Friday, December 31, 2010


A lovely insane year that began in the quiet Sahyadri Hills, took me to live it up (watching, not with, the rich and famous) at St. Moritz, pizza in Rome, 
two months in a distant village in UP,a few sweet months in  Bangalore and then writing for an awesome magazine in Delhi and back in Blooru for a bit.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Charcoal Air and Mirch

If I had to solidify this air, it would taste like charcoal. I couldn't sleep last night due to bouts of smog induced tuberculaic cough. Judge Maami and I watched Mirch last night. The actors were dressed in Christmas decorations and the special effects were stolen from the Vikram-Baital series.Enough said. 

The winter is too much for my soul. Wearing pink tights plus mismatched red and beige socks plus jeans, three t shirts, two sweaters, one Nehru Jacket, scarf, shawls and still feeling cold.But it's nice somehow. I am already dreading summer. IT's cruel, the winter, but not cruel enough to dread.

Friday, December 17, 2010


As it were, I dreaded it, this prospect, of being alone for ever so long. C left and the last two nights I drowned myself in other people. And yet, here I am alone in my room, double bed rearranged to single,and room spacious and suddenly sterilized of memory. I am cooking. There is something therapeutic about chopping onions,peeling garlic,washing dal. 
It's almost unhealthy, the fact that I never have time alone to myself and this is the first time in six months that I am sitting in an empty house and hearing the slightly faltering voice of my mind. I am happy with the silence, wearing my brothers pants (warm, corporate and good for winter.) walking around with unwaxed winter legs, suddenly noticing a copy of Hesse's Siddhartha lying around. (Is the universe sending me a message because my last interaction with it was listening to a teacher read the whole book out  in 7th std.) Am flirting with such possibilities and getting ready to eat a messy hot meal of Dal and Rice and two boiled eggs. (I had to make a meal out of what was available at home which includes nothing functional like fresh veggies.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pain is like your bladder.

Pain is like your bladder.When you get an ultrasound.You know how your bladder is so distended, so large that the deeper you press ,the clearer the other organs appear. Pain does that.It turns up the volume of every thought, every conflict becomes bright and blazing and every mangled dream is naked.

Hurt is more specific, more singular.It can be one sentence that becomes a liquid hammer incessantly swimming in your soul.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Make up!

The challenges of caking up are far beyond the reach of my bare face and unbrushed hair. That women can use mere make up to transform into smoky eyed divas has always fascinated me. And so I found myself under the mercy of a brush, endless creams, bronzers, fixers, and other er’s that would make my face bett-er!

Make up artist, Vidya Tikari is a petit woman dressed in black skinny jeans, a black blouse and can carry off bright red lipstick on a Tuesday afternoon in a way that most other women can’t. She is just finishing a class with a client when I walk into her studio. The client, Priya has had her glowing makeover already. Vidya meticulously goes over every step of the process with her, drawing it out on a paper with an illustration of a woman’s face. She dabs lipstick and blush on it, while explaining how.

“I am in my forties, I haven’t used make up all these years. Now my children are working and whenever I go to parties, I have no clue how to put on make up,” Priya says. No clue? Not quite! She’s doing confident pink strokes on her cheeks giving a sudden flushed definition to her cheekbones. It looks so easy, running a brush on your cheeks but it really isn’t if you don’t want to look like birthday cake.

Priya came to Vidya to learn basic everyday make up. Most clients are single women under 25. There are many housewives over 40 with grown children coming in to nurture their new interest. “I have even had 60-year olds coming in,” says Vidya.

It was soon my turn to have a go at the many coloured products in front of the mirror. I started with washing my face, deleting the Delhi dust. And then, fixing. You may have realised by now that make up doesn’t naturally stay. It has a nagging habit of inviting itself to the edge of teacups, to the stubbly cheeks of men or altogether disappearing. To prevent all this from happening you *fix *it, tell it to stay put.

My face was divided. Vidya painted half; I did the other half . We went through a foundation- a Skin Tint which offers a slight, natural smoothening and evenness to your skin tone. Next we used bronze cream based blush to rather unsuccessfully aspire to the condition of the Brazilian model. Vidya insists that there should be colour on my face, pre-empts my refusal and tells me to just try it out. And so I try to achieve a ‘back from a run’ flush and it does sort of work, that is, if you learn to “follow your cheekbones”. Want Mascara without raccoon resemblance? Look down and run the mascara brush on your lashes starting inwards and going out.

Next is the dabbing of bronze eye shadow in strong strokes, in an even not hurting the eyes sort of way. Gloss and some mild lipstick later, we are done. With session one, that is, which covers day make up. The next session will be party make up, a tad bolder. On day three, it is all about shaadi make up, very Indian and elaborate. Of course, you can also request Vidya to design these courses based on your interest. And it worked, I think. Because I have been told that I look like a different woman.

Three sessions of one-and-a-half hours each.
With Vidya: `18000
With an assistant: `10,000

Vidya Tikari Studio B-21, Lajpat Nagar-II, 1st Floor, Next to Barclays Bank),Ph: 41635074/5.

Other personal grooming courses in Delhi
BLOSSOM KOCCHAR 52-54, Fifth Floor, Govardhan House, Nehru Place, Ph:26473051
Three day make up course. Includes make up and hairstyling.

VLCC offers short-term courses for self-waxing, make up, manicures and pedicures, sari tying etc. 20 hours. Priced at `7500 plus taxes.

Samit Basu Interview

Every one on Flight BA 142 got off with a superpower that they subconsciously dreamt of having. Uzma wanted to be loved and to make it in Bollywood. Aman wanted to be well networked and so he can now control the Internet. Vir can fly. Television journalist Namrata apparently can sense news before it happens. Throughout the dizzying, scene shifting (London,above Pakistan’s nukes, Delhi, Carter Road Coffee Day) plot, these characters come together harnessing their good intentions to (well, try) save/change the world.

They all live in your India of IPL and Manmohan Singh bleating-condemning terror attacks. It is postmodern but there are singing aunties and blue babies and snide allusions to the going-out-alone-at-night dreams of Delhi women. So, everything urban India, except add super powers, chaos and the license to laugh.

Samit Basu has been given many labels and has dabbled in what is for the Indian writer exotic genres. He had decided, he says, as he settles with his cappuccino in a coffee shop in GK, that he didn’t want to do a “fancy novel” anymore. Samit has written The Simoquin Prophecies, The Manticore’s Secret and The Unwaba Revelations, part of the GameWorld Trilogy and has been thus far celebrated as ‘India’s first fantasy writer.' “You are supposed to write an India book right if you are an India writer and examine contemporary Indian reality, all this while I was writing books I wasn’t supposed to write,” he says

“When I started thinking of the checkboxes on contemporary India and what it means atleast through perception, I ended up with a really insane landscape. I wanted to write about urban 20 and 30 somethings which is also something you are supposed to write about.” Supposed, I ask? Samit grins and continues, “Ya ya, so I wanted to write a very good boy kind of book. Real people tend to be very self-involved but I wanted the story to have some societal relevance. I kept turning up the volume on these characters and they ended up with strange powers. See it’s not that I started off wanting to write a story that disobeyed the laws of physics at any point of time.” It’s like you begin reading and then you feel like your on edge in a gaming station, being chased by giants, or otherwise feeling love for comic book superheroes in shiny costumes.

He always knew though that he wanted to be a writer, “in the same way that (he) knew he wanted to be a rock star or an astronaut. “I have picked the least glamorous of these professions ya, also, the lowest paid.” Samit says that to work across media means that element of each comes into the other. He has co-written comics with X-men writer Mike Carey, written children’s books and screenplays.” You look at the different structures. The comic is the tightest structure- you have to be controlled. In a screenplay, there is a lot of room. I think that’s why my last two books have been shorter; you get across more in a shorter space. Also, in comics and screenplays, you learn escape routes through tight corners so that helps with the novel. But having said that there is nothing like writing a novel because the annoying things about other media is not present at all: (he lists in an almost wicked exasperation) budget, nature of artist, temperament of collaborators, evil businessmen associated with large scale entertainment companies you know.”

We are interrupted by a light eyed, dashing, whitewashed Hrithik Roshan sort of boy from the next table who says he relates to everything we are talking about. He plays video games, he wants to act and was writing a script for his audition to be a news anchor later that day. “See what I mean”, says Samit. “So much of all that is in the book is the lives of urban India. Your standard day, it will be fairly easy to sit back and laugh at most things in it.” He gets drawn into a conversation with the Bollywood aspirant telling him to skip the anchor audition and take the next flight to Bombay. “Look, I don’t want to suddenly come and crush your life plans and all but am telling you!”

Suddenly getting back on track, he continues, “And so ya, I wanted to look at some kind of encapsulation of the present generation and make it a book at the here and now. I mean you are in your twenties, and I have escaped mine and at the sage old age of 30, I am looking back on that distant period,” he says somewhat theatrically.

“The twenties are about figuring out what you can do with what you have. It is about making the compromises that you will come to terms with when you are in your thirties and forties. If you had powers, you might do things better right?” And so he gave his characters superpowers. “I figured that super heroes are completely mainstream I mean Dark Knight’s got an Oscar nomination and when you are writing, you kind of have to explain the context especially in India. In Turbulence, it’s not a standard costume -adventure thing. Which puts you on the same ground as someone writing a campus novel or a romance novel you know.” That things go beyond the normal, he says, is the “setting’s fault.” So, these well-intentioned heroes transfer money from drug lords to relief agencies and are ecstatic at this sudden sense of control they have to choose how to change the world. But then they are very much like the staff at the DNNTV where Namrata works, most people have the job because their dads knew the owners.A very important job done with very little skill. The chaos that ensues fuels the plot.

These characters hint at satire but they are etched out in bold uniform strokes, true to reality but more crayon drawing than impressionist painting. Although, its fun because everything is a snide target: security comparable to Hollywood stars scouting slums, a political party promising to ban women’s jeans, that this whole mess was predicted by some insane people on internet videos a long time ago etc.

Samit explains that it is a book with neat sections, very conducive to a film interpretation, apparently. The buzz is that the rights for Turbulence are being sold to Bollywood. “Selling the rights and having the film come out are very different things in Bollywood…there are three potential producers now but I need to find a director who can do something with it.” Samit “shuddered more”, so to speak, earlier, to think of what Bollywood will do to his book. Now, it is just a matter of shuddering a little less.

He interrupts me again to ask what sort of a book I’d want to write if ever. I am forced, of course, to aspire to some decent level of articulation till I manage.. “a really silly book about really serious things.”

“That’s my exact ambition too,” says he, the writer of the good boy book.

Old Delhi Street Food Walk

(Some pics by Pamela Timms and the rest by C) 

We meet at the steps of the Chawri Bazaar metro station, that spot where the enormity of Old Delhi- its tangled wires and rickshaw jams threatens to spill over and roll down the steps to meet the zipping silver of the metro. On the agenda today is an Old Delhi food tour and a look into food writer, blogger and the host of Uparwali Chai, Pamela Timms' own food secrets. She's had a hectic week, she says, and the best way to unwind Pamela style is to devour the culinary treats on offer in the old city. (Although, by her own admission, she over does it.)"I wasn't watching Social Networking with the kids last night because I was right here eating Nihari." She has made a "reckless promise to make at home everything (she) eats on the streets." And so whether it's milk cake with chai( which involves stirring 12 litres of milk with one kilo of sugar for almost two hours), or making Shahi Tukda at home, street version, she's up for the grind. 


Our street food-hobbyist's rickshawwallah friend- Rahul is already waiting for us at the Metro station. He takes us through the noisy certainty of the rickshaw jam straight from the metro station into the gully near. Here, in a grain store called Jain Coffee Shop is a little known Old Delhi food secret- Fruit Sandwiches. (Sounds so Scottish high tea, right?) Pamela, her husband Dean, his father and I sit in the bare blue walled backroom while watching them slap on some marmalade on the soft white bread. They place sheets of paneer, butter, pomegranate and apple (it is seasonal, ask for mangoes in summer) and it's done. An unlikely but excellent and fresh start to a day of eating. "By the way I try to recreate this for Uparwali chai but it didn't work out so well - the bread didn't hold together. It just is this way sometimes with street food."


Uparwali chai. Duh! It is tea- the high kind. Pamela always loved afternoon tea even as a child. "I even used to make afternoon tea for friends at university.  Then with a Dutch friend, Laura, we decided to create a pop-up tea party event for Delhi" Inevitably or Indian-ly, it was nicknamed Uparwali chai by a friend. "And, just as I expected, Indians love tea and cakes just as much as the British.  We love doing the events - we've done them everywhere from my roof to Sanskriti Kendra, to Yum Yum Tree and Gunpowder - each one slightly different" They innovate according to venue. Mini Utthapams in Gunpowder, goodies going around on the sushi belt in Yum Yum Tree etc. "The range of people that come to the events is huge - young, old, Indian, expat - all united in a love of home baking." 


Pamela seems to have learnt to get unused to the super market shopping experience. "In the UK, a Tesco pops up everywhere and it is impossible for a small butcher, baker or fisherman to survive. I enjoy going around to different store picking up things and trying out new ingredients although there is the occasional day when I crave for convenience."


By now, we are full with chikoo milk shake that her husband Dean (who self admittedly is prone to exaggeration)  declared  rightly that the shake was the best shake he had ever had. We head out towards Church Mission Road to Kake Di Hatti but obviously tuck into every culinary distraction on the way. First, A-Matchless (9311150022), a tiny little corner store that has all sorts of baking equipment (mango shaped cookie moulds at `20 a piece), cutters etc. 


Improvising Scottish baking with Delhi ingredients isn't just a matter of compromise for Pamela, but a creative exercise that has formed much of the muscle of her blog (rated as India's top five food sites by Good Housekeeping). Cheese Cake has been given an old Delhi make over by using naan khatai as a base, malai for cream and phalsa berry as garnishing. She has even convinced restaurant owners in the Kullu Valley to fry up Bar-one Pakodas. "My starting point for developing recipes is to find delicious combinations rather than creating a novelty item for the sake of it.  I've been baking all my life and it feels natural to start incorporating some local ingredients into some of my recipes.  I'm loving what jaggery, malai, spices, whey are doing to my repertoire!" We know that the traditional Scottish Haggis ( sheep's heart, liver and lungs with oatmeal etc) isn't an invitation to Indians but Scottish shortbread is immensely Indianise-able to Pamela. "I decided to transform the shortie's natural homeliness into go-get-'em brazenness with the addition of cumin and jaggery." And she served it with Mango Shrikhand as a dip. 


 We walk less than a few metres when Pamela insists we try the Daulat Ki Chaat, the gift of winter, an airy soufflĂ© flying playfully with a saffron- pistachio breeze. The legend, according to Pamela is that it is set with early morning dew. 


Dessert in our bellies, we head for lunch as following order in eating would murder the beautiful haphazardness of Old Delhi. The rickshaw plods through narrow streets. "Oh, wow, the first batch of strawberries", gushes Pamela as we pass a fruit store, imagining all the baked goodies she can conjure up. "The star fruit, you must must have with Shakhar-khandi- sweet potato", another winter blessing on the streets. After much chaos we reached the packed Kake-di-hatti. Not for the faint hearted or the obsessive compulsive, as plates lie on the wet brown road in the entrance, piles of curries are kept in huge open aluminium vessels but the smell draws you in, pushes you through  the crowds and upstairs into the gaily painted family section. Multicoloured tables that we wait at for about ten minutes, unattended. "I almost feel like they are intimidated by me because they can't understand my Hindi and I can't theirs", laughs Pamela. We order Aloo Naans to go with a deep, flavourful Aloo Palak and Lauki ki Raita. Pamela says that she has never fallen sick eating street food. "I realise I'm tempting fate by saying this .I have been sick after eating in some posher restaurants though." (She insists she won't name names.) 


My father-in-law thinks I am crazy. He's always telling people 'Oh, dear, the kind of places Pam goes to eat.' He's watching over her, sipping his Miranda and smiling even as his daughter-in-law affectionately slanders him. He's careful not to eat even a morsel. She continues explaining all the food to him. Why the spinach in the Aloo Palak is good for his health, just like some, if not most of street food. 

Stuck in office without work when life waits outside awkwardly with its hand held out. 
Am going crazy as usual. But its only when I have the semblance of a life that  I am stuck at work.
There are so many phases in life when I have lots of free time and nothing to do. 

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


So disoriented I feel waking up in a charecteristically cheap Chennai airport hotel at  4 in the morning and dazing through lets make a commonwealth impression Delhi airport and now in office.
Life is so long.Travelling so short.