What coming home feels like: Sunday lunch edition

I firmly believe we have entered a time of being grotesquely overfed and unnaturally preoccupied with food. Nothing confirmed that for me as much as moving to Bangalore did. I realised very early on that meeting people had to involve a restaurant or pub. The number of events and happenings in the city revolving around food boggle me. A visit to some of the happening hubs in town make my head spin. Take 12th main road in Indiranagar, for example. I cannot get over how dazzlingly chock full of restaurants and night clubs and pubs it is. Each one seemingly bursting at the seams, and most of them running full house on weekends with business roaring.

I’ve been conflicted about this lately. As I think of alternate ways to engage with people — a walk in the park! a play? a concert? meeting over tarot cards? book club, anyone? I find that despite the largeness of a city like Bangalore, and the variety of opportunities to engage with the culture one might imagine it to present, to service the varied interests of this people-infested place, I’m struggling to find avenues that don’t revolve around food.

So in these times of overfed everything — from our instagram feeds (I’m so over the here’s what I ate for breakfast/lunch/dinner updates :-/) to the fetishization of meals we put in our bellies, it feels a bit self-indulgent and vacant to say food brings people together. And yet to not state it, in the manner I mean it today feels a bit fraudulent. Because it’s true what they say, food brings people together. At its most fundamental level, so many of my memories are bound by flavours, and nostalgia stirs when certain aromas or remnants of events surrounding food are evoked. It could be something as simple as the baby food I’d wait for my 6-month old sister to waste so I could wallop, or it could be the ginormous indulgent buffet i ate for five days straight over my honeymoon, or my grandfather’s very own mutton stew. Food memories have preserved my sanity on more than one occasion.

Flying out of the proverbial nest gave me wings in more ways than one, and one of the bittersweet joys of being away was creating my own set of traditions and rituals — many of which were around food. Festival sweets, Sunday breakfast eggs, nuts to start the day, supaari to end the day. And I’ve missed the grounding and centering effect of many of these simple habits and homely traditions, followed almost too tediously, week after week.

These are the same rituals I sometimes resisted participating in, many times when Iw as young. And stupid. But I was too naive to fully realise how much lingering over a shared meal, letting conversation unravel sometimes, or disappearing into comfortable pockets of silence, mindfully eating the complex outcome of someones thoughtful, deliberate labour, played a role in keeping me grounded, together.

Growing up, our Sunday lunch at home was one such event. It was where the stories of the week were shared. Where sneaky giggles, tired sighs and everything on between came together, in long belaboured detail, for everyone to chew on. The meal itself wasn’t necessarily large and sinful. Sometimes a simple khichdi, sometimes an egg curry with fluffy white rice and a naked salad. But sometimes, like today, it was a leap of faith into a previously untouched cuisine. It was larger than usual, felt fancier than the familiar fare we were usually fed. But no matter what it was, it has always been the heart of Sunday afternoons in my home.

Post lazy oil-bath mornings usually spent tidying up or hurriedly ticking thru homework, after a tiring dance class, there was nothing I looked forward to more than a meal with my folks and sister.

A meal is a magical thing. So much a labour of love, putting together a meal is an energy sapping activity. And yet, when it is done and finished, it is only the memories that linger as aromatic evidence. I realised this on Sunday, as I sat at the table we dragged out into the terrace garden at my parents home. I’m beginning to like that peaceful feeling of acceptance that washes over me, like like telling me I-told-you-so, every time I notice I’ve come full-circle. And it happened again the other day, back at the table on a Sunday afternoon. Even though our family is larger by almost-two and life has taken us all in such divergent paths. We’re louder about some things, clandestine about others. And yet, when we come together, the laugher, the noisy munching, the clinking of spoons against bowls and plates and the hearty fullness of a shared meal remains much the same.

Same time, last year: Day 194: Pedalling again

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What coming home feels like: Revisiting old haunts

I’ve been fighting the worst creative block for weeks now. Work is slow. Both because the energy I’ve directed towards the pursuit of it has been flagging, and also because I’m being a hopeless procrastinator over what little I have going.

I’ve tried everything — locking myself in my home away from distraction, taking myself to the comforts of my parents’ home where Amma plies me with filter coffee, working at night, working early in the morning, tempting myself with afternoon naps as a reward for a morning of writing, reading to get the words going, silence to get the words going. But nothing has really pushed me out of this stupor.

Until today. And this chance visit to an old haunt.

I had a meeting close to MG Road and a few hours to kill until dinner time (which is also happening this side of town, making it pointless for me to trudge home and back again in a few hours). So, I made the wise decision to carry my laptop along. It’s a fabulous day out and I enjoyed a lovely walk from one end of MG Road to here. When the weather stays this way, and it has been splendid, I’m rediscovering the joys of a walkable city again. Little pleasures that make being back in this monstrous grind, just a wee bit more bearable.

And for now, a glass of kadak milky super sweet tea and a plate of smileys seem to have done the trick.

Same time, last year: Day 181: Holiday vibes

Kitchen Soup for the Homesick Soul

So here’s a little known detail: Somewhere in 2014, I was suddenly inspired to write a book. It would be a food memoir, I’d decided. Threading memory, tradition, nostalgia, food, and how it had all shaped me into the accidental kitchen-lover that I’d turned into after moving to Goa. Fragments of ideas popped like mustard seeds in a hot wok of oil. The time was ripe, I thought. So I jumped into it all guns blazing. Took 2 weeks off, went away to Bangalore with the intention of doing nothing but writing. It was a glorious time away from all responsibility and I spent my days writing and reading furiously, adding bits and bobs in the cauldron that was brewing my book. I came back to Goa with what I thought was more than 50% of the writing done, and confident that all that was left to be done was finish it. The draft has been sitting in cold storage since then, a series of episodic events that I needed to somehow tie together with a more than just coherent narrative, to take it from reading a blog to make it a book. Farr too often, I’ve seen bloggers, especially food bloggers, make the mistake of thinking that a successful blog is a validation of one’s ability to write a book. There have been some truly atrocious food memoirs and books to come out of the Indian food blogger community and I suddenly became very conscious of adding to that list. It also has to be said that in the time between then to now, my interest as it was then, in food, also waned. As I found more avenues and stories to go after, I found myself looking beyond food in the myopic way that I was: through the lens of nostalgia and memory alone. In case you haven’t already noticed, I shut down my food blog somewhere along the line too, and until I find a compelling reason, I will probably not resurrect it. With time, it became alarmingly clear to me that I no longer wanted the book to be just a chronicle of disjointed food-related memories peppered with recipes. Eventually, it became clear that I didn’t want to finish the book at all, not in the form it was.

But at the end of last year, I decided the least I could do was pick out episodes from the book and turn them into essays that explore the gamut of emotions, experiences, thoughts and memories I made in the seven years that I have lived in Goa, where my love affair with food began. So, I went ahead with shaky hands, to pitch this. As luck would have it, my very first attempt landed me this opportunity with Arre, a website whose distinct style intimidated me. This was really gratifying to write for more reasons than one. Besides being able to finally find an outlet for the umpteen stories in cold storage, it was made made even better by a delightful edit experience that is becoming increasingly rare amongst Indian publications.

*****

Kitchen Soup for the Homesick Soul

cooking

I remember sitting cross-legged on my mother’s kitchen counter, eating beans palya out of a steel katori, while she put finishing touches on a meal. I remember watching my grandmother deftly work the large grinding stone in her kitchen, breaking down fresh spices with a mesmerisingly giddying turning of the stone. I remember the excitement stirring every time my grandfather stepped into the kitchen to make his six-hour slow cooked mutton stew.

I remember always being a mere observer, a taster. I had no interest in the cooking, a process that everyone in my family took such pride in. The one time I succumbed to being taught how to cook, I was coerced into it. I was 13, and holed up in stuffy classroom with girls. It was the home science laboratory, and we were in groups of four, poring over our single-burner stoves, atop which were pots of bubbling pongal. While every other girl in the room lovingly stirred her pongal to buttery, smooth goodness, I was looking at a solid mass, fast transforming into a something that resembled industrial strength adhesive.

I’d rather have been out in the field playing, to be honest. These were electives, extra-curriculars, as they’re called. And I wondered why the only choices for us girls were aerobics and home science. Why were athletics and sport not up for grabs? I stared down at the gloopy mess that lay before me. While every other girl in the room lovingly stirred her pongal to buttery, smooth goodness, I was looking at a solid mass, fast transforming into a something that resembled industrial strength adhesive.

Right then I had decided this domestic business (okay, home science) was not for me. Years of tender convincing on my mother’s part turned to goading and silent worry. How would I feed myself when I moved out? How would I provide meals for my future family? Given that I couldn’t boil a pot of water without a minor casualty, her concerns were valid. But all that gentle persuasion was only met with my staunch rebellion.

I was convinced cooking was a completely unnecessary skill and played no part in my womanhood.

Over a decade after that ill-fated pongal incident, on a blistering day in March, I found myself setting up a new home, miles away from my own. Nothing shatters a self-satisfied, smug existence like a reality check. Mine had arrived less than 24 hours after I had landed in sunny Goa, in the form of six large cartons of kitchen equipment that I didn’t know what to do with.

I realised very soon that two-minute noodles and quick-cooking oats simply weren’t going to cut it and that there are only so many ways to cook eggs. Before long, I was deeply regretful for not watching Amma make phulkas. For wishing I knew what to make from the three different kinds of dal in the supermarket. Was there some way to thinly slice onions, without gouging my eyes out?

Resisting slipping into the identity of a homemaker that this situation demanded of me, I chanted repeatedly: Cooking isn’t for me. But, I had to eat my words. Along with the badly made meals of dal, rice and sabzi.

I began to cook in my new house because I simply had to. I was overwhelmed by homesickness and hunger. I had been wrenched out of a job I loved, uprooted from the only city I have ever called home, and was starting life over in a dusty home that didn’t feel like mine. I had no choice but to make sense of the demands of this new space I was in. This kitchen, this home, and this life in general. I had to recreate an identity and purpose in these new circumstances.

I began first with taking solace in recreating the comfort of rasam and rice. When I needed a challenge, I attempted to deconstruct a biryani from the memory of taste. When I felt lost and weightless, I grounded myself in the mundanely tedious rhythm of peeling garlic, making a massive batch of tamarind extract, rearranging my kitchen, or cleaning the fridge out. When I simply needed to occupy my mind that would race toward unwanted and sometimes destructive thoughts, I went into the kitchen and cooked a meal. When the emptiness felt like it was consuming me inside out, cooking filled the void. All of it to bring some semblance of sanity back in my life.

Memory is a wonderful thing. Almost every single day, my mind would float back to the humble homely meals, festive celebratory meals, skimming over the traces of taste, texture, and aroma that lingered at the back of my mind, thoughts of customs and habits related to food. I recalled things I didn’t know I had stashed away at the back of my mind – the way my mother stored her coriander and curry leaves in the refrigerator, the exact dishes she made when she was strapped for time, the way her pressure cooker was the centre of all kinds of magic. All of this simmered together slowly, and gave me a sense of self again.

Before long, my days began with praying the dosa batter had risen, picking out the weekly vegetable and fruit supply, and haggling over best prices of grains and pulses. I don’t know when I embraced the kitchen, even less when I began to find contentment and joy in cooking.

In finding myself, I somehow found my way back home too. Through simple, hearty meals to satisfy hunger at first, and more complex challenging ones, to satisfy my mind and find my feet again. When every other aspect of my life, and strong facets of my identity felt like they were slipping away from me, cooking helped put it all back together again.

I was not only teaching myself to cook, but was also recreating my own sense of home. Donning the identity and roles I’d observed all the strong women in my life play so very well, being in the kitchen was no longer an aversion. It was my sanctuary, and cooking, my raison d’être.

In the process, I rekindled relationships of a new kind with my mother, grandmother, and aunts. They gifted me cookbooks, emailed me recipes, and sent me tips and tricks I could use. I forged new ties with friends when we gathered around my dining table. Eventually, though, and possibly the happiest consequence of all, I found a career in writing about food.  In an odd roundabout way, stepping into the kitchen, into the very role I believed was a trap, had liberated me.

Thirteen-year old me would most likely be disappointed to see how contempt has been replaced by a deep affection for the kitchen. But if only I knew back then, that it would eventually be food, that would teach me to love my life again, and that learning to cook had little to do with being a woman but everything to do with identity, I’d probably have tried to just keep calm and stir that pongal to perfection.

(A version of this essay first appeared on Arre)

Same time, last year: Day 63: Shine on

Day 322: One night in Bangkok

The last time I was in Thailand, I was so hyper-focused on the beach, that we planned to be there for a bulk of the trip, sandwiching it with a grace period of 1.5 days in Bangkok on either side. And that too, only because we had to fly in and out of there. I’m a fan of city holidays as much as I am of getting away into the wild or exploring nature. The last time around I got a good sense of the wonderful amalgamation of urban and ethnic culture that Bangkok is and I’d long decided I would come back for more. So this time, we planned to return from our beach days and spend two days in Bangkok.

We checked out of our resort at noon, and caught the 2.45 pm catamaran back to the pier at Chumphon. A similar stream of efficient hustling like on our onward journey, and before we knew it we were on the bus speeding down the near-perfect highway back to where we had come from. The last time I was in Thailand too we’d taken a bus journey, and like the one to Chumphon earlier last week, was a night journey. So it was nice to have a day view of the countryside. Rolling paddy fields, highway eateries, outlet stores, villagers ambling along on foot or badly driven two wheelers. I read for the most part back, and only perked up when we halted at the rest stop and this time I got off to experience the mind-boggling variety of food on offer. We picked rice, meat curry and stir fried veggies and tucked in hungrily. And thank god for that because it was well past midnight when we wound our way through Friday night traffic in Bangkok and pulled into Khao San Road again.

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The same street we’d left, which was bustling and chock a bloc on a Monday night, was packed tighter still with what looked easily like three times the number of people and twice the number of food stalls. Loud, stomping beats wafted out of the nightclubs, and groups of inebriated young folk staggered out looking high as kites. It was noisy, festive, a cacophony of music and a medley of smells of all kinds of food. It was time to eat again, of course. So we bought ourselves a massive Nutella crepe each while we watched the crowds much to our amusement, and figured out how to get to our hotel for the next two days. It turned to be a twenty minute drive and we decided to cab the distance. We didn’t even have to look very far for one because opened the door confidently, fully prepared to negotiate and start arguing about a reasonable fare, when the cheerful driver clicked his meter on. “By meter?” S asked. He nodded happily. In shock at our luck at finding a cab past 1 am, and not having to haggle over a far, my love for Bangkok was already through the roof. As a rule cities with really good public transport give me a massive high (“turn me on,” said S). I’d already experienced the amazing skytrain last time I visited, but to get into a cab well past midnight, not have to haggle and be taken straight to your destination – full marks, Bangkok!

We stayed at this really cool hotel with a neat concept and super minimal style. It was a basic business-traveller kind of hotel, perfect for just the two nights that we were there. Several notches higher in terms of fashionability, without as many digits being added to the price. So it was much nicer than a deal hotel we’d have settled for otherwise. Our room had a cool mural and twin beds that we hit almost immediately after we checked in and had hot showers. The next morning, we set off looking for breakfast and currency exchange. Several street food stalls had opened up, and everything smelt divine, especially this one cart wedges into a corner adjacent to a tiny gift store, where a woman in a long coat and a hat was making omelettes and fried eggs with a hit of chillies, green onions and soya sauce. It looked so good, we stood by trying to communicate with her in sign language and broken English. She didn’t even so much as look up. We’re not the target audience we told ourselves, dejectedly, and settled for Au Bon Pain very disinterestedly, because by then we’d walked a long way from the hotel and the hunger levels were rising. Thankfully the chai and croissant really hit the spot, and was just perfect for the late breakfast it turned out to be because we wanted to hit Din Tai Fung for lunch.

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It was a morning dedicated to gift shopping, as we roamed a mall picking up delightful little things that we thought were unusual, that folks back home with like. Colourful leather stuff, really cheap and comfy footwear, amazing soaps and lotion, wooden trinkets and the like. All very affordable, even for a mall. Shopping in Bangkok was the only place we encountered Desis doing what Desis do best, shopping. And bargaining. The latter of which neither S nor I could get ourselves to do, everything was so dirt cheap. And if it wasn’t the item was probably so nice we thought it warranted the price. Yeah, we may have serially paid a lot more than we needed to, but we cannot complain.

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By lunch time we sniffed out way to Din Tai Fung, with the single minded focus of a detective on the job. Referencing GPS and the map on my phone, speedily rushing through lunch time pedestrian crowds, winding out way up and down skywalks, we found ourselves in yet another massive mall, a much nicer, fancier one than the one we were in. Eyes popped at beautiful bakeries with their displays laden with gorgeous freshly baked goods, and a Marvel store that nearly made us stop and walk in. “After lunch!” became the common refrain, until we finally made it. And DTF did. not. disappoint. I’d first eaten at this Dumpling Mecca in Singapore last year and I’d move East in a heartbeat, just for a lifetime supply of DTF, I would. Garlicy sauteed greens, delicate, almost too good to eat, with soup-filled pork dumplings, spicy noodles and pork baos were inhaled. Completely satisfied with how committed we were to finding DTF, ignoring all the distraction en route and proceeding straight to the main deal, which totally hit the spot, we picked up dessert at Paul the authentic French bakery and boulangerie that had a cute little store in the mall. Back in the hotel, we stashed dessert away for later that night, and waited for S, who by some corporate sorcery managed to have a work trip to Bangkok coincide with my weekend there, and flew in from Singapore.

When we were planning the trip, S and I briefly flirted with the idea of flying back via Singapore. The charm of the city still fresh on our minds from our respective brief trips last year. Also, friends. I’m always game to plan a trip to meet friends I love. But for various reasons we decided not to stretch ourselves that far. I was slightly bummed at not being able to go and meet S and party it up with him for a bit, but when he managed to swing by Bangkok and meet us, it really more than made up for it. I have a special place in my heart for friends who will really go the distance, and who I can count on to keep the fun up even when my different worlds collide.

It was at 5:30 that evening, when he hopped into our hotel, out One Night In Bangkok truly began. We hit a beer cafe nearby, sitting outside watching traffic go by, drinking Asahis while yakking away. Well the yakking was mostly done by me, but we caught up. What is it about beer bars and retro? Does every beer bar everywhere play retro? The tunes took me right back to Purple Haze in Bangalore or Down The Road in Panjim, and if not for the superior quality of beer, if I shut my eyes, I could have been anywhere, really. When S had said “lets begin at the beer bar” I didn’t quite know what we were in for, for the rest of the evening. A couple of beers later, we left and headed to the second bar for the night, which S did a really shitty job of selling to us.

“It’s a cool place. It’s really dark.

“Erm, like the lighting? Or the vibe?”

“Both!”

“Okayyy, then why are we going there?”

But go we did. It was one night in Bangkok after all.

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And boy was I glad we did. It was easily the best bar I’ve been to in a long, long time. A bar with serious character – it’s designed to resemble an iron smith’s workshop. Crammed, packed tight with intimiate seating, wrought iron staircases that lead nowhere in particular, dingy staircases and alleys lit by candles, secret doors leading to surprise entries to private seating, and some seeeeeriously good live music. The Band was superlative, playing what sounded like very bluegrassy covers of everything from Fly Me To The Moon to Cheerleader. Yeah! How’s that for serious variety. More beer followed, despite my staunch attempts to pace myself, somewhere between my fourth and fifth beer I teetered over the line and decided to go with it. S had some really interesting cocktail with gin ginger ale and peaches (I think, I could be entirely off here) and a flambed sprig of thyme. It was amazyyhzing and I now think I should have had that too.

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In time to leave, we swung by the loo. And the only reason I mention it here is because if you stepped into the dark and dingy bar that is was, you’d expect a shitty loo. But. It was spotless. And smelled amazing. I almost didn’t want to leave The Iron Fairies, but S suggested a Japanese bar (I think) so we walked out. Only to bump into a friend of his, completely out of the blue. S kept saying “what are the odds!” like it was truly unbelievable, but his friend diligently kept responding “pretty fucking high!” while S and I just giggled non stop. Before we knew it we were being herded in the opposite direction from where we were headed, and we were joined by a bunch of other people, and suddenly we were in a crowded elevator that opened into a rooftop bar. Dark, with clubby music, suddenly the crowds parted and a table was set up for us. I looked around and I was at this table with about 7 other people I didn’t know. A large bottle of vodka with an unpronounceable name appeared out of nowhere, swiftly followed by 6-7 glasses stacked with ice. Someone had to ask for tonic. I gingerly pushed my glass away, and ordered cider, deciding to play it safe and stick with beer. It all happened so fast, and sent me off into another giggle fit. S joined in, because truly, it felt like a scene straight out of a movie. Surrounded by people who looked like they were up for a long night of partying hard, a DJ who had blonde dreadlocks tied up in a man-bun, and people unravelling in various stages of inebriation dancing away.

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Our clever plan to stick with cider didn’t work after all because when we were done, two glasses of unnamed alcoholic contents appeared. And S’s friend kindly informed us that he’d told the bartender to give him what he always does, “a double of whatever it is” Turned out it was a G&T, a very, very stiff one. So stiff it burned my oesophagus. But we drank up. And soon enough I got up and danced a little with some random Thai folks. Someone broke a glass, someone took pictures of everyone, it was all a blur. I just remember giggling a lot and saying cheeeeese at some point.

Pretty soon, I realised we hadn’t eaten. Possibly the longest we’d gone without a meal through out the whole trip! So we decided to duck out, and went to a 24 hour outdoor food court of sorts close to the hotel. More beer followed. With a papaya salad that was so spicy, i began to hiccup uncontrollably. Which made me giggle some more, and didn’t help any way. Pad Thai and something else I cant remember was consumed too. And we topped it all off with a long walk back to the hotel to eat dessert. You know what’s the worst? A cocktail of alcohol followed by something sinfully sweet. And that’s exactly what we went headlong into. We dived into the little boxes of dessert and nearly polished off the custard filled eclairs and the strawberry and cream mille-feuille. So good when we were tucking in, but ph so horrid about half an hour later when my high suddenly spiked. It coincided with my finally lying down in bed. The minute my head hit the pillow the room began to do gentle little circles around me. I was too high (and tired) to bother to fix it with water or pacing up and down and the usual tricks that help, so I did my best to ignore it, telling myself this is what I get for ageing prematurely living my sage life in Goa devoid of any sign of partying, and I don’t know when but I drifted off to sleep.

The moment of truth is always the day after a night like this. How many times will I hit snooze before I wake up? Will we make it to the Chatuchak weekend market? Will I be hung over? Funnily enough, it wasn’t as bad as I felt it could have been the previous night. Both S and I woke up mildly groggy, but now shitfaced. But S, being S, served up room-made tea with two Disprins each. We chugged it and in no time at all felt clear and ready to head out. I’m really, really glad we did because we got to the market earlier than planned and the crowds hadn’t hit full swing. And even though we probably only touched about a tenth of the space, we saw some lovely wares, walked through the stalls amazed, and even bought some really special stuff for gifts. We were on a deadline because we had to find our way back, a 40 minute train ride, in time to catch S for lunch too. So we stepped out, when suddenly S spotted the one item we’d been hunting for (albeit very passively) all week – Birkenstock knockoffs! And then the food, oh my god, the food! Everything looked so, so inviting and if we didn’t already have plans we’d have given up all attempts to resist. It was just as well we didn’t because S scouted out a really amazing little restaurant back near the hotel. Indoors, air conditioned, with very affordably priced authentic Thai food. It was likely the best meal of the week, next only to DTF, and a lovely way to wind down.

Quick bye-byes followed and S and I went back to pick our luggage up before we trudged all the way back to DMK airport an hour away. We managed to squeeze in a tuk-tuk ride from the hotel to the skytrain station, from where we went to the last stop on the line, and then took a bus to the airport. I LOVE efficient public transport and I got a special kick when I realised we’d officially taken every kind of transport we saw – those classic colourful cabs, the metro, the local train, city bus, long-distance bus, catamaran, and a tuktuk!

Reaching an airport and touching Duty Free also means encountering Indians again, and invariably it’s an experience in being schooled about why we get treated the way we do. I tried my best not to let a few uncouth Indians spoil the holiday high. Webought ourselves some goodies and booze for home and settled into a corner to sit and do our hisaab like a couple of baniyas. It’s when it hit me again, how every single thing went off without a hitch, with zero conflict of interest even between the two of us, and just a smooth, seamless progression from one event to the next. R and S were sorely missed again, as we did several times during the trip, adn we vowed to do this many, many times again.

To end the holiday on a high we went into the Thai restaurant at the airport for one last meal. Finally, I succumbed to green curry and rice, while S had pork meatballs in a noodle-y broth. Both divine, and even though we had no room for dessert we had to relent and get one last portion of mango and sticky rice. The flight back was quiet, uneventful and I read for the most part, feeling very, very happy to be going home. We landed in Bangalore at 10:30 pm, to ATMs with no money. Thankfully my folks came to pick me up. I came home wired, unable to get to bed till almost 3 am. So I lay in bed thinking about the week gone by – how quickly it came and went – and how near-perfect it had been. It’s the mark of a good holiday I think when you come home feeling satisfied, and like the experience you’ve had was enough. My cup, it runneth over.

Day 320: One day in Bangkok (or day one in Bangkok)

The idea to go to Thailand cropped up at the unlikeliest of times. But the alacrity with which we got around to booking tickets, figuring out where to go, how to get there and all the nitty gritty details really surprised me. It was originally meant to be the four of us, which slowly petered down to three, and eventually left just S and me. We’d booked non-refundable tickets and I’d planned my November around this holiday, so we weren’t about to cancel. I’m so glad we decided to go through with it because it really turned out to be just right, in every way. I said before that it isn’t often that you find travel buddies so perfectly aligned to your inclinations. Which isn’t to say that everything about us was same-same. A lot is, tbh, but it’s also that between the two of us we managed to balance our eccentricities, laziness and efficiency out — which made for a great mix! From our obsession for morning chai that was the perfect temperature, to keeping detailed hisaab through the trip, to our single minded focus on eating our way through every day, to being armed with everything from socks to sanitiser to scissors and Disprin between the two of us – we realised we were more than suited to travel on long trips together. It was a holiday with adequate laziness and quiet time (on the island), 80% of which was spent in utter silence, and the enthusiasm to get out and do stuff (in Bangkok).

I landed in Bangalore a day in advance. I spent a day and a half with the folks and on Sunday night we took a flight out of Bangalore. Months and weeks of excitement that had reached a point where I felt I couldn’t hold it in any longer finally exploded when we met outside the airport. It was all a bit surreal. We bought ourselves beer and Chinese food to set the tone for the Asian food fest that was about to be, and got yakking. S had decided to ration out all the things we had to catch up on. Literally every big update and conversation in the weeks before the trip abruptly ended with “But I’ll tell you when we meet”. So with all that saved up conversation, the list of things to catch up on was fairly long. And the conversation was loud, giggly and animated, of course.

We and reached Bangkok at 4 am, which we thought was genius. You know, reach your destination at the start of a day so you can set off exploring immediately and all that. Which was great but for the fact that including checking in three hours prior to departure, delayed departure, horrible low-cost carrier seating and having a lot to catch up on, it meant that I didn’t sleep much. S is one of those lucky people that can pass out quickly, almost anywhere. So when we landed in Bangkok four and a half hours later, we emerged from the Don Muang Airport (yep, it wasn’t Suvarnabhumi this time around) bleary eyed. Information very helpfully told us we were an hour away from the heart of Bangkok and that we could either take a bus or a train, both available right outside the airport, to get there.

We trudged across the walkway over the main road and entered the sweetest, small, quaint little station. Which was basically a covered shelter with a few Thai folks waiting in the last dark moments of dusk to catch a train into Bangkok. A mere 20 thb a head, and a shot 15 minute wait later, a noisy train pulled in. We got into a chair car and it was a while before we got ourselves place to sit. Shaky and noisy, with tea-coffee vendors making their way through the aisle, and locals in various states of slumber, I felt right at home, as I would have in a train in India. We drank a shot of coffee each, “o give us a kick,” S said. Except we promptly drank it and nodded off to sleep. S being herself and dozing off effortlessly, and me trying to make up for all the lost sleep.

An hour later we were at Bangkok Train Station, and came out to hoards of people dressed in black, snaking their way out to a counter where free food and drink was being offered to anyone mourning the death of the King of Thailand who passed away last month. Later I realised this was common sight through the rest of the trip – people everywhere, tourists included dressed largely in black. Whatever the crowds were being handed in styrofoam cups looked like hot noodle and meatball broth and smelt divine. It was nearly breakfast time and we were both starving.

Thankfully, we found a cab fairly quickly. Some sign language, showing the cabbie the address to our hotel and helpfully offering GPS was all it took to get to our cute B&B where we were booked just for the day. It was small and cosy. Very basic, but with crisp sheets, a clean loo (with a shady as fuck looking instant water heater connected right to the shower head) and a hot water kettle and instant coffee – it was more than enough. We freshened up and didn’t give ourselves time to settle, rushing out in search of breakfast instead. As it turned out, we’d accidentally picked a very nice part of town to be in.

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Khao San Road is quite the hipster place to be, with quirky coffee shops, charming restaurants and the last vestiges of Bangkok’s famous street food culture still to be seen. We ducked into this place called Chomp which looked promising. Breakfast was sumptuous, and free wifi and a stand full of all kinds of maps meant we settled in and figure out what we were going to do next, and over the week to come.

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The cafe guy didn’t seem inclined to throw us out even long after we’d finished eating and made the very large cups of tea last as long as we possibly could.

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Eventually we headed out to try and figure out where we had to catch our bus on the way out later that night. As it turned out the travel company we’d booked our bus+ferry ticket from was not too far form the hotel. Walking distance in fact, across one of the streets that turns into a food street by night! We couldn’t have accidentally planned this better, really. And this was the best part about having a travel partner equally interested in being efficient and prepared. We’d barely suggest something and the other person would promptly agree, because in all likelihood we’d have thought of the same thing.

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A short loaf at the closest mall and a minor attempt to try and find the closest Din Tai Fung ensued, but we glazed over very quickly at the chaos of the shopping and excessive sensory overload that is MBK Centre. Luckily we were distracted, and stopped in our tracks, by a mini hawker centre of sorts right outside the mall, lured mainly by our noses to the smells of sizzling meat on a hot griddle, and the sights of raw papaya salad. We very quickly ditched the idea to go hunting for DTF, promising ourselves one meal there on our return, and settled in for pad thai with shrimp, raw papaya salad and some extremely icy mango and passion fruit spritzers.

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Here’s the great thing about Thai food, right? It’s fresh and light, yet so filling. But not in the way that greasy, spicy, rich food tends to fill you up by settling in your belly for many hours. It was filling enough for our eyelids to droop, though. It was also hot outside and since we had figured out where to catch our bus later that evening, we decided to retire and catch a quick nap before heading out again. So we returned, drew the curtains in the room and passed the hell out, ignoring the alarms we had very efficiently set to wake us up.

Eventually, room made coffee tempted us to rise again. And we packed and left the room closer to sun down. We traipsed around the street watching the food carts and stalls being set up, as the whole atmosphere was slowly changing and coming to life around us. It was super hard to pick a place, with rows of food carts, all equally inviting and plenty of bars stacked back to back, adjacent to each other. Eventually we went to a place that had a happy hour offer on cocktails and we picked the closest thing we could find to G&Ts. Topped that up with pad thai and spring rolls and walked back to our hotel to tidy up a little and check out before returning to catch our bus.

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Catching the bus was super easy and very entertaining. We decided to walk the distance from the hotel, because it didn’t warrant a cab ride. It was nearby and 50% of it wound thru the food lane, which would have been impossible to take by cab. So walk we did. Eventually very sweaty, but so happy to reach the spot where we saw this sign and cracked up completely. However, that incredible piece of communication was no indication of what was to come. As soon as we checked in, we were handed a bunch of stickers to denote our seat number, destination and matching stickers for our luggage. One set went on our bags, the other on our chests. From that moment on we were just herded around and pointed in the right direction by non-English speaking Thai women who were the bosses of this efficient system. We walked up to the point where we’d board the bus, tucked in our luggage and got to the top deck of this basic, but decent double decker bus that took us to Chumphon.

The journey was fairly comfortable. The roads are excellent, not windy like in India, so even my fears of getting sick faded away very soon. The ACs underperformed so my tendency to freeze in travel also vanished. Yet, I couldn’t sleep. I must be getting old, because I used to be the kind of traveller who could curl up or stretch out in any awkward spot and manage to go to sleep. For some reason I just couldn’t. So I tracked the journey on my phone for a bit, read a bit and eventually only nodded off in the last 2 hours of the seven hour journey. The service was pain-free, the bus was decent, even though I’d read some horror stories of leaky roofs and such. The rest stop that we halted at around 2 am was excellent, with clean loos and a lot of food options too. However, I was dazed and wanted to just go back to sleep.

Seven hours later we woke up at the pier at Chumphon. It was still dark, but the cafe was open. We doubled up on chai and waited for our catamaran to arrive. Before it did, the sun came up and cast mad colours in the sky.

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Suddenly it felt like it was really worth missing two nights of good sleep.

Day 123: Turning 32 and the salt water theory

It was a weekend that almost didn’t materialise for various reasons. It even had a fair share of hiccups that had me telling myself that I’d only believe it were actually happening when I eventually saw monkeys S and S at the airport. The logistics of their arrivals were harebrained, but that was unavoidable given everybody’s work schedules, mine included. So when I finally wrapped up work for the week on Wednesday last week, and prepared to drive to the airport at midnight, with a sleeping husband in the passengers seat beside me, I could hardly wait.

Despite our daily, incessant chatter that actually shrinks the distances between us, the possibility of finally being in the same room chatting furiously in person, laughing out loud together and sharing our quirks has a different excitement. In December, when we met last, we’d bravely declared that we’d meet for my birthday and make a trip to Sri Lanka. Then life caught up, plans got forgotten and before we knew it April was upon us. Tickets to Goa were then hurriedly booked. Yes, it was meant to be a go-away-vacation, but a staycation (for me) would do just as fine, we thought. Too late for Sri Lanka, but Goa would do just as good, we thought.

In the run up to the weekend, I repeatedly forgot that the real reason we were congregating was my birthday. Maybe because I know each of us individually had different, very solid reasons for wanting a break. It’s been a hectic, tiring few weeks for me and the weight of the year zipping by too fast, too soon is catching up with me. Without going into details I will say S and S had their reasons too.

Let me just say it hit the spot for me.

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I essentially took a holiday from the routine myself. Blistering heat with humidity that was through the roof ensured I didn’t stay in and cooked as I might have originally planned. There was plenty of good Goan food, fresh urrak, mangoes, birthday cake, sangria, lots of beer, pinacoladas and I’m pretty sure I haven’t finished the list. We hit some really local dive bars, seated in plastic chairs behind curtains, eating the freshest seafood and winging it with the local urrack.

Confession: for all the times I visit the beach, I hadn’t been swimming in Goan waters in about two years. Going to the right beaches, three days in a row, the insane heat, lack of tourists and the perfectly warm water was too tempting and I broke my two year dry spell over the weekend too.

Through it all, conversation didn’t stop. And when it did, it felt okay. It’s the best kind of company to have when you can sit in perfect, comfortable peace with each other, guess what the other person is thinking and say so much without saying a word.

There was enough sweat, the sea and even a touch of (happy)tears to complete the triumvirate of things that can cure anything. We had planned so much and though no amount of time will ever be enough to do it all, we got a lot done. Ticked off a lot of the things from the must-do-this-when-we’re-in-Goa-next list.

The weekend had all the essentials – food for the heart

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body

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and soul

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The sun set on my birthday with goodbyes in the middle of the night. Thank god I was half asleep, or I might have cried.

Right then, 33. Bring it. I’m ready.

Day 116: Bits and bobs

  1. Given the week that was, I took the weekend to decompress. I pottered about the house finishing up long-pending chores, a bit of spring cleaning, tidying up ignored corners of the home that finally made me feel like I could inhabit any part without feeling repulsed about how shoddy things have gotten around here. Time and again I realise that when my brain is overloaded, chaotic, a muddle, it shows around me. The opposite is true too – the moment peace of mind is restored, my surroundings get tidied up too.
  2. I’ve been making very conscious efforts to deal with my seriously questionable attention span, the perpetual urge to procrastinate and my tendency to push everything to the very last minute. Last week was the second week of paring down my to-do list down to a realistic and achievable one, and staying on top of it. It was a crazy week for reasons outside of work, and I realise that I was able to manage it all because I had a handle on most things that were in my control. What I couldn’t control, I let be. After a crazy week like that, when you still manage to tick off things and close the week clean, Monday looks fresh and clean too. No sense of impending doom to wake up to, no overwhelming to-do lists waiting to engulf you. I need to see how I’m going to keep this up.
  3. I had a gas cylinder situation that meant I had to get creative and the weekend featured a lot of lazy, make-shift kind of cooking – trying to do as much as possible without turning the stove on. I went out for quite the spectacular brunch with R, while VC attempted yet another 100km ride. I pigged out on huveos rancheros, which is totally my kind of breakfast heaven. Spicy, warm, hearty, wholesome, with eggs and sausages, and flatbread for good measure. It’s a pity more people don’t do creative breakfasts around here. If you’re in Goa and looking for breakfast with a difference, ask me.
  4. This coffee was had. But really, it was the kind of coffee that had me.
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  5. I had another piece out in the weekend magazine of The Hindu. About bread and Saee’s new cookbook that’s all about bread. Look?
  6. Sunday ended with this view and laughter-filled conversations with VC who can finally throw his head back and laugh his usual big, wide, toothy laugh.
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    He had a wisdom tooth out last week that had him in so much pain, with the added misery of no smoking, no drinking, no solid food, and the added pain of not being able to open his mouth wide. Maybe we were just making up for the sombre week, but we laughed SO much last evening.
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  8. And. It’s birthday week!

Day 60: February

The beginning of any new year always brings with it the renewed excitement that with every month that I countdown, I am inching closer to another birthday. So February 1st saw me do a happy dance. Also because the sister came to visit that week. She has been my most ardent and oft-returning houseguest yet. In all the years we have lived in Goa, she has visited a minimum of three times every year, if not more, and usually stayed for leisurely, long periods of time. Having family over is wonderfully different from entertaining guests and having a sibling (if your siblings are anything like mine is) over takes that to another level. Ask VC – he bears the brunt of it.

This time though, she visited after an unbelievable (and shameful, if you ask me!) gap of a whole year, thanks to being employed, which also meant she was on a tighter schedule a had a return date that was too close for comfort. So in that sense, this trip was different from most others, where we relax and go about our days without much planning. Instead, this time around we had the trip chockfull of things to do, places to go and things to eat, almost every day. We visited our favourites – The Black Sheep Bistro, Ritz Classic, Bodega and Thai n Wok. But we also visited Ruta’s Roadhouse, following the trail all the way to Assagaon where the newest outlet is now housed. I’m a diehard fan of not just Ruta’s idea of bistro-style food with the chunky, filling portions, exciting and unexpected combinations of local produce cleverly used in a continental/bistro style, but just the palpable passion that goes into each of her eateries. I love a cafe that has feel, and for me walking into one that encourages you to sit a while longer, stay and chat, drink cup after cup of brilliantly brewed black coffee, is a serious deal-breaker.

So we had a lovely day of food and drink, which extended into lounging around while I got some writing done and Niyu worked on some drawing. It was interspersed with some chitter chatter with Ruta, over black coffee, which is always such a pleasure.

We experienced the Carnival in all its colourful splendour with music, dance, cocktails and Goan grub. Ever since the opening of MOG (Museum Of Goa), I was keen to take Niyu there, so we made a day trip of it, topping it off with some wandering up north – checking out the People Tree store too.  And then we took off for the last weekend before she went back to Bombay to hit the beach. Headed Mandrem-wards, we stayed at Vaayu Ocean Adventures but spent the day at Pink Orange a beach-shack/restaurant in Morjim. Delicious vegetarian menu for a change, but it did not disappoint. I had a veggie thali (!) and it was loaded with a hearty dal, rice, salad, palak paneer and a semi-saucy, spicy brinjal and potato sabji. After lounging in the sun drinking as much beer as we did, it hit the spot. Dinner was at the newly opened cafe/restaurant at Vaayu, called Prana – and the meal deserves a post of its own.

Unbelievably exciting flavours, creative combinations and just delicious food that really looks and tastes like its been put together with utmost thought and care. I love meals that come together like that. They also made me the most insane Gin-based cocktail with freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, lemon juice and lots of ice. It. Hit. The. Spot.

Actually the deets about Vaayu require a post, or a full-length feature too if someone will let me write it for them. We stayed in a rustic, but very clean stilted hit that overlooked the river as it meets the sea. Vaayu is a fabulous surf-school that offers a seriously formidably large bouquet of water-sport options including surfing, kayaking, and so many things I didn’t even know were possible in Goa. Lessons from professionals, equipment, super funky inviting vibe it also doubles up as a space for artists in residence, and has a gorgeous, expansive gallery area where they have regular events like movie screenings, art shows and music/theatre events. I loved the sense of community – super cheerful and helpful staff with a deliberate effort to go out of their way to make your stay not just comfortable, but memorable. If you’re the adventurous water-sport types, definitely check them out. And even if you’re not, like me, it’s a great place to camp out for the weekend with an agenda to do nothing. Like I did. We did nothing adventurous or oceanic, apart from lie on the beach, watch the sea, feel the sand and chill.

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I read my book, watched a lot of incredibly cute babies, made some observations about the crowd that now hits the beaches of the far North, drank a lot of Bira and ate some spectacular food.

I hit a serious funk when Niyu left and it took me a good few days to crawl out of it. Clearly the highlight of the month, and thankfully I had no work and commitments to distract me from all the bonding and fun time. Apart from that, here’s what I did:

Watched: Niyu and I watched some Chef’s Table, and while I can never tire of it, I think it can be a little intense and in-part academic for others who might not be as inclined. I also finished watching Orange Is The New Black, which had its ups and downs. I raced through seasons 1 and 2 wondering why I hadn’t watched the show earlier. Just when I was hooked good and proper, season 3 began with a serious slump. Why do all good shoes have that inevitable, almost predictable dip? Till about episode 6 I plodded along and wondered where it was going and if it will ever pick up. At episode 7 I was about to throw in the towel, when suddenly things looked up again. And how. I loved the way the season shaped up and the finale was wonderfully hopeful, making me smile.

Piper, the protagonist, continues to piss the daylights out of me with her obnoxious, selfish, and utterly dimwitted personality. I find her character so dull and uninteresting and can almost feel how much effort goes into keeping her alive and active at the centre of things. She is so easily overshadowed though, not just by more powerful characters with far more compelling sub-plots than her own, but by some brilliant performances by some of the other actors that just gobble her insipid, pale acting.

The excessive white-ness of the overall plot-line still doesn’t sit well with me, and I find myself getting worked up at the blatant racism at several points, but I realise that is the point of those specific developments. Perhaps if Piper wasn’t such a cliched blonde, White American yuppie, I would be able to get over it faster.

Now I have to wait until June to see season 4. Ugh.

I was all set to watch Parks and Recreation and Arrested Development next, based on reccos from friends who know whatkind of show I enjoy. But Netflix in India is controlled, and only showcases about 1/4th the entire library. So yeah, us desis have to wait. On the upside, Michael Pollan’s Cooked began here too, so I’m watching that.

I watched Neerja, which quite unexpectedly reduced me to a puddle of tears. I cannot stomach Sonam Kapoor’s acting on a good day, but she was pleasantly surprising – not her usual, nasal and annoying avatar, with a compelling performance. I went because I have always been curious about the events of the Pan Am crash, and I’m a sucker for people stories, especially those centred around strong women characters. I liked the way it was filmed, the plot was measured and not over-done on any account. It had the deadly combination of a woman playing a brave heart, national pride, motherly love and a love lost – that should explain the tears. A post coming up on this, perhaps because some rumination made me realise I’d rank Neerja along with Queen and NH10.

Read: I picked up A Handbook For My Lover, by Rosalyn D’Mello at the start of the month. The book has enough going for it – it’s raw, honest, seduces you with the language and some beautifully crafted lines that instantly evoke images in your mind – but I was a little bored with the format. Either there wasn’t enough meat in it to hold my attention or the pattern it uses to unwrap the memoir didn’t work for me, I’m not quite sure. It started off very engaging, and petered into a lull about 70 pages in, only to pick up in the last 3-4 chapters again. In between, it falls into a predictable loop and I guess for an erotic memoir – I was expecting a build up, a plot that very definitely leads somewhere, progressively growing for one of the characters – chronicling their time together from point a to b. But that movement was missing and the content just felt repetitive. I put it away briefly, almost giving up on it, but eventually picked it up one slow afternoon, spent in bed listening to my Grandpa’s music. About 3/4ths of the way in there is a mention of the protagonist and her lover being together for 6 years, and that’s when it hit me. The patterns in the writing are so repetitive that I hadn’t even got a sense of progression of time, let alone anything else. At the end D’Mello also says she herself had withdrawn from the book while writing it and came back to write the last few chapters after a short break of sorts. I think the energy dipping and picking up at the end again, reflects that.

Eventually, I finished it. While it didn’t leave me wowed or amazed, I think it is a commendable debut, for it’s choice of genre, and it is undeniably erotic and raw, with more than a few parts that will linger on in your mind. For that, I’d recommend it. It is a breezy read, so if you do pick it up, I’d be keen to know what you think of it.

I struggled with fitness this month. I thought I’d finally found my rhythm but I realise I’m still looking for that good fit of activities that will break my plateau. I tried to be as regular as I could and felt deflated when I realised I’ve reached a point where I give in to the temptation to skip a workout so easily. This has been a sign for a need for change and so I’m switching things around again. Fingers crossed.

I didn’t draw too much this month, because it was a busy time with very little time spent at my desk or at leisure. I did however manage to stick to blogging every single weekday, and I am frankly a little amazed at myself for sticking it out to day 60! I also wrote a lot of haikus, found myself suddenly feeling very inspired and unable to keep up with the lines that blossomed in my mind. I took to noting them down in my phone, and slowly putting them down here.

February was a lot more settled compared to the upheaval that January brought. Emotionally, I’m still a bit knackered and I have my off days, but overall I feel a lot more in control. I’ve started picking up work again and I’m going to work the pace up from here. Like I said earlier this year, onwards and upwards, it is.

Day 33: January

I blinked, and January has passed. In a flash seems about right, when I think about how to describe it. Odd, because it was a stagnant month, and not much happened on the outside. I was mostly disinterested, but restless. I was eager, but felt crippled. I slowed down on work, choosing not to actively didn’t seek new assignments, because I was just about managing to keep my head up enough to see the commitments on hand to the end. Even the projects that were otherwise fun and engaging were beginning to get to me. A head full of questions and no answers in sight can only be pushed aside so much. And this was a long time coming, so by the end of the month, when everything related to work really began to weigh me down, I realised I could push it no more.

In another classic me move, I swung from one extreme of working madly to the other – giving it all up to start from scratch. So that’s where I am at now. Making measured baby steps.

But what else did I do in January? (Apart from feeling restless, hating the waiting and feeling like I have having a shit, shit month.)

Watched: Netflix came to India and opened up a whole new world for us, given that we live without cable TV for the most part. I watched Aziz Ansari’s Master Of None which came highly recommended by S. I loved it for its simplicity, warm fuzzies-inducing take on everyday stuff like work struggles, food, dating, co-habiting and many things that people in their 30s can relate to. It’s straight-forward, funny, relatable and just the kind of consumption I like – 10-episode season, 30 minutes each, and nicely made too.

What’s Love Got To Do With It is a Netflix documentary about the Indian culture of arranged marriage. Again, it came recommended by N, so I got around to watching it. I was equal parts amused and angry by the end of it. Amused because it’s always enlightening to get a peek into the minds and lives of your fellow Indians, with whom you feel like you share so much in common, but you also realise how you couldn’t be more different. Angry because the film left me furious not so much at the meaninglessness of the system and the marriage “market” (which I will admit, I can try and see the advantages of) but the reactions and thought processes of some of the men. And consequently, the women they marry. Obvious debates about arranged marriage aside, the movie left me questioning the institution of marriage itself. In recent times, I’ve seen relationships crumble for a variety of reasons and increasingly I’m beginning to question the importance we attach to finding a lifelong mate and binding ourselves to it. Instead my take has been more aligned to the the belief that it is not for everybody. That it works excellently well for some, is no sign that it must be the universal aspiration for us as a race.

Begin Again  is a rom-com with Keira Knightly and HUBBAHUBBA Mark Ruffalo and I was interested in watching it  because of the setting and plot – budding singer, song writer in search of herself, meets failed producer and they Begin Again. It was a lovely light hearted film, and I enjoyed it even more because it didn’t go the conventional rom-com route, had an open ending, and they’re both such lovely, real actors. At the end, I realised it was co-written (I think) by Judd Apatow, and that explained a lot of things. And why I liked it too. Also, lots of Mark Ruffalo being an angst-written passionate musician to see. And he’s topless in the very first scene. So. Yeah. Mark Ruffalo.

Read: After last year’s abysmal reading habit, I’m slowly getting myself back on track by making sure to read a little everyday, even if it is for 10 minutes before bedtime. On the upside, I found I chose reading over work, TV and going out more often than not. But it was slowly unfolding effort, and most attempts ended very quickly with sleep taking over.

I chose a simple, but by no means light, read and managed to finish it very quickly. This restlessness I’ve been going on and on about started to really rise to the surface around November last year, and when none of the small external changes I was making seemed to make a difference, I began to look inward quite spontaneously. This is something I haven’t actively done in a very long time so I was a) a little taken aback at myself b) pleased that maybe this was a natural sign of what I need to focus on more. When things come spontaneously, I tend to take them a lot more seriously than when enforced by an external force. Some events occurred around that time too, for VC and I, which made me sit up and accept that perhaps the answers I am seeking aren’t really obvious and won’t be found in places I was looking for them. I re-started a meditation practice I had near abandoned about 7 years and have been consciously looking inwards and trying to get to the root of everything I am feeling, my reactions to situations and relationships and my attitude to every day things that happen to me.

As I usually do, I shared all these experiences with N, who recommended reading this book she’s mentioned to me before. But something about the way she said I think this is the perfect time for you to read this made me want to pick it up immediately. It helps that it is a short, simple read, so great for someone restlessly seeking answers, and/or getting back to the reading habit.

Then she wrote a lovely post here that only reaffirmed my feelings. So I started and finished The Untethered Soul, by Michael A. Singer, and it couldn’t have come to me at a better time. I’ve always found modern spirituality book titles so fluffy and hard to relate to. Nebulous concepts, wrapped up in ambiguous, loaded words that actually mean very little when it comes to our daily lives. But I was pleasantly surprised with this book. A lot of it was good timing, because I’m increasingly learning the immense power of how everything has a time and a place. That I have been dealing with a lot of the questions the book deals with, in my own mind, is probably why N recommended it to me.

The book talks about spiritual growth, understanding things that we all deal with: fear, insecurity, disappointment, rejection, anger, frustration, inexplicable highs, satisfaction, joy and so much more. It has helped me understand a lot of what I have felt in recent time. It’s provided solace at a time when I was questioning every decision, second guessing my relationships, feeling fearful and unable to let things go and move forward.

It ultimately is a book about trying to slow down, listen carefully to what your mind is actually trying to tell you. It emphasises the power of every little thought and feeling we experience and the capacity of our heart and brain (the spirit) to give us some of the most important clues about who we are as individuals. The book has guided me to watch my emotions, my reactions to situations, understand my innermost feelings in dead simple, almost too simplistic at times, language, devoid of the usual mumbo-jumbo I was expecting. The process is continuous, of course, but I couldn’t have arrived at it on my own, unless I read something or spoke to someone who spelt it out like this book does.

If you’re seeking spiritual growth, trying to understand what’s going on in your mind, want a little peace and clarity and have come to believe that it can only be achieved by realigning your mind, this is a good book to read.

Did: I resumed exercise with a renewed commitment in January. It came back with a bang when I realised I was feeling unhealthy despite everything I was doing. I realised I hadn’t consumed a single fruit in about 4 months, simply because I have been too busy to notice. I immediately fixed those little things this month – easily done. Started stocking fruit again, getting my help to chop them up so I have absolutely no excuses to keep myself form eating them! And I have started pushing myself to be regular with exercise again.

Another big improvement is I started enjoying cooking my everyday meals again. An activity I loved and sought like solace, had been relegated to a 20-minute chore that was done with the intention to just get it done quickly rather than with a focus on the outcome. I’ve ignored this for a whole year now, and I know it has shown on the quality of the meals we’ve been eating at home. When my mind is restless it invariably shows in my actions and it’s reflected in my kitchen too. Haphazard shopping trips, badly planned menus, distasteful meals and close to no socialising that involved having people over and cooking for them. I’m starting with cooking well for ourselves again, before I try and get folks to come home again!

I’ve doodled a mad, crazy amount in January and enjoyed it a lot more than I expected it to. An activity that was meant to just empty my mind out has become something more, and that’s the stuff of an entirely different post that I will get to soon.

Apart from that I managed to write a little something everyday and go to the beach a lot more this month, and since they’re things I want to do more this year, that’s two more big ticks for me.

January was pretty shit, but I’m in a better headspace, and a better place overall than at the start of the month. So I’m going to count on that. Leaving you with a song I’ve had on loop a lot this month. Something about the monkeys in the video makes me really, really happy.

Day 22: Saaru-Anna

It’s a gloomy 7 o clock-daylight-turning-to-night moment, as we drive into the basement of our building in Bangalore. And that single moment held a world of pain like a tightly wrapped fist. It was the end of a long and arduous 24-hour journey, one that we tediously took every year from Bangalore to Bombay, and back. But more importantly, it marked the end of another glorious summer vacation, before we return for a fresh term. It was the end of a year, as we would measure it in school. It was the end of the endless cuddles with our grandparents, of afternoon naps dotted with a medley of fully made up stories that never seemed to end, of snuggling into ammama’s saree and sniffing up the dusty remnants of her make-up routine – a gentle blend of Pond’s talcum powder and Lakme compact. Of waking up to the drone of ajju’s tanpura on riaz mornings, of having them pamper the living daylights out of us with completely homemade meals with simplistic delights like mutter-paneer and fried fish. Of languorous afternoons spent playing in hushed whispers, or curled up in ajju’s reading chair, nose stuck in a book, quietly sweaty under a too-slow fan, while ammama and ajju rested in the same room.

Those memories are inked in my mind, indelible like a precious tattoo that will never fade away. And thinking of that moment, the painful transition between the summer that was and the cold, empty home that lay waiting for us, uninhabited for a month now, still makes me wince a little. I remember it to be the earliest instance of truly experiencing being unhappy, low, despondent. One of times in my life when I registered what feeling sad was actually like.

We’d drag our tired bodies up the elevator, with our many suitcases in tow, with the heaviness of nostalgia for a time still fresh in our minds, trailing behind like a cranky child throwing a tantrum. But we’d walk through the main door, and suddenly the pall of gloom would lift. My mother would excitedly talk about dinner that she was going to cook. That magical concoction that was known to make everything better — saaru-anna. Potent, peppery, hot saaru (a kind of lentil-based rasam) that was comfort for an aching body and happy-food for the mind, as much as it was solace in a dinner plate for the soul. Served over a small mound of piping hot white rice. With a pool of ghee that you had to mop up and mix together quickly before it melted away and trickled all over your plate.

It’s the kind of meal that needs little else. Wholesome, complete, hits all the right spots, every time. Pungent, tangy, warm, like a hug in a dinnerplate – to use an over-used cliche. But there would sometimes also be a simple sabji, hastily thrown together with the simplest of vegetables laced with a generic, bare-basic tadka, tossed together with a hiss and a sizzle, with crispy cracking curry leaves and the essential soft freshly grated coconut crumbled over it.

Peace.

Slurp. Peace.

Slurp again.

And some more peace. Again .

The memories of expecting that plate of saaru-anna are as strong in my mind today, ensuring my heart lights up, as much as the memory of driving in at sunset makes me wince. Memories like this have a strangely comforting way of reminding us of so much in just a minute moment. A slice of time, that splices together so many events, feelings and the consequent flood of other memories that is inevitably triggered as a result.

If memories of that moment of the end of the holiday drag with it the memories of the many enjoyable summer vacations my grandparents gave us, the plate of saaru-anna will forever bring me closer to home. Will forever indicate an uplifting time to come. It was the perfect antidote to the drudgery of having to deal with post-summer-vacation blues.

It is no longer just a plate of humble homemade food. It is the promise of comfort. A powerful peg that I hang on to even to this day. Something about carb-loading on white rice has ever since remained my only association of comfort food. While some reach for a bag of chips, a decadent slice of chocolate or a stiff drink, to feel better all I ever really need is a plate of saaru anna. Comfort food is such a over-done, over-used, cliche term to bandy about these days. And yet, it is the only thing that can make sense of a meaningless kind of day. The only thing that can filter out the positive thoughts from a web of negative ones that has momentarily taken over your mind. Its the only way to settle the system, feel at peace, and regain balance.

It’s what I still turn to. It’s what I make when I return from travels and have to cook us a meal. When I’m tired and need a healthy upper in the form of a plate full of food. When I am blank and have no idea what to cook for lunch or dinner. When I am having a bad day and I need to get my mind off it.

Like today.

 And yet again, I turned to saaru-anna (rasamrice), with a simple palya (sabzi). And I went the extra length to fry up some happala (papads). And the finishing kiss of that essential dollop of ghee. It was certainly one of those deserved soul food. Except today, it was my mind that needed it more than my body did.

Day 11: This and that

 

I had a lot of feels and thoughts about this article about Indian women dealing with living alone. But it’s taking the life out of me to try and articulate them. So I’m going to save it for another day. Just wanted to share it for now.

Same with this piece about a distinct change in the way in which people are changing, work is evolving and the planet is going to move. I’ve read versions of this in half a dozen places in the recent past, and many of my conversations with friends have revolved around some concepts discussed in this. All closely linked to the latent restlessness I am harbouring.

Many questions going through my mind as I try and re-evaluate how the last one year played out work-wise and what I want to do to ensure I have better balance over things. Also look at this piece on the relevance of the 8-hour work day in today’s context. I’ve found myself wondering what use it is to replace a home-work-style far worse than the one I had in the office and honestly, I don’t have the answers. For many months last year, I worked longer hours than the hugsband did, and that is saying quite something. I would begin my day at my laptop as early as 6 am some days, and work late into the night on several occasions. It was the only way to fit everything in. Again, many feels. No words. Yet. I will have to come back to these.

***

This full power Advaita track came back to me on Saturday, when I watched Wazir.

It’s the only part of the film that stood out and stayed with me. Probably because I have loved this track forever. The movie? It was banal and predictable. Engaging in bits, but not really a compulsory multiplex watch. Farhan Akhtar needs to stop being so angry all the time.

***

The weekend went by in a daze this time around. I’m trying to set the tone for the year by sticking to my no-laptop rule as far as I can help it. But I think I might have to amend it to no-work, since I can now Netflix and chill. Which is what I did for most of the weekend. When I wasn’t sketching or reading.

Dosas and chutney were had for three meals out of 6 and I realise I could go on like that as long there is an unending supply of dosa batter. I whipped up a different chutney each time, and aloo-palya to go with it one time. I could keep that up without repeating a chutney for a decent span of time, and I would be a very happy girl to eat meals of that kind.

 

***

Have I mentioned I experimented a bit with intermittent fasting right before I fell ill and had to start eating breakfast again, in order to take my morning dose or anti biotics? I felt a different in just 10 days, and its definitely something I want to look into properly. All the research I did points to the fact that we’re an over fed race and for our acutely diminished activity levels, we’re eating way more than we need to. I always feel like I wake up early and cannot function without breakfast. But a few days into going without eating breakfast and I realised I was fine. The body makes do, and you end up eating lunch sooner than usual. Then you’re hungry by tea time, so you nibble on something with you chai. Dinner too is consecutively, early. All very healthy and left me feeling light, energetic and regulated my sleep to a certain extent too. Combined with a renewed weights and kick boxing routine, I think I should be set for a while.

However, this past weekend was not a time for fasting or skipping breakfast.

waffles

VC loves waffles and is constantly begging for them. We have a defunt waffle iron that needs a decent adaptor that converts wattage from American standards to Indian ones, but somehow we havent figured out a solution that will not make it burn out. It’s been lying in my loft, unattended for years now. So on his birthday last week, I bought him a waffle iron. Smaller, more versatile and very easy to use. Also, a trusty Morphy Richards piece. I threw in a set of Pilsner glasses, and he was SO happy.

Now I get to eat waffles on weekends. Two birds, one stone. Teach a man to fish and all that. We just need to crack a recipe that makes them crispy. Ideas?

***

When Iw asn’t stuffing face, I also went to the beach for a walk. Decided to ease myself back into physical exercise, but I ended up getting lost. Pahahaha, yeah, on my own neighbourhood beach. All because winter trickery is still in force and it goes from dusk to dark in 3 minutes flat. It wasn’t one of my best moments, and I resorted to stuffing my key between my fingers, ready to jab any creepy stranger who tried to take advantage of the lack of lights on the beach.

When it was still light out though, I saw a host things.

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I love how lively the beach is, with a wide variety of people doing various things there. In the 1.5 hours that I was there, I saw boys playing football barefoot (some, topless) and oblivious to the world, kids building sandcastles that anchored rainbow coloured kites, one particularly lanky fellow doing cartwheels – a whole row of them, fishermen using their body weight to fight the tide and weigh down the anchors of their nets, happy cockerspaniels excitedly getting their ears wet in the waves, a smiley auntie in a saree getting her evening walk in the sand, uncle in pink track pants, one very brave lady doing a perfect downward dog smack in the middle of one of the most crowded parts of the beach. I looked at her from a distance and thought she was very brave. I’m not sure what to make of it. And I think I saw what could be a crossfit class, and made a mental note to sneak up and scope it.

An unintended month’s break from working out ended today. It started as a week off because I went off to Madras for a break, but I came back to holiday scene kicking in and class being cancelled for a bit. When it reopened, the excesses of Christmas and New Year’s Eve had caught up with me. Just when I thought I had gotten through all of 2015 with just one major bout of the flu, I was down again with a viral fever, sore throat and cold so bad, I was knocked out for an entire week. Long after the fever had subsided, my energy levels are still flagging and I feel wiped out so very easily. I went to the gym today, feeling excessively skinny. All the months of hard work building muscle, undone in no time at all. All lost to a frikking virus. It just feels so unfair. I was wiped out in no time today, and I shudder to think how long its going to take to regain the strength and stamina back to where I was.

***

Meanwhile, the restless continues, unabated. Mild relief from distractions, daily habits and some amount of work that keeps me engrossed, helps. But for the most part I’m carrying around this knot in my stomach, which makes me feel very vulnerable and like I’ve gone astray.

nets

Long time, no food pic/post, so here goes.

IMG_2121

It’s been absolute ages since I snapped and posted a picture of something I’ve cooked in my kitchen. In fact, its been forever since I shared a food picture on Instagram at all. And so yesterday, when I took this picture and shared it with S & S – because the curry looked so pretty – it got me thinking.

I killed the fb page for hungry and excited about six months ago for various reasons, which I have written down in an unpublished draft. I’ve turned down the last few cake orders I got with the excuse that my life has taken over and I no longer have the time or the inclination to bake. That excuse is true because until last weekend, I hadn’t turned my oven on since the strawberry cake marathon ended.

About a month ago, the hungry and excited domain died and I got a reminder to renew it. Four weeks since, I’m still not sure if I’m going to, or if I do, what form it will take. The blog is dead, for everyone who has written in to ask why, and when it will be up – from gentle emails to pressing, desperate whatsapp questions – I really have no definite answer. I don’t know when I am going to resurrect it, and when I do, I know I want it to go back to what my blog originally used to be, so I want to be able to create a space for it.

I’m increasingly growing tired of the food feeds across all the social media platforms and at first I had mixed feelings of nostalgia and angst about by this was happening to me. Now I no longer find myself wondering. I know why this has happened to me. My interests have changed.

C’est la vie.

However I still cook. Daily mundane meals. Inspired weekend meals. And everything in between. But some days inspiration strikes in the middle of the week. Like a cloud over my head that refuses to lift until I have give in, poked it and allowed myself to be consumed in the down pour. It means I don’t wait for the weekend. I brush work aside and rush to the kitchen to cook.

In an older life, inspiration drove me to do crazy things – like beginning my morning by baking 200 cupcakes, like convincing myself that I needed fresh home baked bread every time I ate pasta, like the days I would cook and deliver fresh lunch to the hugsband every single day. People who knew me said I was crazy. And yet, all those things I did, they felt completely normal. To me. Back then.

Yes, inspiration can make you do crazy things. And today looking back, I do think I was crazy. Back then. Because I no longer recognise that girl.

But, I still cook. Mundane everyday meals, inspired weekend meals. Everything in between. Sometimes inspiration can make you do crazy things. And sometimes it can make you get up and go make lunch.

Pune calling

January feels like it’s gone by in a flash. But then what’s new? I should just stop reiterating the fact that time is flying. We’re just a week short of closing month 1 of the new year and I still haven’t finished the year-end post that I began writing in December. Bangalore came and went, and I smack back into my routine which has been very full. There were friends travelling to Goa that had to be met, the sister is living with me and that’s always exciting and busy, I’ve squeezed in a few more sessions of training at the gym per week, and work picking up a little steam, there’s been a heap of events to attend around just Panjim, and before I know it I’m off to Pune for the weekend for a family do!

I haven’t been to the city in about 7 years, and haven’t met some of my family from there in about as long. So I’m headed there with equal parts anticipation and trepidation. There’s a few folks I’m looking forward to meeting, and many others I wouldn’t mind missing altogether — isn’t that how family always is? There is the added sense of estrangement that comes form being physically dislodged from the fabric of extended family, purely because I’m in Goa — off the grid. I miss routine get-togethers that happen in Bangalore and Bombay, and am far too removed from other such avenues that are usually places to catch up with everybody. Nieces and nephews are all grown up, cousins all have spouses (not all of whom I have hung out or bonded with), uncles and aunties are all hitting their 50s and the older generation is creeping well into their 70s and some 80s too. Honestly, ‘m only making the effort to go to meet some of the oldies I haven’t seen in forever. With some other younger folks, the gap (caused by passage of time as well as by moving on in life itself) is so wide, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be either in shock, or have a severe lack of things to talk about. Or both.

My memories of the city are spotty, and when people tell me its a slightly more chaotic version of Bangalore, I want to panic a bit more. But I think about the sprawling family home that’s usually the centre of all the action, I think about some of my relatives who are really fun to hang out with, I think about the bonus opportunity to meet my parents and my grandmother, I think of the music concert that is going to happen, I think about Either/Or and Malacca Spice, I think about the shrewsberry biscuits and the bakarwadi, and most of all I remind myself that it is just a matter of two days. The troubles subside a bit.

What’s the weather like, Pune folk? I know Bangalore and Pune have similar weather, so if its Bangalore-style cool, my heart might settle a little bit more.

*****

Have you checked out my Goa stories for Mint Lounge yet? There’s a story on some of my newest favourite restaurants in town. And a fish-thali trail for all you seafood lovers. Then there’s my blogs for The Huffington Post too. A repeat of an old post on harassment. And a version of my post on weight-training, because it spurred much conversation here.

Go, see?

Bangalore bytes

So, I haven’t done my usual recap-the-year post as yet, and considering it’s half-written and in draft-mode for the last 10 days, I should try and finish it while I still have some retrospective steam left in me. BUT, I have to interject to tell you the new year has started off well! Because week 1 of 2015 had me dashing off to Bangalore, rather suddenly. I know, I know, I didn’t think I’d ever say anything has started well in the same sentence that I tell you about a trip to Bangalore, but OMG you gaiiiz, I had a tiny window of opportunity to rub noses with a little bit of winter goodness. And I grabbed it.

It’s entirely possible that all the good weather has clouded my judgement. I had Bangalore peeps pipe in to tell me it really wasn’t the best of the winter they’ve had because it apparently got hot the few days I was there. Pshaw! I really can’t complain about temperatures rising from the low twenties to mid-twenties and causing a mild sweat. The skies were mostly blue-grey, cloudless, and that crisp, cool air hung around, even though the sun shone pretty bright during the day. The temperatures stayed in the pleasant low 20s and dropped even lower at night. Which means I needed a jacket post sundown, and needed a thick razai in bed. Winter WIN! as far as I’m concerned.

Such fabulous weather, I wanted to bottle it and bring it back. Evidently I’ve sung praises of this kind before, and lamented many-a-missed winter. But apart from the weather, last week featured all the usual suspects that make any trip back home memorable for me.

Family — because I went home to see my folks and help my father out with a little project. And the sister happened to be around. Of course there were cuddles and giggles and instances of unnecessary bed-sharing.

06family

This time around, thanks to the project I went to Bangalore for, I had the privilege to watch my dad walk within the spaces he helped birth, tell me stories of how ideas germinate in his mind, tales of all the trials and tribulations in fighting for them, and finally seeing it all take form in brick and mortar.

08home2

Walking around what I think is one of his best projects thus far, was illuminating in a way that revealed another dimension and face to the father I have known all my life. It was quite a trip to have my dad talk shop because despite being slightly in awe of his skill and talent, I’ve never really taken the trouble to get to know the whys and hows of he works.

07home1

Music — going home is like getting a tiny shot of the music I don’t give myself enough of when I’m in Goa. I’m always grateful for the music that seems to buzz at home, even when it’s not playing.

01home-music

My mother breathes and lives music, with her daily routine being dictated and sufficiently punctuated by her own riaz and teaching schedules. I am always amazed by how she manages everything like clockwork, juggling teaching students of all ages, varying proficiency, even across continents on Skype (!!) and she does it all without the home falling apart. This time around, she’s reclaimed the kitchen after fifteen+ years of having full-time kitchen help and dished out the best, simple, homemade meals for ensuring some of my favourites like anna-saaru-palya and avalakki-dosa were definitely covered.

Idlies — I MISS IDLIES. I MISS DARSHINIS. I MISS IT ALL. There, I said it. Apart from filter coffee and winter, I MISS IDLIES.

04idli2

Idlies are an institution in Malleswaram. Nothing can wake you up quite like a visit to your favourite darshini in the morning, jostling around enthusiastic breakfasting people from the neighbourhood, all crowded around a tiny hole in the wall, dishing out steaming hot pillowy idlies, minty coriander chutney and hot coffee.

03idli1

If you’re lucky, like I was, there will be some khara bhaath too. You’ll wake up and smell it. And your day will be made. Like mine was.

Friends — Bangalore always gives me the chance to play catch up with a select few old friends, and in this case, make new ones by putting faces to twitter and instagram handles. This trip I was incredibly lucky to meet Shilpa, TRQ and Monika over keylime pie, filter coffee, more coffee, way too much coffee that kept me up all night, and freshly brewed beer. Not all at once, but over a few outings, which is also nice because I rediscovered an old haunt in the Ambara Cafe which had these beautiful eye-popping cacti on sale. I spent some time trying to figure a safe way to transport a few back home to Goa. I decided I couldn’t because they’re essentially sharp, pointy objects that might be a threat as per airport security guidelines, no?

05friends

Meeting Shilpa and TRQ was the kind of outing where new friends meet, some for the first time ever, but conversation flows like its between people who you have known forever. I spent way too much time either nodding my head vigorously in agreement with them and playing an OMG-me-too! loop in my head. Early evening coffee turned to late evening coffee and the evening threatened to never end, much like the conversation did. How do people who meet for the first time have so much to talk about? And so much to agree about? How? It was a wonderfully happy evening and I came away with a happy vibe, yet again affirming the fact that I have met some of the nicest, most genuine human beings thanks to the Internet.

Meeting Monika helped me tick off another must-do from my Bangalore list — freshly brewed beer. Okay, that’s another thing I miss in Goa. Microbreweries. I am quite over bottled beer and much prefer the fresher, crisper variant straight off the tap. Toit didn’t have my usual favourite — Basmati Blonde — so I settled for a something-I-can’t-remember which was deeper, more golden and full-bodied. Win, win — I got to try a new beer I might not have tried otherwise, as we shoveled in this gigantic plate of really good nachos topped with sour cream and bacon bits.

02beer

Of course we talked food, food blogging, baking business and what lies ahead for all of us bumbling bloggers. Of course conversation veered around to the state of Bangalore and how my heart bleeds every time I’m back home. This, I realise is inevitable when you meet people who have lived and experienced the good old Bangalore. There was also a lot of loud guffawing and of course a selfie to call it a day.

10selfie

I’m glad we could make the time to catch up, because there’s nothing like finding a tiny hint of a kindred spirit in someone you’ve only known from behind the facade of a weblog.

Other highlights from the trip:
– Almost completely evading troublesome auto drivers and haggling with them, because I used the spanking new OLA cab app that lets you pick a cab almost instantly, wherever-whenever
– Vashi’s Jean Shack — my old, old, old and only source of all things pants that had shut down briefly, braking my heart and making me wonder where I’ll ever buy pants again (it’s the only place I’ve ever bought pants in, since I was 15), has reopened! And since I haven’t bought me a good pair of jeans since 2008, and since I am now back to feeling fit enough to deserve a new pair, I paid them a visit.
– Corner House may have got its mojo back. After being deeply disappointed with the Hot Chocolate Fudge there the last two times I visited, I really enjoyed the cake fudge I had there the last night before I left. It was warm, gooey, sweet enough to kick the sleep out of my eyes and it totally hit the spot. Bundled in my jacket and muffler in the outdoor section of Airlines digging into the hot fudge gave me that much-needed comfort of nostalgia I needed.
– I decided before I landed in Bangalore, that I was going to avoid focusing on the monstrous traffic and the complete breakdown of all systems that I feel has engulfed the city. This is usually a cause for much angst and potentially ruins large parts of my visit, so I decided it was a reality I had to just face head-on and find a way around. Funnily, it worked. I ditched the autos, took cabs where I could, drove where I could, spent the rest of my time at home.

I came back with a full mind and heart. Full of ideas for work I should do and must get cracking with, renewed optimism of the kind only family-time and group hugs can give, happiness from meeting new people and everything else that made the trip memorable for me.

By Saturday I was ready to go home. Because I had these monkeys, newly grow-ed up plants and a fairly well-maintained home (props to VC!) waiting up for me.

09goa

Bangalore, you were good to me. Thanks macha!

Just read/Now reading

Durbar, Tavleen Singh
I mentioned here already, what led to my picking up Durbar. It had been on my list for the longest time (over a year!) and finally I read it. It was a pretty quick read, gripping too, because it fit my current state of mind when it comes to the current political climate of our country — dejected, disappointed and very helpless.

The good bit for me, since I have never read anything about this side of Indian politics, was a fairly good idea of the sequence of events in chronological order, the build up of both the pro-Congress and anti-Congress sentiments in this country and how one thing led to another (even though it might seem unlikely in retrospect. However, the entire narrative is a very biased, one-sided telling, because it is undoubtedly Tavleen’s side of the story, more than adequately laced by her own hurt form being spurned by the social circles that inhabited Delhi’s drawing rooms and the Congress’ Durbar.

Despite thinking I would probably never pick up anything remotely academic to do with Indian History again, I then picked up Ramachandra Guha’s India after Gandhi. It is a heavy, long read, which I have been taking in, in small doses. I’m enjoying it, but it’s certainly not the kind of book I can guzzle in one go. So I’ve been going at it in small bursts, interspersed by other things.

Like:

Korma, Kheer and Kismet, Pamela Timms
I picked up the hardcopy at the Goa Lit Fest right after I met and interacted with the lovely Pamela Timms and devoured the book in just over a day. It is a lovely, lovely read — probably one of the best food memoirs I’ve read this year.

kkk

Pamela tells a vivid, evocative tale of her adventures in discovering the street food treasures of Old Delhi over one year. Weaving through the gullies, riding auto rickshaws, befriending jalebiwallahs, aloo-tikki-wallas and trying hard to get their stories and recipes out of them. It makes for a delightful premise, set against the backdrop of one of the most interesting parts of Delhi.

I’ve visited these parts Pamela talks about on two occasions, and I know it isn’t easy to navigate. And I curiously asked her at the Lit Fest, just how she managed to get around as a foreigner, build relationships with the locals enough for them to take her into their homes and show them how they made their precious delicacies — delicacies that they’ve been making for generations now. As Indians we are accustomed to the filth and squalor that is associated with the old parts of most cities. I’m also very used to hearing travelling foreigners express shock and disdain with a hint of colonial condescension, when they first experience it. But Pamela’s story reads like she is an insider, like she has embraced and accepted the grime, dirt and dust as almost as a necessary part of the process of discovering the street food of Old Delhi.

The food is drool-worthy and I made the Chilli Coriander Parathas, and my version of the Alu Kulchas within the week that I read the book. Definitely pick this one up if you enjoy a food story that is as much about the food as it is about the story that binds it all together.

The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers, Ayn Rand
I picked this up on U’s recommendation as we discussed the struggle we share, as bloggers — writing longer form, telling detailed, fluid stories that go beyond a web page. And it has been a good buy, probably the best writing-related book I’ve read since On Writing. It’s come at the right time, and I found myself going back to pen and paper, jotting down salient points, making sticky notes and things to remember.

It’s a slim volume of a collection of lectures she made on the topic of writing fiction which, as the title suggests, is useful for anyone who is interested in 1) writing and 2) understanding how to appreciate fiction as a reader. It’s technical, based in her philosophy of objectivism, which I found very easy to relate to and grasp. I think it is true for the lives of many of us, a majority of who probably live this way without consciously giving it a label.

Unlike On Writing, this is a purely academic book, since it is a reproduction of her lectures. It reads very differently, like a text book. The good thing about it is it is intelligently broken into chapters that are directly related to building a fiction narrative: plot, theme, building sub plots and parallel story-lines etc. I’m half way through and already I know this is going to be a keeper that I’m going to go back to several times.

*****

The news, it’s been shitty. I realised yesterday that Monday morning was a bad time to pick for my weekly twitter trawl. So much bad news can only set you off on the wrong foot. But in between all the shit, I found these fun pieces, mostly about women, that I thought I must share:

The fascinating insider’s view of one of the hippest restaurants in the world, through the story of the only woman in the kitchen. And she’s a young Indian woman, bravely taking on a male dominated profession and workspace. The story is Garima Arora’s experiences at Noma, Denmark.

The baby business (and all the stigma attached to it) is alive and kicking. Even Jennifer Aniston has to justify her choice to go childless. I nodded so hard in agreement with this one, wondering when we’ll arrive at a time when we’ll stop looking at women as unaccomplished unless they’ve proven their worth as conduits of reproduction.

This group, the hashtag and stories of women loitering all over the country (and the world!) has probably already crowded your timelines and newsfeeds. But this story about the Why Loiter movement needs to be read. Here’s a book by the same title, that has been on my to-read list for way too long now. I can’t think of a better time to pick it up.

What are you reading? What news caught your fancy this week?

*****

The radio is really getting us in the mood for Christmas. It’s nice to hear the odd carol interspersed with all the Iggy Azalea and Nicki Minaj out there. I heard this fabulous duet this morning, which cheered me up immensely.

Shiny, new stuff

Well, what can I say. When more than three people write in to a) ask where you’ve disappeared to again b) remind you about a post you casually promised to finish and post and c) request you to please blog on either on of your blogs (yeah, talk about pressure!) it’s only a matter of time before you decide to give into the muddle of things you want to say, and resort to a list.

Here’s what’s new. And some news.

1) A haircut. After over a year of semi-short hair, managing curls, cursing bloody product, and reaching the point of needing a trim a little too often, I decided to bite the bullet. I’d been thinking about this for over two years now, and the original short haircut was meant to be a buzz, with the hugsband’s electric trimmer. I’m glad I didn’t do anything that drastic, because I now know how fast my hair grows, and maintaining that would have been a bigger nightmare than I was looking to deal with.

At every point that I would go in for a trim I’d request a shorter crop, only to be told my face is too small, or too long, or that it was too drastic a change, and I’d be asked if I was realllllly, realllllly sure. Apparently, just asking for it is not enough.

So finally, last month I decided enough was enough and that I had nothing to lose, but the few inches of hair I was going to chop off. And that was pretty much all there was to it. Anti-climactic end after the climax that was all the over-thinking, over-cautioning and over-dramatising.

It’s short now. So short that on day 1, the help walked in, looked at me, began to giggle and didn’t stop, pausing momentarily only to tell me, “Didi, peeche se to aap mard jaise lag rahe ho.” Okay, then.

So yes, its boy-short. Pixie-short. Don’t-need-a-comb short. Wash-it-everyday short. Roll-out-of-bed-and-nobody-would-know short. I-love-it short.

garden

2) The sister says I look like a lost farmer child in the picture above. She’s close, actually. VC snapped it when I was gardening. An activity that still makes me feel lost and at-sea. And yet, yet, yet, there’s a garden growing in my home, yougaaiis! For a whole year after we moved in here, I let the yard grow weedy, overgrown with so much rubbish, until one fine day I could take it no more. 4 snakes sighted around our colony over the span of a week might have had something to do with the sudden urgency with which I had it cleaned out. I have an abysmal track-record with growing plants. Essentially, anything I touch, dies. So in order to improve my chances with keeping a garden, I decided to get professional help. I hired a gardener who now comes in once a week to oversee all the major stuff. I’m not on my own, he makes sure I’m treating my plants well, and that they’re not being suffocated by my over-anxious over-watering.

It’s been a little over a month and my Sundays now begin with an hour of pottering about the garden, messing around in the mud, rearranging stuff and generally feeling chuffed and fascinated at how stuff grows. It’s quite thrilling to watch buds bloom overnight, tiny curled up tightly-rolled leaves unfurl and take shape, tendrils clinging on to the closest support and climbing high, seeds sprouting and pushing their baby heads out of the soil.

My entrance now sports a profusion of several kinds of Petunias that are seriously growing like they’re running out of time. There’s also a couple of pots of Impatience (called so, because they’re so impatient to grow). And I have to admit, the front of the house is transformed.

Petunias2

Petunias1

I took the friendly advice of some seasoned kitchen-gardeners, bought some good quality potting mix from the closest nursery and “scattered a few seeds from my masala dabba.” Seriously. That’s all it took. I had a pot of methi that burst to life in just a few days. I actually looked at the pot, tiny green shoots pushing their way out of the soil, and went “aww.” Little baby stalks of methi, fighting to come out and breathe, with bits of mud atop their heads. Totally adorable. And no you’re not the only one who thinks this is abnormal behaviour. A told me to stop stalking them, because it’s not like they’re going to grow up and go away to college.

plants

My over-enthusiasm to “nurture” them might have gone a little wrong, and some over-watering might have occurred. So I had to “harvest” the methi prematurely today. Young, wee tender leaves and stalks got cooked into a channa-methi dal, as suggested by someone who saw the picture on facebook. Totally yummy, and I suspect psychologically yummier still, because you know, garden-to-plate and all that hipster jazz.

I’m not writing off my slowly-turning-green-thumb yet. So I also potted a fresh batch of methi again today, determined to get it right. There’s a pot of garlic shoots that is growing out of control. I regularly snip the shoots and add them to tadkas, salads, etc. They taste like a sharp variety of chives and make for an excellent addition to pretty much anything.

Here it is, on cheesy scrambled eggs last Sunday.

Cheesy Eggs

3) The Hungry & Excited website. Yes, its new. Again. Go see! Still polishing it, tying up loose ends and figuring it out as I go. But it’s up and working, now if only I could get my email subscriptions to work seamlessly, we’d be set.

But the up-side of having the blog running again is that I have no more excuses. I kicked the lazy out of me this morning and posted a 7-month old draft. Yes, I’ve been that lazy this year.

rolls

I made these rolls in April, when it was hot, hot, hot. Perfect weather to make bread. But right now, is perfect weather to eat make meals of soup. And you know what goes with soup, right?

Dinner rolls, silly.

4) This new little gadget is currently making VC’s world go round.

VC1

It’s being used with alarming regularity.

Inter

And was used in the making of this new foodeo. Which, btw, was a total blast in the making. Read about it here. (Yes, I’m on a roll — that’s yet another new post!)

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/112622949″>Easy Chicken Biryani</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/hungryandexcited”>HungryandExcited</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

5) There’s been a healthy amount of new work too. Woke up on Saturday morning to tweets and facebook posts pimping my first Mint Lounge piece. A piece I really enjoyed working on. Hopefully this will be the first of many more to come.

Then there’s some work scheduled to come up on the much-talked-about and much-anticipated Huffington Post India. I’ll update when I have more details.

And if you’re in Goa next week, I’m going to be speaking on a panel on food blogging at the Goa Arts and Literatary Festival 2014. Again, I don’t have complete details. I know there’s going to be Pamela Timms, Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, Helene d’Souza, Karen Anand and Aparna Jain (of The Sood Family Cookbook fame). When I have more details, I’ll update them.

6) Also new, after a few gloomy weeks of feeling a bit lost and wondering where I am headed, is a new-found, burst of energy, and more importantly focus. To make things happen rather than contemplate them endlessly. To cut back the faff and focus on what matters. To count the joys, celebrate them, no matter how big or small, and treat the hiccups as they should be treated — hold your breath, count to 40, breathe out and move on.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the lowest I’ve felt in way too long. I was blue and moping over something or the other seemed to become an everyday thing. And suddenly I had this day. Ironically, the bluest-skies-of-all-time kind of day. Just like that, out of the blue. One of those days where everything went really well without anything special happening.

There was good company, reminders of love and friendship, two fabulous surprise homecooked meals, great conversation, a kindred spirit, a good few hours of work on a fun assignment, one of the harder workouts I’ve had in a long while, a big fat endorphin rush. And these crazy skies were the cherry on the top. It felt good to just be happy, for everything the way it was. That good old, my-cup-runneth-over type feeling has returned.

And a fitting song on loop today:

Okay, back to work before some troll accuses me of having too much fun in life.

Video killed the blogger in me

Well almost.

Hungry & Excited has been on an unplanned but severely stretched hiatus for way longer than I care to admit. I’ve gone on unintentional, long breaks before, but none so long, and none that have left me with close to no inclination to go back and blog. Even more ironic is that this feeling swept over me like a tidal wave, close on the heels of the Indian Food Bloggers Meet. And yet, I haven’t been able to put a finger on it. This time around, I have just gone with the flow, instead of fighting it or trying too hard to pull myself out of this lull.

It’s not even like I haven’t been inspired to cook. I’ve been cooking as usual, enthusiastically, even. And I have been trying new things, making dessert, having people over etc. But cooking for the blog, pulling out the dusty camera, shooting the cooking, processing pictures, writing posts and publishing them seems like a distant dream. More so when I know I have a pile of unpublished drafts in various stages of glorious, incomplete,  imperfection. With about as much inclination to get down to it, as a hibernating bear that was rudely ask to wake up mid-winter, things have been woefully quiet on the food blog.

It could also be the fact that the hugsband and I went on a mission to overhaul it again. A mission that began in July and was supposed to last 2 weeks, but went on for 4 months. And even now, though its live, is still terribly incomplete. There are upper-case-lower-case issues to sort out, featured images to be painfully added to every post, page titles to be finalised, incomplete drafts to be pruned and published, etc etc etc.

To add to it all, I’m feeling bone lazy. A little laziness towards blogging has changed to full-blown inertia and the inability to move.

But the one thing that hasn’t stopped is the videos. In fact the hugsband has been very proactive on weekends, egging me on to make this and that, planning video-worthy things to cook and coaxing me to prep so he can make the most of his free time on Sundays. And it’s how we’ve managed to churn out quite a few videos in the last few months of silence. The words might be on a break, and the recipes are slow to come, but the food hasn’t stopped and the documentation just got better, and a lot more fun.

Video might very well have nearly killed the foodblogger in me. And believe me, with the kind of stuff I see going around in this space, I’m happy to be a little inactive. Detaching myself has inadvertently turned up the fun quotient, like it always does when we stop getting so serious about what we do, lighten up and remind ourselves why we started blogging abut food to begin with — because its fun, and its easy to share it.

On that note, I’m sharing two videos VC made recently, which somehow I have forgotten to post here!

First, this really simple eggless, yellow cake that uses custard mix out a box, rather than the one-too-many egg yolks that usually contributes to this classic cake’s yellowness. Be warned, it is seriously buttery, but really yummy. Best had warm, straight out of the oven and polished off within a few hours of making it.

And then, these classic Goan mince meat cutlets. The recipe is an adaptation, but its very similar in flavour to the legendary beef croquettes that are synonymous with Goan 7 pm hunger pangs. I used beef mince for the making of the video, but have used chicken in the past with success. My sister has used mutton mince and said it was really tasty, so I imagine it would work with any strong meat which can be bound together with the potato and egg that goes into it. Fish/crab might be a bit of a stretch. Either way its the perfect snack for a couple of cold beers. Or can also be turned into a meal with bread/burger buns and some veggies to go with it.

Yesterday we finished shooting an utterly simple, but flavourful chicken pulao I learned from my mother in law when they visited us in September and I can’t wait to share it with you guys. In the mean time do me a favour and don’t step over to the food blog, it needs a lot of fixing, and I’m on it. Bear with me as I try and battle the inertia and update things and pretty it up. Stay with me on facebook until then, its where the updates tend to flow, albeit much less frequently these days.

Maybe saying video killed the blogger in me, is a stretch. I don’t think I can give up blogging any time soon, I don’t even think I can say I no longer want to write a conventional recipe post. But this change has been good for me. And when this sort of change brings out a previously unexplored idea, it can only be a welcome one, no?

Internetting

I have this disease. Its the compulsive need to right click and open in new tab. My ability to hoard links I want to read is much greater than my enthusiasm to plough through them all. VC often asks me what sometimes keeps me glued to my computer, no typing, no clicking, no work to do even! It is this. Jumping links, clicking through anything even remotely interesting and most times I end up with a browser full of open tabs that stay that way for weeks on end. Until one fine day when I decide I’m going to read and close them. Invariably, I save the good reads and here’s some stuff from my clean up yesterday.

happy

Tuesday saw the most gorgeous evening sky, flecked with rows of fluffy bits of clouds. After the rain has fallen (yes rain!) things have cleared up a lot around here. What’s the weather been like in your part of the world? After a week of unbearable heat, the hottest day in the last decade and many litres of sweat later, I ranted about it here. Only to be woken up by the crash of lightning and torrential rain, exactly 24 hours later. It was wonderful alright, because it didn’t stop for over 30 hours. And it was heavy like the kind of rain we see mid-June. The weekend was wet, temperatures dropped by ten degrees and it was just fabulous to have cold mornings, use two blankets at night and pretend like this is normal. Because the truth is its anything but normal. October is usually hotter than summer. We are well into the transition towards winter, which means the monsoons are long gone by now. But this freak shift in weather was attributed to the cyclonic depression that was building in the Arabian Sea and headed towards the coasts of Kuttch, Pakistan and above.

We underestimate the power nature has over us, as we go around mercilessly stripping green cover, plundering the environment in the name of industry and development. And then we wonder where these weather changes are coming from. We mess around with the natural balance of our eco-systems, and we think cleaning up our act is merely done by sweeping streets and collecting garbage. El Nino is well and truly here. Climate change is no longer a distant threat for us to worry about, but a present disaster that’s only going to show up as extreme weather changes more frequently now. I don’t know how long its going to take before we realise that rapid development and conserving our environment are not mutually exclusive. Somewhere, we need to measure how much development is too much development, and for that we need to think about how much we really need. Because what we need above all is clean air, water and the ground beneath our feet. Without that, everything else is kind of moot.

So stoked that @Lalitude is writing a weekly column that I can follow again. 9 our of 10 times, her words echo my feelings, and since she’s keeping it topical I find myself nodding my head vigorously, or sharing the link with a couple of friends I know will understand or feel the same way, or posting it on fb and twitter. In her most recent column about Diwali she writes about how much the celebration has changed since was growing up, recollecting tradition, questioning it, pondering the point of continuing it — and I read her column with much nostalgia and a flood of memories that rushed back to mind. A second time over, since I wrote this.

P of Peppercorns In My Pocket fame (currently one of my most loved blogs) has a new piece of fiction published. Bilet — a bitter-sweet story about home, moving away and the distance in between. Tender as her words are, and sweet and flowing as her style is, the story reads like her blog does — peppered with tiny details one could easily gloss over, but that she manages to soothe tiny breaths of life into. It’s not often that I look at a blog and wish I they’d write a book. But P’s writing makes me wish she would, really soon.

I don’t plan to watch Happy New Year, but I am really glad I read a few reviews. They’re probably more entertaining than the movie will ever be. After a long, long time I found a Vigil Idiot review that had me in splits. I love that SRK is a bunch of crumpled up pumped abs, making him look like a staircase. The skunk on his head is the cherry on top! And then there’s Deepika, who is just legs. Squiggles never made me laugh so much. And then there’s this review by Blogeswari that spoke to the South Indian in me, and I think SRK needs to call himself Saarugaan more often. It suits him.

And while we’re on the funnies, have you checked out Anti Serious? Such a fabulous idea for our times of too much seriousness. I had a gut-rippingly hearty laugh reading this piece. Babugiri will never be the same and I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to keep a straight face when I hear the word Babu being uttered.

When I reached the point where I could ignore period cramps, which was previously the only thing to keep me from exercising, to hit the gym and continue training, I knew I had crossed over and gone into the dark side completely. But the dark side, is the happier side. I’ve joked about being addicted, called myself a junkie and shamelessly admitted to being a little uncompromising about my exercise. This article explains why exercising is no different from taking drugs, and maybe it’s no surprise why its easy to get high and get addicted?

This article presents a point of view I have never thought about, and I loved how refreshingly different it is from the constant stream of loving cooking that I am usually in. I have some days when I don’t want to have anything to do with the kitchen. I jump on board wiht the idea of ordering in like a kid in a candy store. I love Sunday mornings when I can stay out of the kitchen and VC makes me breakfast. So to read this — “In my childlike innocence, I didn’t understand that the point of cooking isn’t fun or even duty, but rather to try to give someone something only you can give. It is all supposed to appear selfless” — was completely refreshing. And then there’s this — “Certainly, some part of my mother enjoyed making pies, and probably, when she first learned, she loved it. But then pie-making became something to get to the other side of. The prize was not the pie, but being the wonderful person who had made the pie, and this seemed like a stressful situation as you could guarantee the existence of the pie, but not of sufficient praise and attention as to have made the pie worth creating.” I do love to cook for the most part, but I cannot deny the times it does turn into a mindless chore, and the many times I want to have nothing to do with it. Sometimes there’s no better way to say it, but to admit that cooking sucks. And that probably explains the troughs and spikes I have with my enthusiasm for it.

That said, I want to also share this lovely piece form the New Yorker, about Bread and Women. If you like to bake, or you like bread, or women, or both, you might find this as interesting as I did. I don’t want to say anything more.

That’s it, folks, until my next link clean-up!

Just read: food books

Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain
I have to admit, reading this the second time over I had very different feelings. I loved it — but this time more for the actual content than just the writing. It left me wondering what I liked so much about it the last time I read it considering it was a time when I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in anything remotely to do with the kitchen. And the writing, though distinctive, isn’t really stellar. It is the stories, more than the style/craft that makes the book memorable. The last time around, I was a little taken by that loud, brash and in-your-face style that is Anthony Bourdain. This time around I wonder why that felt special. Because it really isn’t what makes the book fun. What I loved this time around was the story itself. The insights into kitchen secrets, the back-breaking tiring horror of the boiling pot that is the inside of a professional kitchen, and the dirty, the slippery, dark, debauched lives chefs seem to slip into, the struggles Bourdain and other like him have endured before we get to know them as the chefs they are today. But most of all the unabashedly happy lives that people in love with food seem to live. The words bring that kind of unfiltered passion to life — where long hours, grueling work, inhuman conditions etc seem to melt away in the face of creating good food. This was a fun food-memoir to read again. Some bits are entertaining, some poignant, some downright hilarious. This is definitely a book worth going back to, as I probably will again and again.

A Homemade Life, Molly Wizenberg
I don’t know why I took so long to read this memoir, considering Orangette is one of the oldest food blogs around. Molly is one of the pioneers, the forerunners of blogging about food and life together, with equal gusto, who’s been doing it way before it because the cool new thing for everyone to try. Reading her blog has touched me several times before, probably even inspired certain critical shifting-gears type moves in my own life too. While I enjoyed it, some parts (down to specific excerpts) more than others, I have to stay it wasn’t a standout book for me. For one, it was an extremely lightweight read — it reads too much like a bunch of blog posts strung together in no particular order, more than a memoir with a deeper underlying story. Perhaps it was meant to be like that, but it didn’t make me feel like I had graduated from reading Molly’s blog to reading Molly’s book. I’m also slightly disappointed that I only felt inspired to bookmark two recipes to try. More than inaccessible ingredients, obscure concepts and approaches to food itself seemed like a hurdle — not one I have had an issue with on her blog. This was a quick, light read, and while it was interesting, it hasn’t really made an impression on me.

****

I know I’ve said this about my general reading list too, but I feel my food/kitchen related reading list seems to expand faster than I can knock things of it. Even when I make progress, sometimes I fall back.

I got my hands on an epub file of The Hundred-Foot Journey, but cant seem to copy it on my iPad. And Korma, Kheer and Kismet isn’t even out on the Kindle store.

Ugh. Decisions, decisions. I’ve moved on to Me Talk Pretty One Day, while I ponder over this one.

On traditions old and new

The Diwali spirit kicked-in at the very last minute. As usual. Almost like an after-thought, after getting a mild attack of FOMO. As usual. I go through the same cycle of emotions and actions, year on year. Supposed indifference, a lot of nostalgia, a little homesickness, wildly swings into full blown meh-ness, and then suddenly I pick myself out of the inertia and go into overdrive. Lights get put up haphazardly. The house is tidied up. Something sweet gets made. We eat some good food. And every year as we take down the lights and I put away the diyas, I tell myself I should do better the following year.

I would like to think I have it in me to plan ahead, check my lights beforehand and not put them and realise two out of four strings are not working. I’d like to have the house stocked with the typical savoury and sweet stuff, and not resort to a last minute quick-fix dessert that somehow always comes to the rescue of slackers like me. I’d love to have the house done up the way my own home used to be when we were growing up — LOTS of diyas, soaked in water overnight, filled with oil, graced with a wick and lit for three days, strings of orange marigold decking corners of the house — and doing everything we’ve associated with the traditions of Diwali like waking up really early to have an oil massage and a hot bath, wearing freshly bought clothes and getting together to celebrate with neighbours, friends and family — which was mostly an experiment in organised and legitimate indulgence.

Every year around this time, I become acutely aware of how my life is so devoid of these little traditions. Yes, I invariably do string up the fairy lights, light the customary diyas and make something sweet, but it is never with the sort of organised pomp and panache that my parents would manage to bring into our homes at Diwali. Weeks in advance we’d begin talking about Diwali. My mother would make laddoos, tukde (namak paare), and we’d buy boxes of Kaju Katli along with a few boxes of fireworks (while I was still young enough to still want to light them). Diwali clothes were a treat we looked forward to. Trudging off to Commercial Street, which would get its Diwali on days before the actual festival. The big stores of then would turn up the festivities, bring on the sales and we’d buy a new set each, to be worn on day 1 post that traditional massage and hot water bath!

I have distinct memories of wearing those new clothes and invariably getting oil on them, from the enthusiasm and excitement to participate in lighting the many diyas. Eventually by the end of the night I’d also have a few holes on them from misguided sparks flying around. Most years I also had a blistered finger or two, as a painful reminder of firework excitement gone wrong. There would invariably be a family Diwali get-together somewhere, and we’d go over with sweets and savoury stuff and do the exchange. Something about giving from your plate and taking back goodies from another home is so Diwali!

And then there was a whole bunch of new traditions when I got married. VC’s family has a Diwali lunch the weekend before, where extended family gets together, we potluck and a few rounds of cards and other games got played. Of course there would be much drinking and stuffing of face and a merry time to be had by all.

When we moved to Goa, I didn’t give any of this much thought. Something about doing things your own way makes certain traditions pale in comparison to others. I took the house, the kitchen and the daily rituals like chai time far more seriously than I did putting in an altar or saying a prayer every day. Festivals came and went, and brought with them a twinge of nostalgia and remorse for not “keeping up” the traditions my folks and family have worked so hard to bring to life, so enthusiastically, year after year.

This year too, I was largely uninterested. I also have lost track of the days whizzing by and didn’t realise till last weekend that Diwali was literally right around the corner. Two days ago, I pulled the lights out and considered doing the house up but gave up before I had even started. The hugsband and I went out to dinner last night, our first meal out together in a long time. Heck we don’t even eat together at home so much anymore — with his crazy schedules and my extreme dedication to not missing an episode of That Show Which Must Not Be Named, I tend to come back form the gym ravenous, eat dinner, and watch TV in peace while he ambles home closer to 9.30-10 pm. This has been the story of our lives the past few weeks.

It’s hard to make and keep traditions in a house of two, with one person being an absentee house-body for the most part. Actually scratch that, its easy to make a mindless tradition. But to keep to it, in a meaningful way is hard. And I realise that’s probably what made it fun for my folks. Having a larger family to do things with, setting benchmarks for us, and having an extended social circle to share the festivities with. The truth is, VC and I are isolated form family to begin with. The family we’ve built here is dwindling. I can count on one hand, the number of people I’d choose to celebrate Diwali with, and even they have their own families and things to tend to.

I realised last night that traditions need to mean something to you, in order to keep them going. Maybe I don’t have an affinity to the rituals and maybe I wont be lighting a lamp in an altar any time soon, but I do have fond memories of the togetherness that Diwali brought. The hobnobbing of a larger circle of people we belonged to. And in ever-changing times, I’d like to retain some memory of it at least. Nothing’s quite the same back home to, I don’t imagine my parents still celebrate with as much gusto as they did when we we’re around, but we try and keep up with the time don’t we?

We don’t have traditional traditions, and maybe that’s what puts me in a funk around this time of year. But I realised that maybe this reluctance that makes way for last-minute excitement is my tradition. After all, it has unfolded the exact same way every year for the last five Diwalis.

So maybe I should stop fighting it. Maybe I should stop feeling a little bad like I usually do. And maybe I should focus on doing it our way.

We turn the lights on, we spark the diyas, we get a good meal together — either home cooked, or some place nice like we did last night. And if we’re experiencing particularly busy times like VC currently is, we make time for it, mark it on our calendars and we call it a date.

After all Goa does it’s own style of Diwali with such aplomb. It has introduced me to some of its traditions, like the building of the Narkasuras that sprout every few metres. With frightning scale, accuracy and creativity, painstakingly built over weeks only to be burned to a crisp on the night of Narakachaturdasi.

Naraka

It’s hard to stay sad when there is cheer around you. So yesterday I went out and bought me some flowers.

Flowers

I came home and made a batch of super addictive, super yummy, and most importantly — super quick, laddoos from N’s blog.

Laddoos

And then I strung up the lights and we went out to dinner.

Light

On our way back home, the Narakasura parties were in full swing. People were parading the streets, loud music and dance everywhere. We inched through the rare sight that is a traffic jam in this part of town, and I watched the effigies in all their splendour.

I realise we might not always succeed in keep up old traditions. Some times just a flickering memory that throbs to life once every year is nicer. It makes me cherish the times gone by, savour the lingering memories and think of what lies ahead. And most of all, it eventually makes us make our own traditions. Even if I get my act together just 24 hours beforehand.

Nothing makes me realise how far away from home I am, like Diwali does. And yet it is Diwali that also draws me closer to home. The one I left behind, and the one I piece together day after day.