Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hitch or miss

I don’t understand engagements. I don’t know what the big deal is about Shilpa Shetty and Raj-whoever getting engaged. I mean, think about it. They have been going around forever, buying cricket teams, villas, posing for covers, throwing diamonds and whatnots at each other with amazing regularity. And now they announce they are getting engaged. “That’s it?,” I feel like asking. “Gimme more!,” I feel like screaming.

Friends tell me engagements are about making the relationship official. May be I have a different viewpoint, but to me, the minute you announce to friends and family that you are seeing someone, it becomes official. If you think you need to peacock yourself with finery just to announce this, well, that’s your problem. Funnier is when someone says that X is engaged to be married. I mean, what else can you be engaged for? Saturday night dates? Chauffeur services? Photo ops?

Still others tell me it’s an occasion to party. You can’t possibly throw a party just because someone is your girlfriend/boyfriend, so you get engaged. This is also one way to ensure that someone else pays for the spoils and you get lots of presents. Methinks this is a very practical reason.

I am always suspicious of people who get ‘engaged’. Makes me wonder if it’s their way of buying time, or keeping that window open. May be it’s like saying, yes, I want to commit, but I can only come half way. May be it is a more extricable situation. After all, calling off an engagement is far easier than calling off a marriage.

But then there are a whole bunch of them ladies who are deeply concerned about ‘the rock’. How else can they wriggle that out from their boyfriends, they wonder. I feel like telling them to learn something from Sushmita Sen and buy your own. Besides, there’s only so many fingers you have. Unless, of course, you are the ‘much ado about a rock’ kind of person, which I guess a majority are.

And then there are those who decide to spend the rest of their life with a childhood sweetheart, and since they obviously can’t marry at age 20, they get engaged. Till someone (usually parents) tells them that it has been ‘A very long engagement,’ and then they move on to level two.

A friend of mine had a north Indian equivalent of an engagement a couple of years ago, called ‘roka’. The word makes me squirm — its literal meaning is ‘to stop’. She explained it was to stop the boy from straying or running away. Why don’t we just ask the concerned parties to wear placards, or to be more subtle, a chain with a pendant that says ‘Taken’ or some such? Cheaper, isn’t it?

What I still don’t get is, people in their blooming thirties and forties who get engaged. I mean, what are you waiting for? The next botox session?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sweet nothings

Last week, the mother asked me when ‘my diwali’ was. I was nonplussed, but I realised quickly that she implied that since I was now married to a ‘north indian’, her Diwali and my Diwali were on different days. I found her question out of place since reams have been written about why I will not change my name, or adopt a karva chauth and why festivals are non-negotiable, and how ‘my Diwali’ will always be ‘my Diwali’. The infant, when he grows up, will probably have a bonus Diwali (‘his’ and ‘mine’), if he cares for it, and if he doesn’t, too bad!


I still remember my childhood, when we were all woken up at 4 am, slathered with oil and then scrubbed clean with gook, made to wear new clothes, suitably haldified (you did that to everything new, to neutralize all evil), and then dispatched to different neighbourhood homes with a thali full of mithai and savouries. Now, of these, the north Indian homes were rudely awakened from their slumber on a day when it was clearly not Diwali, so they just looked at you in a funny way and mumbled, “But Diwali is tomorrow!” We were so embarrassed, that soon, we refused to go on mithai delivery duty to these homes. We felt like aliens who just celebrated Diwali on the wrong day. We were too young, and MNS was not around.


It’s rangoli time. I love rangolis. They are more festive to me than anything else. They transpose me to an era of innocence, although, even then, it was like displaying your best footwear. Or bindis perhaps. As children, we did the whole geru thing, the simulation of a mud floor with this brown mud-like block, wetting it and evening it out, drawing the rangolis, sieving the colour-base mix and packing it in a muslin thingee, before you let it fill in the outline. Sometimes, we even made the rangolis freehand and didn’t use a grid. That was a sign that you had arrived. Hierarchies were clearly established in this collaborative exercise, and I stood somewhere in the middle. This time, it was just about the mother and me, and things were much simpler — she is good with the big picture, I am better with the details. She draws the outline, I fill in the colour. It’s a classification we have made peace with.


I was a bit ambivalent about what to do with festival text messages. Now, I do a blanket ignore, since I figured, if people have just copy-pasted a vanilla template, I needn’t bother about composing individual replies. (May be there are vanilla reply templates as well). I figured, it’s easier for people to send out blanket SMSs than to reply to them, so that’s what they do. Send. So they are absolved from replying. I do neither, and wonder if I am anti-social. May be I am. But you would be too, if you get a message that reads: “May millions of lamps illuminate your life with endless joy, prosperity, health, wealth and happiness forever.”

Or this one: “May this Diwali light up new dreams, fresh hopes, undiscovered avenues, different perspectives, everything bright and beautiful and fill your days with pleasant surprises and movements,”


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The great hackeroo

Ellen Degeneres, said recently about her 1000th show, “It’s kinda overwhelming. We started in 2003, and that was a whole different world. For one, there was no Facebook. So if you had to poke someone, you had to do it the old-fashioned way.”

It got me wondering about my Facebook dependence and the ‘friends’ I had acquired through it. I do find it useful, at least right now, to chronicle my infant’s movements, post photos and status messages (literally). I realise documentation is important, as sometimes you can totally lose track of time and then wonder where the baby days have gone (I have no evidence of mine except three photos). And then one day, you realise he has an account too, and has sent you a friend request (it has happened to my friends).

Of course, to make me feel like a non-junkie, I routinely go through the exercise of deleting
 a) Those who I don’t really know (and funnily enough, there are several of those)
b) Those who have nothing to say to me, for then, I wonder if they are just being voyeuristic about my life
 c) Those who I have a strict work-relationship with, for I wonder what they are doing popping up in my leisure zone.

Otherwise, I am no cyber vulture, and I still send hand-written notes to people once in a while, so may be I am just in the wrong era (there are several other reasons why I feel thus, but we will go into that some other time). But what totally flabbergasted me was a recent text message I received from a random (who, incidentally had made it to my ‘friends’ list by some quirk of fate). The message read:

“A really mean and vicious hacker got into my Facebook account and deleted it. He (I don’t know why women always get the benefit of doubt) has deleted my personal email accounts also. So when you see my name is not on your friends list, you know why. I can’t make any new accounts until the Mumbai police cyber crime cell doesn’t arrest him. Please inform any common friends on my Facebook disappearence. I am feeling really, really sad and violated and I request you to avoid such a thing happening to your loved ones.”

A few days later, I got this one:

“While the hacker hasn’t been nabbed yet, I got my Facebook back!

It gets better. Another contact was allegedly ‘reported’ for having too many Facebook IDs, and her account was closed. She was shattered, to say the least, and went about several attempts to get her account (and her social life) back. She actually made desperate calls to California (yes!) to get it reactivated, and they finally complied. “Imagine, all my friends, my pets, my albums are there. What will I do?,” she cried.

Poke! Poke!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

About a boy

The husband and I went on a lunch and movie date this Sunday, infant duly in care of the mother and the newly acquired baby maid. It felt like courtship again, both of us all dressed up, chatting nineteen to the dozen as we drove into down. The out-of-turn October rain added the right touch of romance. But what made it really significant was that the movie chosen was Wake up Sid.

Two minutes into the film and we turned around to look at each other in shock. The movie was about us! He is my Sid, the silver spooned diplo-brat of 100 dollar-a-month (or some such obscene amount) pocket money, driving a BMW at age 18, partying for a living, downing shots like there’s no tomorrow, master of the after-party who once thought credit cards were actually assets one earned, and the kind of person who, if there ever was a fire, would save his games first.

Me, I spent my entire youth in labs I didn’t want to be, doing research I didn’t want to do, hanging out with people I didn’t really care for, and, in general, doing things that were not really me. To top it all, I was negotiating down payments and housing loans at age 25, worshipping my PPF account, learning the power of compound interest, understanding mutual funds and plotting to run away from home and live my own life, spend my own money, drive my own car, cook my own food and buy my own furniture.

And then, somewhere along, we met. And fell in love. And got married. And had a child. And are still as different as chalk and cheese. Or Sid and Aisha.

“Thank god I didn’t meet you when you were 24. You’d have been too immature for me,” I said.

“At 24, I was too immature for me,” he admitted.

I realised why I married him. It’s because the Aisha in me totally digs the Sid in him.

And more importantly, he helps me find the Sid in me, and celebrate it! What keeps the romance alive is that the Sid in him will never die — age, job, infant notwithstanding.

Post the movie, I saw him prancing down the aisle, breaking into dance as the credits rolled down. He was no longer the responsible daddy that he has become, but transposed into his Sid avatar, wanting to be a mall rat, go clubbing, buy more gadgets, the works. (His response to ‘unpleasant’ things like taxes, accountant fees, brokerages and other expenses is still to spend an equivalent amount of money on games and gadgets). I gently reminded him that we had a three month old and this was not the time to buy a 50 inch TV.

“Well, what can I say? My moron days are over, but my child days are not….,” was his reply.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Bake, bhai, bake

My mother was a fastidious baker in the days of yore. Marble and sponge cake, coconut castles and macaroons, pineapple upside down, coconut cookies, coffee and walnut cake, nankhatais and what have you came our way every once in a while.

She took baking lessons on Saturday and would return home with her creations, which she repeated over the following weeks till she perfected it.

The actual cake making was somewhat of a NASA expedition. One of us was in charge of beating the eggs—this was the worst job, as she would strongly disapprove of any lingering pauses, or variable frequency of beating, claiming that the air bubbles that got in would hamper the rising of the cake. Once she was tipped off to beat the whites separately, and that’s when we went into hiding.

Another one would be summoned to sieve the flour, the baking powder, the cocoa, coffee, nutmeg or cinnamon powder (if any), or chop the candied peels, cherries or walnuts to the perfect sq mm. The lucky one got to grease-proof the cake tin (this was the most fun) or lick the remainder of the cake dough (if you haven’t done that, you haven’t lived)

And then the anticipation for the next 40 minutes. Will the cake rise? Or will it fall flat on its face? Will it be too hard? Or too soft to cut into slices? Will we be able to take it to school the next day? How long will it last? When will she bake again?

Anyway, after all that, I vowed never to bake in my life, and if I did, I would find a less ulcer-inducing way.

I did. Decades later. When I met Electra, my friend’s mom, who had just the nonchalance I needed for my baking plunge. “Cake is nothing men. Just butter, sugar, eggs and maida. Mix and shove it in the oven. Add whatever you want..”

She was right, even though I took the liberty of substituting the maida for whole wheat flour and butter for cream sometimes. Also, whenever I have to get rid of excess fruit, brownies, jam, marmalade, chocolate, nuts I just throw them into a cake, or layer them on. It always works.

I also have a little secret that I learnt from an ex-boyfriend. When you have run out of baking powder, don’t fret. Merely add a spoonful of milk to the baking mix and squeeze half a lemon into it just before you switch the oven on. The reaction within is enough to make any cake swell with pride.

Now I bake like a goddess, ala Nigella Lawson, effortlessly dunking things into the oven, unlike my mother who made it look really heavy duty. It’s come to a point when mom asks me, “How did you manage that?” I grin my famous grin. “Trade secret,” I say.

Banana and walnut loaf

1 cup butter (or cream)

1 cup sugar (brown or white)

1 cup flour (or maida)

2 eggs

2 overripe bananas, mashed into a pulp

½ spoon baking powder (sieved into the flour)

½ cup chopped walnuts


Mix butter and sugar. Add the eggs, mix well and then add the flour.

Now add the mashed banana puree and the chopped walnuts into the cake mix.

Bake at 180 degrees for 40 minutes

(note: this cake will not rise too much, and is best had within two days)

Electra's Chocolate cake

250 gms butter

250 gms sugar (brown, preferably)

250 gm flour (whole wheat or maida)

4 eggs

cocoa powder- 1 tbsp

instant coffee powder – 1 tsp

Milk (to mix)


Mix butter with sugar. Add eggs, beating into the mixture, one by one. Add flour, blend well.

Stir the cocoa powder into milk, and add the instant coffee powder, and just enough milk to mix it well.

Pour this mixture into the cake mix. Mix well. Bake at 180 degrees for 40 minutes.

(Tip: add a spoonful of curd or the juice of half a lemon to the cake dough just before baking. It makes the cake really fluffy)