans that are lying in the closet unworn?

Me now: “Wow, even I’m tired of my clothes. Lets go to Cotton World right now and get you some nice linen pants and then may be we can go to Mango.


****

He: Why don’t we get a Christmas tree and invite all our friends and have a Christmas party?

Me of yore: Where will we put the tree once Christmas is over? And I don’t even have a day off for Christmas! How will we manage?

Me now: What a cool idea! We can easily manage 20 people.. will you go and get the tree?

****

He: You know, we could do with a plasma TV

Me of yore: What for? They show crap on TV anyway.. and in any case, our room is not large enough for a plasma

Me now: Let’s go to Vijay Sales right now.. it will still be open, and they might have some offer going for sure.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pulse fiction

It is that time of the year when dried pulses (various) are making a comeback—amongst other things, vegetables have become so dear that it is currently inducing the fiscally wise like yours truly to adopt hi-protein legume diets, Atkins or no Atkins (the last I checked, it appeared that it was cheaper to be a fruitarian) Suddenly, the husband’s coldcuts were seeming cheaper than my tomatoes and cauliflower.

Since it breaks my heart to buy veggies by the quarter of a kilo and since potatoes and onions don’t exactly a wholesome meal make, I began to explore legumes, a produce hitherto neglected by me-with-a-fetish-for-everything-fresh.

For one week, I am going the pulse route, I decided. A world of low fat, high fibre, no cholesterol, low glycemic index, high protein, high nutrients option at a remarkably low cost.

Until recently, my pulse odyssey was limited to rajma and chholey, apart from that great south Indian contribution, adai (but more about that in another article). It took me a while and a lot of minimization to perfect the recipes for the former two, but I finally culled out a simple, but great one for rajma from CY Gopinath’s blog (courtesy Guru da Dhaba in Lokhanwala) and the one for chholey which does not involve a million masalas from my Futura cookbook, an acquisition with my Futura cooker, courtesy the m-in-law’s last visit.

In my week of living with the beans, I also tried a moong kadhi, an olan, hummus, a chickpea and aubergine stew, a rajma salad and various adai mixes.

Of course childhood memories of the mother doling out a regular dose of a chowli-yam-raw banana-eggplant-concoction in tamarind gravy (puli-kutthi-kuttu, she called it) come flashing back. I never really acquired a taste for it, but it was an existential yet wholesome meal, to say the least. I could never tell if it was a main course or an accompaniment—so overwhelming was the veggie to gravy ratio.

My favourite pulse starrer is still the olan (the one with white pumpkin and red beans). It is subtly flavoured, yet satiating, and easy on the palate. I can eat it by itself, although rasam rice goes every well with it.




Hummus


Chickpeas: 200 gms

Juice of two lemons

Olive oil – one tablespoon

Garlic – 6-7 cloves

Tahini paste (optional) one tbsp

Salt to taste



Method:

Soak chickpeas overnight, and remove loose skins if any. Pressure cook till soft. Cool. Drain cooking liquid and set aside.

Grind the chickpeas and the chopped garlic to the right level of coarseness, adding the cooking liquid for consistency.

Now, squeeze the juice of the lemons into the ground chickpeas and mix well. Add a dollop of tahini paste (available at gourmet food shops or supermarkets) and mix well, adding salt to taste. Add the olive oil and mix well.

Garnish with chilli flakes or chopped parsley and serve chilled. Can be stored for a week.

(Works well as a dip or a sandwich spread, with lavash, pita bread or even crackers for a quick hunger fix. )

Tip: If you want to make your hummus more exciting, try adding a few pickled jalapenos to the chickpeas while serving.




Moong kadhi

Whole moong: 1 small cup, soaked

Curd

Turmeric powder

Chilli powder

Salt

Sugar

Besan



For the tempering

3-4 cloves of crushed garlic



Method:

Soak the whole moong for half and hour and pressure cook well with a pinch of salt.

In a pan, whisk 250 gm of curd, two teaspoons of besan, a pinch of turmeric, a pinch of chilli powder, salt to taste and a pinch of sugar. Mix well, breaking lumps formed, if any.

Now add the boiled moong to it, and enough water to have a kadhi like consistency and bring to a boil. Switch off gas.

For the tempering: Heat one teaspoon oil and fry the crushed garlic till light brown and pour over the kadhi

Serve hot with rice and papad.









Olan

White pumpkin ¼ kg

Red chowli 100gms

Green chillies – 2

Salt to taste

Coconut oil for garnish



Method:

Skin the white pumpkin and cut into 2’ x 2’’ slices of 1 cm thickness. Wash well.



Now soak the red chowli for half an hour and pressure cook it with a pinch of salt till well done, but still whole and not mashed



In a kadhai, transfer the white pumpkin add some water, salt to taste and cook on a slow flame.



Crush two green chillies and add them to the pumpkin, mixing well.



When the pumpkin is nearly cooked, add the cooked chowli into it, stirring well.



Drizzle some fresh coconut oil over the olan for the authentic south Indian touch(optional)



Serve hot with rice, sambar or even chapatis. Or just eat it neat, like I do.

She’s got the look

A cousin of mine has shaved her head off for a velvety look. The minute I saw her Facebook picture, I thought to myself, “How cool.. I’d like that!” I thought it would be a nice way to grow out the grays, and to check whether, if I had to start all over again, would my hair still come out as curly and stubborn? Or will I have those locks that toss at will? It would also be a great way to stop the cat from getting into my hair (yes, she does) when I am trying to sleep.

The best part is, my mother can no longer say, “Do whatever you want after you are married.” I thought about it, and decided otherwise. It’s taken far too long for me to grow out my curly locks, post my drastic snip over a decade ago. Besides, it also increased my pulling power exponentially, so why would I want to tamper with that? I also realised, that unlike my gorgeous sister, I didn’t have the chiseled looks to carry off a short crop. So more hair worked better for me than more face.

I remember after years of oiling, washing, drying, re-oiling and plaiting, when I finally chopped my tresses in the early 90s and got myself a Fido Dido look (remember him?), my mother wailed, “At least you should have waited till you got married. She sulked for months, years, shed many a silent and sometimes a loud tear. I grunted some more and chopped it off even further, to resemble Sinead O Connor, secretly thinking, “No Muthuswamy or Ramakrishnan will ever marry me now.. good riddens!”

And they didn’t. But eventually, I got tired of my high-maintenance hair cut. Rs 500 for the cut every four weeks, plus products that cost an arm and a leg. Also Raul Miranda moved to New York, and with him, the only hairdresser that went into raptures over my hair and didn’t ask me to thin it (grrrrrr) or straighten it (eeeeks!)

Long is sexy, I decided. Men seemed to agree, and I never had a longer line of suitors as I began to let my hair down. Finally, I picked one, and no prizes for guessing that it wasn’t a Muthuswamy. But finally the prissy aunts who once scoffed at my shaven nape were now all agog and approving of my suitable man and my bridal ‘avatar’.

Looking back, I think the hair was just a metaphor. What had actually happened was that I had fallen in love with myself, all over again!

So now, my heart goes out to my little cousin, who after making a few wrong choices is starting all over again. I don’t know what ripples she has created and the extent of melodrama happening at her house as I speak, but all I can say is, “Go girl, go! I love the look! And I love you for being the ‘me’ that was!”

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Coochie booooo..

“Hang up now.. I have to go back to work..”

(No, you hang up..)

“No.. you..”

(You..)

“You..”

Have you ever eavesdropped on such a conversation?

A strange phenomenon has begun to envelop the office, at least the estrogen-rich half of it. I heard somewhere that women who work together tend to coincide their biological cycles, but this is getting a bit far. I am talking about women in my working habitat coinciding their cooing cycles. Nothing wrong with that, except they are choosing to do it in the privacy of the ladies loo.

And people like me with small bladders are bearing the brunt of it. Okay, when I gotta go, I gotta go, and sipping goblets of herbal tea infusions does catalyse my ‘going there’ a lot. But these days, I am increasingly irked by the queue outside the ladies loo (even though there are four of them, and at least three that work).

Pray why? It’s not that everyone is under the influence of diuretics or anything. And it’s not winter either. The ladies are just taking their time, as they are cooing sweet nothings on the phone to their sweet somethings and choosing the loos as their boudoirs for doing so.

Call me a practical, no-frills type, but I find such conversations very amusing. And the body language, dulcet tones and sometimes accents accompanying them, even more so.

I am not saying this in a “been there, done that” voice, because I have never been a phone person, even in my giddy 20s.

So even though I have been through the nerdy boy phase and the cadaverous poet phase and the bad boy phase and the cute boy phase and every other phase one can go through before one “settles down”, I never went through the cooing-on-the-phone-for- hours phase. (Though I have done my bit of letters/email/sms flirting, but gushing over the phone is something I never graduated in.)

When I did try the phone-flirting for a lark—after getting suitably excited by the thought of sounding husky and dulcet on the phone (which never happens unless I have a cold), was when I cracked up with laughter. It so wasn’t me!

So phone-fixated boyfriends had to be dropped, as I was more a face-to-face kinda girl. In any case, after spending an evening with your boyfriend—what’s there to talk, was my point. So if he did call, I would be like, “Oh my god, we have to talk again!” Also I was never the type who needed to hear ‘his’ voice the last thing before going to bed and the first thing on waking up. And the last place I wanted to coochie-coo was in a work environment, and I wouldn’t understand what business men would have calling their women at 12 pm on a working day. And if the husband does call and asks whether he can have 30 seconds, I feel like saying that his 30 seconds are already up.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Yours, mine and ours

It was my first Diwali as a married woman (whatever that means, but I am constantly reminded that it is). All these years, Diwali meant being awakened at an ungodly hour, dousing oneself in sesame oil, then scrubbing it all off in the ritual bath, wearing new clothes and then each one of us then dispersing to knock on neighbours’ doors at 8 am with the traditional mithai thalis. As kids, we were ever too happy to do that, as we felt that the stuff we got in exchange was always more exciting. That done, we would have breakfast, and then go back to sleep, only to be rudely awakened once again by relatives who came visiting at the dot of lunch hour without prior intimation. This happened year after year unless someone had passed away in the family tree, which meant we had to be in mourning (sometimes we didn’t even know who it was). Even when I moved out of home and was living by myself, I had to report to the mother’s for Diwali duty, and no excuse was good enough. You just showed up and did what was asked to be done.

The husband on the other hand has been largely untouched by tradition, having led the life of an ambassador’s son in Bulgaria, Ivory Coast, Greece, Paris, Germany and other parts of the world and returning to India at the ripe old age of 25. Technically that would make him a non-resident Indian for the most part, who had a less demanding mom than mine, which insulated him from all things ritual. The only way he knows festivals is when he is reminded of them by others. Like when he gets invited to a holi party or when his sister texts him, “It’s rakhi next week, so save up..” Or now, when I tell him, “It’s Diwali, we have to go to the mother’s” or “It’s Ganpati/Gokulashthami/Dussehra/whatever, so the mother has sent goodies for us..”

So unlike any other year, this year, my Diwali was finally mine to do whatever I wanted with it. And if I hadn’t been working on the day, I would probably have spent the day watching DVDs or reading or sorting paperwork (which seems to be an affliction).

Strangely, I felt ritually bankrupt and missed my mother and her non-stop banter from 4 am.. “Do this, do that.. have a bath… dress up …go to X’s house….get ready… blah blah blah..”

I was bereft. I wanted someone to tell me what to do. And the husband was the least contender for the job. He was just happy that he had more couch time, and irked that the couch time was interrupted by sound effects of firecrackers. Unfortunately, my maid is Muslim, so has no Diwali connection, unlike the previous one who would have been aghast to see me in my sleeping shorts at 7.30 am.

So I just did my bit — had a bath, lit a diya, gave the maid a present, wished the mother, replied to all the festive text messages (which I normally never do), wore silk, set out for work, and wished everyone I encountered a Happy Diwali!

It felt good.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The color purple

Decidedly good-looking, elegant, and flamboyant, the aubergine ranks quite high in the vegetable hierarchy, not merely on account of its looks. Its association dates back to our show-and-tell years when we were taught that purple is the colour of brinjals (or aubergines if you went to ‘that kind of school’) and we made sure we used the right crayon while coloring it.

As north Indian as bharta, as Maharashtrian as bharit, as Bong as begun bhaja (which the Calcutta Club on Link Road Oshiwara makes the best of) as Dravidian as katrikai kozhambu, as European as ratatouille—the brinjal rules and blends. Mostly.

In its many avatars— the long skinny purple ones, the little round green and white ones, the massive shiny purple bharta ones, the slender leaf green, smooth-skinned ones, the short, stubby striated purple ones, or the miniature baby brinjals, one thing is certain about them—that they have personality and attitude.

And even after you destroy their looks, like in the case of bharta, they still pack a mean punch. They can be equally divine in the just-smeared-with salt-and-turmeric-and deep-fried-in-mustard-oil begun bhaja way or in a complex yet subtle blend of flavours and herbs as in a ratatouille.

The Women’s India Trust (of the famous WIT preserves and produce) has gone ahead and innovated further—their brinjal pickle has to be had to be believed. I still haven’t figured out how they make it and would welcome suggestions, if any.

Intensely loved or hated, the baingan still invokes mixed reactions. If you love it, you can’t have enough if it, and if you don’t, too bad! Here are two of my favourite recipes.



Baingan raita

This is a recipe from Lata, my cook from yore. She insists on calling it a salad though. You decide.

One large brinjal (bharta variety)
Few cloves of garlic
One medium sized onion
Chaat masala
Jeera powder
Two green chillies
¼ kg curd

Method:
Rub some oil on the brinjal and grill/roast on an open flame till tender and the skin is seen flaking evenly.
Now, peel off the skin, mash the pulp with a spatula, cool and set aside.
Chop one onion, a few cloves of garlic and two green chillies finely.
Add to the brinjal pulp, and mix well. Now add the roasted jeera powder and chat masala, and finally the dahi, and mix well. Serve with rotis or as a side dish.


Chickpea and aubergine stew

One cup chickpeas, soaked overnight
One medium sized aubergine
One large onion
4-5 cloves of garlic
Pepper powder
Three medium sized tomatoes
Salt to taste


Method:

Pressure cook the chickpeas till soft. Drain the chickpea liquid. Set aside

Chop the aubergines and tomatoes into small cubes.

In a pan, heat some oil and roast the chopped garlic in it. Add the thinly sliced onions and mix well.

Add the tomatoes, and cook well to a pulp and then add the aubergines. Cook covered for five minutes.

Now add the precooked chickpeas, blend well, adding the chickpea liquid as necessary. Cook slowly for 5-10 minutes, add crushed pepper and salt. Serve hot with rice or garlic bread.

Truth about cats and dogs.. (or men and women)

The mother in law asked, rather innocently, “So what does the cat do all day when you are away?”

I wanted to tell her, “Isn’t that the whole point of being a cat? Doing nothing?” Instead I elaborated on the detailed nothingness of being that a cat is blessed with.

Which is when it struck me how the husband, who never had a pet in his entire life took to our new feline member rather easily. He had found an ally. An ally who celebrated laziness with as much passion as he did. An ally who believed equally in the concept of non-work. Except that the husband is not as lucky as the cat—he only gets weekends off.

Would he have been as happy if we’d got a dog? I doubt. Because that would have meant walking the dog at least once (I would have volunteered the other two times), which in turn would have meant walking with the dog. Which would have meant walking. Which would have meant using up precious couch potato time burning calories he doesn’t have to burn since he is lean anyway.

A dog would also have meant giving it a bath on Sundays, which would have meant having a bath oneself (after you are so messed up, you might as well anyway). Which would have meant disturbing the body’s equilibrium by getting into work mode on off-days. Which would have been totally unnecessary as there is so much joy in doing nothing.

Which is when it also struck me that in the whole relationship dynamic thing, women are the dogs and men are the cats. We go to parlours, get our nails done, hair trimmed, floss, bathe, wear belts and bows, get shampooed, scrubbed, tweezed and epilated with shocking regularity. Not that the men care, but we think they care. May be when men turn into dogs and women into cats in relationships, there is a chemical imbalance, which seems to throw it off-gear. (Just try and imagine yourself with a man who gets a regular pedicure and you’ll know what I mean)

Women also bark (read communicate), eat everything on their plate, answer when summoned, respond to doorbells, alarms, phones and other extraneous noises, run unnecessarily, get excited over frivolities, wag when praised, fetch and preen.

Cats (read men) on the other hand do nothing. And they don’t care if you do nothing either. Yet, they end up having better feet, hands, skin, hair, whatever. Irrespective of what sex they are, cats are quick to co-opt laziness as their birthright and remind you that it’s unnatural to be any other way.

Hence the husband is in a state of bliss that we have a cat and not a dog. The cat reminds him of him.

So now when I return home from work on Sundays, instead of one person who doesn’t answer the doorbell, there are two.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Goddess of all things

Last week, the mother had a special birthday treat—brand new son-in-law (who absolutely digs her) and brand old daughter descended to wish her. Since the siblings were both away, I thought I should do the honours, so I took the day off and zoomed across to her.

Now, she is one of those people who doesn’t know her real birth date (the one on the passport is fake, she claims). So for years, she has been devouring the horoscopes of Virgo and Libra—she claims she is a mix of both, plus a dash of Cancer (that’s what her passport birthday makes her)

Technically, since she was born on Vijayadashmi (Dussehra), we end up wishing her on that day—it’s easier to remember, unlike other geriatrics in the family with not-so-significant birthdays.

For the mother, it was a dream birthday, and she was all aflutter (nothing new about that). Imagine the rebellious first-born me, not just married, but showing up dutifully with the husband (the current apple of her eye) at her door! But of course, mother being mother, made it more about us than about her. The wishes were accepted in the most coy, dismissive manner, and brushed aside to focus on other things —like how to stuff us with food, and leave us spent and somnambulistic.

So there was a four course meal— highlights including a carrot kheer in honour of brand new son-in-law, rice papads and gooseberry pickle for me, tamarind and ginger chutney for him, apart from the elaborate spread co-anchored by the father. And after all this, she also gave us a doggy bag home, apart from my Dussehra baksheesh.

The next day, she called to moan that, in her excitement, she had completely forgotten the vadaIs and appams. She also apologized for being preoccupied with her Dussehra engagements and wished she had more time to spend with us. Needless to say, we were overwhelmed.

But it wasn’t just about us. The mother would have been the same enthused, hospitable self had a neighbour come visiting, or a distant cousin, an acquaintance, and even those so-called near-and-dear ones who drop in once in a blue moon for their goody bags, but never bothered to show up at my wedding or check on her while she was in hospital. Her theory is, you have to do what comes naturally to you, and not expect anything in return.

But I am not my mother, and thank god for that. I call a spade a spade and a slime ball a slime ball. Unlike mom’s “innocent even while proven guilty” philosophy, I have a “guilty until proven innocent for now” one, and have no qualms about it.

I don’t know which one of us is happier, but my hunch is, my mother is. Like her mother was.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

No room for mush

Lesser morsels


Growing up in a Tam-bram household can do strange things to you. It can, for instance, make you believe that mushrooms are not very vegetarian, or they are what a closet carnivore would eat in a vegetarian household. Little wonder then, that we never went down that road for several years.

My mother still doesn’t eat them, and my father sniffs at them like he were a puppy.

But when I had my own kitchen, I set the rules and began experimenting with produce that was hitherto not in my domain. Like mushrooms, broccoli, avocado, and other so-called exotica

The beauty of the mushroom is that it can be a follower, yet retain its individuality at the same time. So while it happily blends with bean sprouts, peppers, pakchoy and other members of the stir-fry family, it can also call the shots on its own, just with a dash of thyme (see recipe)

Café Mondegar in Colaba made the most divine garlic mushrooms at one time. These were mushrooms, dipped in a garlicky batter and then fried, almost like pakodas—they were a divine way to start a Sunday brunch with a mug of beer (those were the days when working on Sunday was against my religion)

I don’t know how sanitized the Mondy’s menu has got now, but if you are around, do ask if they still make it. Might give me an impetus to revisit and bask in nostalgia.

I do notice that most households still have mushroom reservations. May be it has to do with the fact that you are never sure you have washed all the slime and mud off. Or that they perspire a lot, and don’t take very well to heat, and hence have to be cooked real fast and on high flame. But the fact is that they actually blend with almost anything. For instance, Sardar at Kala Chowki makes a divine Mushroom masala, which might be scoffed at by purists, but is a hit nevertheless.

Of course, they look really good dressed up with arugula or grilled to perfection with Provolone cheese, like they are at Grand Hyatt’s current Mushroom Magic festival at Celini. But for most of us who don’t normally have access to Porcini, Cape, Chanterelle, Oyster, Portobello and Morel, the regular ones available at the local market will do for now.




Sautéed mushrooms with thyme

This is one of my therapy meals, with a glass of red wine when I am not about to give a damn, but still want to eat something nice, something classier then khichdi

One packet mushrooms

Dried Thyme

Butter



METHOD:

Chop mushrooms into quarters.

Melt some butter in a pan and add a teaspoon of thyme to it.

Toss the mushrooms in the butter on high flame for two minutes. Serve.




Mushroom pulao

Improvise your regular pulao by throwing in a few mushrooms, or try this recipe:



One packet of mushrooms

One medium onion

4-5 pods garlic

2 green chillies, slit vertically

Tomatoes

Basmati rice

Two or three cinnamon sticks

4-5 pepper corns



METHOD:

Fry the sliced onions in a tablespoonful of oil till golden brown. Add pepper corns, chillies, cinnamon, tomatoes and cook till the gravy comes together.

Toss the mushrooms in, and cook on high flame for two minutes. Add the chopped garlic.

Add one cup of basmati rice, previously soaked and drained into it. Toss the rice with the vegetable mix.

Add two cups water and cook well on slow flame, stirring occasionally, till all the water drains off.

Game point

“Honey, I’m just stealing a car and going to a strip club. I’ll be done in twenty minutes.”
Response from the husband when I ask him when he is going in for a pre-dinner shower.

“Yes, I heard it, but I had to blow up a building, else I would have got killed..”
Response from the husband when I ask him why the ironwala was turned away, bell unanswered.

“Oh, just hang on a second baby, I am just playing darts with Jacob, else he won’t supply me the guns I need for my mission..”
Response from the husband when I ask him when he will be ready to eat dinner.

“I got attacked, so I had to get some bodyguards to save myself, so I didn’t see her leave..”
Response from the husband when I ask him why the cheque for the electric bill was not handed over to the maid as suggested this Sunday.

“In ten honey! Let me take this silly Carmen out on a date and be done with her..”
Response from the husband when I ask him if he’s ready for a game of Scrabble.

“This Kiki is being difficult. She will not give me the map unless I take her out again. But I just went out with her yesterday..”
Response from the husband when I announce I am ready to leave for the movie..

“O God! My cousin Roman wants to play pool with me. If I say no, he will stop sending me cabs when I am all drunk and have no car and can’t even steal one..”
Response from the husband when I want us to watch a new DVD together.

Okay, all ye whose eyes and ears popped out, the husband is not a terrorist, a womaniser, an alcoholic or a thief. The husband is in fact, a gamer, which makes him a master of many vices. Correction. They call it roleplay. And my marriage is doing good, and I still love him to bits.

I haven’t asked him to choose between PS3 and me -- I guess that makes me a good wife. So you see, I am balancing domesticity with Grand Theft Auto pretty good. I have even been using Play Station lingo. “If you do this, my happiness quotient will go up by 80 per cent.” Or “If you do that, you will earn 20 respect points.”

I was quick to grasp that gaming is not something that he did when he was single and had no domestic life. It is partly his life, his antidote. I read books. He kills people, hunts for maps, buys arms and blows up buildings. Telling him to stop gaming would be like telling me to stop reading. Or writing this blog.

About time I get a best significant other award from the Gamers Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Of bimbettes and other allergies

I sometimes wonder how I get by life, considering I have a low tolerance for most things. May be I am just lucky to be surrounded by people who get me. Topping my list of unbearables are bimbettes. Now, I have done considerable research on this species and have come to realise that contrary to what I used to think, there is no correlation between bimbettehood and IQ. Quite a few of them get into ivy league schools, make policy decisions, write poetry, know gadgets, blogs, the stock market and a few things tangible. But in essence, bimbettehood is about the consistent ability to act helpless in a given situation (usually more of the same) mostly in the presence of a member of the opposite sex (who by the way have a huge tolerance bordering on awe of this species).

Here are a few classics:

“Could you text me the directions to Prithvi Theatre? I am coming from town, and don’t want to get lost..”

I feel like telling them that if they are not enterprising enough to find out where Prithvi is, may be they don’t want to go there bad enough. And in any case, you Facebooking twit, Google has maps and we are on it!

But I don’t, since bimbettes somehow stay away from me. May be they know.

They also know that the recipient of aforementioned sms, usually a non-suspecting bloke, will actually take the time to reply to such messages, after consultation with direction divas like me. He does.. and it goes on further..

“Will it be possible for you to draw a map, scan it and mail to me so I can read it on my iphone?”

I feel like telling them, how come you never have trouble finding the Charles and Keith, Aldo or Mango store to shop for your weekend outings? Or haven’t they heard of Meru cabs? But then, I never get the chance.

The sms link continues..

“Would you know of someone who is coming from town, so I can get a lift?”

Yes, honey, if I had my way, I would lift you straight off this planet, is what I would have said. But they never ask me!

The bloke tears his hair out trying to find a pickup in the meanwhile.

“Will that person also be able to drop me back?”

Ummmmmmm

“Where exactly is Juhu? Is it near Andheri?”

That pretty much does it for me, and causes me to go into a rash, but then my inner circle makes sure such specimens never appear in my radius, so I am sorted.

Before the feminists leap at me, I am pleased to report that the male version of bimbettes, the himbette, if I may, has also been discovered, and reportedly has the same malfunctions, though a tad more aggravating. If I had a chance I would transport them all to an island and abandon them, so they can keep each other busy.

But I don’t, so I guess I will have to up the ante.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cabbage claim

I wonder if the humble cabbage knows what people think of him. Does he, for instance know that perceivably, he leads the most humdrum existence in their minds? He is the one mostly relegated to the role of ‘roughage” when someone is having a not so easy time on the pot. Worse, he represents all things prison-like and sickly, like cabbage soup in Dickensonian novels.

The cabbage is perhaps one vegetable that sits in the vegetable tray in every refrigerator, waiting his turn to be cooked, or at least blended with other vegetables in a sabzi, dal, salad, or act as carrier for coleslaw on his lucky day.

Unlike its distant cousin, the cauliflower which has ascended into a vegetable of great merit, a modicum of glamour and individuality, the cabbage remains characterless and insipid. It has no sex appeal whatsoever, and to top it all, it is always cheap and affordable. (I am not referring to the purple and red ones here that cost an arm)

In most households, a cabbage is a binder, either thrown it in with a few other veggies like potatoes, peas, capsicum, or cauliflower when there isn’t enough volume, or added an after thought in a salad. I find it intriguing that the cabbage has very few secrets despite having so many layers.

My dad had his way of balancing the tartiness of a sambar with the genteelness of cabbage. Except that he did it differently from anyone else I know. “It should be crunchy and green, so you have to cook it just right..” he would say. He did nothing to it except a tempering of mustard and udid dal, a few green chillies, slit vertically and gently crushed.” The garnish with coconut kind of nailed it, but is entirely optional.

By sheer accident, I too found ways in which the cabbage redeemed itself.. and even if you are not an aficionado, they are worth a try


Cabbage and carrot salad

Finely chopped cabbage: one cup

Grated carrots: half cup

Juice of one lemon

Green chillies, julienned

Salt, sugar



Method:

Finely chop the cabbage (julienne looks better) and grate the carrots.

Mix well in a bowl, add salt and a few grains of sugar, squeeze the juice of one lemon and set aside.



For the tempering:

Splutter mustard seeds in a kadhai, add a pinch of hing and the slit green chillies and pour the tempering over the salad mix. Mix well. Serve chilled, after half an hour, when the juices mix well.



Cabbage tikkis

Tur dal: one cup

Chana dal: one cup

Udid dal: half cup

Half a head of a small cabbage, chopped

Green chillies

Ginger: a small piece

Onion: one medium, chopped

Curry leaves

Salt to taste



Method:



Soak the dals for a few hours and grind to a coarse paste with chillies, curry leaves, ginger, adding just enough water.

Add the chopped cabbage and onions to this dal mixture, and then add salt, mix well.

Shape into small balls and deep fry.

Stupid Cupid

One thing living with a cat does is that it raises the bar for suitable men in your life by several notches. I am shocked how I wound up falling in love and getting married despite my feline love interests of rather exacting standards.

I figured, if it can happen to me, how dare it not happen to my best friend? (this is one of the side effects of being married—you can’t bear a singleton’s open-ended life). Although, in retrospect I wonder why I ever attempted to disturb her equilibrium.

Anyway, I am guilty of playing cupid on two accounts.

The first time, it was a Goa-based restaurateur, best friend of bad boy I had a thing for. He seemed okay—smart, articulate, well-mannered, and all those things men are when they are playing the field. Anyway, I thought it was a perfect setting for double dates, in case bad boy and I worked out. Thankfully, we didn’t.

But bad boy’s best friend took a shine to my best friend. And I played catalyst, and egged her to go out with him. She did, and never forgave me.

She didn’t like the fact that he whistled for no apparent reason, and smoked without asking if she minded.

She hated his fake American accent.

She didn’t like the fact that he drove a car smaller than hers.

The last straw was: she didn’t like him getting a doggy bag packed from the restaurant on their date. Now this objection I could not sustain, since I always get doggy bags packed, as I hate wasting food. But her point was—you can’t do that on a first date.

Okay, point taken. I make a retreat.

Time passes. I meet old work buddy. I scheme again. Okay, this time I thought I got it right. He was into Akbarnama. She was into Akbarnama. He like Mir’s poetry. She liked Mir’s poetry. He kept a good house. She kept a good house.

Perfect, I thought.

It wasn’t.

He was smitten. She was not.

He was a “What’s up?” kind of a guy. She was not.

He was late. She was not.

He lived to eat. She ate to live.

End of story.

Needless to say, I got flak for it. “How could you?” she screamed.

Now I have a rather charming investment banker friend I would like to see her with, but I am resisting. Twice bitten, thrice petrified.

Till I found her a match she would give me her right kidney for. I put her in touch with someone who had found a kitten on the road and wanted it to be adopted. She responded immediately, “I want him..!!!” I was stumped.


Okay, finally I found her a suitable boy!

It’s been a year and now she doesn’t get enough of him, shoe shopping and salon time, so why add a man to that and complicate things?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Shaadi baar baar!

I recently got married for the second time. Okay that sounded scary—one marriage is work enough. What I meant was, I finally got my marriage registered. It’s now a deed done in full alertness—notarized, signed, and sealed by the powers that be. It's no longer something you did last summer when you were in a zombie state of mind (who isn't at 7 am?)
The reason I postponed the paperwork was because I didn't want the romance to evaporate on day one of being married (try spending an hour at the MHADA office in Bandra and you will know what I mean). After getting a tareekh and a token number, assembling assorted documentation and photos, getting them photocopied, attested and verified, our retinue (the husband, me and our three witnesses) boldly ventured into the mad, chaotic and highly populated world of marriage registration (I was told that approximately 70-80 marriages get registered everyday).

I was in for two startling revelations. The first one is that the Memorandum of Marriage (the form that legitimizes it all) doesn't deem it necessary for the bride to work. So while the “groom” and the three witnesses had a column of “occupation” to fill in the form, I (the bride) didn't. Which technically meant that I could live off the husband all my life. The thought actually made me feel happy and liberated from the onus of working, and I am wondering what is a good time to break the news to my “provider.”

Revelation number two was that the only real document that proves you exist and are of a suitable age is your passport. Not your PAN card. Not your Election card. Not your ration card. Not your Master’s degree certificate.

I unfortunately hadn’t attached mine as I thought I was empowered by the rest anyway. The slowest-lady-on-the-planet rummaged through my forms for a good 22 minutes and looked unimpressed. She declared that I had no age proof. I pointed to her my date of birth which was printed on my PAN card and Election Card and also vaguely indicated on my ration card. I was certainly old enough to be married by any standards. She was still expressionless. “Passport nahi hai kya?”

I didn’t think one needed a passport to get married, so I was a bit taken aback.

Then I did the unthinkable. I flashed my press card and told her that I was a reputed journalist from an esteemed paper and don’t do hanky-panky. This, despite the fact that I wasn’t really required to have a job, as per the form.

She was beginning to believe me when she saw the wedding card (another vital document) which had baby pictures of me and the husband. She continued staring at for three minutes. Now I was beginning to look shady. She passed it on to the slowest-man-on-the-planet who took one look at it and one look at us and said, “Child marriage?”

This was not going well. Of course we finally convinced them it was only us, adding how boring the other’s cards were, and how thoughtful we had been to think out of the box. Luckily the mob around them was soon entranced and the situation was diffused enough. The papers moved to the next counter.

We are now legally married.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Muddy waters

Somehow, a vegetarian writing about food is looked upon as a celibate talking about sex. Okay, I don’t think food when I see a lamb or a crab, and I do have a vegetarian kitchen for the most part (except one shelf in my freezer for he-who-must-be-satiated-with-cold-cuts). But this is not an attempt to celebrate vegetarianism or to condemn meat—just that I can only write about what I know.

And I do know my veggies—just the sight of them makes me happy. Bright orange carrots, shiny happy purple brinjals, tender green succulent beans and lady fingers, flaming red tomatoes, convoluted red, green and yellow peppers and luscious pumpkins with their guts spilled out, can do a lot to alleviate my mood.

I can’t help noticing the hierarchy in the vegetarian world. Like in the world of showbiz, there are stars and there is the supporting cast. Some vegetables —like brinjals, drumsticks, cauliflower, capsicum, lady fingers, baby onions will always be stars, since they have the personality and intensity to carry off a movie on their own.

The others get relegated to supporting cast—carrots, radish, tomatoes, cabbage, gherkins, sweet potato, colocassia (arbi) raw banana, yam, spring onions, bottle gourd (doodhi), fenugreek(methi), spinach (palak), white pumpkin, snake gourd (padval), peas, and the lesser varieties of beans that populate the periphery of most vegetable carts.

These, though with quirks of their own, lack individuality and sometimes, aesthetic and therefore need to cling to something else. Like palak with aaloo or paneer, methi with aloo, white pumpkin with beans, snake gourd with yam or raw banana, carrots with cabbage or beetroot, tomatoes with anything.

The potato is an exception, because it can either be the star or the supporting cast depending on the situation.

But sometimes, supporting actors can walk away with the accolades. Like arbi. My childhood memories of these muddy, messy tubers include amongst other things, feeling grossed out by the mucilage that coated your palms as each one slipped out of its skin when peeled post boiling.

“Have to do the work before you enjoy the fruit,” was what my dad would say. It was he who actually made me fall in love with this tuber, with his numerous creations, most of which involved tamarind. He often threw it into a sambar, and we greedy ones would eagerly fish them out one by one. He also made a fine dry arbi with a tamarind reduction (only we didn’t know it was called reduction those days).

When I had my own kitchen, arbi would make an appearance ever so often, at least once every two weeks. Here are three of my favourite arbi recipes—one inherited from my father, and two from my mother-in-law.


Arbis in tamarind gravy

Juice from a lemon sized ball of tamarind, soaked in water

Arbis: ¼ kilo

Sambar masala: 2 tsps

Salt to taste



Method:

Boil and peel the arbis. Cut the bigger ones into twos or threes and transfer to a large bowl.

To these arbis, add salt, turmeric powder, two teaspoons sambar powder, and the first and second pressed juice of the tamarind. Mix well and set aside.

Heat oil in a kadhai and add a teaspoon of mustard seeds. When they splutter, add hing and curry leaves followed by the arbi mixture.

Cook on a slow flame for 10-15 minutes, tossing occasionally till the tamarind juice is completely reduced and the arbis are dry.

Serve hot with chapattis or rice.



Arbi cutlets

¼ kilo arbis

Chat masala



Method:

Boil the arbis for at least three whistles in a pressure cooker. Cool and peel.

Flatten each peeled arbi on your palm, shaping the edges as you do so.

Heat oil in a shallow pan and shallow fry the arbis, turning them over as they turn golden brown.

Sprinkle chat masala on the arbi cutlets and serve hot.



Ajwain-wale-arbi

Arbis: ¼ kilo

Ajwain: 1tsp

Salt, chilli powder, amchur to taste



Method:

Parboil the arbis and peel them. Cut into round slices and set aside.

Heat one tbsp oil in a pan and add the ajwain. When it splutters, add chilli powder and the arbi slices and stir.

Add amchur powder and salt to taste and cook on slow flame till the arbis are somewhat crisp.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Eureka, Eureka!

The husband complains that I often use my column to spank him and he usually waits for Tuesday with bated breath to find out what he has done this time. He is also convinced that through the column, I am trying to build a support group for myself by making me out to be the poor thing and him the incorrigible.

My argument is— what’s the point being married when you can’t even generate enough material for a gender column? Plus he can always write a counter column to mine, I tell him—nothing is stopping him.

I also assure him that he has enough supporters too, like men and women who write to me saying, “How sweet of him to actually think of a Play Station game that you both can play,” and “How cool that he wants to watch football with you and not with a bunch of rowdies in the bar,” and ‘I wish more men celebrate their women like your beau does..” etc etc. So no worries on that count—enough brownie points have been accrued.

He says no more and grins his famous grin. But a few weeks ago he appears on national television to discuss what men want and propounds that every woman treats her man as a life-long science experiment. I am intrigued.

Now, I am a science junkie. I loved proving the Archimedes’ principle, synthesizing Aspirin and Para-amino-benzoic acid in the lab, understanding the hues and complexities of Azo compounds or even studying the effects of Castor lipase on Curcumin. I love the fact that there is an objective, a supposition, a procedure and a deduction for every experiment—that’s how science works (at least that’s how it did when I was in it)

But can there be something more fatalistic and unrewarding than the experiment of fixing a man? Why would we want to do that? I would rather study why cats don’t fetch and dogs do.

Let’s just assume for a minute that my experiment is to find ways to make the husband game less, eat on time and sleep more.

If this were an actual science experiment, I will go about it by proving that the intensity of gaming is inversely proportional to REM sleep which is scientifically proven as good sleep. Or I will demonstrate how the body’s metabolic activity reduces by 10% for every hour after 9 pm— hence, later the food consumption, more the load on the digestive tract, less the coefficient of metabolism, more the cumulative disorders of various kinds.

But this is not a science experiment. It is a husband. So I have to find non-scientific ways of making a point— like suggesting to him other ways of recreation or unwinding. Unfortunately, cooking, reading, yoga, swimming or gymming seem to be more of a production and require a time, space, posture, discipline and above all, props much more intense than his favourite antidote which only requires a gaming throne, an ash tray, a can of beer and a controller. It’s minimum pain, maximum gain, and there’s no way science can counter that argument.

Science loses. I sleep on. Life goes on.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Driving Ms Difficult

There are only two places in the world that I can be totally with myself, almost meditative —without having to make small talk, answer phones or doorbells, smile, and stay as long as I want— my bathroom and my car.

To allow a stranger to inhabit one of these for an extended period of time is a big decision. The first, thankfully is out of question, the second becomes inevitable sometimes. Even so, in eight years of owning a car, I have never felt the need to have a driver.

First of all, I love to drive. Now don’t give me that “you can’t be kidding, this is Bombay” look. I love the sense of isolation and purpose it gives me, I love how I can be anything I want to be when I am behind the wheel, and I love the fact that it is the only real alone time one can have these days, considering that I am a quick bath person.

More importantly, I haven’t met a driver who knows Bombay roads better than me, which actually makes me eminently hirable (if you are willing to pay a bomb).

But more than that—having a driver defies my concept of space, and besides, I have various issues with the aforementioned person, some of which are aesthetic.

First of all, I like my men bathed and scrubbed every day, smelling clean, wearing clean clothes and socks. I don’t care about facial hair or their sense of style or ability to speak, read or write English. But I definitely do not want someone who is a mobile junkie or who chews strange substances and spits every five minutes.

Second, I like them quiet, which is harder to find.

Third, they shouldn’t be overly smiley. The thing is, when someone smiles at you, one feels obliged to smile back and fake smiles always hurt my jaw, and I have been doing enough of that lately, so I fear one day it might get dislocated.

So even though the parking outside my office involves a bit of circling, and the potholes are still potholes and the traffic is still traffic, and the car does get towed away occasionally, and strange dents do appear from nowhere, I am still not willing to surrender my wheel to a stranger.

I think if I ever get around to hiring a driver, I’d only ask him two questions (since he purports to be a driver, driving should be a given I guess)

1. How often does he bathe?

2. Would he describe himself as a talkative person?

The husband on the other hand thinks we should self-drive to work, and then engage a driver for after-hours recreation.

“Huh? Where will you find such a person?”

“I am sure there are many young men out there who would want to work from 8 pm to 1 am. How do you think call centers find people?”

I offered myself for the aforementioned job, but he said he couldn’t afford me.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Show me the mamma

Men don’t know what to do with their mothers. Actually, they haven’t had the foggiest for a long time, but they seldom get caught, as there have always been others to diffuse the situation. The mother has been a thing to deal with, get goodies out of, and escape really fast.

Most of them don’t know there’s a way out till they meet a woman is willing to take over— sister, wife, girlfriend, or just goodwill ambassador.

So when the mother-in-law was visiting, I was quite sure who’d end up doing the work even though the husband hadn’t yet announced that he was working through the weekend.

In the five odd days she spent with us, the total time the husband (the peach of her eye, incidentally) spent with her on a one-on-one was 46 minutes. He did try to teach her the fine art of registering for a petrol loyalty program online, but was seen tearing his hair out in less than ten minutes.

I realised that the difference between mothers and mothers-in-law is the difference between a cat and a dog—while one is discreet and invisible, the other is conspicuous and visible. Every action is announced, every thought is spoken, every silence filled. It takes work. Work that the husbands don’t want to do.

Brothers are no better. While my brother lived here, he was never around, so it worked out nicely—he went to work in the am and returned in the am. Since he moved to America, his visits have been spaced out such that he had had a lot to pack in each time, so mom-time was not such a priority. In any case, in two out of five times he has visited, my mother has been in the hospital, rendered speechless by a stitched-up rib cage, millions of tubes and needles. Conversation was limited.

Also, while visiting home, the brother has an agenda to keep himself from talking. He fixes things. So if it’s not the computer’s CD ROM drive or sound card, it’s the cordless telephone or the camera or my dad’s binoculars or the DVD player or the vacuum cleaner. Perfect! Hours of not having to make conversation or have an opinion!

As for overseas phone calls with him, mom is not very good with those—she imagines a time-bomb ticking away, and the need to pack in a lot. Usually, it ended up being a babble-fest with neither party figuring out what the other was saying. Flabbergasted, he gave up. Now, when he felt the need to call her, he called me. Till I reminded him that was not cool— I couldn’t be standing in for her forever, so he would have to deal with it.

I then suggested to mom that she ask open-ended questions, like I would tell a junior colleague about an interview—“Make him talk,” I said. “Don’t ask questions that he can answer with a yes or a no. And listen.”

A few weeks later, the brother called me to complain, “What have you done to her?”

Someone’s got to do the dirty work. Pity it’s always me in my family. Make that families.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The other side

Two things happen when you get married. Singletons start believing you are not one of them. Smug marrieds start believing you are one of them, and are quick to adopt you in their fray. It’s hard to say which one is worse. It’s as though your chemical composition has been altered, and your valency readjusted. Suddenly you are viewed like an unstable hydrogen atom that has changed into a stable molecule of water. They call it settling down.

I guess more than transitioning into ‘being married’, one has to transition into ‘not being single any more’. If you have spent most of your life being single, and understanding related sensibilities, you tend to miss being included in the singles group. It almost feels like an act of betrayal, except you had nothing to do with it.

The other day, a singleton said to me, “Oh, you married ones…!” It felt weird, like being outcast. Not that the singles give you the benefit of doubt or a three-month notice period or any sort of warning before the exclusion. They just un-single you, and it can be a bit sudden.

So friends stop calling you on weekends for those buddy chats because they think they will be intruding on your time with the significant other. No one makes any spontaneous plans with you or calls you ‘just like that’ because they are afraid you will reject them. Almost no one calls you after 9 pm, since it’s considered sacred coupledom time. Even your cats give you attitude, because now you come with excess baggage. Your mother and your favourite aunt are more interested in ‘him’ than you.

Since you are largely abandoned by your single friends, you end up constantly doing things with your significant other or other smug-marrieds. To top it all, you get accused by readers of being in a ‘I, me, my husband’ bubble. It’s a no-win.

And to think that I was a happy singleton, undeterred by the biological clock and no qualms about going home to my cats or my baby potatoes. I never had a dreary house, a sad room, weird parents or a pesky landlord that kept me away from home, wanting to stub cigarettes, down shots and pass out.

I have been married four months, and no thank you, I am tired of answering the “How does it feel?” thing. Just that I still feel as participative in singleton discussions, their politics, preoccupations and peeves. I still relate better to my single friends than my married friends—the latter somehow are too bound by the script, too busy indulging in roleplay or discussing wedding videos, investments, their next holiday, ‘rent Vs buy’, ‘to baby or not to baby’, EMIs or car upgrades.

May be the next time someone asks how it feels, I’d say, “Weird. I miss going home to me.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

As dear as it gets

Once upon a time, when my dad was still working, I heard him use a term very often while explaining the union unrest in his company. It was about the ‘Dearness Allowance’ being increased or decreased and sometimes frozen (!). I don’t exactly know what it meant, but it sounded good, and I filed it away somewhere..

Recently, the term found a definition for me when I read this in a pocket sized Don’ts for Husbands, 1913, bought on a whim at Crossword the last time the husband and I went out for retail therapy (Don’ts for Wives was out of print, which was the only reason it wasn’t bought)

Pg 14, para three of the book states:

Don’t think that if you married merely to get an unpaid housekeeper, that position is going to satisfy your wife. She could have obtained a good salary as professional housekeeper to any other man if she had wanted to: she married for other reasons.

Not bad for 1913, I thought.

I know many single men who would pay to keep their house in order. On the other hand, there are women who could do with house managers. Fortunately the universe plots so that opposites attract, else most marriages would either be totally competitive or a total mess.

Even so, I think men have a pretty good deal with marriage (even if they are paying EMIs). Women, on the other hand now do two jobs and get paid for one.

Which is when it struck me that all efficient wives should demand a dearness allowance from their husbands. If you do money, job, social graces, aesthetics, food, and children (whenever they appear) with equal finesse, why not make a career out of it?

So I told the husband I wanted to be paid for the following:

For giving him a wardrobe makeover and being his in-house style consultant.

For handling reply-all family correspondence.

For not maxing out his credit card, and for always refusing expensive presents and opting for practical ones.

For turning a gaming parlour into a home.

For replacing Pronto’s in his life with a wholesome three-course lunch.

For introducing him to the fine joys of vegetables.

For being his driver for most social outings.

For replenishing all that rapidly extinguishes in the refrigerator, the grocery cupboard, the toiletry cupboard, miscellanous.

For fixing nonworking plug points, taps, sinks, DVD players, lamps et al.

For replacing sulky maid with smiley maid.

For replacing smiley maid with another smiley maid when we moved house.

For mysterious piles of ironed shirts and trousers appearing in the wardrobe.

For finding his favourite white shirt and his socks.

For subtracting purple stain from aforementioned white shirt.

For relieving him of a quack doctor who fed him animal doses.

For watching movies full of people killing people, blowing up cars, and jumping off choppers with him.

For being a sounding board for what he is currently doing on his PS3 game—how many cars and establishments he has blown up, people he has chain-sawed, guns he has bought, respect points he has earned.

For sensing when is not a good day to talk and giving him space.

Into that heaven of freedom, dear husbands, give us this day our dearness allowance.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Last man standing

A friend of mine, a universally acknowledged alpha male said to another about a brunch invitation recently. “I’ll be there by 1 pm. By 1.15 pm, I will be the most drunk person around. Count on that…”

It was meant to sound cool. It was meant to get eyes widened. It was meant to get us all competitive.

Another was bragging about his brush with a dangerously bizarre game called Last Man Standing at a farewell bash recently. It seems a few of them decided to do a tequila marathon. The person who was still standing at the end of it won. “We targeted twenty shots each. By the end of it, I was so blown….I thought I was going to die,” he said, with much bravado.

Smart observation that. I wouldn’t think 20 tequila shots would leave you with enough perception of death.

One Mr. Jim Beam cribbed about how he went to this PR-led free booze do recently and how the cheap stuff was so awful that he and his friends had to go someplace else to wash it off and dilute it with the good stuff.

At my sangeet, there were at least three women who spent more time throwing up in the loo than breaking it down on the dance floor. When one was told to get something to eat so she’d feel better, she said, “I don’t do food. I’ll have another shot.”

I feel very old fashioned when I hear stuff like this.

A certain Mr. Partyholic once bragged to me, “You have no idea what I used to be. I was the guy who got the party started long after the party was over. I was the after-party guy..”

I was supposed to be impressed. I wasn’t. Although it sounds like a career—get a bunch of wasted people on any given night, and get them even more wasted. So when people compare notes, they can say, “I passed out at 4 am. How long did you last?”

I must imagine we live in terribly difficult times.

Here’s my theory, however far-fetched it might sound. Most men and women drink and/or smoke because they don’t know what to do with their bodies in a social scenario. The drink and the cigarette serve as props. It gives them something to do, it makes them look less clumsy or gauche. It talks their face away.

Which is why when people notice me, they usually say, “What, no glass? Or, “Don’t smoke?” Strangers proffer additional wisdom. “Health or religion?”

I feel like saying health is my religion, but I’d rather not waste humour on someone who is not quite there, so I smile cheekily.

I learnt the importance of props while being a production person in a theatre group. Seems when people are just standing together and talking, it looks weird—so you give them a book, a scarf, a jacket, a phone, a cigarette, a glass—something they can play with.

Have you noticed soaps on TV and how something seems amiss (apart from logic) when a family just gathers in a semi-circle and talks. They have no props!

As for me, I found my prop. I play with my locks. It keeps me engaged and looking interested for as long as I want to.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Once upon a TV

I abhor television. Okay, it’s out there, and I’m feeling better already. More than I hate what’s on it, I detest the fact that it is the nucleus around which most households are built. “Where should we keep the TV?” is always the question. It is never “To have or not to have?”

Unless resisted with all one’s might, the television becomes the defacto shrine in every home. When I lived with my parents, the one thing that made me break into hives was to find them entranced by a dumb screen when I walked into their home. When I excitedly shared what happened in the day with my brother, all I heard was a grunt.

In the hostels where I spent a good six years, the TV room was where losers or women in nighties hung out, and I didn’t want to be caught dead there. So I survived the soap bug, even though I must admit, Ridge Forrester’s sex life did catch my fancy every once in a while.

A friend of mine watches cartoons for a living —his job is to make kids eat better by choosing the right cartoons on his TV network for their lunch hour—apparently the more they liked the cartoon, the better they ate. Eh? Is that how it works?

My childhood was less complicated. We ate because we were hungry. Our mothers had trouble keeping us from food, not feeding us. The TV entered our house when I was nearly 15, and tired of peeping into strangers’ windows to see what they were so mesmerised by. I wouldn’t say it changed our lives.

Even now, it will not kill me if the nine odd minutes I spend in a day in front of the telly (a low attention span is one of my other disorders) were also to disappear—very rarely am I taken in by what’s on it, except when Jamie Oliver or Nigella Lawson are practising their culinary seductions or Seinfeld is on yet another rerun.

When I first stepped into the husband’s (then the boyfriend) apartment, I was appalled to find that the television was the single largest living thing in the room— all action was designed around it. The other room was not inhabited, save for a few cartons and a mirror.

When we moved house recently, my only condition was—no TV in the living room. He looked distraught. I then sold him the idea of a room exclusively for entertainment, so I would never have to go there (mostly), or pretend it didn’t exist.

He bit that and it’s turned out to be a win-win. I never have to walk into a house and be greeted by a TV. He never has to ask if the TV is bothering me (my answer will always be a yes).

So I now have the rest of the house and he has the room with the TV and all the electronic goodies. He has never been happier. Plus, we now invite each other to dates in our respective zones and it feels like we are in courtship all over again!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Addicted to shop

A friend of mine buys new shoe cupboards every year. It’s not that the old ones are battered. Just that the shoes don’t fit in anymore—she has bought several new pairs.

Another friend buys books she has no place to keep. A third has been shopping incessantly since she moved to Hong Kong, two months ago. I figured the shopping would have stopped by now, but it continues unabated. The last I heard from her, which was two days ago, she was on another shopping marathon. She had just picked up formal wear from Club Monaco, Zara and Mossino Dutti, summer dresses from Mango and bags from Nine West. And was going back for more.

It’s an affliction. Men watch TV. Women shop. Greater the churn, more the screen time or more the shopping, as the case may be.

I have been there. Sales were an excuse to buy three where you would have bought one. The fact remained that there were serious afterthoughts about two of the three the very next day. Six months down, one is still unworn. Your 50% off is more like 40% gone.

Now, I feel like a bit of a weirdo. Malls make me sick. They have taken away whatever iota of craving I ever had for shopping. Duty-frees make me want to never travel again. Sales give me a rash. I am impervious to all those scrumptious breakfasts thrown in at pre-sale dos of fancy stores. May be I am a corner-shop girl and this retail overdose tires me. Or I am just in a philanthropic mode, having decided not to buy anything for myself for the rest of the year.

On that rare occasion where I actually set out shopping, I play a little game. If I fancy something in a shop, I never buy it at first sight. (It’s like meeting that perfect guy and not kissing him on the first date.) I go home, sleep over it, and if I want it just as bad the next day, I trudge back and buy it. Usually, I never want anything so bad— the game works.

So I get by, while people around me max out their credit cards, and are sucked into the compound interest pool.

For my wedding, the mother told me—buy whatever you want. It’s on me. I chose one saree. She said, “One? What will people say? Buy at least four!” I settled on two. Five more were thrust upon me by others. They are all silently waiting in my trunk.

Meanwhile, friends from Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong beckon, “Come here for a holiday. It’s great for shopping!” My point is, why go on a holiday and then feel sick?

It isn’t ironical that my soon-to-be-adopted cats are called Mango and Zara. I figured, if I have Mango and Zara at home, I will never have the urge to go out and buy them.

It’s twisted, I know, but I have a feeling I may be right.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Packers and movers

Strange things are unearthed when you move house. (Assuming of course, that you actually end up unpacking all the cartons) Appliances that are largely obsolete, because you never had that perfect party to use your ‘ice-cream maker’, and now, you are in a “I- don’t-want-to-do-any-work-that’s-not-absolutely-necessary mode.” Sweaters you would never be caught dead wearing. Oversized jackets. Gifts you once unwrapped and quickly wrapped them back because they were so not you. A steamer you once bought for daily cleansing, but never used, because it was too much infrastructure to deal with at the end of a hard day. A hookah that looked good when you inherited it, but is now totally out-of-place with where you are. An inflatable chair that was a hand-me-down from your brother. Letters, cards, pictures of ex-boyfriends. Music they recorded for you. Printouts of a story you wrote many moons ago and are now ashamed of. Pictures with random people you’ve forgotten the existence of or don’t really care for.

Moving house is either about addition or subtraction. A friend of mine who recently moved from a one bedroom to a two bedroom was wailing for two weeks about how there’s so much space to fill up, and despite using all their furniture, they still had space, so they went out and bought more.

I have never understood this. First we complain about the space crunch. Then, we finally have space, we are so intimidated by it that we quickly go and fill it up.

Subtraction on the other hand is really a lightener, a mood elevator in more ways than one. To me, moving has always been an excuse to reorganize and then give away. Clothes, shoes, curtains, lamps, kitchen stuff, knick-knacks, knick-knacks and more knick-knacks, tax papers, work papers, insurance papers, car papers, home papers, just-any-paper. The shredding (papers) and the giving away (things) is the fun part. Imagine giving away all the aforementioned items and not having to deal with them ever again. I would pay for that! I think all of us will be happier if we open cartons with more frequency, whether we move or not.

But if you are, like my husband, the type that never opens mysterious cartons except at gun point, and then shudders to find phones that were drowned in champagne (whatever!), sunglasses that would work on a retro night at a pinch, floppy disk sets, PC games and VCRs. May be I have had a good effect on him— he was ready to give it all away. Of course, only after I assured him that only when you give stuff can you make room for new stuff in your life. His eyes brightened at the thought of all the new gizmos he could buy.

When the new maid (who spends more time on her cell phone than me) commented that we had too much stuff for two people, it was a wake up call for me. So now, we have two huge cartons of stuff we are happy not to need, but someone else could still find use for. Of course, our respective mothers have messed us up so much that we that we did save up some of the cartons. I am also guilty of hoarding most of the bubble wrap I inherited. But I am getting there!