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

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


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



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


Basmati rice

Two or three cinnamon sticks

4-5 pepper corns


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.