Friday, December 04, 2009

Intellectual biryani

This blog is now becoming more of a highly erratic personal diary than anything else. And it certainly doesn't help that most of the people who were blogging when I used to blog regularly have given up long ago (hello!)

The chief benefits of TL going off to Hyderabad (okay, she didn't up and go like that, I gave her a big shove) have been the following:

1) I have regained a lot of my survival skills. Hanging out with a super-organized, emotionally intelligent woman who is cleverer than you has certain adverse effects on those tools in your mental toolbox. They rust. Sending her off to India has sharpened them to a degree nearer to pre-living together levels;

2) I have learnt how to cook. Properly. This is different from putting something together from a cookbook or dowsing a dead bird in some olive oil or yoghurt mixed with a marinade before sticking it in the oven. Cooking properly entails thinking a dish through before you embark on an adventure atop the hob. Like when you decide on the spur of the moment, inside Waitrose, that you want to eat some biryani. Today. Since you haven't made the stuff before, you pause to think how you could make it. You think about biryanis past. You think about biryanis present, future and imagined. You think about what the chauffeurs and security guards in Banjara Hills told you about the biryani in Hotel Medina in the Old City next to the Charminar.

You stop in the aisle. You think about the last Hyderabadi dum pukht biryani you ate; how it smelt and tasted. Then you try to figure out what must have gone into it. You have never done this before. Your pulse quickens. Your mouth waters. The aromas, the flavours, they all come back in a rush, screaming, flooding your senses. Star anise, saffron, cloves, bay leaves, cumin, onions, cinnamon... the grand pillars of Mughalai cooking, evocative, sensual, sublime. Suddenly, you know. Fry the basmati rice before you pressure-cook it, says a snatch of conversation, a secret shared gladly, a voice from long ago.

You walk into the kitchen. You know what you're doing, for the first time in that space, because there's no cookbook, there are no instructions. For once, it's all inside your head.

You start. You smell. You taste. You check.

Fate, ever conspiratorial, plays a final hand. It reveals a half-empty packet of MTR pulao masala in a cupboard. This is the culinary equivalent of a nudge and wink. I know I can use this.

An unexpected childhood memory. An unlikely source. Deep fry finely chopped onions and sprinkle them on top. A conservative Iyengar matriarch who loved biryani but couldn't eat meat, mistress of the kitchens of a sprawling Ayurveda vaidyasala, babysitter, nurturer, surrogate mother, has unexpectedly intervened.

I listen. I do.

It all works. And how!

I can cook.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Remembering grace

Someone who combined dazzling intellect and scholarship with humility, humour and a genuine curiosity about the lives of everybody she encountered, be it a housemaid or an XYZ chair of Weighty Studies at some Ivy League University or a troubled kid, is that rarest of rare human beings: a truly wonderful one.

Here are two obituaries that perhaps capture Meenakshi Mukherjee best of all- Farewell, guide: to Ma'am, with love and A woman for all seasons

And a comment that captures her erudition perfectly: "She never assumed the privilege of the pioneer..."

If only all pioneers were such.. and if only we'd just dropped in with that bottle of wine. And if only we could have met again after the last book; RC Dutt would have made such fun conversation. If only... Have fun, Meenakshi, wherever you are.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Knock me down with a feather

This bit of verse just slays me. It's a Molimo song of the pygmies of the Congo (I don't know what that is, but it's stuck in my head all these years), and I've long dropped out of touch with the chap who pointed me to it many years ago. Here it is..

"If you must be candid, be so beautifully,
For there is a man in the neighbourhood who is dying"

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Uniform Project

This impromptu resurfacing is solely aimed at plugging an old friend's fundraising project.

Read all about Sheena and the Uniform Project on HuffPo, the Guardian, and a zillion other websites.

All of this fuss over S has triggered just one pointless, existential doubt within myself: if she's classified as a "Brooklyn native", I certainly hope I am not classified as a "Bloomsbury native". Resident, not native.... we are 110% indigenous to South India (w)only. Besides, I am quitting my neighbourhood in 2 months for warmer climes in a warmer hemisphere.

Friday, May 08, 2009

V day

Watched an in-house production of the Vagina Monologues in March. I'd already seen Eve Ensler's HBO production, one snowed-in January night in Birmingham in 2003, chancing upon it quite by accident whilst channel surfing. It was riveting stuff.

The College does a Vagina Monologues production once every few years; the last one was in 2005 and I missed it. So when the V-Day posters sprung up this year, I knew that I wanted to see it. However, I am not all there these days and I tend to... well, forget, blank out etc. I've even got four white hairs, see. Or is it five?

I remembered 3 days before the show. Tickets, I was told, were sold out. I wrote to the director. She was all charm; I found mine just in time. I went in first day, first show. The company was great; I bumped into S, a Glaswegian journalist married to a Cuban who he'd met whilst living in Havana for 8 years. He's friends with TL, but we'd never really had a conversation. So we grabbed some beer, and hunkered down on some prime sofas to chat. He told me about Havana, since I am hoping to visit next year. I told him about Cuban diagnostic systems. We swapped notes about Santeria and Son. The girls came on, we settled back. It was great, in every way. A whole bunch of intelligent women, thoroughly enjoying themselves, which showed. Unlike TV, real people doing it had all the rawness and immediacy of passionate am-dram. I loved the Bosnian bit, because the woman doing it was actually Bosnian.

I wanted TYL to watch, but she couldn't get tickets. I've since been contemplating telling her that her company could think of an Indian production using Bharatnatyam, but felt that it would perhaps be a bit too explicit for Indian audiences.

I was wrong.

I saw this today. I am impressed. Truly. Madly. Deeply.

This doesn't mean that I am a feminist, as one person who reads this blog seems to think. I am no ist of any kind. At all.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Close encounters of the cool kind

Two things happened today. My supervisor came back after 8 months, chemo-radio finished tumour blasted, looking as chilled out and ice-blonde as ever, padding around in customary ghostly fashion in the usual kurti-drawstrings-socks-sandals ensemble. Suddenly things are looking up. I just wish the bloody woman had kept everybody in the loop, instead of vanishing without a trace with no return address or number. Gah and double gah. I mean, for fuck's sake, I thought she was fricking dead.

High on this and engrossed in Paul Theroux's The Happy Isles of Oceania, I was leaning against a post outside King's Cross Station waiting for either the No. 45 or 46, when a Black Cab stopped right in front of me and a man hopped out. I looked up absently and behold! a certain Nobel Prize winning economist stood hardly 3 feet from me.

Needless to say, I stared. I caught his eye (not that he had a choice, my mouth was probably open and I was plonked right between him and the station).

I am happy to say, my dear readers, that my courtesy did not desert me. I dipped my head gravely, smiled and said "Hello".

So did he:-D!!

Amartya Sen was last spotted wearing a black mac and carrying a (was it brown?) leather suitcase, hurrying into King's Cross Overground Station at around 1830 GMT.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Unity in diversity

I have lived in Bloomsbury for many years, which is near the St. Pancras' church of the nursery rhyme in Orwell's 1984. As I was planning today's running route from Regent's Park back to Bloomsbury, I stumbled upon the Church website.

It said something striking:

INCLUSIVE, A Declaration of Belief

We affirm that the Church's mission, in obedience to Holy Scripture, is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.... We acknowledge that this is good news for people regardless of their gender, race or sexual orientation. We believe that, in order to strengthen the Gospels proclamation of justice to the world, and for the greater glory of God, the Church's own common life must be justly ordered. To that end, we call on our Church to......... to celebrate the diverse gifts of all members......... and in the ordering of our common life to open the ministries of deacon, priest and bishop to those so called to serve by God, regardless of their gender, race or sexual orientation.

If you ignore the obviously religious bits, this is a rather remarkable and heartwarming assertion. It is a Church of England church, which is probably one of the most egalitarian and liberal religious establishments I have ever seen. I mean, they have women priests (hope that is the correct word), gay bishops etc. As far as I know, they welcome just about anyone inside their church, regardless of religion, unlike the Catholic and Orthodox Christian Churches. Rather like Buddhist temples, though I think Buddhists are the most tolerant of the whole lot.

I wish the Catholic Church, the Hindu religious establishment and the Muslim religious establishment had the basic human decency to say something similar. And as an Indian, I wish all those temples, mosques and churches in India had something like this posted at their gates or doors or whatever.

Now that would be a first step to solving a lot of problems.

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