Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mixed doubles

“Baby, are you keeping track of our mutual funds and how they are doing? There’s this chunk of money going out from my account every month, and I have no idea what’s happening to it…”

Sigh. I don’t have the heart to tell him that he should forget about the mutual funds for at least three years, given the current situation. But I make it look good.

“Honey, what’s important is that we bought them cheap, so they can only appreciate..”

"Really, that’s great,” he says in a not-so-convinced voice.

To the husband, any money that is not spent on cold cuts, large screen TVs, gaming consoles, beers or Sunday brunches is money gone to waste. Which is why I have put him in charge of entertainment and other frills while I do the boring stuff like planning taxes, building assets, filing returns and all that jazz.

This is not how I had planned it. Ok, let me confess. I had this visual image of a life partner. Who doesn’t? Mine was lean, a vegetarian, articulate, a great cook, a good listener, someone who went running on a whim, knew money and looked a bit like Johhny Depp. Okay, I know it’s a bit much, but what’s wrong with wishful thinking?

I must say I scored on the lean, the articulate and the Johhny Depp bit (yes!)

What I didn’t bargain for is a salami chomping, exercise-hating, beer-guzzling, non-stop blabbering, OCD-ridden, nocturnal version of the same who peers into the cats’ food bowl to check if they get better meals than him (which he secretly thinks they do, I am sure) Or eyes greedily whenever I cook meat for them and not for him. I try explaining that they need it more than he does, but it doesn’t cut much ice.

At a recent lunch date, we played a little game—we asked who, amongst people we knew would we set the other up with, had we not wound up with each other. Cutely, we both picked really nice people for the part—which made me realise that we do dig each other a lot and would only wish the best for each other.

And think about it. Had I married a financial wizard (which 50% of my clan is) or a nerdy genius (which is the other 50%), which is what my Iyer genes would have eventually led me to, I would have driven him insane.

Would Ravi Subramaniam (fictitious name for significant other that I would have ended up with) propose to me post an Indigo brunch in a taxi on Marine Drive? No way. His mother would have called my mother. Or would Neha Srivastava (fictitious name for his significant other) have been able to match him step for step on the floor? No way? She would be too concerned about her eyeliner.

We agreed, what we were both looking for is someone to match our nutty side. And we more than found it with each other. So, just a month away from our first anniversary, I can proudly say, Jai Ho!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


The thing going for Bravo is not that he is a three-legged kitten who also happens to be cute. The thing going for him is that he is a three-legged kitten with an abundance of pluck and residual memory. So much so that he managed to flummox Nadia, reigning queen of the house and my first born (kitten), by attempting to strike her back with his stump when curiosity got the better of her as she was introduced to this mangy fluff-ball. She naturally was unprepared for this natural born killer (you should have seen the way he devoured his first fish—it would put any Bengali to shame) when I brought him home around 10 days ago.

Technically, Bravo came into my life when all and sundry thought I would be so gloating in my impending motherhood than I would have little to offer to the world, leave alone an animal species. But that’s exactly why I got him.

To those who asked me, “Is it okay to have cats when you are going to have a baby,?” my answer is, yes, it’s perfectly okay. I remember often being shocked by perfectly normal women who suddenly wanted to “get rid of their pets” when they knew they were going to be mothers. To me, motherhood doesn’t seem like anything new—its as though I have done it several times in the past, just that this time, the potty-training will take longer than the three-four days.

Of course there were attempts to question my feline offspring. And I am sure there will be more, but we are not about to give a damn. I was very clear that I wanted to bring my child to a world where animals are friends and not some extra terrestrial species.

Coming to the story of Bravo’s missing leg—well, his leg was ridden with maggots when Pooja, a WSD volunteer found him. He had to be amputated as the poison had spread too far; he wouldn’t have made it otherwise. The interesting thing was, Bravo yanked his dressing off on the second day, and since then, has refused to accept that the leg is in fact missing. Sometimes, when I stare at him long enough, I also catch him trying to wash his face.

Bravo had his first taste of vet-dom this Saturday when I took him for his deworming ritual, where he was greeted by four swarthy, pedigreed dogs with equally swarthy owners, barking away as Bravo stared at them bemused. He was completely unflustered, which made me happy. Sure, he was used to dogs and the inane sounds they make, as he spent a month at the WSD kennel, recuperating.

Point is, he is good looking, and he knows it. He is full of spunk and he knows it. He makes our coming home even more worthwhile and he knows it. And he has a weakness for necks, television backsides and spectacles and he knows it.

The only difference is, while his residual memory liberates him, ours tends to stifle.

Perhaps our lives would be simpler if our residual fearlessness came into the fore more often, and we led less conditioned, encumbered lives that make us say “why not?” instead of “why?”

Message in a bottle

Till my homeopath enlightened me on the powers of doodhi (aka lauki aka bottle gourd), I was one of those people who ate it ungrudgingly whenever my mother threw it into a dal, or turned it into a halwa if she felt particularly generous. I always thought it was one of those poor, innocuous, bland vegetables one cooked when one didn’t want to get particularly creative, or had a choice, or was just looking for comfort food.

And then I met Dr Padam, my homeopath who couldn’t stop extolling the virtues of doodhi, and how it could reverse my near-anemia at that point. Today, I am hooked onto doodhi, and so are my cats (apparently it’s great for animals too) and I religiously have it at least twice a week, and the cat of course gets it in her broth everyday, along with rice, masoor dal, pieces of carrots, chicken or fish (do email me for a pet food recipe)

I am told that the doodhi (which is allegedly 96% water) is a star in the Indian Ayurvedic medical system and has tremendous healing powers. Consider its benefits (carnivores, move on): It’s cooling, and calming—makes you relax after eating. It’s an alkanine diuretic: a glass of fresh lauki juice mixed with limejuice combats the burning sensation caused by the high acidity of urine. Lauki juice is also an excellent remedy for excessive thirst caused by diarrhoea over consumption of fatty or fried foods. A glass of lauki juice with a little salt added to it prevents excessive loss of sodium, satiating thirst and keeping you refreshed in summer.

And for those size zero aspirants, here’s more news. Doodhi is almost zero on calories, so can give you that illusion of having eaten without adding up those inches. Also recommended for those suffering from digestive problems, are diabetic or convalescing.

But of course I still haven’t got to the point where I have doodhi juice first thing in the morning as my health shot. It’s just too much work, and besides, my nariyalpaniwala is highly dependable. But some of my friends have gone the morning cuppa doodhi route and continue to do so. Some have given up halfway, and resorted to adding doodhi as a filler in soups (along with tomato, carrots, beetroot, and what have you). Sounds good to me. The doodhi doesn’t seem to make much fuss about who it can get along with in the vegetable kingdom.

As for moi, I am still celebrating a yoghurt-based doodhi recipe I learnt from my friend Jennifer, the only carnivore I know who can do veggies well.

Jenny's Doodhi in yoghurt sauce

What you need:

Half a doodhi, chopped

Two tomatoes

One onion

One green chilli

Ginger garlic paste

Yoghurt 200 gm

Curry leaves

Salt to taste


Chop the doodhi into small pieces.

Heat oil in a pan and throw in some cumin seeds. When they splutter, add the green chilli and the curry leaves, fry well.

Now add the onions and sauté, adding the tomatoes and the ginger garlic paste as they turn soft.

Add water if required and cook till it all comes together.

Add the chopped doodhi, and mix well, adding salt and haldi.

Add a cup of water and pressure cook for two whistles.

When cool, beat a cup of yoghurt and add it to the doodhi gravy.

Serve with rice or rotis.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cool and the gang

“The cucumber is the only vegetable that has zero anything—calories, sugar, vitamins, whatever,” proclaimed Radha, my ex boss and my partner in crime at Dr. Vijaya Venkat’s health awareness centre (she doesn’t like calling it a dabba). “It’s just water. You can have as much as you want, nothing will ever add up,” he (yes!) assured. I later found out that it did have Vitamin C and was high on fibre, so it wasn’t that it was a mascot for the unbearable lightness of being.

As a chief contender for the daily salad, that sure is a point in its favour, although unlike say carrots or spinach, what will you tell your child when you have to feed him/her cucumber? May be you can try this, “Eat this and you will stay cool,” and see if it cuts any ice. I still remember, when the doctor put my mother on a strict diabetic-cum-pro thrombin control diet, the only item that had a tick against it was the cucumber. My mother was aghast. “What is the use of living if this is the only vegetable I can eat?” he demanded to know.

Its high water content is adequate reason the phrase ‘as cool as a cucumber’ came up. And even though it is relegated to nothingness in its contribution to nutrients, I must still add that it is hugely underestimated. Like its power to soothe a parched throat on a highway in the peak of summer. Or its absolute conduciveness to eye packs. Or its magical chemistry with dill. Or even yoghurt. Or its enormous power to yield to carving (at those gauche buffet tables, but what the heck).

Some like it pickled, and I must admit I have a weakness for brine. Have it indigenously pickled in vinegar (those ceramic bowls laden with the stuff at Indian-Chinese or Chinese-Chinese restaurants, or pay a premium for the miniature pickled gherkins, the choice is yours.

A lesser ventured into, but more wholesome option is a refreshing cold gazpacho soup that takes five minutes or less to make: all you have to do is simply purée cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers and onions, then add salt and pepper to taste. Voila! I had a really nice one years ago at Mezzo Mezzo.

For me the cucumber is a staple in my daily salad, where I allow it to freely date red and yellow peppers, sprouts, carrots, spring onions, grapefruit, pomegranates (I just have a thing for colour) and just about anything that will yield. On my not-so-lazy days, I grate them to make my mother’s trademark pachadi which is simply, out of this world.

Cucumber and dill salad

One small head of lettuce, shredded

Two cucumbers, cut into chunks

Dill, one small bunch

Olive oil

Lemon juice

Salt to taste


Shred the lettuce, add the cucumber chunks, dill, and mix well.

Add one tbsp olive oil, juice of one lemon and salt to taste.

Mix well. Serve chilled.

Cucumber pachadi

One or two cucumbers, grated

One green chilli

A small piece of ginger, julienned

Oil, mustard, hing for tempering

Salt to taste


Grate one large or two small cucumbers, drain the juice and set aside.

Add 200 gm of yoghurt to the cucumber, salt to taste, and mix well.

Heat oil in a kadai and add mustard seeds. When they splutter, add hing, chopped green chilli, and ginger and sautee well.

When cool, por the tempering over the cucumber in dahi.

Serve cold with rotis or rice based dish as a raita, or even eat by itself

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Paper chase

I don't know what it is about paperwork that intimidates some men. Like the husband, who allegedly has taken on groups of skinheads during his growing up years in Europe (when he had an even punier frame), but the minute a letter from the society arrives, he starts quaking. Not that it’s an eviction notice or anything, just a note saying we have to apply for an NOC (just for security's sake, post the terror attacks), get car stickers, stuff like that. But I notice that he is aflutter getting these papers in order.

I ask him to chill, as this is what societies do for a living, but he isn't convinced. "Have your given your form for the car-sticker? Do we have two references to add in the society form? We shouldn't give them any room to reject us," he mumbles every morning, and will continue to do so till the due date. I usually smile or look away lackadaisically—it is too small a thing for me to worry about.

"Reject us? Why would they reject us?"

"You never know…"

I feel like telling him, “I wish you would be as hyper getting your passport renewed so we can go for that holiday to Sri Lanka.” But I don’t, as the timing is not good.

It is perhaps the first time in his life that he has had to go through the passport renewal grind, which, right now, looks more complicated than getting our marriage certificate. After giving him a checklist of documents to be submitted (which is enough to drive anyone nuts), I retreat. Sure, being a diplomat's son had its benefits—passports being renewed in four hours, no matter where in the world you were being one of them.

Now that he is on his own, things do look gloomy on the paperwork front. In that sense, I am grateful for adversity. For never having a father or mother in high places. For never being able to pick up a phone, or send an email, ‘just to get things done’. For having had to stand in queues, fill everything in triplicate, sign in multiple places, get attestations from notaries in shady looking offices, speak in Marathi whenever required, but ‘getting the job done.’

The husband is still struggling with ‘operation passport’, six months after we discussed it in detail, and a month before we are slated to go for a foreign vacation to celebrate our anniversary. I wondered what would trigger him to take action, and told him that I would go, with or without him. Sure, I saw a hint of panic in his eyes, but it's been a month and nothing has happened. Yesterday, I finally dragged him to 'the society' for procurement of the all-important society letter stating that we are bonafide residents of the said building. The secretary (who again, seemed to be a triplicate kinda bloke) spent a good half hour explaining to us why they couldn't give us the said letter, and how, they would try and make it easy for us by giving an alternate letter which stated that they have no objection with our landlord subletting his flat to us.

I am quite sure I am doing the trip alone.

Flower power

To be born a cauliflower is an elegant thing in itself—it’s like what can possibly go wrong with a Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie offspring? It will have the looks, the body, and of course the bite to go with it.

Having said that, the cauliflower’s natural beauty is perhaps one thing that gets in the way while trying to cook it. Mutilating it like the South Indians do in their poduthuvals is close to criminal, dousing it with coconut, chilli and garlic gravy like the Maharashtrians do is sacrilege. I for one always have issues about ‘deflowering’ this thing of beauty, rendering it leafless, almost bald. With such reservations, transforming it into an out-of-world experience is a daunting task. As Aamir Khan said in Dil Chahta hai, “Perfection ko kaun improve kar sakta hai?” (how can you improve perfection?)

I must say the north Indians have cracked this. Like they have totally figured out that only-ginger-no-garlic is the way to go for this flower. Or that less is more (so roasted and crushed jeera and a whole chilli are perhaps the only things that pass muster). They have also figured out the slow cooking is the only way to get your gobi right, even if takes close to an hour. And that there is a colour palette while frying onions that moves from white to pink to green to brown and that green is the shade we want. As someone with limited patience, exaggerated by the inability to stand over a flame and watch something cook for more than five minutes, I am definitely not the candidate.

I have had the most simple, yet most amazing aloo-gobis at my childhood friend Tina’s house, where her mother, Mrs Sahni, served them up for us with hot rotis wrapped in a towel, and released just before they reached your plate.

Recently, at a dinner table conversation with a Punjab-da-puttar, my interest in this species of vegetable was rekindled all over again. It’s been a while since I ate a good aloo-gobi and Tina has moved to San Francisco and evolved into a shockingly bad cook, while her mother is nestled somewhere in Greater Kailash II in Delhi. So right now, Navraj Lehl is my only hope and I do hope he reads this and invites me for a Punjabi meal soon.

I attempted doing it the Punjabi way, but my patience wore out, so now, I do the occasional cauliflower soup (which I am good at), throw it into a vegetable stew (it works) or make a quickie pulao with chunky pieces of it in a tomato and ginger-garlic gravy. But I still yearn for a good gobi-matter or aloo-gobi or just plain gobi-ki-sabzi.

And then, one fine day, I learnt this recipe from my buddy Deepa (an amazing cook and equally fun to be with) in which she just buttered a whole cauliflower, dunked it into an oven and garnished it with pepper. It was the most divine one-pot meal I had ever eaten.

Baked cauliflower with thyme and pepper

1 medium sized cauliflower

Salted butter

Crushed pepper

Dried thyme


1.Wash and clean cauliflower if necessary and wipe dry (avoid buying the slightly mottled ones)

2. Take a dollop of butter (as much as you are permitted to have or dare to) and slater it all over the cauliflower, making sure you smear enough in the grooves and hidden parts.

3. Now sprinkle some thyme and pepper (just pepper will also do if you don’t particularly fancy thyme) all over (don’t forget the parts between the florets) and dunk it into a microwave for 4-6 minutes (850W) or bake in a regular oven for 20 min at 180 degrees.

4. Mop up the excess butter in the dish with a baguette, and dig into the whole cauliflower with a fork and knife. Or just tear it to shreds if you give two hoots about elegance.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Name game

(This was written as a response to Sanjay Dutt lashing out against women (his sister included) who chose to keep their maiden surnames)

Dear Sanju baba,

I am sure I have offended you, as have several other women, including your sister who retained their surnames after marriage. When I was getting married (after most people gave up on the fact that I would ever marry), I was asked by all and sundry, 'So, will you change your name after marriage?' I looked in askance, as I thought it was a non sequitur.

I find it amazing that some of my seemingly cool friends automatically switched to their husband's names after marriage. So quick, that it appeared as though they were waiting all their lives to do just that. It just made me look at them differently. Even the husband thought I would take the middle path and go the Iyer-Agarwal way, though we had never really discussed it before marriage.

Post marriage, when he saw my byline unaltered, he got the message. I obviously didn’t believe in middle-paths, and I am sorry to announce this to the Agarwals, but I honestly think Lalita Iyer has more gravitas than Lalita Agarwal. And Lalita Iyer-Agarwal just sounds apologetic and silly to me.

But I'm sure, Mr Dutt, that if my husband ever contests an election (which god forbid, I don't think he ever will), I would campaign for him, to perform my duty as a wife. But I would still be me.

Besides, I have enough paperwork to deal with and am not looking forward to adding to it with the whole name change thing. And frankly, I don’t have the muscle power or the connections to speed it up like you do.

But I do find it difficult to fill forms these days, as there are these three boxes staring at me: personal name, father’s/husband’s name and surname. I have no dilemmas on the first and the last, I do those on autopilot, but when it comes to the second, I flinch. Who should it be? The father, who contributed to my DNA, or the new man in my life, my husband, who married me?

Think about it. Half my life has gone by. I am an Iyer by habit, conditioning, food, rituals and upbringing. I was an Iyer when I got my first job, my first passport, my first visa, my first raise, my first car, my first piece of real-estate. I was an Iyer when I first started writing and when you first started reading me.

So why should I assume a new surname now, just to ‘fulfill the responsibilities that come with marriage’ as you pointed out? I am fulfilling more than my share of them anyway. And the husband does consider me a good and responsible wife, in fact too responsible for his own good!

I have struck a deal with him that the babies will have both our surnames, so there is a balance. Of course, at a recent visit to the doctor’s when the husband was referred to as Mr Iyer, there was a moment. My point is, how different is it when I get referred to as Mrs Agarwal? Isn’t it the same thing?