Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Weekend woes

The husband is currently a shade of beetroot. After having had a perfectly good weekend ruined by recurrent invasions from aliens, he is trying to regain his composure by punching as hard as he can on his PS3 controller and stuffing his body with an equivalent amount of junk. By the time you read this, a new working week would have begun and life will not be beautiful again.

But what’s gotta be done, gotta be done. So I make no big deal of the events that unfold over the weekend: a bunch of nincompoops masquerading as building society biggies armed with a troupe of workmen take over the apartment for alleged pipe-work, the cat tries to run away with the plumber, politics burgeon between the new hired help for the infant and the old housemaid, our financial planners and accountant pay us a visit, and in the midst of all this, I try to clear the clutter, collecting things for a garage sale for animal welfare, the husband trying to hoard (as usual), and me trying to convince him not to (as usual).

It comes naturally to me, as I am the queen of multi-tasking. To the husband, sitting in front of the television screen is also a task (which I reckon was all that he had planned for the glorious three-day weekend)

Anyway, the proceedings begin at 9 am on Saturday, me trying to wear a mask of stoic and the husband scowls, focusing on ‘keeping the airconditioning from running away’ from his room. Midway, I peek into the bathroom to check the proceedings and find a gaping hole in the ceiling, its nakedness replete with the iron skeleton and brick and all. “What if it rains tomorrow? The monsoon will come straight into the bathroom!,” I bark at the workmen (visions of me standing under a waterfall ala Zeenat Aman flash by)

“No madam, monsoon is over,” said one pipsqueak.

“What the.. (suddenly remember that the infant is in my arms)….What about rats, and other creatures?”

“Okay, we will put some maal then,” he mumbles.

The maal, as it turns out, is flung from ground level onto the ceiling, adding a splatter-painted look to the walls, but I can’t be bothered anymore. The husband, meanwhile is wondering aloud why I am prolonging the agony and not letting them go.

The gory is not over. Our financial planners are next. The husband winces when I tell him the meeting cannot be cancelled.

“Now they will come and take all our money away…What a torrid day!”

“They are not taking our money away. They are creating wealth,” says me of perennial wisdom. I have been speaking the right language ever since I read Rich Dad Poor Dad.

More bad news follows. The husband is told he has to part with another princely sum for auditing and accounts. The meeting is tomorrow. Creating wealth is something he cannot visualize by now.

He is distraught, wondering how his weekend got robbed right under his nose and how he can salvage whatever few hours are left. The infant, meanwhile has no clue of the goings on, and gurgles with laughter, shaking his fists with glee.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Children of a lesser gourd

There are two ways to negotiate the karela (bitter gourd in more fashionable circles). One is to accept it at face value and take its bitterness in your stride. The other is to destroy every evidence of its personality, render it completely unrecognizable, and then pride at how you have camouflaged its bitterness.

Since I am a strong advocate of retaining as much of the aesthetic of a vegetable as is realistically possible (with an exception of baingan for bharta), I would brave the karela as it is, with no major alterations to its physical or chemical composition.

Perhaps the most extreme of torture would be to scrape it off its alligator scale-like appearance, rendering it almost bald, then drowning it in salt, squeezing it off all its bitterness, stuffing it with a million masalas, tying it up in threads and then slow-cooking it. Stuffed Karela in my world would qualify as exemplary cruelty to vegetables.

When we were kids, my mother (or father, when he got a chance) would slip karelas into the lunch menu every odd Sunday (rather apologetically) and then steel themselves to incur our wrath. The effect was rather immediate. Me and the siblings would sulk, go on a mini hunger strike, postpone eating for as long as we could, and then grudgingly eat the karela in its various avatars. But except the crispy ones (a variant is available at the nearest Hot Chips), nothing got our vote.

Things have changed a lot since then, at least for me. I have explored this lesser gourd, seen it in a new light, and made some happy memories out of it in the process(see below)

One thing the karela teaches you for sure is patience. It cannot endure drastic measures, like say, the potato. So whether you are making a simple crispy karela or blending it with other members of the vegetable family, it needs to be handled with care, de-bittered, but not too much, cooked slowly, tossed often. And despite being the spurned one for many palates, it still puts up a brave front. I love it for its resilience.

Karela with potatoes

This is the simplest way to eat karela and one of my favourite recipes. The potatoes help absorb the bitterness of karela, making it a great marriage. It was given to me by my Bengali colleague. “Do nothing to it, add nothing,” is her mantra.


Wash, dry and chop karelas into small pieces. Do the same with the potatoes.

Heat one tablespoon oil in a non-stick man. Add the karela-potato mix, add salt, a pinch of sugar, haldi and mirchi powder.

Cook slowly. Do not cover (water from condensation brings out the bitterness)

Serve with chapatis or rice and dal.

Note: You can also substitute the potatoes with aubergines.

Karela with onions

One thinly sliced medium sized onion

2-3 karelas, slit vertically and then thinly sliced. Soak this in water with a teaspoon of salt and then squeeze dry, draining off the water

Two vertically slit green chillies

Amchur powder

Jeera powder

Salt, sugar to taste


Heat one tablespoon oil in a skillet. Add mustard and when it splutters, add the slit green chillies and the sliced onions and slowly sauté.

When the onions are near-brown, add the karelas, amchur powder, salt and mix well.

Cook slowly, uncovered, till the karelas brown.

Karela in tamarind sauce (paarikai pachadi)

Chop fine. Discard larger seeds, but keep the tender ones. Soak in salted water , squeeze out excess water.

Heat oil, add mustard seeds. When it sputters, add hing and two slit green chillies.

To this add the chopped karela and sautee…

To the juice of a lemon sized ball of tamarind, add a spoonful of besan and mix well.

Add the tamarind-besan mixture to the sautéed karelas.

Add sambar powder, salt, a small piece of jaggery, and bring to boil.

Serve with rice or chapatis.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


“She has so lost her spark after coupledom.”

Thus speaketh a friend about someone we knew in common and largely admired for her pluck to put herself out, and make singledom look good. Apparently, this girl was not so cool anymore as she couldn’t stop talking about her new-found relationship.

My friend, on the other hand, has technically never been single since she turned 18 and was more or less a relationship goddess to me through my long stints as a singleton. She is now finally single, two decades and two marriages later, and is currently tapping me for advice on how to do the ‘table for one’ life. She also wants me to find a ‘suitable boy’ for her, a role I am so not used to playing.

It’s a bit odd, being on the other side with her—she is still dealing with the irony that I have stepped out of my continuum of singledom— having not only tied the knot, but also produced an infant. It is a transition that both of us are learning to handle, she trying to get used to being single, me trying to get used to not being so.

But what I found odd was her desire to now see single as cool, after years of her promoting coupledom to me, and years of me resisting, by saying I was happy for her, but I was happy in my state as well.

I guess she is unlearning wearing the coupledom hat. I on the other hand still have trouble wearing my married hat — read that as thinking like a married person does… for example—“Let me check and get back to you, I don’t know now, can I let you know by the weekend,” stuff like that. I am so used to making my own decisions that sometimes, I have to remind myself that I have to think for two (now three). But I am getting there, with a little help from the husband, so it’s all good.

It’s still funny how singledom is viewed as something in transition, something waiting to be altered, and coupledom as something that has attained balance and stability. It reminds me of my chemistry lessons a long time ago where we learnt about valence electrons and their bid for stability through covalent bonds. So singletons were like electrons, trying to get into stable orbitals, and perhaps that’s why they call it ‘settling.’ But chemistry, unlike life, was kinder to the single bond as it rendered it the most stable as opposed to double and triple bonds which were considered unstable (more to share=unstability in chemistry)

But then again, it is not about singledom versus coupledom. It is which electronic state allows you to form bonds you want to keep.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Advance booking

The husband is a ‘let’s reserve a table’ kind of person while I am a ‘let’s go out for lunch’ kind. I find it absurd walking into a restaurant, having reserved a table and then discovering that most of the tables around me are empty. Because, in my mind, I have done the extra work of making that phone call, listening to a syrupy voice at the other end, talking to it for a good three minutes, and then not being rewarded for it. Ideally my reward would be the visual of other people begging for a table, while I breeze in with supreme confidence, just dropping my name.

On the other hand, I find it equally absurd cold-calling an eatery, noticing that most tables are empty and then being asked, “Do you have a reservation?”

The husband of course takes reservation to another level. He reserves an appointment for his routine haircuts at the salon-around-the-corner called Miracle, where, I reckon, he is the sole customer. Or at least the only customer who gives a fifty-rupee tip. Given that Miracle salon has more staff than clients any given day, the husband’s franticness about having to make that appointment seems a bit misplaced. But it’s still been hard for me to convince him that he can just show up.

It’s evident that I am a creature of spontaneity, while the husband likes planning (never mind that half the plans are never meant to be executed). I like just showing up. If the restaurant/movie/salon doesn’t have room for me, I’ll find another restaurant/movie/salon that does, or just find something else to do. So unless it’s a Rehaan Engineer play (which, if you miss once, you never get to see again) or a good stand-up gig, I never book in advance for anything.

In my single-screen childhood, going for a movie was a high-adrenaline expedition. First of all, we never knew if we’d get tickets, then we never knew what was plan B if we didn’t. Could we afford them ‘in black’? Would it be another movie in another theatre? Would we go out for dinner? Ice-cream? Or would we just go home? But the option of booking tickets in advance for another day was never considered by my get-up-and-go family.

Booking is also a bit impersonal according to me.. where is the thumpety thump of the heart when you walk into a theatre not knowing whether you will actually get to see the film? Where is that feeling of “OMG! There are 17 people in front of me, so will I make it?”.

Unfortunately, multiplexes and their multiple choices have taken the adrenaline out of movie watching. Life, strangely, has become a series of plan Bs.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Game zone

I got hit on!

By a twenty-something. In broad daylight. Straight out of his daddy’s car. Not at a club or a brunch, but at the local nariyalpaniwala. And I didn’t see it coming!

Great, I can still score, I thought, and must say it felt good. Flattery always does, even if people tell you otherwise. Thing is, I have so been out of the game, that it took me a good 30 seconds to realise what was happening. I was caught off-guard, and it was the last thing on my mind—I was still recovering from my post-partum belly, having a bad hair day (nothing new) compounded by a wardrobe crisis, flaunting my greys (now that’s another column, but I believe that if I don’t do it now, I never will, and then one day I will be 60 and wrinkled, but have jet black hair and pretend I am 55, which is all a bit lopsided if you ask me)

Here’s a snatch of the conversation between PFY (pretty fresh youth) and me:

He: Nice shades!

Me: (irritated at being distracted from my nariyalpani): Thanks…

He: Where did you get them? They are really cool

Me: (perplexed as they are really vanilla shades, no big deal about them): They are Fast Track. You get them anywhere I suppose.

He: You come here every day?

Me: No. Why?

He: Just asking. I live in X building. How about you?

Yay! I am still in the game — marriage, infant, notwithstanding. And don’t you believe women who say it doesn’t matter once you are ‘settled’ and have kids and all that. Of course it matters. Else why do books on how to get a man, make him stay, make him think the world of you, etc etc fly off the shelves? Why are parlours never out of business, recession or no recession? Why are women always getting their face, nails and hair done? The pheromones never stop working, do they?

It sounds really lame and clichéd, but your self-confidence is hugely related to your scoring potential, whatever life stage you are at. So the more you are out in the open, the better it is for you. If you are not out there, you will never know.

Most women spend months and years, not to mention a huge amount of money trying get back their body image (and it’s not about how many pounds you gained or lost) post baby, and in the meanwhile impose a reclusive lifestyle on themselves. I know it’s a bit bizarre that I was reading The Game soon after my delivery, but it wasn’t intentional, just a book I hadn’t read before and a friend visiting duly got. But something from the book still rings true: You are the prize. And it’s not whether you look like a million bucks, it’s about whether you think you do.