Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Encyclopaedia Gastronomica

He may live without books, - what is knowledge but grieving?
He may live withhout hope,- what is hope but decieving?
He may live without love,- what is passion but pining?
But where is the man that can live without dining?
- Owen Meredith, Lucille (I)

So there I am strolling down Gariahat , munching on a chocolate donut…it was from Monginis and delicious. And am thinking to myself, Calcutta is such a great place to be in. Those who know me have been subjected to a never-ending rant about howiwanttoleavekolkataandihatethiscitybecauseitisuseless and must be shocked out of their wits to read this. But I have realised that this city has one saving grace, the food. Its varied. Delicious. And best of all …its cheap. Very very cheap. I was told by C that a plate of biriyani in delhi was 115 bucks. and the taste left much to be desired. 115 bucks for biriyani? Damn. I am also told that the phuchka in Bombay is sweet. Sweet phuchka??? WHY? Its like adding sugar to an omlette. It just doesn’t make sense. The phuchka in Calcutta is awesome. And famous. There are entire newspaper issues devoted to the expert phuchkawalas of Calcutta…not just articles. Issues.

I would believe that the Bengalis are responsible for the food craze in Calcutta. Essentially bongs are born to eat. And eat some more. They cannot do without their breakfast. Brunch…lunch…..midday snack….evening snack…snack while goin to office..snack while comin back home…u get the general idea. They are the reason why roadside stalls make a killing. U can get an amazing plate of tarka dal and tandoori roti for 10 bucks. and I haven’t even come to the favourite snack of all calcuttans bong or no-bong…the ROLL. This heavenly creation tops the list, pursued closely by the truly delightful culinary contribution by the hill states. ...The momo.the best momo in Calcutta is found infront of avani heights…which houses Marks and Spencer and other bigshot names like Gucci. I went there to look at things I would never buy…I mean come on..a soap in body shop costs 450 bucks. Why? Because it is made with royal jelly and honey. What’s so essentially expensive about wax and bee puke? Did u know honey is made by bees pukin? Did I just ruin your day? (Ok I shall stop before this gets out of hand.)Anyhow to get back to the point…after I floated around marks and spencer and the other shops I wandered outside thinking of how I must get a job quick so that I can afford passion fruit bath gel (yeah Bodyshop again...but totally worth it, it smells awesome…) I discovered I was hungry. There was this sweet old wrinkled Tibetan lady hidden behind huge steam pots. That day I ate 5 plates of momos. There are 4 to a plate…what I was hungry…and I discovered momo heaven right there on the streets of Calcutta. U do not need to go all the way to the hills. I think Calcutta street food is defined by these two culinary delights. I can make rolls too. In the authentic fashion. No, that does not mean standing on the footpath in a lungi manning a tawa. It means that I managed to get hold of an authentic recipe. But rolls…just like phuchka, cannot be enjoyed when u make it at home.

The point of this blog? Absolutely nothing. I just felt like writing about my favourite thing, food.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Each evening as the city settles down for the night, they come alive like little fireflies. We pass them, when, every time we take a bend down the street, we see the rows of houses on each side, their portals bathed in a warm glow…. the ubiquitous porch lights. I wonder sometimes, have we ever thought that how much they are a part of our lives, an important one?

Night after night, they shine, bathing our porches with a pool of warm light, somewhere waiting with the rest of the family for the tired and weary master of the house, somewhere, deep into the night, it waits with the anxious mother peering through her upstairs window for her errant son, and sometimes they add a magic glow around the couple saying goodbye, hurriedly on the steps, away from the eyes of the disapproving father! Their shaded light throws up eerie shadows around the garden, weaving a magical story for the little child sitting on the windowsill, in his own fairyland of giants and green elves and fairies dancing in the moonlight!! They are there, shining each night, catching the twinkle in the eyes of the new bride who with her diamond nosepin glittering by the light, flushed and rosy, steps into her new household. And sometimes you find them showing the way, as the bier is brought out with the matriarch of the family on her last journey. That night too it catches the light again, no not of her eyes, nor of the diamond nosepin, but on the tears of her loved ones.

You find them around the gates of the numerous apartment houses, the light white and cold and aloof, reflecting the sentiments of the residents of the place, where neighbours don’t even know their first names! Amidst them you may also find a old crumbling building, majestic still, which has somehow escaped the clutches of the builders, and there you will find the antique lead glass shade, through it’s clusters of prisms the light throwing it’s myriad hues, reminiscent of the aristocracy still. They are there every night, everywhere around this world, making us feel welcomed in their own unassuming silent way. What touches me is the way they are there, uncomplaining, never demanding nor expecting anything from this world, reminding me of people I know who gives unselfishly but never asks, not even for a smile. It’s only for us to perceive, if only we knew how.

MY Country! Oh my Country!

The heart overfloweth with patriotism the week leading up to15th August. Note the word week. That’s usually how long the overflowing lasts. And that’s usually because that’s how long it takes to extort various denominations outta the hapless members of the para…(neighbourhood for the Obangalis and uninitiated). And believe it or not people give. The purses, which are usually padlocked and chained to the waist, are thrown open to the supplicating palms, which then take off to spend the week inebriated because their country has survived 60 years of dirty politics, hypocrisy and countrymen who are increasingly indifferent to the plight of their fellow beings or for that matter, the country itself. Those same padlocks are double checked when the aged shivering mendicant asks for a rupee to ease his dreary existence.

The zenith is reached when the DAY finally arrives. My inbox was flooded with JAI HINDS! And “mera bharat mahan” kinda smses. ( not a single one received a reply..those who spent their money uselessly, read the blog, u will realise the reason for being ignored). I mean come on. Do u know that after India was granted independence, Winston Churchill said, “India will fall back quite rapidly through the centuries, into the barbarisms and privations of the Middle Ages.” Oh stop shaking your head …the man had an inkling about what was goin to happen. Yes ok agreed that the Middle Ages barb was a bit exaggerated, but the general idea isn’t quite off the mark. Where have we developed? We live in the 21st century, yet parents kill off their children when they marry outside their castes, or elope. Honour killing. Honour???what is honourable about a parent killing his own child? And then how can u hold ur head up high and be proud about it???? 21st century, 60 years of independence and we live to see the day when processions are carried out, and effigies are burnt because Richard Gere kissed Shipa Shettys botoxed cheek. I am sure that the bharatiya naaris who condemned the act were wishing to be in her place anyway. What’s so Jai about the Hind pray tell? Ye ye its all ok to be leading a blinkered life and thinking that one belongs to an increasingly developed society and a country that is goin places. Once I say these things in public I am usually bombarded with glares accompanied by examples of the Hind being very Jai-worthy. Like shopping malls. Nuclear pacts. I pods. Designer clothes. Restaurants where the bill for one meal is enough to feed a small family for a week. Lingo with the word dude in various shades of pronunciation.. The list drags on. But tell me something. What does a farmer care when he is told that India’s economy is considered to be booming? He doesn’t give a b(l)ooming damn. Not when his mind is preoccupied with thoughts of how to procure his next meal. When the country is celebrating its 60 years of independence does one stand and consider that absolutely nothing has been done for the development of the country’s poor? That the majority of its population lives in doubt as to whether they will be able to eat one meal ? what is there to celebrate when you walk out of a designer store carrying a shirt that costs 2000 bucks because of the word Prada stitched into the label, and u walk past/step over the destitute child who is lying on the footpath simply because he has no energy to stand up? And our politicians…our leaders…yeah ..sure…watch a parliament in session.

A country where a girl is married to a tree because of her unlucky star signs, where women are burnt to death for producing a girl child, where politicians, leaders of our country behave like 6 year old brats denied their right to a particular toy? where people just stand and watch while a man lies dying on the road. Or while a woman is being molested. Our culture has become one where it is perfectly admissible to walk past/stand and stare at, a crime against fellow humanity…

There was once such a place. Where the people were true to themselves and each other. Where lies and liars were regarded with contempt. And where the poor were given alms voluntarily because people feared the wrath of their creator if they mistreated a fellow human being. All the vestiges of a past glory are slowly fading into the mist. As if they are voluntarily retreating from a future that is predominantly bleak and riddled by vice. Where there is no scope for integrity. Oh there is just too much to denounce. So forget it. I’ll rant on in my head. Lead the life u are leading now. Enjoy your “free country”. The Day of Judgment draws nigh. Beware it.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Shock(ing) and Awe(ful)

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.
Books are either well written, or badly written. That is all.
- Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

“Khana-peena-dena.” “Boodie-doodie.” “Stroking.” “Tweaking.” “After dinner bang.” “Pre breakfast bang.” I don’t know, these words kinda jumped out of a certain book titled “Surviving Men” by a certain wanna-be-alpha-female named Shobhaa de, and tried to bite my nose. What does this woman think of herself? Consider a more disturbing question. Why does she even have an audience? Why do people read her books? Why is she treated like a celebrity??? I went to teach this individual English and her mother gushed….”Reeeetu do you have Shobhaa de book Spouse? I just finish this…(and she shoves the aforementioned atrocity at my face)…it is so wonderful. She write very well no”? Now I must admit…I was intrigued. Had never read any of her books previously, and I wanted to find out what the hype was all about. My aunt too, poor misguided lady, had told me that the writer in question was formidable with her pen. Of course she is. In a I-will-shove-this-pen-into-your-eyes-and-poke-out-your-eyeballs way. The third person to espouse the merits of this book was darling P. so I took it from her. I trusted her. Traitor. By the third chapter the inevitable happened and I was being poked in the eyeballs. I mean seriously. Marriage is equal to Khana-peena-dena? BOODIE-DOODIE????? This is writing? What kind? No wonder books written by women are not taken seriously. Unless u are Anita Desai. Or her daughter.
I used to be up in arms against the term chick lit. till I read “How Opal Mehta blah blah….” Now I am fully for it. Books like this and the one I have just ranted against deserve this extremely derogatory term.
Opal Mehta? It’s about a poor little (rich) who wants to get into Harvard, but ALAS!! She does not have a life. Her parents are so cruel. In order to get her a LIFE they make her wear designer clothes. Jimmy Choo stilettos. Carry a Blackberry. Force her to party. When all she wants to do is sit in her expensive car, alone and friendless, trying to crack the fermeculi/fermeculus/whatever formula.
Have you read the book? You should. Tears will form in your eyes. You will have severe indigestion. For two weeks.
What a crock of…..
Another book that deserves mention while I am in this mood….One night at a call centre. Call from God? What are u …eight????