Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Crispy Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes

Okay I followed this one word to word from a periodical called "The Women's Week" and it seems that I can follow recipes as good as the analytical procedures. :)
This Italian recipe makes a perfect combination with a bit of garlic bread and wine.
The picture is again not as flattering as it should be but it sure tastes yummy!!
You Need
Chicken thigh fillet
New Potatoes (the ones we use to make Dum Aloo)
Cherry Tomatoes
All of the above in a 1:1:1 proportion depending upon how many people are eating.
Fresh Oregano Leaves
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Red Wine Vinegar
Salt & Pepper

How You Make It

1) Put the potatoes in salted boiling water and forget about them. Then cut the fillet in thin vertical strips and put them in a bowl. Toss the chicken with olive oil, salt and pepper till it gets uniformly covered. Then transfer it to a pan on high flame and toss it for ten minutes.
2) Put the tomatoes in a bowl and pour hot boiling water. Leave it alone for a while.
In a pestle and a mortar, pour in the oregano leaves and bash them up real nice. ( Do I talk like an Aussie?). When you are done "bashing" them, pour about 1/4th cup of extra virgin olive oil and a dash of red wine vinegar and bash everything up again. :)
3) In the meanwhile it is a good idea to pre-heat your oven to a good 200 C. By now the potatoes get done so pour them out in a colander and peel them. Then just snub each one with your thumb to get it all at your mercy. :D
4) Dip your hands in the hot water with the tomatoes and pinch their skins of. It is not really necessary but pinching them would make them mingle more easily with the potatoes and chicken in the oven.
5) Add the bashed up oregano leaves to the chicken, add potatoes and tomatoes with a bit of salt and toss everything nicely.
6) Lay out the mixture on an oven proof baking dish in one layer and leave it inside the oven for about 40 minutes. The end result should be uniformly golden-brown potatoes and chicken with a bit of it's own gravy.
I know this is a really violent recipe with a lot of bashing, pinching and snubbing going on along with a lot of components being subjected to abject boiling water scaldings. :)
How You Serve It
Chicken on the side with crisp bread and a glass of cold white wine to wash it down with.
A crunchy salad that does not have an elaborate dressing would make it perfect!
How You Burn It
Boy! I am still thinking how after the amount of olive oil that just went down my throat.
A complete sabbatical from carbohydrates the next day and an early morning run with ACDC ringing in your ears. ;)
So much for a Christmas Break!! I guess I really enjoy cooking. :D

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Chocolate Chip Muffins

One of the greatest luxuries of my life is to have a warm muffin and a petite cup of cappuccino over an hour of gossip or a nice book.
So I decided that I should learn how to make muffins and I did!!
So here's the tried and tested recipe of walnut-chocolate-chip-muffins. :)

You Need

1/2 Cup of butter @ Room Temperature
1/2 Cup granulated sugar
2 Large eggs
1 Teaspoon Vanilla extract
2 Cups of all purpose flour
1 Teaspoon salt
1 Teaspoon baking power
1/2 Teaspoon baking soda
1/2 Cup chopped walnuts
1/2 Cup chocolate chips

How You Make It

1. Take a bowl that has ample radius and depth to accommodate splattering of batter. :)
Add to it butter and sugar and with a powerful hand-mixer beat it into a fluffy mixture. Keep going at it till you think that the earth has stopped spinning and the mixer has turned into an extension of your hand.
2. In the same bowl, after switching the mixer off for a minute, break an egg and beat it into the previously done mixture. The egg will make things easier and more fluid but do not haste things up. Break the other egg and beat it after the first one has become "one" with the butter and sugar.
3. Add vanilla. Then gradually begin to add the flour following the same rule of not giving up mixing. If you pour in all the flour at once you are very likely to get flour agglomerates and conglomerates all over your bowl making it impossible to smooth it out. So be patient and keep adding a little bit every time.
4. You may need a bit of milk to keep the consistency and the viscosity of the mixture intact. So when the mixer starts getting lost in the batter, do add a little bit of milk.
5. Add the salt, soda and baking powder to make the final batter.
6. Stop the mixer and add the embellishments. Walnuts and chocolate chips can be mixed with a regular spoon.
7. Butter-line 12 cup-cake papers and spoon your mixture into each one just a bit above half the volume.
8. Set the oven at 200 C ( yeah the recipe I read said 400 without any unit and I had to do a lot of Googling and maths in order to figure out the temperature in Celsius)
9. Slide the tray in and keep it on for 15 minutes till the tops become light golden brown in color.
10. Remove the muffins and allow them to cool.

**The readers are encouraged to replace chocolate chips with 2 mashed bananas OR 1 cooked and mashed apple OR blueberries and/OR sultanas with the same recipe. **

In the meanwhile, it is a good idea to lick the batter spoons and try and estimate how good your muffins would taste from the batter-spoons. :)

How You Serve It
My flatmate Shruti knows best how to. You butter them and warm them up.
They should be accompanied by a cup of tea and lots of early morning breakfast laughter. :)

How You Burn It
By having just half a bowl of salad the night before and a swim and a jog later in the day. :)

Merry Christmas!!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Bhuvan Shome

I watched a Bangla movie today. It goes by the name "Bhuvan Shome" and stars Utpal Dutt.
It is like anything Bengali I have ever tasted, heard or read. Sweet, simple and fluid.
It is about a strict Railway Officer (Bhuvan Shome) who gets tired of his everyday drills and decides to go hunting birds. He meets a simple village girl (Gauri) who helps him with his hunting by her amusing ideas (one of them being dressing him up in traditional Gujrathi clothes so that the birds in her village don't identify him as a stranger) and eventually wins his affection. In due course he realizes that she is the wife of one of his corrupt subordinates who is next on his list of dismissals to be done. She tells him that her husband writes to her of some really strict officer called Bhuvan Shome who is very mean and is hell bent on kicking him out of the job. So when he is about to leave the village ( with a bird that faints and falls down not because he hit it right but out of fear of the gunshot), she tells him to request this mean "Bhuvan Shome" to excuse her husband for taking bribes this one time and she would make sure he won't do it again.
He goes back to work and excuses her husband with a light reprimand. :)

I could not believe that a whole movie can be made out of such a simple story.
The girl Gauri ( Suhasini Mulay who is the Lagaan and Dil Chahta Hai fame mom) is as fresh as crunchy celery. Dressed up in ghagra with mirrors on it and with her head covered at all times she is able to reach the right places in your heart effortlessly. I could recognize her due to the characteristic tone of her voice.
What transpires between an old aspiring hunter and a little married girl on the brink of womanhood can be painted in a number of ways, just the way it is seen when, by some extraordinary circumstance such a thing happens in real life.
The movie makes you smile to yourself, because it refutes all your commonplace assumptions about how the story will proceed. The story proceeds at her own pace, without seeking your approval and goes on to enchant you only because it does not fit into your primitive framework.

It brought back the days I spent at my grandparent's house as a kid, wearing glass bangles that matched my clothes. When in those hot summer afternoons we used to throw stones at the old and wise Tamarind tree and run inside now and then to dip our shoe-less feet in cold water. When anything four-legged that you picked up on the street used to be your pet for the next few days until it silently disappeared with a jute bag one fine morning.
There were important agendas back then too!
Like collecting the maximum number of marbles over a marble fight, or trying to extend the boundaries of our bicycle rides by a few hundred meters everyday.
Over the years, I guess, our ability to make a harder agenda got better and here I am now, trying to get labeled as "wise" . :)

I have been a fan of Robindrashongeet all my life. Whether it is Tagore music, poetry or Bengali cinema; it carries with it a distinct flavor and personality. It has a lingering presence of the belief that we all try to grow out of to protect ourselves from getting hurt. The belief that makes us think of every person we come across as a "good person" and every thought we think as a "good thought". I think this child-like happiness is a part of everything Bengali I have ever been a part of until now.
Sometimes, these little couplets and songs get you thinking if there is really a need for all the complicated situations that we surrender ourselves to. If life could be lived just as peacefully by the banks of a thoughtful river, why rush into the next 707? :)
If a simple verse and a simple song has the power to make
your day; why seek to broaden your "horizons" ? :)

Just as you think of all of this, you are gently nagged by the unfinished ChemDraw installation and then you get back to work! :(

PS: The Author is currently on a break from her "real job" so readers should expect some literary diarrhea. ;)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Shop Test. :)

The best way to judge a woman is to take her shopping with you.
A woman can pretend to be a queen anywhere else but shopping is like the litmus test for her character. They can brag about their fortunes and their tastes, or the fact that they always use those freakishly expensive hand-creams with pressure-pressed rose petals in authentic rose oil that you get for a dollar a gram, but a woman is a true woman only when it comes to the "shop-floor".
Somehow girls always take up after their moms and that is what I did.
The first true "shopping buddy" I ever had was Aai and the way she shops would put all the contestants about a hundred places behind her. The Shop-Floor is like a dance floor when you are around her. She will choose the classiest things and not worry about the price. She will shop anywhere in the world and try and find a market place where ever Life takes her. She is not worried about checking in things like "Four Wooden Elephants" labeled "Fragile" or a carpet from Pakistan. She once went to Dhaka and got about ten yards of rich raw silk with no particular idea about what it is going to end up looking like. She makes her colleagues carry all her bags for her but she never comes back from anywhere without something exotic. Our living room in Pune has a myriad collection of colorful wooden birds from Brazil, elephants from Sudan amidst a nicely done Indian flower arrangement. She is the same with clothes and jewelery. I absolutely love going Saree-shopping with her and be her "model" when she wants to know the "draped" version of her choices. :)
She is an impulsive and happy shopper with an eye for beauty!
In real life too, she is impulsive with her kindness and hospitality and she looks for all the pretty things in a person by default ( off course she can change the default settings whenever she feels like).

There is a certain class of women who go shopping with you and encourage you to spend money while all they do is watch you sign your credit card receipts. Whenever they catch you stealing glances at yourself in the mirror with a halter or a summer dress, they say, " Ah! That is just perfect for you. Look at the way it puts all the focus on your collar bones from your big hips. You should go for it sweetie". Then you melt.
Sometimes in your evident mirth over trying on and buying new things, you forget that your buddy is simultaneously getting richer than you. When you realize later that you have walked out with three bags full of clothes you have no idea where you are going to wear and your friend has had nothing but coffee ( and the smallest flat white at that), it kind of takes the joy away from you. You think to yourself, " Is this some sort of a trick to get me broke?" and somehow shopping with them again feels like a nagging shoe-bite.
These kind of women probably are the ones who always suspect that the servants steal their money and eat their food when they are not looking. The kinds who are always sweet to everybody but probably don't have even a single best friend. :)

Then there is the kind that drives me nuts. One of my roomies, Riju, belongs to this category. She checks for the price of the same brand in at least six different outlets and makes a comparative study of all of them. By the time she finally decides to buy it, she knows the difference between all the places down to the very last cent. These kind of women take great pride in their budgets, making you feel like a lousy spend thrift. One day she got to know from one of her zillion discount alerts that a particular store about half a mile away from our place was selling twenty four cans of Diet Coke for $11. She made me walk to the store and back with those twenty four cans of diet coke. We took turns holding the bag and sometimes we almost tripped over trying to walk holding one handle each. I was just glad that the contents of the can would not make me put on the calories that I had lost carrying it all the way home.
She knows the prices of everything in the grocery store by heart and when she gets a good deal on something she lights up like a light-bulb.
Sometimes I ask her to leave me alone at a coffee shop when she is keen on carrying out one of her t shirt or shoe surveys.
These kind of women are forthright and honest with a very strong mind. They will make sure that everybody around them is taken care of even in the most demanding situations.

Just the way shopping brings out some of the consistencies in a woman's character, it brings out the incoherence and obscurities too.
Some women are compulsive about it. They can go on buying pointless things pointlessly hoping to make peace with some unknown sadness in their lives.
An engulfing melancholy can either turn a woman into a serious "seeker" or a serious "shopper". I always pray to God that if ever my life hits a fork where I have to choose "spiritual contemplation" over "reckless shopping" let Him help me choose the former. :)
I honestly believe shopping to be a healthy stress-buster in my life.
All my best girl friends are bound to me by this endearing impulse to spend a Sunday afternoon in and out of trial rooms. :)
It is one of the little joys that Life offers us!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Robin Gyan

Some Random Robin for all of you :)

Robin (the) Cook
Once our dear neighbor realized that he had left his queer assembly of frozen vegetables, some Italian Pasta Sauce
( with red wine), non-uniformly cut onions and salt which he insists on calling "curry" unattended. He went for a smoke leaving the pan on high flame and came back to realize that it had turned back into what it started from, upon which he simply held the pan under tap water and put it back on the hot plate and I can't even half express the kind of abandon and detachment he shows when he does that!
On being asked why he does not treat food with a bit more respect if not love, he says, "Keskar, we eat, we sleep,we die". Implying that there is no need to garnish food, wakefulness or even life!

Robin the Preacher
Once he came up with an "inspiring story" he read somewhere.
A sparrow decides to fly in search of better life ( probably towards the US of A) and gets frozen by the chilly winds and falls down ( maybe somewhere around Kabul). He thinks he is finished and there is no way now that he can have a life, leave alone a better one. Then, there comes a cow and takes a dump on the sparrow. The warmth of the cow dung thaws his wings and he starts singing with joy, upon which a cat hears him and eats him up!
1. People who put you in shit are not necessarily your enemies
2. People who take you out are not necessarily your friends
3. If you are in shit and happy about it, you should keep your mouth shut
And again, I can't even half express the happiness in Robin's eyes as he narrated this to us.

Robin the Seeker
On confounding matters like "Citizenship" and "Discrimination", when asked why he always thinks of himself as a colored Indian even though none of us have ever come across anything close to discrimination,
he says, " Keskar, you are half brown and beautiful and I am full black and ugly. Off course people won't discriminate when they are around you. You can easily pass off as a Mexican"
Which is not essentially a compliment though his usage of words to make a contrast really cracked me up!
He wonders if he should go back to his dreams of owning a restaurant in Madurai, where we made an estimate once of how many people he needs to get in to eat every day at Rs.15 per meal and the math suggested that he should probably have to start off by closing down a few other restaurants in the vicinity, or just stay in Australia feeling alienated for no reason but having a permanent residency nonetheless.

As we get to know him better, we realize the profound philosophy behind sloth and the ever so difficult dispassionate approach to all the things in Life. The only thing that I have actually seen him get happy about is eating a watermelon.
And as the weeks go by at lightning speed and turn into Excel Timelines on my computer Robin comes home exactly at five everyday and collapses on the couch like a puppet that has been released because the puppeteer suddenly remembers his five 'o' clock appointment!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Bad Guitar Player :)

I always meet people in "out of a movie" situations. 
I met my guitar teacher on board the Mumbai-Sydney flight. 
The flight was late and I was full of fear and nostalgia. Trying to think of too many things together and my seriously drugged inner voice poking me now and then to remind me of something that I should think of when I am taking off. Suddenly this tall, somewhat old guy with long hair tied up in a pony tail comes and sits next to me. 
He looked like those bohemian rock stars. He tucked his guitar in the overhead compartment and sat next to me. 
In economy, you always wish that the person with the boarding card on the next seat gets stuck in the loo or is caught at the security with a kilo of heroin. I always wish that the person destined to sit next to me should miss his flight so that I can stretch and use the next table to keep aside my food ( I find the airline food unappetizing). 
I was mildly unnerved that I should share my first flight to Australia with such a hippie. 
Fortunately, the feeling was mutual and he hopped on to another seat as soon as the seat belt sign came off. 

I enjoyed my flight. At dawn I opened my window to see the fluffy white clouds and sip coffee. 
I forgot about the hippie who went away the previous night.

I met him again on my way to the connecting flight to Brisbane and as both of us were waiting to board the flight, he happened to glance at my iPod. Then, began the usual co-passenger polite conversation about music and we realized that I listened to all the bands that he liked. Then as we half  fled past the really shiny airport floors, we talked about all our favorite songs and he asked me if I were to stay in Brisbane. He said if I was looking to learn guitar, he would be happy to give me lessons. 
When we boarded the flight, he wrote down his name,email and phone number on the boarding card and gave it to me. :)

That was it. Then all the excitement of the new house, roommates and university made me forget Barry Wilson. On an empty, homesick weekend that followed, I wrote him a breezy "how are you doing" mail. In reply, he sent me a song that he had just mixed. Then I thought that maybe instead of getting bored on weekends or running so hard that weekends prove to be more tiring than the weekdays, I should just learn how to play the guitar!
I called him and he said he would be very happy to meet me for a lesson and he would give me one on his travel guitar ( the same one that came to Sydney with us).
Being a twenty-four-year-old-new-in-the-city-woman, I took all necessary precautions when I met him. We met by the river in a place called "The Kangaroo Point" and my Greek PhD-mate made sure that he was present for the first lesson. :)
He wrote me a simple song,with basic chords and taught me how to read notes. Then gave me his guitar to try out. 
It was not that hard, but I needed more practice and he said I should just keep practicing. When the three of us started walking home, he put his guitar into the case and gave it to me! He said I could keep it till I got my own!
Then he went biking for a long time and I practiced his song between long breaks. Some of my friends urged me not to give up, and inspired me with their own music. 

It is really hard. I must accept. 
I practice the whole of saturday sometimes and all I get in the end is half a line of some famous song. My fingertips go numb from the metal strings and I keep forgetting the notes or the chords. I look at the online lessons and try to play but people keep pinging me on chat and I forget about my song when one of my favorite friends is online. The guitar goes out of tune and then I try to tune it and it goes completely off!
The worst of the difficulties is when the  pick goes inside the guitar as I strum and refuses to come out. :|
I make a funny picture trying to look for it with one eye closed as if I am trying to play it with my nose!!
At the end of the day when I listen to the actual song that I am trying to play, the difference is demoralizing. 
The biggest dampener is I guess when your  Pink Floyd devotee roomie asks," What are you trying to play? It sounds nice" when you are actually trying to play "Wish you were here". =|
I have made peace with the jokes that they make about earning extra grocery money by placing me on the Central Station subway ( Although that needs a lot more talent than I possess at this stage)

The only motivation to keep going is I guess the poetic idea of being able to sit on an unusually high stool on a dim-lit stage with other rockers and singing my favorite song as I play the chords and the fact that I meet people like Barry!
I don't know how good I would be, but as I am not willing to give up, I can definitely turn into a Bad Guitar Player. :)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

It is a girl

Growing up as an only girl child in a country almost famous for infanticide and foeticide was an unusual experience.
I still remember when I was about four and when people expected that my parents would have another child, it was a rare treat to watch all the nosy aunts gape in surprise when my parents said that I was the only one they would ever have.
I am happy that they are not the only set of parents who raised an only girl child. My best friends Ameya and Neha are single children as well.
I think it is not just lack of education that leads families to kill unborn girls.
It takes ages of grime that has settled on their minds and passed on as a piece of redundant belief.
Just like religion, which I think is more a function of what parents believe for a very long time after birth, the "need for a son" is also a badly passed on second-hand conviction.
In India, where there is very little clearance between two people or two cars on a street, desensitization comes very easy.
Just like it does not bother us that someone stands so close to us in a local train that we can hear their breath. Or when we have people standing behind our chairs in disorganized weddings with too many guests. Or thousands of Engineers and Doctors we produce every year to add to the growing dissatisfaction of having to struggle for a better future.
Foeticide is just another thing. Like the little girls begging on streets or being sold off to pimps. Why not just kill them before they come into this world?

So many of these families who take to crime for a son, don't even have any significant wealth to pass on and the kind of parents they eventually become, after killing girl foetus, they are insufficient to raise their sons the way they should. People who kill daughters cannot raise successful,positive and happy individuals.
When your first step into parenthood begins with a murder, you kind of kill the beauty of being able to be called an "Aai" or "Baba".
It is just ironical that everyone can make babies.
Sometimes I think that the act of making one, should require a bit of mind and intelligence too. I wish nature had made provisions and programmed a clause that could check this accidental bug of manipulation that is a characteristic of human mind. A goat or a mouse would not care if it is a girl!!
It is this unfertilized state of being "animals" with a "mind" that leads to most of the crimes against humanity.

If we erase all our inherited thoughts and just think of a girl as a human being we bring into this world...
She would go to school and learn how to count the money she gets back from the shopkeeper after an ice cream cone.
She would wear two oiled braids and come home crying because someone pulls them at school.
She would hide her fallen teeth under her pillow for the tooth fairy and grin her toothless grin!
She will go to college and read poetry or philosophy :).
Or she would become an Engineer, fighting with her guy friends over how she is just as capable as them!
My critics would point out that I talk of the upper classes of society and the lower ones are plagued by Marriages and Dowry. Even then, killing a girl baby and keeping a foetus over and over and letting it live only when it is a boy is an unpardonable cruelty. It is better to say, " I could not get my daughter married" than saying "I killed five daughters before I had a son".

Even the United States, apparently one of the most liberal nations of the world hasn't had a woman to lead them yet but India, with her imbalanced gender ratio has had one of the most powerful women rulers of the world and she was an only girl child too!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Three Generations of Cleanliness

I hate to admit it but it is true. I am a control freak.
I feel a bit relieved when I look back and find out that it is genetic. My mom and her mom are control freaks too!
There is a remarkable difference in the kinds of control freaks we are though. :)

I am a self-obsessed, compulsive cleanliness freak. I do not care who makes the mess, I clean it.
Even if I have had a long day at work, when I come home my feet direct me to my running shoes. I walk to the riverside telling myself that I would not exert but when I start jogging, my legs refuse to obey my mind. I end up doing a bit more than I did the last time and the happiness I feel at the end of it defies the trials I have been through throughout the day.
I do not try to scare people by being the way I am, but sometimes they do get scared. =|
Earlier, I used to daydream about inspiring people. I used to imagine my friends watching me run and eat healthy food and then trying to emulate me. I used to think that maybe a few years down the line, I would have inspired a couple of hundred people and have a fan club on my own name but it doesn't happen that way.
I am what can be called a "Blissful Control Freak". Who is in her own world and happy about it although it would have been better with the fan following. :D

Aai is a control freak too but she is perpetually wounded by the disparity between her world and the real world. She goes through pangs of heartbreak every time she sees my dad's clothes lying around the bed with no definite destination. It kills her soul to see people living in disorganized offices and bedrooms with no sign of claustrophobia. When she cleans a glass table, she probably thinks of all the people who would NOT have cleaned it the way she did.
She has procedures for storing vegetables in the fridge and she insists that the maid follows her Standard Operating Procedure exactly like she does. She is like a very famous painter who is ahead of his times and is constantly hurt by the boorishness of the world around him. She goes into a bout of self-pity when she finds closet doors left ajar by people who get dressed in a hurry. Her heart goes out to the non-stick frying pan that was scratched by the callous maid and then she wishes she could stay at home and clean all the non-stick pans herself. She will feel sorry about my dad being duped into buying rotten tomatoes for a week till she goes and teaches him how to "buy good tomatoes" the next time. She is a "Disillusioned Control Freak" who could do with some increase in the levels of perfection around her. :)

My Aaji is one of her kind. I would eventually want to turn into her.
She is a detached dictator. If you throw your clothes on her bed and run out into the balcony for some hot gossip, you will find them folded and sitting nicely in your rack beaming at you when you come back. If you refuse to eat something, she keeps talking about the outstanding qualities of the food that you are evidently "missing out on". If you don't budge even then, she will go on to tell you about all the combinations you can have it with. She will keep talking without anger, urgency or even love. She will just elucidate all the important things about the dish and list her past experiences with an impassive expression on her face. Somehow, after a while you find yourself digging into what she wants you to eat. She looks detached and calm but she gets everything done from others more efficiently than anyone I have ever seen. If she wants me to read a book, she will talk about the author for such a long time that it is easier to finish reading it and tell her that I liked it than listen to her self-less sermons.
It is really difficult to find a crease on her linen and no one except her cat is allowed to mess with it. She does not get mad at you if you sit on her bed and leave it unmade. She will make it right in front of your eyes. She will remove the linen and put it back stretching her eighty-four year old body like a sixteen-year old till you are forced to get up and make it for her. She never needs to iron her Saris because she folds them so well that they never get a crinkle on them.
When we visit her with our knapsacks and airbags, she is always waiting impalpably in the background to clear any mess with her saint-like alacrity.
She is a "Yogi Control Freak"

I have made some very important observations in my defense. When you are a self-obsessed, narcissistic control freak you lead a better life because
1. Your happiness depends upon really small things like trying out a new brand of dish-washing liquid that has a better fragrance than the one you already have. You don't need symphonies to entertain you..even the squeaky clean bathroom floor is enough to make you feel peaceful.
2. You don't feel bad about other people's success because you have already ruled out competing with them and most of the times you don't realize that they are getting ahead of you because you are too busy competing with yourself. :)
3. Since you spend so much time being self-critical even a hint of a praise from important people turns you into a butterfly.
4. Your friends like to hang out in your room. ( Only as long as you don't fuss around like my mom)
5. When every minute of every day is used to shine,clean,organize and rewrite something you end up making a busy present and a busy past and you hardly have time to worry about the future.

I guess I speak for all the Monicas out there. :)
I really cannot deny that I love being one. ;)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

How to make AMAZING Gajar Halwa in minimum effort. ;)

You Need

1. Carrots ( A kilo maybe because the end result is really good)
2. 1 Can of Condensed Milk ( People in India SHOULD use Khoya/Khawa)
3. Sugar ( I have not worked out the exact quantity so keep the whole pack ready)
4. Nuts ( Almonds and Cashews pre-soaked in water for 20 minutes and sliced)
5. Ghee ( About 3-4 Table spoons for a kilo of carrots)
6. Cardamom ( 6-8 crushed)
7. A decent frying pan

How to do it?

1. Shred the carrots ( Not too fine because then you'll end up with carrot porridge)

2. Let the pan heat up and add Ghee to it ( watch the ghee and make sure you have shredded carrots and a wooden ladle ready before it gets all heated up)

3. Add the carrots and cook with constant stirring ( Please don't take phone calls during this time because even a slight relaxation can burn the whole thing. The Gossip can wait). This is a hydrophobic recipe. So by frying the carrots in ghee we are essentially removing the inherent water that all the vegetables have. :)

4. When the carrots shrivel up, look pale and dehydrated ( Oh Gosh! What a way to put it) remove the pan from flame and start adding sugar. Let it melt into the carrots. The ideal amount of sugar is till the time it soaks the poor dehydrated carrots and makes a sugary film around them ( Yes, it is fattening but when you are doing something wrong, you should do it right!)

5. Put the pan back on flame ( but reduce the intensity of the flame) and now it is time to add the condensed milk. Well,milk should go in last because it burns faster than sugar. Do not pour the whole can at once because then you will have to wait till the the vapor goes off, forms clouds and comes back as rain!! Let the carrots be hugged by sugar and blanketed by milk. You will see it boiling. The ideal "Gajar Halwa" aroma has a hint of syrup and a bit of carrot that gets you bewitched or sick if you stick your nose inside the pan for too long. However if you have your roomies leaving their "Saturday-afternoon-in-front-of-the-computer" positions and coming to see what is going on in the kitchen you are doing a good job. :)

6. Let the members of the pan mingle and make a homogeneous mixture. Then add the sliced nuts and cardamom. Let it cook for some more time. The time to get it down is when you feel really scared to leave it unattended. :D

How you serve it

There is only one way to serve Gajar Ka Halwa. Hot halwa with cold vanilla ice cream on the side. If you are really the "entertainer", put a leaf of mint on the ice cream.

Lines like, " Aao na!! Maine apne hathon se tumhare liya gajar ka halwa banaya hain"
and a bit of eyelid batting along with that go well with the dish and should be done without the fear of sounding stupid.

How you burn it

Around 60 laps in a 25 meter Pool
6 KM of serious jogging

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pining for a Pineapple

It is so easy to like an apple. You grab one on your way to work from the fruit stall and at lunchtime you go crunch-crunch-crunch over a newspaper. Almost nine out of ten people like mangoes. I have seen people grow out of their jeans eating mangoes in the scorching Indian summers. Mangoes are the only solace when the tropical sun gets vapours out of your skin. Liking a banana is also one of those really common things but it takes men and women of character to like certain fruits.
I always wonder about the first man ever to discover that jackfruit is edible. I think he must have possessed sainthood of gigantic proportions to be able to see past the skin and the thorns and believe that there must be something inside that he could eat! Or he must have been really desperate for food.
Somehow I totally respect people who like Kiwis as well. I am intrigued by their desire to find something edible behind a brown ball that looks like an alien in its early stages of evolution. Some fruits are just so much work!
As a kid I always prayed that I could get a seedless watermelon. It is such a pain to eat one and throw the seeds out. There is a great joy however in saving the seeds in your mouth and spitting them out in a spray. ( The author must confess that this was an oft practiced ritual in the Keskar household and it has got nothing to do with the author’s upbringing). Papaya is another fruit that tests your superficiality.
I never thought that the juicy pineapple fell into the second category. I love pineapple.
It is such an exotic fruit! Crunchy and sweet with no seeds! Sounds like a fruit-lover’s dream come true.
In India, I had seen only two states of pineapple. The first being when it sits in the market in a cane basket, with it’s crown and scales, being advertised as a honey-soaked-piece of heaven( Yes, fortunately I was not one of those American kids who think Pineapple comes from a can). The second stage was when it sat on my plate, which the maid brought in at around four in the afternoon everyday in order to tick the box labelled “fruits” in my diet chart. :)
So when I saw a plump pineapple in the supermarket the other day, I jumped in joy and said “yey” in my fake little-girl-voice. My room-mate Riju tried to warn me of the probable knife mishaps we could have buying a pineapple at this stage in our lives but I defended my stand by telling her that even students deserve pineapples!

We got it home and let it stay in the fridge for a day. Today afternoon I walked the river walk with near romantic ideas about the pineapple. I remember giving a serious thought to the thickness of each slice, and the amount of pepper that would be required to get it sweet and spicy at the same time. I even thought about a suitable bowl to arrange the slices in so that when Riju comes home, she gets to pick them elegantly and have them as we have the “How Was Your Day?” talk.
When I got home I could hardly keep my hands off the pineapple. So I made a cup of tea and got down to work in between sips. At first I tried to cut it with the biggest knife. It kept slipping off the scales. So I thought maybe I need something sharper and I got another one. In my desperation to make things work I forced it in and then it refused to come out of the fruit. I banged the whole assembly on the sink and the pineapple was thrown off the knife a bit unceremoniously. I gathered it again and decided to get back to it after a few sips of tea. When I got back, I was equipped with two smaller knives and a peeler ( God knows why I included the $2 peeler in the army). So when I finally worked the procedure out it had numerous steps involving all the four knives put up for the job .I had to take care not to waste any fruit on the peel because if Riju got to know that there was more than three millimetre of pulp on the skin in the waste basket she would go down to the very last cent I had put to waste.

I finished slicing it up after a good forty-five minute long fight and when I did I had juice running down my elbows. I was triumphant though that after so much of hard work at least I get to eat my favourite fruit. I decided to let it cool till I finish with my jog.
I set out to jog and I felt like the whole of Brisbane was eclipsed by a pineapple juice leak. Everything smelled of pineapple. Pretty women crossing roads it seems had just had pineapple showers. My earphones smelled like they just had a pineapple snack. The river was not water! It was pineapple juice with ferries on it!
I figured that eventually my sweat would overpower all that sweet pineapple fever in the air but even my sweat smelled like pineapple!
I realized halfway through the jog that the skin on my knee was suddenly stiff. Being a hypochondriac I thought maybe I had suffered from a scraped knee without falling down but a bit of investigation led me to some dried pineapple juice that was slowly making my joint immobile!
On my way back the coffee shops smelled like they were selling pinacoladas in their coffee mugs. It seemed like the whole world was “Glad-Wrapped” with pieces of pineapple and cut off completely from the rest of the Universe.
When I entered the kitchen Riju was sitting at the table like this eager rabbit eating a slice of pineapple I left in the fridge. When she saw me she looked at me with evident pride for standing by my words and giving her the juicy pineapple that all poor graduate students deserve. She held out a cheesy yellow slice in her hand and I found myself saying, “ Oh no! I am sick of it”!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Australian Zoo

I just came back from a trip to the Australian Zoo. :)
It is a privately owned zoo by the family of Steve Irwin who is more famously known as the "Crocodile Hunter"
It has been so many years since I went to a zoo and felt like this. My dad ( who by the way haunts this blog) will have stories of some four-year-old me making him do 'n' number of revisits to the Peshwe Baug which used to be very close to where we lived. Sometimes we went twice a day, especially if it was a lazy Saturday for baba. :)
I went with my workmate Bernadette and we had some serious fun.

" Never once in these past hundred years have you ever loved me the way I wanted you to!"

"I dont drink Beer..The Australian Attitude is contagious :D "

Yes. Even I take pictures in front of larger than life posters. Big deal!! :P
This is Steve-The Crocodile Hunter!

I also got one with a very cute Kangaroo and a Koala..but since I am technologically challenged I was not able to rotate them and get them up!

Monday, November 12, 2007

27 going on 28 :)

The other day our neighbor Robin looked postively grave.
Like we always do, we tried to coax him into talking about it. It took him a few long South Indian sighs and serious head nods to open up to us.
He broke into a squeak and then somehow harnessed his voice into a regular tone.
He began by saying, " Keskar I called my dad and he says that I am twenty eight and it is time I do something with my life!"
I do not have the slightest idea why he calls me by my last name but looking at his face I realized that I had more important issues to address.
So we had the following conversation

Robin : Keskar, I always thought that when I turn thirty I will stop working and start my restaurant!
Me : Yeah, but what's stopping you? You can still do it!!
Robin : No Keskar, but my dad said I am twenty eight and I have not done anything with my life.
Me: Well, yeah I agree on that! I always see you dozing off on the couch or smoking. I wonder what "doing something in life" means in your language.
Robin: Keskar! It is not about that Keskar! I had no idea that I am twenty eight. I thought like I am twenty six now and in January next year I will be twenty seven! Keskar, but my father says that I am twenty eight. It is like I lost a year of my life Keskar! Now I have just two years before I would want to stop working Keskar!

Yes, I agree that there is a near annoying appearance of my last name up there. That is exactly how it is. The word "Keskar" is said in all the scales that a bad singer could try before he hits the one that sounds the worst. All of this goes with eyes dancing in every corner of the carpet but never looking up at me.

Me : When were you born?
Robin: January 1981?

That is how a question is answered with a question.

Me: Then you are right. You will be twenty seven going on twenty eight coming January.
Robin: No! I will be twenty seven.
Me: Yes, but you will enter the twenty eighth year of your life
Robin: What do you mean by "enter the twenty eighth year of your life" Keskar?
Me: That means that you would be approaching the end of your twenty eighth year all through 2008.
Robin: ( With a disgusted frown) No Keskar!! I will be twenty seven!! ( Then he fishes for a paper and a pen from the eternal mess that he has made around the couch) Wait Keskar, I will count!
Me: There is no need to count Robin! You will only know what you already know because it will add up to twenty seven.
Robin: Then why do you say I am entering the twenty eighth year of my life Keskar?
Me: Did you go to school?
Robin : Shut up Keskar!!
Me: No really! How did you make it through Engineering?
Robin: I copied and fell at the lecturer's feet. Sometimes I begged Keskar!
Me: Okay. Do you know anything about 'whole numbers' and 'fractions'?
Robin: Shut up Keskar. Of course I do.
Me: So say you turn twenty seven on the 9th of January. How old do you think you will be on the 9th of February?
Robin: 27 years and one month?

Question for a question again!

Me: Yes! Exactly! So you have lived one month of the twelve months you are supposed to live to turn twenty eight. Do you get it now?
Robin: Keskar, but I am still twenty seven right? If someone asks me how old I am on the 9th of February 2008, I say twenty seven right?
Me: Yes but you are going towards twenty eight.
Robin: Naaaaw Keskar!! Why does that number have to come into my life in 2008?
Me: Okay you can say that you are twenty seven. Imagine twenty seven rooms that you enter and exit for each new year of your life. In January 2008, you will lock the twenty seventh room behind you and you will enter the twenty eighth room where you will stay for a year.
Robin: Yes Keskar. That is a nice way to put it. So do I tell people that I am twenty eight? Since I am in the twenty eighth room?

I used to worry about my pathalogical urge to hit people with frying pans but at such times I thank God that I feel that way.

Me: No Robin. You can tell people that you are twenty two. No one cares how old you are anyway. You hardly make a difference to anyone. So you can just choose your age each year.
Robin: No Keskar! I really wanted to stop working when I turned thirty Keskar!
Me: Look Robin, if you cannot calculate and state your right age when you have lived more than a quarter of your potential life there is no meaning to anything you want to do with it anyway. So just pick a number and be happy. What is it with not working after thirty? It is such an American Dream! You should work all your life. Work is the only salvation.
Robin: Shut up Keskar! You with your vacuum-cleaner philosophy. I wanted to become happy when I turn thirty but everyday I realize that I become more and more unhappy.
Me: Hmmph. I reckon that is because you have some issues with dreaming the right kind of dreams.
Robin: (Speechless for a while) ( A solemn and quizzical expression on his face) ( Neck turned sideways like an alert bird) Yeah maybe Keskar. All I dream is about earning money and becoming rich! I think that is the only happiness in life.
Me: Yeah for you that is a lot of effort. I am so glad you are at least a bit greedy about money. That is a fairly decent dream. I think you should chase it now that you have just three years left.
Robin: Promise Keskar!!? ( His usage of the word 'promise' closely translates to the word 'really' in normal human language) That means I am twenty seven right?
Me: Yes Robin your chronological age is twenty seven but I have serious doubts about the linearity of your emotional age.
Robin: Keskar you are so mean! How old are you Keskar?
Me: I am twenty four
Robin: That means you are twenty four going on twenty five Keskar?
Me: Oh My God! Naw!! You are not supposed to use that number till next July!!!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Letters That Sing

There is nothing more refreshing than getting a hand-written letter. You come home all drained and tired and there it is!
Staring at you, half winking, on the table with an "India-Bharat" stamp on it!!
It just turns the day around for me. Sometimes it is written by my granny and sometimes by Ameya or Aai. It contains nothing spectacular. It talks about this and that and sometimes ( especially if Ameya writes it) it goes on and on till you fall off to sleep on it!
There are other kinds too. They have been teaching me how to sing, or at least how to listen to Good Music. :)
Music has introduced a few very good friendships to my life.
I get the same refreshing happiness when an email comes with an mp3 attachment.

I listen to all kinds of music. I have no strong opinions about music.
( Which kind of makes me wonder if I have strong opinions about anything else either!)
Over the past year or so however I have made a conscious attempt to listen to a lot of music and widen my vocabulary. In this conscious attempt I have unconsciously made a few very good friends. :)
So I think I should tell my readers about my most influential Music Gurus.

He is the guy who always leaves a bitter-sweet comment on my blog. Sometimes he gets upset about my grammar and sometimes about my punctuations. Sometimes he thinks I am just putting up an act and sometimes he praises my writing without any reservations. He taught me Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull. Well not just that. He taught me a lot more about good music. Sometimes he made me listen to a song and then we had this discussion about why I like it. Then he used to go into a sermon about the singer or the band. He is the kinds who knows composers like average guys knows football players and their clubs. He will give you a comprehensive summary of everything the band has played. :) It wont be just statistics though! he would be equally passionate about every song. :)
He gave me some of the songs that are always on repeat on my playlists.
He gave me all of the Steve Miller Band which I listen to at least once a day. :)

He posts comments as "Intendo" on my blog.
He is one of the very few authentic Rockstars I know. He has a class of music that he likes. He picks his favorites with great care and shares them I guess, with even greater caution. He has a band of his own called " The Spacebarres" and I was fortunate enough to attend one of his performances in Pune. He introduced the blues and the jazz to my collection. Every song he sends has a mind of its own. He seems to be more of the introspective kinds so his collection is always soulful and classy. :)
He has sent me Mark Knopfler,Norah Jones, Eric Clapton and Yanni!
It has been one of the happiest music lessons I ever took!
Although when I was in India, I could never talk to him at length when we met because of my near-atrocious Hindi. :)

Then there are a few very good friends I have who always attach a song with their emails. Sometimes, we try to outwit each other by sending better songs with every email. Music has helped me salvage a few good friendships too.
When you run, your music plays in your ears without expecting a lot of attention from you. A few days later however when you take the same walk or go by the same river you hum along the song that you so furiously played when you went past it the last time. :)
Just like that people who talk Good Music become a part of your life too!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The People I Meet : Iowan

Last night something refreshing and funny happened to me.
I was feeling a bit lonely the whole day and I had to keep going at my literature review so I was positively grumpy.
It was one of those days when you have had your full share of fun and the 'Karmic Gods' want you to suffer as you toil at your desk. I studied half heartedly and came home to find my roomie Riju all doe-eyed waiting for me so that I could accompany her to her jog. Riju has recently been bitten by the fitness bug. Initially I thought I inspired her but then I realized that her inspiration had more to do with her new capri pants and workout tshirt.
I walked and she ran because I had had an overdose of swimming at the University. She got tired and we went to the end of river walk indulging ourselves in empty, unwanted conversations. :)
We sat down near the pontoons for a while and just as we were about to get up, a small, silver haired man popped from the darkness on the right.
He greeted," Hello there ladies!! Are you from the land of Raj Kapoor?"
It was Saturday night and he had a bottle of wine in his hand so we gave the usual we-are-reluctant-to-talk-to-you-because-we-were-told-not-to-talk-to-strangers-especially-on-saturday-nights reaction. Then he said that he lived on a boat which was anchored in the river and he was just clearing the garbage and that he never drinks alcohol! :) Talk about reading minds!!
We said that we came from the land of Raj Kapoor and to make up for our initial stiffness we asked him to grab a seat.
His name is Iowan and he is from Romania. He lives on a boat and sails to Sydney when he feels like it. He is a primary school teacher and knows nine languages.
He told us about the time when Russia split up. When he was a kid, and being brought up in a land that embraced communism as a religion, he saw unspeakable poverty. In that kind of poverty, as a teenager he used to walk all the way in snow to the cinema and watch "Awara" :). He said he watched Awara twenty times. Then he went on to talk about Shree 420 and Mother India. He sang 'Mera joota hain Japani' in a sweet European accent.
He thinks Rajesh Khanna is one of the most handsome actors he has ever seen and he was equally smitten by Dev Anand!
I was wondering at my luck to have met him and his ability to be so warm and happy at the same time.
He talked about the time he travelled to Cambodia and the genocide.

He told us about his sailing. About when he is sailing long distances sometimes fish jump on to his boat on their own. :)
He told us about his friend who sailed from Brazil to India. When he reached India, he was so worn by the wind and bad weather that he could hardly recognize himself.
We asked him if we could see him often but he was to leave. He said he will be going away on an island.
I don't remember how long we talked but it kind of turned the day around for me.
Sometimes you wonder why you meet some people at a certain time in your life.
Maybe it is just to shake you off the feeling of being very important. :)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Between Maths and a Hard Place. :)

It is a rare honour sharing study rooms with Maths people on one side and Plant people on the other.
Mathematics people are one of their kinds. They will accept reality as real only when they break it down to a million tiny pieces first and prove that each one of them is real enough to be called reality. Their everyday conversations are garnished with words that seem to walk out proofs and postulates.
You overhear conversations like," If there was even a slim probability of that pretty French girl going out with me, I just reduced it to a big zero by goofing up the Fermat theorem when she needed a solution".
Mathematics men make you feel like they are looking for holes in everything you have to say. So when you have a conversation with them you can see both their eyebrows going up and down without each other's consent. They are always more than willing to help you for they always look for a "problem". So if you approach them with something you cannot figure out yourself they will pounce on you and use all the available white boards to clear your doubts. Initially they will ask you if you are with them on the solution and wait for you to nod. As the problem gets juicier (and you get bored), they will turn completely oblivious to your presence and go on solving it on their own. You get up and leave and come back in the evening to pack up to find your maths guy solving the same problem with dishevelled hair.
They would want you to prove everything. If you even casually say, " Oh God! Help me", one of them would croak in a clipped voice that can only mean that he is either a Mathematician or a Brit, " Can you prove that there IS a God?”
Maths women never get their eyebrows done.
When a Maths woman talks to a Maths man the conversation seems to take you out of your everyday torpor. Better still if there is a potential romance involved it puts the mating calls of all the animal, bird and insect species to shame. A Mathematics Man wooing (excuse me for using that word but it so goes with Maths) a Mathematics Woman by showing off his intellectual prowess is something that has yet to be taped and archived by the National Geographic. It is so melodious and methodical. The way their markers go "swoosh-swoosh" on the whiteboard and they prove to each other that they are not just capable of solving this problem but many more that they might face together.

On one hand I have these " We are atheists till X equals God" people and on the other I have the Plant Group.
They all work with plant genetics. So they believe in the "Ultimate Creation". They assume a lot of things that the Maths people want to shred apart and verify. They are awed by the Devine architecture and are merely trying to imitate in all humility. One day as I was busy trying to figure out what to read, one of the plant guys descended on me with the air of a "senior" PhD student.
He asked me if I had decided what project I wanted to work with and I replied that I was slightly confused.
Then he asked me if I had made up my mind about who is going to be my guide and I said I was slightly confused.
He asked me about the kind of work I really like and I was confused. He asked about the area I was curious about and I was still confused.
Then he told me how he always knew what he wanted to do because God helped him choose at every crucial point in his life. He went into this long ranting lecture about how God helped him choose Genetics over everything else.
Then he asked me about my faith and belief in God. I replied, "Hmmph I am slightly confused about that too"
The whole room went into a spontaneous laugh and I turned genuinely crimson that day.
Their decisions just grow out of their heads like the mint green worm-like plants that grow out of their flasks. Plant Men walk around the Graduate Room looking like messengers of God. They never bang their fists or jump up and down when they get something right. They never go back in circles, squares and pentagons to question everything again and again. They always have their minds made up. Plant women don’t really seem to have an urge to prove their equality to anyone. They are kind and affectionate and of course even they have alarmingly resolved minds.
I take a course with this Nigerian Plant girl and I asked her about her research. She looked through me into a distant Horizon and said;" I always knew I wanted to do something with Bananas".

Sometimes I think I am better off being confused. It is such a choking feeling to have fixed opinions on everything and if I figure out everything this early I would probably lead a very boring life. Then I think if I am confused, I should also be able to tear apart and question all that confuses me like the Maths people. I should be able to make sentences like, " If we presume a hypothetical scenario..." or "In this event it would be wise not to assume.."
Or at least be as sure as the Plant group and know that God (or Nature) has a plan for everyone and my life is not entirely my own responsibility. :)

I must confess that sometimes I am secretly glad to be trapped between these two disciplines. For watching them be themselves gives me a lot of time away from my own confusions. :)

Saturday, October 20, 2007


My flatmate Shruti promised to sweep me off my feet one Saturday morning.
She promised me that she would take me to a place in Brisbane that serves the best French Toast in the whole world.
That morning oozed into my room from the half broken blinds ( which our landlord refuses to take off) today and after a semi-serious jog by the river I nudged her into taking me to the place.
That is what the interesting name is all about. The place is called Anouk and seriously it did sweep me off my feet.
It takes about ten minutes of wait on the pavement to be able to secure a table in the cafe.
It smells like well-cooked bacon, cappucino, cheesecake and crisp toasts all at the same time.
You can see a neatly labeled dessert counter which seems to get you a bit grumpy about your steely resloves and fitness fixations.

As we sat down with our first round of Earl Grey and Cappucino the waiter laid two plates of Brioche on the table.
One plump slice of golden brown French Toast with raspberries and mint on top. Garnished with two slices of succulent musk-melon and powdered sugar.
The Earth stopped spinning for a while and my mind went to all my favorite childhood memories.
It was indeed the best French Toast I have ever had in my life.

Another reason for staying away from junk and keeping away from carbohydrates on weekdays.
You can appreciate good food and let the artist and the poet in you out.Every bite fired up a love affair with my brain and made me grateful for all the forty-five minute jogs by the river!
I was looking for art in Australia for a very long time. I think I just found where the Artists really dwell.

We walked all the way back to the city and popped into a bookshop that sells rare books where I picked up John Donne for $9 for a bit of good poetry always goes well with good food. :)

PS: Please excuse my sense of photography AND for those of you who have been cribbing that I dont send home enough pictures now you know why! =P

Monday, October 15, 2007

The People I Meet : Robin

Well it is time to experiment with some caricatures. I have been a fan of some of the writers who describe people. I think it is a great skill to be able to paint a person using words. This is going to be some sort of a series. Please forgive me however for making this blog a potpourri of various things.


Robin is my next-door neighbour. He comes from South India and speaks singsong English.
There is something really peculiar about this man. I talk to him everyday trying to pinpoint what it is but it cannot be put into words.
He is tall and he is skinny with oiled hair that goes in about every direction that hair could go if you never bother to keep it neat.
His voice travels through a series of valleys and mountains before it reaches you. Sometimes when he is trying to be particularly emotive, it turns into a squeak. At others, it slides down a glacier and disappears into an incoherent mumble.
When you approach him with a bright "Hello Robin!!” he tilts his head at an awkward angle and gives back a damp "umm hullo" with downcast eyes.
He works in the railways. His job is to make drawings. From what it looks like, it must be a really boring job but you can find him trotting off into the elevator every morning at eight and trotting back exactly at five. Then he deposits himself on the couch and watches television indefinitely. He was too lazy to walk out of the non-smoking apartments so he used to smoke out of the window. Then one day, the landlord came in with a written complaint and asked him to get out of the premises if he wants to smoke. This kind of slowed down his smoking but he is still seen going down the fire exit with a pack of cigarettes and a mug of coffee a couple of times a day.

I believe people are like compounds and elements. We have our own reactivity and energies.
Some of us are highly electronegative and some of us are volatile. Robin would certainly fall into the class of inerts. He is just there. You can use him as a harmless and reliable carrier material whenever you want to. He will not opine, interfere or assert. He will never pick up a fight or even get along really well with anyone. He will just be around but sometimes he might turn out to be a big help. He is not detached for being detached needs some attachment too. He just is.

We often end up having a chat with him.
Being away from home makes you think about your parents very often. We all have rosy ideas about getting our parents to visit us. On one of such days we all were talking about our plans to get our parents to Brisbane. We asked Robin if he ever plans to get his parents to stay with him.
He went into this long contemplative silence. Then he said that he would prefer going back to India than ever bringing his parents to Brisbane for a long time. He has an unusual dream for a man like him. He wants to own a restaurant back in India where he can invest all the money he makes drawing plans for the Australian railways.
We asked him why he was so reluctant about getting his parents here and after a long intellectual looking gap he said, " What if I get them here and one of them dies? Then I would have to look for a place for burial"
Three minutes of complete silence and all of us burst out into peals of laughter.
Then we told him that the rate at which he smokes, it is more likely that his parents would have to look for a burial place for him.

He is a woman's nightmare coming true. He has already decided that none of the tourist haunts anywhere in the world is worth spending time and money on. He spends his weekends coiled up on the couch in the living room and only bothers to get up when he is hungry. He never goes out. He never works out. You get up in the morning and go for a jog. You come back and vacuum the house, clean the dishes, do the laundry, call up your parents and speak to them for an hour, you make your bed and go out for guitar lessons, you come back and cook dinner and all this while you will find him doing exactly what he was doing in the morning. Sleeping. He comes out of his shoes and they just wait there for Monday morning so that their rightful owners can get back into them and take them along the same pavement to the same building at the same time.

If by chance (yes it is really only by "chance") you meet him at the grocery shop and walk back, he would insist on crossing the road following all the traffic rules even if all the white people take it a bit easy. When you ask him why he is so finicky about it, he would reply in a solemn voice," Saee they would call me a bloody Indian if I cross it in a wrong way". As a matter of fact, no one will. None of us have ever come across anyone who would want to call us that!!
He talks about his early days in this country and he does have some really shocking stories to share. Stories about being left out and alone. Then making it on his own and being grateful to God. Finding his own way that led him to the kind of life he wanted to live. A life full of peace and pirated Tamil movies. Where there is no one to stop him from being himself.
At times you agree with his take on life. At times it puzzles you.

I meet him on my way back from the jog sometimes and he asks me what I am up to. Irrespective of what I say his reaction is always the same," You are the rich Indian girl with an attitude". I try to fathom what it means but then I always give up. Even if I tell him that I cleaned and mopped the kitchen floor today he still insists on calling me the "Rich Indian Girl with An Attitude".
I am amused by the word "Indian" in the description.

Robin is the kind of guy who teaches you that you can live your life using the bare minimum energy from what you can produce eating your food. He teaches you that you can exist on the screen-saver mode for all the forty-eight hours of the weekend and shake yourself to life only when your input is going to help your bank balance. He teaches you that there are back alleys and secret tunnels around your existence that can take you beyond the urge to move around and have fun. He teaches you the joy in being in a state of rest or of uniform motion as and when applicable. You realize that the peaks and valleys that you add to your everyday life by running around listening to your stupid iPod or by comparing the rates of vegetables in the grocery shop next door to the ones you get in the farmer's market are essentially not essential even though they make you feel like you are doing something really valuable with your life.
He makes you feel good about yourself when you are having a good day because you sympathize with his coiled-up-like-an-overfed-python state and he makes you feel really sorry for yourself when you are having a bad day because of his coiled-up-like-an-overfed-python state. In any case you are variable. He never changes.
Sometimes you wish you could inspire him but sometimes he almost inspires you!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Chicken Curry For Graduate Students

To make out-of-this world chicken curry on a bright Saturday morning beating all the odds that plague the poor
Graduate Student.

Chicken legs, yoghurt, lemon, whole pepper (about 7-10), grated coconut (half a cup), bay leaf, cinnamon,
Ginger- garlic paste, salt, red chilly powder, lots of tomato paste and three onions (vertically chopped).

Procedure: A] Marinate
For a kilo of chicken take around 500 grams of plain yoghurt. Add a spoon full of turmeric and about 2-3 teaspoons of ginger-garlic paste to it. Squeeze half a lemon and mix well. Wash the chicken and apply the above mixture evenly to all of it and leave it aside. This has to be left alone for at least twenty minutes so please make sure that you are well fed before you begin.

B] Spices
I believe that one should always make one's own spices. So I do not recommend the ready made chicken curries that you get in the markets. Take an average sized frying pan (hopefully non-stick but anything works if you are creative enough). Add about two tablespoons of oil to it. (Please refrain from using extra virgin olive oil. =|) When the oil heats up, try throwing a few mustard seeds when they crackle, carefully put in all the groups of spices individually and shallow fry them. Put in the pepper (and stay away from the frying pan as you do it because sometimes it pops up and goes into your eye!), the cinnamon and the bay leaf. Remove all the spices when they are light brown. This procedure gets out the flavour and you can smell them distinctly in the curry. In the oil that is left, fry the onion till it becomes light brown and squishy (Sorry, I really did not have a more accurate word than this). When all the oil is lost in the onion and the spices put in the coconut on the pan. Please watch it very carefully. Coconut oozes oil. So please do not add oil in the pan to fry coconut.
When all the spices are lined up in a plate (and you have realized that the 20 minutes of leaving the chicken alone are over) chop a tomato and in the heated pan, put about two teaspoons of oil again and fry the tomato and onion.

Challenge #1: Lack of blender.
Ideally the spices should be blended into a paste by addition of water. However not all of us are fortunate, rich or resourceful enough to have a blender around. It is okay to put in whole spices. I call it the "exotic" curry. Where you never know what is going to crunch under your teeth next. Sometimes it is pepper and sometimes cinnamon. :)

C] Cooking
Add in the marinated chicken to the tomato and onion and add the spices and the tomato paste. Let it cook for a while (under pressure if possible and if you are really hungry) When it is cooked (try forcing a fork through to check), add about 3 teaspoons of chilly powder and salt to taste. Please do not add a tumbler full of cold water if you need volume. Make sure you balance it with a thickening agent like tomato paste or coconut. It is an insult to the food if you indiscriminately add cold water when it is cooking.

Challenge# 2 Lack of time and the energy to do all of this in one go.
You can fry the spices and make a paste and refrigerate and only do the marinate and the cooking when you want to make it.

Challenge#3 "What is a bay leaf?" ..Innocent questions. Please go to the nearest Indian shop and ask the owner. He/she would help you to get everything that you need.
( Please do not fall into their traps and buy the larger packets because they are cheap. Both of us know that you are probably going to make this only once and then the spices are going to lie around over the kitchen counter)
Alternatively for my friends in America, you can just "Google it up" and get your answers. But please do not freak out the storeowner by calling it "Cinammomum tejpata".

Ideally you should garnish it with coriander leaves and serve it with tomato and onion salad.
With cardamom flavoured rice with saffron. These, I agree are luxuries. So just pour in plain rice in a bowl and have curry with it as you Gtalk with someone in India. :)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Happy Birthday PurpleMoon!!!

3rd October 2007

Although my readers cannot trace back the proof of this occasion ( owing to the fact that I keep renovating my page all the time) back home, in my lab in Pune, on the computer connected to the GC/MS system I have a folder by that date which was created in 2006. :) ( And that is an amazingly long sentence)
Initially I started writing because it was a much needed distraction from work. When you are a chromatographer and work on a Gas Chromatograph you get time between runs. I used to use that to write. Then I processed the chromtograms and went back to processing my blogs between the next two runs.
I cannot believe it has been a year.
To me, PurpleMoon was something close to an escape. A reverie that helped me color my life the way I wanted it to. To be able to remember the good things and to be able to bring out the pastles and the lights from the blacks and the greys.
I had written in leather bound journals with an ink pen before. I had written poems in an artistic hand. I had dozed off into books on the majority of Sundays that I ever saw since I started reading.
Writing was a new escape and being taken seriously was like an unexpected destination!
I think PurpleMoon has helped me grow beyond the limits of one chronological time unit.
When you look for escapes and they work out better the reality you wanted to escape from, it kind of gives you the feeling of being even with Destiny. :)

I have been through the Writer's block and learnt my Anger Management with some serious critique too. I have also had the pleasure of replying to my humble share of fan mails. I have loved it all and I think now that I am a poor graduate student, I might end up improving my writing skills when I am in the mood for some serious procrastination ( which seems to engulf me almost all the times these days)

I thank all my loyal fans for their constant feedback. :)
Now, before I sound like this self-concieted writer let me end this.
I wish PurpleMoon a very Happy Birthday and I hope it keeps me alive and positive like it has for the past twelve months.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Glimpses of my "roomiehood"

My readers should excuse my obsession with writing about myself all the time. :)
There are phases where I want to comment on others ( mostly because my own life is really boring) and then there are times when I have to constantly check how much I go on writing about myself. So taking a bit of a risk I would like to write about the sunny side of roomiehood.

Refuting parental assumptions that I am some sort of a high maintenance snob, I think I am well ensconsed in a house filled with three (crazy) girls. :)
There is great joy in being with two girls, especially since I never had a sister who shared a room with me. So here is a list of all the good things about roomiehood

1. When three average sized girls come together, suddenly you have triple the amount of clothes you usually had. To add to it, if one of you is outdoorsy, one chic and posh and the remaining bohemian, you have a wide range of classy and funky clothes to pick up from.
2. The territorial demarcations fade in about two weeks. You start grabbing each other's makeup or rummaging through each other's drawers first thing in the morning to find the shirt that goes with your weekend shopping.
3. You get to know that there are people as paranoid about certain trivial things as you are. Like one of my roomies is a dishwasher. The moment you leave any thing dirty on the sink it gets squeaky clean and sits on the shelf before you can have a sip of water. They also tell me that I discover my own "Nirvana" with the vacuum cleaner.
4. Everything going on in your life is openly discussed and used over and over to make cheeky comments and embarrass you. You cannot maintain your usual "cold" and "reserved" image. ( Although I have no idea why I would make that kind of image anyways with so much noise I always make)
5. Sometimes you laugh so much on something that you fall off the bed.( Which kind of gives you a reason to go on laughing for another hour)
6. You pick up contagious diseases like digging into the big tub of ice cream when you see the other two licking their spoons and being indifferent towards your steely determination of staying away from sugar at night.
7. You tend to feel good about yourself when one of them suggests that you should make the carrot-groundnut salad again this week because it was yummy. :)
8. Three girls coming from three different backgrounds leaves a lot of room for retrospective talks that let you fade into the night on weekends.
9. It is completely normal to wake up at 5 AM for no reason and have breakfast and go back to sleep at 8 AM.
10. When you are planning to go out, you can conduct your own mini-fashion show to get your statement for the evening.
11. Someone makes you get up from your afternoon catnap because she is getting bored without you. :)
12. They scold you when you go on shopping spree and keep reminding you that you are a "student" now, but then they also get you $3 strawberries from the farmer's market because you like to have them with yogurt.

I thank all the people who encouraged me to step into this. Especially my best friend Ameya who always tells me the truth earlier than when it is due. :)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Thank You Aai. :)

It is not very easy to like everything about me. I was specifically worried about landing in an unknown land and fighting hard to be able to fit in. Fortunately my mom has taught me the most important thing that a woman ( or even a man) needs to know to be able to banish all the opposition. There have been women in my family, on my mother's side, who were known for their tempers and pinching sarcasm. Women who would expect you to be so formal in their presence that drinking tea out of a stupid china cup would be one of the most challenging tasks at hand. They were all known, almost as a rule for their extraordinary culinary talent. Everything they said to you was forgotten with the sour-sweet dal or velvety puranpoli. Even a simple tomato soup would taste like a delicacy. My mom inherits that talent ( although she is not as sarcastic) and she has been clever enough to pass some of it on genetically and through disciplined cooking lessons to me. :)

Cooking is something I truly discovered when I landed in Australia.
Everything I cook, always reminds me of my mom. I still remember the way we started out. I was reluctant and she was angry. It was around the time when I was fifteen. My "induction" into the kitchen was something I thought was a "plan" to culture me into being marriage material but it all vanished once the classes started.
Before making any elaborate Maharashtrian dish my aai used to explain to me the fundamentals of cooking. Like if we were making anything involving tamarind and buttermilk, she used to say, " You begin this by adjusting the pH of the vegetables". I used to giggle under my breath for having such a geeky mom.
She used to encourage me to imagine what I want to cook. Visualize the end result. Even when I make a simple dal, on my way back from college as I take the river-walk , I imagine what would go into it. Then I take a mental check if I have all of that in the fridge. By the time I come home I know what my dal would look like.
She used to tell me that cooking is more about creativity than just a tool for survival. You have to know instinctively what you would like to put together. Designing a menu is one of the most difficult things, but when my mother does that it looks like a ballet on ice.
If she is a chemist at work, she is an artist in the kitchen. She never uses excess oil, excess water or excess spice yet her food tastes like it was just ordered from heaven.
She can manage about five different unit processes in the kitchen without help. Then like a seasoned chef she gets everything together just fifteen minutes before the arrival of the guests.
She never gets tired of cooking. It used to amaze me a few days back but now I know how it feels to like cooking.
She taught me how to extract pepper and cloves into the oil before they are used in your preparation. She taught me how to handle saffron and make saffron flowers on rasmalai. She taught me the principle behind making good tea ( which was taught to me in the form of a mathematical formula in mass transfer years later).
She taught me how to be patient while the ground-nuts roast on the pan. Or how to add lemon at the very last moment to save it from a heat shock. :)
She taught me to experiment and ( more importantly) to clean up after each experiment.
She taught me to cook with a lot of love in my heart for it is the only secret ingredient she has never told anyone else about!

So now even though I have certain inherent shortcomings as a person, I know that people would always put up with me because I cook well. :)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Oh no..Not another blog!!!

Hello All!!
Readers are requested to take note of a new blog
I am afraid PurpleMoon will still go on and I have no idea why this new thread. I hope we can all figure it out together as we go along.
Thank You!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

An Idle Observation. :)

What makes you feel home in a foreign land?
That when you happen to hear conversations
Across desks and cubicles
Girls always talk about weight loss
Or about insensitive boyfriends
Then they go on about the biggest sale
Or the shop around the corner of the street
That sells stylish bags

In public restrooms you always find them
Powdering their tiny, medium or almond eyes
Or brushing their golden brown or black hair
Giving each other tips
On how to not let your lips grow dry

And boys everywhere are the same
They talk about Cricket in India
And Rugby in Australia
Trying to solve the confusing riddles
Left behind with their girlfriend's perfume

Yet they are all so different
Like Mustard is from Cardamom
Like Olive oil from Peanut Butter
Same purpose, just a different flavor!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

How I started on the wrong foot and ended up having a good time.

I know I should keep my mouth shut. I always knew it.
It does not come into action that easily though.
I land in an unknown city with roomies that qualify as blind dates ( Yeah. Thanks to Google again)..but I should have taken it easy on being myself right away.
I started out with making rules right after I got over my jet lag.
So, I took up the task of writing Standard Operating Procedures for everything done around the house. They liked me for my neatness and cooking but like I always do, I overdid it slightly and one of my roomies blew up like an out of control reactor. :)
Let us not go into the details of what caused it. I think what I eventually did about it makes a more interesting story.
So she gets angry in Tamil and starts calling up all the Tamil people in Brisbane. I was upstairs in my room sobbing my homesickness away while my other roomie explained to her the new "code of conduct" ( That I had meticulously designed in the morning while my Tamil roomie was away).
I can understand when you have a language barrier in love. Sometimes it adds to the romance because both the parties invest special efforts in learning the other's language ( Thanks to Learn Gujrathi in Two Weeks) but when you have a language barrier in anger it ends up really complicated.
So I had to rush down as she broke down and started crying in Tamil. Since I had already offended her so royally she was unwilling to translate any of that into English for me. So I forgot my homesickness ( which had more to do with the bathroom floor in my current house not being squeaky clean than anything back home) and began consoling her in my ghastly Hindi. Then I switched to English. Somehow I sound more arrogant than I already am in English so I switched to the funny Hindi again and ran around behind her with a pack of tissues. The third roomie was away visiting her uncle in a suburb called Kenmore close by. So she was controlling the proceedings of our fight using our free Optus to Optus minutes. She kept hurling more Tamil lines at me and I suddenly found my sanity and decided to shut up. Every time she said something I used to tell myself, " Oh maybe that is what a B***H is called in Tamil". The language goes faster with stronger emotions and it was like a roller coaster ride for my ears.
Then the one tucked away in Kenmore came to my rescue. It was around 7.30 at night and out of the blue she asked me if I could pack my bags and leave her alone and come to Kenmore. Usually I would have declined this offer for a lot of reasons but I found myself saying yes even before my brain could completely process the question. So there I was, half sobbing and half terrified standing on Bus Stop 158 waiting for a bus that would take me away from Tamil vocabulary. I kept remembering everything my mom had told me about not travelling alone at night.
I left at 8:15 and I was probably the only passenger on the bus. With a rough idea of the route and my cellphone to help me figure out.
As soon as the bus started, it took the pretty road by the river and I was already feeling better. It was like a kid being distracted by fire crackers after getting a scraped knee. The bus driver ( contrary to my mother's opinions about drivers on empty buses) was a very gentle guy. He made sure that I got down at the right stop and I was safe with the girl I wanted to meet.
Then I met her uncle's dog and I suddenly realized how easy life becomes when no languages are spoken.
Like my roomie puts it ( the one who is not awfully mad at me and who listens to Floyd and lends me her skirts)
I laughed about it the next morning over a cup of tea.

So every time I am going to something new or meeting someone for the first time, these people tell me " Saee please don't come back with a fight". Actually that is not how I want myself to be seen but it will take a lot of toil and patience to change my first impression in Australia. :)
I have learnt my first lesson.
If you want to push around people and feel good about it, pick people who speak the same language. ;)
That could mean a lot of things actually!

Friday, September 07, 2007

FAQs about my Life in Brisbane

Hullo all...

Yeah you guessed it right. This page is no longer the breezy poetry or the witty prose page. I would be adding updates about my life here, which technically is as boring as Oprah Winfrey's appointments with Dr. Phil.

I dont have an awful amount of time to write separate emails to everybody and over a period of a week or so I have realized that I need to answer exactly the same questions in all the emails. So I hope this is enough.

#1 How is your House? ( With strangling threats if I am too lazy to use the camera in my mobile)

=> The house is nice. You enter into the kitchen and then there is this dining area ( which for some unknown reason looks like three laptops being eaten up by an octopus). You take a flight of stairs and then you have two bedrooms. It is bang in the middle of the city so everything is about five minutes walk away.

#2 Are your roomies still alive?

=> yeah they are. :) They like the fact that they have an expert cook on board. But its been just a week so I would keep this question on hold. I would answer it after I unpack over the weekend and spend some serious time cleaning things. There is a lot of room for my organizing,scrubbing and beautifying talents in this house.

#3 What do you eat? ( and a cheekier version "Do you eat at all? Now that no one is after you?")

=> Yeah..I eat. I cook and eat or I just survive on salads. Brisbane is a city of cafes. If I have a salad in each one of the cafes here before I finish my degree I would call myself a rich girl. I also cook Maharashtrian food for my Punjabi and Madrasi roomies which they have liked so far ( except they think I have no idea how much to cook for 3 people and had it not for their supervision I would have starved them all to death)

#4 How is the city?
=> Awesome. There is a long riverside. It is lined with hundreds of small and large coffee shops and restaurants. At night the curves on the bank light up with a million shimmering lights. You can take a walk and sip tea and then take a walk again and it goes on. It is a dream come true for someone who likes long contemplative walks. =)
The weather is a bit chilly right now but it is supposed to get warmer.
The city center is a typically British. People walk a lot here. It is not like you get in the car drive through the Mac Donald's, stuff yourself with a burger and move on with your life. :)

#5 What do you miss about India?
Rikshaws. I really miss rikshaw drives. :(
And I miss my room and my wardrobe. I miss the stray cat that I used to feed.
I miss wearing salwar kurta all the time.
Yeah and I miss aai-baba too. ( although somehow the last bit sounds really fake after the first bit) I really mean it.

#6 How is the Research?
This should ideally be #1. God knows why no one cares a crap about what I am actually here for.
I am asked to read aimlessly. Which kind of goes with my personality anyway. So I read all the time. Novels are out of my weekday life. Like when you are all by yourself for lunch and you flip open a novel with your sandwich, I open a paper on lignin chemistry.
I like it very much. Being a student again makes me feel a lot younger. :)

Okay I guess this will answer all the mails and I hope this keeps you happy for a while.