May 28, 2004

seduced by a mango (finally)

my mother is never going to believe this.

in all the 29 years of my life, i have always *loathed* the alphonso, the so-called ‘king’ of fruits. for as long back as i can remember, every summer vacation was spent with all of us cousins together. and i would dread meal-times when a katori of the orange liquid would be thrust into my plate, along with piping-hot and irresistable puris, and a simple but soul-filling cauliflower-potato-peas sabji.

“eat!” my maasis would scold affectionately, shaking their heads in disbelief. “how can anybody not like mangoes!??”

so while all the others would help themselves with three or more aamras helpings, i would steal glances at their plates, and cheat without a thought, simply swapping katoris when i found the right moment. sometimes my cousins caught me in the act: “tch tch, arre yaar, saal mein ek baar hi to aata hai aam, ab nahi khaegi to kab?” (come on now, the mango season just comes once a year. when else will you eat it if not now?) and i would make a face like it was the most bitter thing ever grown on earth.

not that i accompanied my parents to the market as a child. even if i did, and if it happened to be that season, i would hold my breath till we passed the nehru-capped men sitting behind hundreds of the green-and-yellow-mangoes-in-hay petis (boxes), praying that my mother doesn’t stop to buy one of them. eventually, she would. and then i would stay away from the kitchen, watching from the corner of my eye, how both my parents would enjoy washing each and every mango, place them one-by-one slowly – in a bucket of cold water behind the wooden door so they turn jucier (i think). yechch!!

two or three days later it would be sunday. amma would have been waiting for this day. she would pick out the ripest mangoes and squeeze the pulp out of every one of them, blend them in a mixie along with some cold milk or ice-cream, and plop the thick smoothie into shiny steel cups with hot rotis or puris alongside. of course it was a ritual to make some extra aamras so we could share it with our neighbours too. while i nibbled at the puris and sabji, my family would relish the sweet excitedly, amma looking up between spoonfuls, so content and happy. “nice no?” she would ask.

after marriage when i went home for the first time, cousins and aunts would huddle around to hear stories of the phorein land, and gasp every time i mentioned, quite matter-of-factly: “aam? those are always available in london, anytime of the year.” the trick never failed to amuse me. that i still stayed about ten feet away from the mango shops and sections was a secret i kept to myself. until two weeks ago…

it was the colour.

bright orange and chrome-yellowish with sharp tinges of red here and there. no matter which direction i turned to look, there they were, throwing at me my childhood memories and demanding attention. i gave in. hands in my pocket, i walked across, looking at them intently, wondering all of a sudden why i always hated them so much, why had i to be forced to have a bite. “just one small piece beta, just one spoonful.”

the next thing i knew, i was holding a huge mango in my hand, feeling it for the pulp inside and smelling its sweetness. praveen laughed when i put it in the shopping basket. “are you sure you are going to try it?” he asked, now well aware of my impulsive habits. i nodded, not sure whether this is going to be some round of self-torment, or whether i really wanted to have a mango, without being told to.

for two weeks it haunted me. just doing nothing and sitting there on the kitchen worktable. when my in-laws arrived from india last week, i was relieved. at least now i wouldn’t have to cut it myself and eat it. they can have all they want. they enjoy it. i just bought it because of its colour. but it lay there, untouched.

then, this morning, i suddenly decided to make puris for lunch, just like that. there was cauliflower in the refrigerator, a capsicum, peas and potatoes too. i thought i would try the same recipe my maasis used. and then i looked at the mango again. i would make aamras too.

it took me just 15 quick minutes. i tried to recollect how my mother used to do it, and suddenly it was as if she was right there with me. i couldn’t help smiling as the rhythm came to me. turning the mango over and over, feeling how right it was, slicing it, gently scooping out the luscious orange pulp, enjoying all the mess i was creating, mango juice all over my hands and face when i tried to steal a couple of oddly scooped out bits. next, mango pieces in the mixie, a dash of cold milk and whoooosh! a really rich-looking aamras was ready!

“nice no?” i asked praveen, a little surprised at the question myself. i had indulged, shamelessly. i was seduced. the mango had taken its sweet revenge.

May 26, 2004

spicy spinach dal

a surprise flavour for those who love to have dal-chawal. goes well with naan or simple pulao too.

the best part is that spinach goes well with any dal…whether its masoor dal, chana dal or tur dal, or even all the three together. what i have here is the basic recipe. you can even add some vegetables to ‘colour’ it up!
here’s what you need to have ready (basic spinach dal):

quarter cup dal (masoor/chana/tur dal)
one bunch fresh spinach leaves (or four-five cubes if frozen)
two onions, chopped
two tomatoes, chopped

for the seasoning:
two tbsps oil
few curry leaves
one tsp mustard and jeera seeds (each)
one tsp ginger-chilli-garlic paste
half tsp turmeric and red chilli powder (optional)
one tsp garam masala powder

— pressure-cook the dal along with some turmeric (and vegetables, if you want to add them – diced potatoes, green capsicum and carrots would be a fine combination)
— blend the spinach leaves into a paste and set aside.
— in a separate kadhai, heat some oil and season with mustard and cumin seeds, curry leaves and ginger-garlic paste.
— add in the garam masala powder, the chopped onion and half of the chopped tomatoes.
— add the spinach puree and salt, and stir. cover and simmer until this paste begins to boil.
— mix well with the cooked dal (and check if the salt’s okay!)
— garnish with the remaining tomato and some coriander leaves.

oh, and don’t forget to squeeze about half a lemon onto it just before you serve.

May 19, 2004

my father’s old classics, and a story

there is always a front seat and a back seat, and a window in between
— the chauffeur mr fairchild, to his daughter sabrina, who thinks she is in love with the rich employer’s son(s). wise words indeed.

achchan, i finally got to see sabrina 🙂

my father loves the old (english) classics. our home, where my sister and i spent almost 14 of our growing years, was very close to the school we went to. right opposite the school was this video-shop from where we learnt a lot too. about movies. about classics. about music, and about life. the shop was called videotrack.

the shopowner knew my father’s tastes, and always reserved an english classic for him. in fact i often secretly wondered if he was getting the cassettes just for us…
in an area with a quite-conservative school, a white-marble-shiva-temple and a cinema-theatre frequented by roadside romeos, most families would prefer the latest bollywood blockbusters from videotrack. but not my father. sometimes when we insisted on getting a good hindi movie, he’d give in and still borrow two cassettes, one for him, and one for us.

we didn’t watch too many movies …i guess achchan didn’t want to spoil us either. so it would be fred astaire on a thursday night, the next-week-friday it would be frank sinatra, or doris day, or bing crosby, barbra streisand, or julie andrews, or peter o’toole, or charles bronson, elvis presley and of course cary grant…sometimes we got home kishore kumar and gurudutt too. and sometimes when there were more of us at home, the hilarious bud spencer-and-terence hill movies, by the end of which i would find just my father and me red-faced and laughing and laughing till we coughed and tears ran out of our eyes. the others, our cousins and aunts, would either be in the kitchen, playing outside or or fast asleep on the sofas.

i guess my father paid rs 5 per cassette, and rs 15 if it was a new release. i have enjoyed every one of those movies. i don’t know why i never said it earlier to my father, i guess we both knew. in any case, he enjoyed them too much to stop and re-consider, and that was the best part. because watching these movies had become our way of opening ourselves to the world. often we would imitate an actor’s accent at home, be it english, american or cockney. and sometimes we would amuse amma and deepu with our tap-dancing or opera-singing. it was so much fun.

i miss all those movies now.

i think we gradually stopped visiting videotrack due to the most common thing indian parents do when their children have reached class 10 or 12. switch off the cable television, hide the remotes and ban all other entertainment activities, lest it ‘distract’ the child’s attention from his or her studies. perhaps i might do the same when i reach that stage in parenthood, perhaps i won’t. right now though, i think of this practise as a sad mistake.

after exams there are vacations, and after the vacations, admissions in new colleges again. new friends, canteen-gupshup and new trends take priority over parents and siblings, just like pimples taking control of a girl’s *entire* meaning of life.

it happens to everyone. in our case, it affected the movies first, and videotrack was soon forgotten.

all that was left, apart from hummable musicals and memories, was a huge wave of sympathy for the shop-owner. it was that time in bombay when doctors with fake (or original) certificates were removing real kidneys off people for money. warnings issued all over the place asked us to beware of co-passengers in trains or buses who offered something nice to eat or drink. because these eatables would be drugged more often than not, and the next thing you know, your body is left with one kidney. (more)

it was around noon in august one fine day; the videotrack shopowner who rented out stories of tears and laughter to everyone, brought the shutters down on his shop all of a sudden. his teenage son had left for college two days ago, never to return again.

years went by and we shifted to another home. i was shuffling jobs between bombay and bangalore and then nerul. in those five years, the three girls in my neighbourhood got married and turned young parents themselves. cable television turned into something only ‘housewives’ watched and kids and youngsters preferred the internet and broadband instead. small shops too, were crushed under shiny glass-exterior-software-companies or mega shopping malls. shops that sold video cassettes now housed the latest mp3 music cds, popular dvds, and pirated copies of the latest hindi or english films.

even if we had wanted to, my father and i would never find the irreplaceable old classics again. because like the unfortunate teenage son, videotrack had disappeared too, without a trace.

when i came to the uk with praveen, i thought it would be easier to find my favourite movies here. but i couldn’t even locate my favourite audio cassettes. every time praveen and i visited london, i would remember to look out for some of the musicals my father or friends had talked about. sure enough, we enjoyed all of them so far — cats, beauty and the beast, the lion king, and les miserables.

some months ago, rashmi told me about an audrey-hepburn collection of (five) movies that had recently entered the market. naturally, i nagged and pestered praveen until he bought me the entire set, as a belated birthday gift. the collection had sabrina fair, the one movie that my father told me much about, that we both missed seeing while in india. he said the movie has a lesson we should all understand, and that i would know what that lesson was when i see the film. i did, yesterday.

there is always a front seat and a back seat, and a window in between

the subtle message that the chauffeur passed on to his daughter was about life, and how easy it is to forget the paths we have taken, the people who helped us get to where we are, the places we once occupied. i can think of no one but my father, who would pick this line from the otherwise gentle-humour-flitty-romance movie. like audrey hepburn would have replied: “thanks p’hppa” 😉

my turn now to pay it forward i guess (and to stop NOW since i’ve been rambling for too long, again!). i have now made a resolution to visit all the websites available, and shops that i find through the local-markets here, anyone who hires or sells good old movies. so that when it’s time, my children will enjoy (maybe blog about!), along with their father’s gift of carnatic music, their mother’s collection of english classics.

May 16, 2004

the new entelechy. more or less me :-)

less words.
more updates.
less back-sores.
more smiles.
more updates.
less words.
let’s see…

the last song of dusk

…bit by bit, sounds of the train, its metal rancour and romantic whistle, the awed gasps of passengers, the sweet traces of the roving flute-caller — in fact, all sounds — were doused by peacocks unfurling a melody one would not normally associate with such pavonine braggarts.
anuradha’s father looked at her…”i suppose they have come to say their farewell?”
“actually,” she clarified, her hand on her breastbone, “i called them.”

this is anuradha. the main protagonist in bombay-bred siddharth dhanvant sanghvi’s debut novel. engrossing, witty, and very song-like, siddharth’s first book fulfills all the expectations (and more) one would like to have from an ‘indian’ writer. his mature, flowing style and characterisation make the plots in the novel seem very very real…especially the 1920s’ house-that-turns-wicked with its sad history; the rich-widow-turned-high-society-hostess radha-mashi; the orphan nandini’s feline connection and how her art grows with her; the true colours of khalil muratta and libya dass, vardhamaan’s inefficiency to cope with his loss, and how it affects his marital life. the best of all… anuradha, whose mother’s parting whisper before her marriage, echoes throughout the book and takes us through the highs and lows of her life…

in this life my child, there are no mercies.

this story is about the symbiotic relation between all these characters, the love they share, their fears and truths, and years later, the liberation of the gandharvas’ silent son from his mother’s songs, and the collective past. yeats’ poems and schumann and mendelssohn’s music play in intervals in the book too, pretending to soothe harsh realities.

being an indian myself, and a girl, it was easy to relate to the mother’s wise words as the book began; it reminded me of haunting stories in my own childhood, and i could justify the events as the pages flew by.

like some of the books by chitra divakaruni banerjee, siddharth sanghvi ties future incidents to the present situation in many places in this tale. though sometimes this might prompt you to create your own questions and answers about what will happen in the end, it is sure to cleverly bind you to the novel, till the very last word.