Wednesday, December 23, 2009

And you blog again

You go to the Commercial street auto stand after stocking up a war’s supply of patience. You take your auto and drop your friend at Basvangudi as always. Then it is time to be vulnerable because you are alone at it is 10 PM , late where I live.

The lechometer comes into action – the mirror inside the auto that shows not a trace of the road behind or anything else that might be of value to a driver except perhaps wank off material.
Wank off material is the woman behind , who in this case is wearing a blue shirt , grey jeans and a long black sweater.

You wonder if you should move out of his sight. Then you will be too close to the edge of the auto and stray flying hands from passing bikes can access your mammary glands. (This has happened before).
The same goes for the other side. In the centre, you are in perfect view for him to see.

The auto seat becomes your world. The world is a war zone.
You rationalize it. What if this had been a hot man at Zenzi. Maybe you wouldn’t have minded.
You wonder where the auto driver’s left hand is. It’s not on the autos steering thingie.

Maybe you are a classist bitch. Why should a man staring at you bother you ?
Why should it threaten you?
Just earlier in the day, a man follows you just outside that gated apartment complex , that haven of safety- home. He keeps saying ‘’ Nice bums’’. You turn around to face him with the angriest expression you can manage. He continues telling you he wants to fuck you . You slap him. Instinctively. You are not a violent person. You get so scared at your own reaction. You quickly walk away and slip into a cyber cafe.
You worry that he is humiliated and he will gather four to five of his friends to attack you later. After all, you live in this area.
That was in the morning. It is night now. You are back home.
And by the time you are home , you think it’s pointless to blog about it because you’ve done so in, 2006,2006,2006,2006,2006 and feel this way every other day.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Not this , Not this

It’s always been difficult for me to find the geography of my own life in literature. Urban, upper middle class , mostly Bangalorean . Anjum Hasan’s Neti Neti captures the city that is in a maddening flux in some parts ,stagnant and seething in some parts and in some parts traditional as it would have been fifty years ago with sensitivity and a nuance I haven’t read in writing about Bangalore before.

Sophie Das is 25, has moved from the quiet hill town of Shillong to transcribe Hollywood movie subtitles by day and have moral tussles with her land lord about hanging underwear, spend time in pubs with her boyfriend Swami and navigate the weed bed of wealth in the malls, streets and homes of the city’s privileged.
Then there are her friends. The dubious Ringo Saar whose job is to bash up people defaulting on loans, Anu who gets through life doing nothing and keeping a boyfriend and convincing him to move to Australia where the roads are clean.
Shiva, who could be those few people we know who keeps tipping the parallel narative that connects the lives of urban youth into conversations. The South Bangalore gang that hacked a 21 year old man of a rival gang to death, a man who forced his wife to drink acid, how the shit of the rich determinedly travel to the open sewers of the poor.

Her colleague Shanti Gouda lives on the metaphoric other side of the city – lower middle class and working her way up , subtitling English shows for money but refusing to enjoy their vulgarity.
We meet the police men who tell the city’s migrants only half jokingly that in Karnataka they must speak kannada. And the rich Punjabi father and son duo who get out of their air-conditioned car to bet up a local auto driver in their perceived right to exert their masculinity.
Sophie is a witness to other people’s tragedies, forced to make a comment or two. A child dies in a mall, but when a brutal and unexpected murder ends it all for Sophie she imagines finding peace in her mountain home away from what she calls India . It is at this stage in the novel where it feels like Hasan clumsily put together news reports from Bangalore’s recent past and used these events as a backdrop for Sophie’s angst.

And yet, her dull and cold family home which she believed could never change has its own share of , if placid, fissures. Her sister is on a teenage trip towards boys and gold earring gifts while her parents’ relationship is not what she imagined it to be.

The elections are on , their politics suddenly revolving around a visit by Bob Dylan with every party wanting to capitalize on it in a rock loving town. Sophie chases her ideas of a man she has been fascinated by, if not in love with for a while . Nothing however is yielding enough for her to stay.

I can feel Bangalore in Hassan’s’s fissured class dynamics, , its confused youth , its gourmet shops , its butter and ghee shops , its migrants and its malls.
It’s not Amitav Ghosh’s Sunderbans or Arundhati Roys river polluted with world bank loans or Rushdie’s magic realism. Its most of our lives..

Those of us who went to college here know pretty well how to irritate sales girls by making them help us test lots of expensive perfumes that would cost 1/5th of our first salaries, walk into expensive branded stores and try on purple dresses just because our Tibetan market skinny jeans and what could be easily from Mango t shirt, coupled with our ‘’neutral’’ accents made us pass off for those who could afford such shit..
''She squinted at cubbon park (on a map) and tried to picture them separated by it- Sophie and her friends on the right half of this centre drinking coffee in Styrofoam cups, and Shanti’s mother and great grandmother on the left half , selling breakfast to lewd lorry drivers.’

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tonight I could write the saddest lines ( with apologies to Pablo Neruda, the great poet)

Tonight I could write the saddest lines

Write for instance that

‘’The smog is shattered and the orange haze hangs heavily above

the hoardings selling insurance’’

The beedi smoke spreads , the autos cough out

some soot

Tonight , I can write the saddest lines.

Through nights like this , I held him in my palms,

Pressing his many buttons, feeling every romance

he held , every new acquaintance that was pregnant with a impending friendship

I dialled 100. The Bangalore police cannot find him,

My Bombay boy.

He loved me, Sometimes I loved him too

I broke him, I repaired him too

How could one not love his great wealth of

Sentiments, of his contacts to reach ceos

Within seconds

To hear the distant wind in a now hostile city

And to know that in him he carried Bombay,

Its dirt , its trains , the goat cheese tarts at terror struck hotels

And to know that he is gone now,

He is another’s, perhaps a driver of an auto,

A college student.

What does it matter that my care could not keep him.

My memories have been dismantled and he is not with me.

In the distance, coolies are banging and a few birds left in Banashankari

sing . My soul is not satisfied that he is gone

Maybe he was meant to go, dismantle a metropolis,

Stray fucks, strayer press conferences on what the rich hold dear

The same asthmatic smog molesting the same green city

I of that time no longer am burdened.

It is good that he is gone, that is certain

But maybe, I want him.

He will be another’s. His teenage poetry sms,

The invitations to coffees , the chatter with prs in high heels

Phones last so short, forgetting is so long

Though this is the last pain my phone makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for him

I am sorry for the drama, though. I found him in my drawer..eventually....

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


On a train from Bangalore to Pune I find myself in an compartment with three men constantly on the phone as if bounded by duty, hmming and occassionally smiling slightly BUT NEVER saying anything . They talk for more than an hour..if I can use the word talk at all.

They are all talking to women ..I can hear the giggles and the enthusiastic narrating of stories.

In other news, man oppossite me, old, wobbly, beaten and yet not well over 50 or anything brags about having shot tigers in Thane when it was still a forest and says that he shot a python in the head and saved its fat because it heals wounds.

Friday, October 16, 2009

In search of Dan Mein- the tale of a wannabe gourmet girl and current glutton

I admit it .I was one of those people who believed food is not food if it is not brightly coloured, in an oily gravy and very spicy. Five years ago, if you had served me mildly spiced cous cous with freshly roasted vegetables, I would have had it sent to the sick at Apollo Hospital.
When my dad brought some expensive blue cheese that he absent mindedly picked form the nilgiris fridge, the smell haunted my year. Today , what wouldn't I do for some conchiglie with gorgonzola , leeks and cream.
I loved and still love Indian Chinese food- it is in my top ten list of favourite regional cuisines but enjoyable Chinese to me a few years ago was blood red manchurian and sichuan fried rice from Popsies or vegetable fraid rice from the Chinese Bandis (carts) on Hyderabad streets. While I reiterate that some of the best food in the world can be found in such bandis, my Romance with Real Chinese food is the most beautiful of all.

And Yes, I Am Vegetarian.

If I ever write a book on my culinary obsessions, it would be titled 'In search of Dan Mein- one woman's journey around the Orient if you please in search of her beloved Street Noodles.
Dan Dan Mein means noodles carried on a pole.

On the streets of Lhasa, women carry two baskets tied to a pole on either side .It is simple noodles with the rightest amounts of seasame paste, chilli oil, some peanuts , ginger , garlic and Sichuan peppercorns but it's light, mild and the perfect street snack.

Dan Dan Mein to me is the real epiphany of Chinese food but other simple dishes like stir fried Chinese greens with steamed rice, Sweet Potato noodles and a variety of noodle soups are
my favourites. I have never found real real Chinese food in India.The closest you can get to it is the Royal China restaurant in Bandra, Bombay .

After the Dan Dan Mein comes the Dolmades. Spiced rice wrapped in vine leaves is served soaked in olive oil. A Greek starter , or mezze, it is a dish that I have walked around the streets of London at midnight in search for.

The only place in India where I know you get it is at Moshes' on Cuffe Parade in Bombay but it is quite sub standard.
Rosemary is a herb whose magic I have only discovered now. It works well by itself. Thrown in with some salt and potatoes or marrow and baked for 20-30 minutes it makes a fragrant and tasty side dish.
While most things that I like including Rosemary, Sage ..okay parsley and thyme are available in my dear city Bluru, I haven't met rocket anywhere.

The Irish family I lived with said most Irish people find it too spicy. We Indians will love it.
It's green with the mildest peppery sting and can work simply tossed with some cherry tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. It is also brilliant on pizzas and warm breads. Rocket pesto is available on the life saving Food World gourmet store on MG road but I can't tell you I've tried it.

It amazes me , the newest addition to humans who can sort of cook that the simplest

of processes leads to the yummiest of tastes. Take the example of toast, yeah just

regular bread toast from the bakery down the road. Now spread some goat cheese

on it and a little bit of honey. It tastes marvelous and I wouldn’t have guessed the two

worked together if I hadn’t tried it at this delightful French restaurant in the Ashwem beach in Goa called La/Le(?) Plage.

Forget gourmet for a while .I am going to list five basic dishes that are easy to make and don’t taste like they possibly could be.

  1. The bland , cool comfort of curd rice with the feiry rudeness of avvakai or garlic pickle
  2. Sunny Side up, salted,peppered.
  3. Dal.Rice
  4. Idly.Chutney.
  5. Warm fresh bread. Nice cheese/butter

That said, I am a food desperado. Next post on restaurants .

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Post Man World

Business channel anchor transcript:

A story rolls about how online shopping for high end brands has just gotten easier in India.

The anchors, presumably are told by the producer to continue chatting as they still have time on the show.

A: I, for one would never shop online because I'd be scared the postman will steal my Dolce and Gabbana glasses .

B: Yeah, imagine what a sight that would be on the street - a postman with Dolce and Gabbana .

A: I wouldn't risk that- I'd prefer to buy things off the store.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The chicken and the egg

Today , I ate an egg that I collected- the freshest egg I have ever eaten.

IT feels nothing like the fresh eggs off super market shelves.The yolk is almost orange, it is difficult to remove the shell and it is the best egg I have ever eaten.

Happy free range chickens give tastier eggs? The hens in this farm are bloody bold. They don't run away at the sight of humans like the hens I've met before. When I am digging up something , they are always around waiting to eat the worms that surface. Chicken hearted?

Not really.

Imagine a human being brought up in a factory of other human beings, caged in a certain space , fed certain foods with chemicals in them. Reminds me of some schools. What can come of a human being like that? I am not quite suggesting that free range chickens grow up in an intellectually stimulating environment - roaming around at thier free will and hence lay better eggs. I just made an association that I felt that I had to write down .

I am random like that. Ever wondered where the expression ' getting laid' came from?

See, I told you.I am random .

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

On the source of food

Picking peas, strawberries, blackcurrants and other such fruits that were once only ice-cream flavours
Or packed in supermarket shelves at best is what I have been doing.
I am working on a farm in Ireland for some time.
It is amazing how we have been convinced that we can only survive with a supermarket.
And it feels incredible to go into a smelly hen house and collect fresh eggs. Even if for a short period, it gives a sense of perspective to be connected to the source of where our food comes from.
Children growing up in cities rarely have an understanding of where food comes from.
I spent last weekend with my cousins in England. While we were watching TV, an ad was telecast that showed a potato being dug up from the earth , all the brown mud bursting out.
My little cousin said ‘That’s disgusting’. Her parents tried to tell her that the potatoes she eats at home are harvested like that. She didn’t believe it.

Perhaps , that’s more so in the West. Meat is cut up and packaged in supermarkets. In India, no matter where you live, you are not spared the sight of the corpses of goats and cows hanging from hooks in small butcher shops.Two incidents convinced me that I could never eat meat again .

The first was when I was seven years old. It was Bakrid. A man brought three screaming goats and their screaming caught my attention.
I went to our garden to look at what was happening. He slaughtered those goats one by one, painfully and their blood flowed down the veranda creating a little stream of blood on the street.
That image stuck with me.Forever.

The second was much later. I was in college and passing through a narrow street in an auto
I suddenly saw a goat twitching his legs ever so slowly. He was barely moving and you wouldn’t notice it if you didn’t see carefully.
When I looked at his head, it was half off and a man was holding it with a vessel of blood that dripped slowly underneath.

I am not per se against the consumption of meat. It’s natural to eat meat and my vegetarianism is a personal choice. I still think that two things are important. One, that we kill animals in the most humane way possible. Factory farming is not just inhumane, large scale factory farming if ill managed can have terrible consequences.
When I was in Singapore many years ago, I was chatting with a taxi driver. He said that his son had been asked to draw a a chicken in school. He drew a packet of fried chicken being sold in a take away joint.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bruised , battered in Belfast

Before being enticed - you voyeuristic bitch -about why I am bruised and battered in Northern Ireland, curious to know what my Troubles are and eager to participate in an sms poll,
I am at a beautiful backpacker's hostel with a church outside my window.
Belfast is at times quiet,restrained,removed and at others bursting into giggles.
Think good Christians walking in grey dresses to church.Think loud drunks enjoying Irish live music n the pubs.

Earlier today I went to an American diner. Yes. My standards are indirectly proportional to price of food.

So, this diner had recreated the real American diner with pictures of motels and clever American flag art , there are all these big bikes around .

Pray, tell me- why recreate America when Europe is outside with her churches and her grandeur.
America is fascinating , Yes . Don't jump at me for generalizing beloved epidemics.I am not really against Americanization.
All that I adored about America was its authentic (by my South Indian perception) Mexican,Chinese,Cuban, Soul food restaurants.And in a city of millions, I had one person who I had something in common with - the human interest in food. What else did I really like about America?The museums
Can't think of much actually.
Oh yes i am bruised and battered because of the enormous toll carrying around huge rucksack has taken on my shoulders, soul, and entire being . My now frail hands even broke the keys while attempting to open my room .