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.