Those elusive words

Some days it’s like grabbing at empty snatches of air. Grasping what I can, finding nothing when I unclench my fist. I’m looking, but I can’t find the words. They’re floating along, like shimmery sequins that I can only see when they catch the light. Alternating between blinding me and hiding from me.

Some days it feels like I’m furiously drawing circles in the emptiness in front of me. I persevere and the lines refuse to show. The indentations, disappearing almost as quickly as they appeared.The words, they escape me.

Some days, like today, I contemplate a story I need to write. I consider it long enough, so it unfurls in my minds eye. I open my laptop and begin to tap away. Key words. I string them like jasmine, knotting the stalks of two buds at a time, tangling the thread around, just tight enough to keep them together. But loose enough to let them breathe. To let them bloom. And speak.

Some days, though, I have to sit back, take a deep breath. And the words flow like a smooth exhalation. So smooth, I can almost not keep up. Wispy ringlets of of breath, words escape me, floating away before I can pin them down. Almost there, so near and yet so far. The moment has passed.

And suddenly, unexpectedly, while I’m bumbling along doing something totally unrelated, it comes back to me like a hint of a glistening fish, slithering away downstream. I drop whatever I’m doing. I reach out. A brief struggle ensues. The words, they don’t want to become mine. And I? All I want to do is catch them, slice them, spice them up and serve them up well done.

It rarely goes to plan. The best words, they elude me. Refusing to strike when I need them the most. Like when I’m making a list of deadlines, or I’m planning a story, or at least when I finally sit down to work.

They strike suddenly, at a time unbeknownst to me. And they leave an unmistakeable trail behind them. The white plumes of a jetplane that’s zipped through the sky, when I’m staring up open-mouthed. The hiss of flavours melding in the little kadhai, the remnants of a tadka that I just drizzled all over my dal. The jagged edges of a broken dream, when I shake myself awake. The flecks of stars beginning to rise on an indigo sky. The choicest words, they come to me when I’m not looking for them.

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I’m thankful

For the most part, I am an optimist, a believer-in-good-things-can-happen, a hedonist of sorts. In the last couple of years I have seen my compulsively broody, moody self turn into a more uniformly cheerful, happy person. So much so that I don’t take very wrell to the odd gloomy situation that might blind sight me on an idle day. The last time I had a spell that drove me to a severe meltdown and positively into a hole I was unable to get out of, it was right before I quit my job in 2012.

The point of rambling on about how I haven’t felt sadness or dejection on the personal front is to say, it’s been so long, I didn’t recognise it when it hit me earlier this month, when I suddenly found myself contemplative, upset, a bit confused and slowly sliding into a hole. I’m putting it down to this situation of not having work on my hands, and the husband being busy and largely unavailable. Talking to him usually sorts my head out, sooner than later, but I’ve resorted to having monologues with myself, and if you know me at all, you’ll know that never helps.

To make things worse, all that waiting was not helpful at all. I’m still waiting but have a few things lined up, so at least I’ve moved form waiting for things to materialise, to waiting for them to be finalised. So it’s moving, but very slowly. There’s been a few other minor upheavals (for lack of a better word) on the personal front and I know I’m beginning to say this a lot, but for the first time in a long time, I spent a couple of days brooding and feeling like nothing was going right for me. My optimism has taken a bit of a beating, the ability to believe and hope has been stripped down a little. I may or may not have spent a day or two just staring out the window a little aimlessly.

This weekend, I got to wondering why I’ve let myself feel this way. Not that the feeling was completely unfounded. There is reason for a mild kind of turmoil, but nothing VC and I have not been able to get a grip on and begin figuring out. And sort it out we will, so it was really nothing that warranted said sadness. But I suppose this is the consequence of having it really swimmingly good for as long as I can remember. Since we moved to Goa and set up life from scratch, things have only moved up. Life has been exceedingly good. I cannot think of any difficulties we have faced which have been more severe than the odd sucky bouts of work gloom (which is the only time I can recall facing a dip in happiness levels), a few illnesses and technical glitches that drive us up the wall. This was clearly a loss of perspective that had caused me to feel like shifting gears, changing lanes had made my world come tumbling down.

Coincidentally, S tagged me on the Gratitude/Thankfulness Challenge that’s been doing the rounds on facebook. I’m usually not one for facebook memes. I scoff at verbose status messages, especially the superficial kind that usually present themselves on fb, but I was prompted to take this one up. It was a fairly simple challenge; list 3 things you’re thankful for, for 7 days. And this is what I had.

Day 1:
1. Thankful for the neighbour who bailed me out of having to cook when I in the throes of an allergy attack. Not only did she cook me Khau Suey for dinner (as per my farmaish) but dragged me over to eat leftovers for lunch today.
2. Thankful for VC who puts our seemingly big squabbles behind us quicker than I can say WTF.
3. Thankful for air-conditioning, today more than ever. It feels like the hottest day in a long time.

Day 2:
1. Thankful for the technology in my life. The ipad that lets me read in bed, whatsapp that makes the miles between family/friends and me seem so much shorter, Instagram for the riot of colour and life it is, my blogs for the space to write, unedited.
2. Thankful for Amma who is always just a phone call away, whether I want to quickly go over a recipe, rant about anything from unprofessionalism to power cuts to traffic or maid trouble, crib about the state of the country, have a hearty laugh or even just talk.
3. Thankful for having rediscovered the need for good health, the right kind of fitness, and the endorphins and happiness it adds to my life, N, my trainer turned friend.

Day 3:
Thankful for the many different kinds of friendship I have found, that make my life fuller, so varied and definitely so much more entertaining.
1. My family and friends in Goa, A, N, P, S with whom I share so much more in common than just the city we live in.
2. Friends from afar, like S, J, A and many many more, with whom I don’t always have to relentlessly communicate or feel the pressure to “stay in touch” and yet, when we do talk/meet, the madness picks up from where we left off.
3. My “internet FINDS” R, S, A, S who “get” me even though we may have met just a couple of times at best, and some never at all. Is it weird that I feel closer to them than some of my “real-life” friends?

Day 4:
1. Thankful for the mad thing that is the sister, my sharer of absurd/toilet sense of humor, my partner in crime, my kindred spirit, my anchor. The only one who calls my bluff and never shies away from telling it like it is; whether shes tasting an odd experimental cake, or reminding me how I never give her birthday gifts, or in telling me how much she misses me every time she goes back home from visiting me in Goa. Life just wouldn’t be the same without you!
2. Thankful for the food, drink, books, music, movies and all the other things I can afford to indulge myself in every now and then, without having to think twice.
3. Thankful that its Friday and the end of a largely unproductive week. Hopefully a drink and dinner with VC and a relaxed weekend will reboot my system before Monday strikes again.

Day 5:
1. Thankful for my house help who is cheerful, more energetic than I am on any given day and works tirelessly to keep my home clean, assists me in the kitchen and looks out for me, even when I don’t ask for it.
2. Thankful for the privilege that is being a freelancer who can work from home. It means I always have the option to work in my pajamas, in bed, at midnight or pretty much any way that my heart fancies, or whenever inspiration strikes. It also means I can do it all, while also doing at least 3-4 different, non-work related projects at any given time.
3. Thankful for the unflinching support that I get from VC in making 2 and 1 possible. There’s absolutely no shying away from the fact that I have the privilege and the luxury because I don’t have to work to feed myself. He makes it possible for me to work to scratch the various creative itches I get from time to time.

Day 6:
1. Thankful for the opportunity to live in green, beachy Goa. I curse the heat more often than not, but right now, at this point in life, I don’t know another place I could call home.
2. Thankful for the solitude, peace and being-happy-with-less that this life has forced upon us, and the consequent changes this has ushered into our lives.
3. Thankful for the convenience of living just a short trip away from home, so I can still scoot over whenever I am homesick or miss my folks.

Day 7:
1. Thankful for good health, the awareness, willingness and means to stay healthy, fit and happy.
2. Thankful for access to fresh food — healthy fruit and veggies, lots of local, organic options that are not just good for me, but my environment and eco-system too.
3. Thankful for the obsessive love for food, which makes me care about what I put in my system rather than make every day meals a mindless, unhealthy chore.

Today, my fb is filled with unprecedented NaMo love, some minor mentions of the protests in Hong Kong, even fewer still of the floods in Assam, and it seems like we have moved on from Israel and Syria altogether. Clearly it’s very easy to lose perspective, get our priorities mixed up and find ourselves swept away in a little bit if collective hysteria. As I keyed in the last bits of todays post and wrapped up the 7-day challenge, I mocked myself and the irony of having to undertake a task like this, to realise that I truly have a lot to be thankful for. With most of the basics under control, I have the luxury of being thankful for the extras, the privileges and the fringe benefits.

Mockery-aside, I think I needed to do this and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I realised that despite being a realist, a believer and an optimist, its entirely possible to lose my sense of perspective. And if it takes a silly facebook meme to re-align that once again, put my feet back in the ground and the focus back where it should be, so be it. Because a facebook meme made me realise that at the heart of it, I’m lucky to have all the things that really matter to me — family, health, friends and happiness — in abundance. Pretty much everything else is secondary.

Carbohydrate junkie

What’s the one thing you would never give up eating? someone asked me early this week.

I was stumped. It’s not one of those things answers I have prepped and ready at the top of my mind, just waiting to tumble out if I press play. I serioulsy couldn’t think of a thing. I thought some more, thirty seconds later I still didn’t have an answer.

Absolutely nothing, I eventually said. I love food too much to think of giving any part of it up.

I thought about it later, though. I’ve never needed to give up anything. Haven’t had any weird allergies thankfully, haven’t gone on a diet and never thought about wanting to quit something I love. And then it came to me — I recalled I’ve done some insane things in the past, like given up rice for month, chicken for even longer, sugar for a bit (though this one didn’t last long at all). This was all within the first year that I got married. I’m putting it down to some form of rebellion, and stubbornness to prove I could do things that weren’t done.

But I am just not strong-willed enough about food anymore. I think a lot of it has to do with a sudden increased awareness of what’s good and what’s bad for me. With many inherent bad food habits having weeded themselves out of my life, I’ve willingly turned toward a practice in moderation. I enjoy all kinds of food. I love a well cooked pork-belly as much as a simple meal of daal and rice. My eyes light up when I see a bowl of plain homemade lightly-spiced sabji, as much as it would if I saw an exquisite dessert. I’m adventurous and love to experiment with ingredients, cuisines, meats, style of cooking, as much as I am a curd-rice maami at heart. Both extremes can some times elicit the same levels of satisfaction in me. So for the last few years, I’ve just made my peace with eating what I want, as long as it is in moderation. And even when I trip up on the moderation, which happens more often than I am willing to keep track of, I know it is okay. It is really not the end of the world.

So I thought about it some more. What’s the one thing I would absolutely never give up?

Carbs.

I would die without carbs, I think. I cannot imagine a life without rice, pasta, bread, potatoes and everything else that puts the full into fulfilling meals. A majority of my instagram feed is a carb-fest and the I-must-blog-this mental list I maintain is growing out of control. The Hungry & Excited blog is undergoing an overhaul that’s taking much longer than anticipated. Only because VC and I have slacked off totally in sitting our bums down, putting our heads together and finishing it off. I outsourced the job because I thought it would be faster for a professional to do it, than teach myself CSS. But turns out I didn’t account for our own busy lives and our inability to coordinate simple work meetings between ourselves. But many of the the recent instagram pics have received the much-loved Recipe, please? and Blogging this? responses. I’ve decided I cannot wait any longer, so I’m going to share a few quickie recipes here.

Since I’m tucking away a bowl of veggie pulao, with aloo sabji and salad right now, and I have a sinful orange infused, chocolate chunk-studded bread pudding waiting for dessert, I’m thinking why should I have all the carb fun?

Easy Anda Biryani — I made this for the sister who had a few friends visiting her when she was in Goa last month, and apparently they couldn’t talking about the meal for the rest of the day. I’m definitely going to be making it again.

Anda Biryani1

Anda Biryani2

You need (I cooked this for 5 people)
2 cups cooked rice
6 boiled eggs
4 medium onions, thinly sliced
4 medium tomatoes, chopped
8-10 small pods of garlic and 1 fat chunk of ginger, minced or grated
2 green chillies, slit
Khada masala: shahi jeera, a couple of cardamom pods, cloves, 1 bay leaf, 2-3 pepper corns
Masala powders: turmeric, red chilli powder, dhaniya powder, jeera powder
Everest Egg Curry masala
1 carton coconut milk (200 ml)
1 large fistful finely chopped coriander and mint leaves

Make
1) Cook the rice separately. I used a rice cooker with 1 tbsp ghee, 2-3 cardamom pods, 1 bay leaf and a stick of cinnamon, with 4 cups water. Basmati works best. But you can cook the rice the way you normally would, just ensure that the grains retain their shape and texture, and the rice isn’t mushy.

2) Set the eggs in a pot of water to boil. Set aside.

3) Warm some oil/ghee (i usually use a 50-50 ratio), throw in the khada masala, toss till it all gets aromatic.
4) Add in the onions, ginger and garlic and keep tossing till they begin to brown evenly, then add in 2 slit green chillies.5) Tip in the tomatoes and add salt and cook the whole thing down to a mush. Add masala powders in quick succession. A little of each goes a long way. Cook, cook cook till everything smells divine and turns to a glossy mush.6) Add chopped coriander leaves mixed with mint leaves, toss some more.

7) Tip in the coconut milk along with a little water till curry reaches the thickness/thinness you desire. Cover and let it bubble.

8) When the curry is cooked through, add a generous sprinkling of Everest Egg Curry Masala (or any other multi-purpose masala of your choice — Meat Masala or Kitchen King or even garam masala). Mix well cook for a couple of minutes and turn off.

9) Halve boiled eggs and place face up, drench them with gravy and sprinkle coriander and let it sit for a while.

10) Once the rice is done, take a large, heavy-bottomed pot, grease it and begin layering the rice and gravy. Start with a generous layer of rice, and alternate with the egg curry, keep going till it all runs out. You could just serve it this way, but I prefer to cook it on the dum for a bit (refer link to see how I’ve done it before).

11) To cook it on the dum, I place my cast iron dosa tava (its really thick) on a low flame, and this thick bottomed pot on top of it, closed with a lid and i let it steam for 15-20 mins.

Done!

Dinner Toasties — made these on a rainy night when I was too lazy to cook and we didn’t want to order in. I had some odds and ends in the fridge, so I just threw it together without thinking too much. It was delicious, filling and a good meeting point between mini pizzas and grilled toasts!

Dinner Toasties
I simply pre-heated the oven, lined a baking tray with aluminion foil and placed the sliced bread on it. Then I began making the topping, for which I sautéed some onions, garlic, mushrooms, bell peppers (which is what I had in my fridge. In the past I’ve used baby corn, cherry tomatoes, basil). Then I added in a spoon of chilli-garlic sauce (I use the Fabindia stuff), added in some chopped spinach and corn kernels. Cooked the whole thing down till the spinach had wilted, and all the water had dried out.
Next, I spooned it equally on the sliced bread, grated cheese over it and popped it into the oven for 12-14 mins till the cheese was melted and the toast was crisp.
Done!
Quickie Shahi Tukda — I made this early on this week because I really wanted a warm dessert to perk my spirits. I was stuck in the middle of an allergy attack, and two days of sneezing my lungs out had left me low on energy and with no will to do anything. I also had a loaf of terrible bread that I couldn’t bear to eat as bread, and less than a 1/4 tin of condensed milk in my fridge. It seemed like Shahi Tukda wanted me to make it, rather than the other way round.

Shahi Tukda

1 used a little under 2 cups of milk with the malai in it. Whisked it all together and set it on the stove, on a low flame. Stirring it at regular intervals I let it simmer for almost 15-20 minutes till it had reduced considerably.

I added the condensed milk (about 4-5 tablespoons) and stirred it together, leaving it to simmer for 10 mins more. At this point, you should taste it and adjust sugar by adding more, if needed. You can also add kesar or elaichi to the milk but I didnt feel like either.

When it had reduced still more (you’re looking for a creamy, slightly thick — not runny — milky mix), I set it to cool.

Meanwhile I chopped about 6-7 slices of bread in half, dabbed them very lightly with ghee and toasted them in the tava till golden and crunchy. I arranged them in a shallow bowl (or deepish pan).

When the milk had cooled slightly, I poured it all over, pressing the slices slightly. I sprinkled it with roasted sliced almonds covered it and let it rest for 2 hours. You can also chill it, but I wanted to consume it soon after, while still warm, so I let it be.

it might seem like a lot of milk, and the bread swimming in it, but the longer it stays, the more the bread soaks in the milk and turns into a delectably creamy mush, so don’t worry. Refrigerate it after a while, though, if you don’t plan to eat it all up like I did.

Done!

Orange-infused, Chocolate-chunk Bread Pudding — Soon after I made the Shahi Tukda, I saw this post and regretted finishing up the bread I had in my fridge. But I quickly remedied it by buying a loaf of bread (and I never buy them in such quick succession) and decided I would wait for it to get slightly stale, in time to make this pudding for a weekend treat. It didn’t work. I couldn’t wait. So I made it this afternoon, as dessert for the husband returning from a work trip. I eyeballed the ingredients and just threw it all in.

Usually bread puddings bake to a complete mush, but the good thing I did was to cut the sliced bread into triangles and point the corners upwards, because while the centre of the pudding has turned warm and wonderfully creamy, the tops have remained crisp (but not crunchy) which gives a nice texture.

Bread Pudding

1) Toast 7-8 slices of bread, and butter them very lightly buttered. Chopped them into triangles and arrange them in a bowl, with the corners pointed up.

2) Zest a whole orange in a mixing bowl, add to it 5-6 tbsp sugar and whisk dry to release the oils. Add in 2 eggs and whisk it up till frothy. Gently pour in 400 ml warm milk, whisking slowly as you go. Add in a splash of orange juice and a generous glug of Rum and mix gently.

3) Pour the mix over the sliced bread. Roughly chop about 1/4 cup of chocolate chunks (I lazily hacked a slab of Morde) and add them on top. I took the trouble to squeeze a few chunksin between the layers of bread.

4) Pop it in the oven for 20-25 mins (170 deg C)till the custard bakes and the pudding jiggles slightly when shaken!

Done!

Bread puddings are incredibly forgiving, and just so easy and quick to put together. They’re also very, very improv-friendly which means you can spike it with just about any special ingredient your heart desires. I am now tempted to make a chai masala-flavoured one!

The husband came home from the airport for barely 5 minutes, before he was whisked again to meet a waiting client. The meeting continues over dinner. I can’t complain, really because it just means more pulao, more dessert, more carbs for me.

On missing my annual dose of Coke

Many a stormy night this past monsoon, I’ve looked out at the rain lashing down like bullets, lightning cracking the sky, sending rivers of light and shaking the black skies back to life, and thought something is missing. Really heavy rain always takes me back to the times we’ve huddled around in a living room, eyes glued to a white wall. With just the stream of light from the projector illuminating the room, quiet with nothing but the music and the rain crashing outside to keep us company. There would be beer and food of course. We’d potluck, everybody would do what they’re good at — ready-to-fry potato wedges, chicken curry and poee, biryani ordered in, and this one time I made a Goan sausage pie, someone would order dessert and we’d lose track of time. When the playlist of 25+ videos would finally end, we’d stretch silently, sigh in amazement — at how we didn’t realise four hours had passed since we began and at how we can do this over and over, every year and not tire of it.

This year, the whole monsoon has passed me by without our customary Coke Studio screening, which has somehow always coincided with one of the stormiest nights of that season. The plan would originally involve a couple of people at best, and we’d nudge each other on telling ourselves we didn’t need a crowd. But organically, it would grow. People would trickle in, odds and ends coming together, all shaking our heads in awe at the same music we’ve come to love. By the end of night, when the lights would come back on, I’d find myself in a room with an incongruous mix of people, the regular bunch, and all the rest who somehow gravitate to where the music is.

I missed the session this year. Mainly because I’m no longer in the company of people that obsess over Coke Studio or any kind of screenings anymore. I have my own private music evenings, hahaha, I pick a list, hit play and soak it up. Cook to it, read to it, stay in the room and let the music linger. But I’ve also missed the session because my interest in recent seasons of Coke Studio has dipped a bit. Last year, they tried a new trick — crowdsourcing of sorts — by producing the music in different parts of the world and melding it together. It didn’t work for me because the tracks were not cohesive, and sounded very haphazard and without a solid soul. I had just one memorable track that was sticky for a bit, but was forgotten sooner than later too.

This year, Rohail Hyatt was been replaced and in just one episode, I’ve felt the quality nosedive, and the spunk get knocked out like a candle flame blown out. Call me harsh and quick to judge, but episode 1 was a revelation in what can happen when the same bunch of talented performers get together, but without the able guidance of someone who can bring out the best in them, and fuse it all together without making it sound cacophonic. The new sound is excessively poppy for my liking, totally devoid of the soul that Coke Studio has had for me. Soul that drips thick and coats a track, making it timeless and never go out of style. Every season I listen to the new, and then find myself going back to the same old classics I love. Like this, and this, and this. Like a stuck record.

I leave you with the only track from episode 1 of season 7 that I seemed to go back to again and again. And I know it has everything to do with the tiny display of Raees Khan’s sitar playing sorcery.

I’ve missed the togetherness that these sessions brought. The excited planning, gathering everybody’s favourites and building up of the playlist, swiping the office projector, planning the food and cooking ahead of time. There was something happy and heartwarming about bonding with people over music. Some of the deepest bonds I share with people, some of my closest friendships are with those I have a kindred spirit of the music kind, and sitting together, listening to your favourite music takes this love to a different high.

It was a short-lived monsoon tradition, while it lasted. I don’t even know if anybody else thought of it as one. I did, because three years in a row counts as tradition, no? That’s a better strike rate than I’ve had for many other traditions in life! The Coke Studio love will last for years to come, the bonds I have over this common love, hopefully longer still. But it’s time to find me a new music tradition, I think.

Weekends around here

I’ve started to cling to weekends like children who get all sprightly some Friday, and begin to sulk as Sunday evening draws near. Its not that I don’t like school days, I mean weekdays, for they hold a different kind of pleasure. But the weekends have become the only time VC and I get to spend some time together. And by spend, I mean really spend some time together. Because what do you know, just eating dinner together doesn’t really cut it, in the long run. And that is how life has been for him. And therefore us. He has been woefully overworked in the last few months (and I feel like I’ve been saying this for the larger part of this year!) and even conversation is taxing at the end of the day, and I sense the increasing need for “quiet time” around here. But when the weekend comes around, he turns into this enthusiastic person quite nothing like the person I am used to seeing Monday thru Friday. Funnily, the weekend is when I wind down. I choose not to get online too much, stay away form the computer and don’t cook anything too elaborate. I sleep in, nap sometimes, but mostly spend the weekend relaxing. But he? He always has a plan. Even if it is organised relaxation, which is to say we do nothing, but veg out. Him doing his research on the latest fetish at hand (it used to be cycles, now its film-making) and me reading or pottering about. Weekends are when I usually revel in doing nothing.

We didn’t have cable connected for months on end, but had that fixed recently since a certain annual guilty pleasure, trash fix kind of reality show involving 12 strangers being locked up to cohabit in a house for over 100 days, came on yesterday. So, these days we have the additional option of watching some TV too.

We used to be pretty outdoorsy on the weekends. At a time when we had like-minded friends in town. It was not uncommon to go on long evening drives ending with dinner far far away, or go in search of a secluded beach, watch the sunset/sunrise from one of the islands close by, just take off for the weekend. It was easy and never required too much intensive planning. Just the company of a couple of people was enough, we never waited for a large brood to gather, and we’d be off. But that has diminished for many reasons. The right company has mostly moved out of Goa, and those that remain no longer hold my interest. We’re not as enthusiastic ourselves, because with VC tiring weekday schedules he prefers to unwind indoors. So most often we end up cooking, shooting a foodeo, or he goes cycling, at the most. Making a plan to go far out seems to take more energy than we are willing to expend, just by ourselves.

However, last weekend A and A with their 5 year old N asked us to join them and we took off without thinking about it too much. Quite spontaneously we found ourselves at an old and forgotten spot we once frequented. “The church on top of the hill” as we have gotten used to calling it, used to be the place we’d take visiting friends when they’d ask about Old Goa. Because its the place not too many people know of, its where you wont find thronging tourists, and offers splendid views of the river below and Panjim in the far distance.

Views

I took along this yellow cake (on which I slapped on some makeshift chocolate sauce) I had incidentally baked just that afternoon, and turned out A had baked this yummy gulkand (would you believe?! I’m not even a fan of anything-rose but this was seriously good!) cake too. An unplanned picnic of sorts happened, followed by playing catch-n-cook with an 5-year-old who puts the fun back in running around for no apparent reason.

Picnic

Some tumbling down green slopes ensued, while I watched in amazement. A couple of lovey-dovey couples were intruded upon, in our wild running, and I realised what I thought was a not-so-popular spot was suddenly more filled with people than I had ever seen it.

Tumble

This is what happens when you hang around an inquisitive and mildly fearless child. You go into nooks and crannies your adult self couldn’t be bothered about snooping around, and you’re forced to see things you otherwise wouldn’t really see. Like bugs, termites and grasshoppers, unless you’re into that kind of thing.

Bugs

A and I chatted, while the other A enlightened me about geocaching. You gaiizz!! Its a real-life treasure freaking hunt! I am totally enamoured by it, especially after I saw the cache he checked in on. Those in the know exchange notes and little tidbits and the whole thing is too fascinating for me to explain in words. All my childhood fantasies of having Famous Five styled treasure hunts, or randomly stumbling on someone else’s treasure came to life. I’m now plotting a few good spots to go drop a cache of my own.

Sufficiently sweaty from running around, we waited on VC whose sole mission of the trip was to test a new found time-lapse technique. His latest keeda project at hand is to teach himself the ins and outs of as much film-making as he can. So there he sat patiently shooting frame after frame, at 3 minute intervals, while we had tarted getting bitten by mosquitoes.

Stop

After an hour of hitting click, click, clicking later, when the sun had gone down we decided to call it a day. Dropped by at the closest drinking hole where we stuffed our faces on beer and pizza. Good way to end the week, I thought.

When we came home, VC sat and stitched this together. Turns out, while I was busy running around chasing grasshoppers, stuffing my face and yakking away about geocaching, the sky had put up quite a show. Goa can be achingly beautiful, sometimes and it felt so good to be outdoors again.

Immediately, this song came to mind.

Week-end.

Finding Fanny

I watched it. I loved it.

I should have picked up on the wordplay earlier, but I didn’t. Not until the opening scenes of the movie, when the camera very quickly gets fixated on Rosie’s derriere and sets the tone for the mad, quirky, odd-ball film that it is.

I love a short, quick film that isn’t dragged out at any part, and Finding Fanny fit the bill in that respect. I was a tad annoyed at the almost expected “6 months later” epilogue that seems a little forced, but I suppose I’m amongst the minority of people that is sometimes okay with an absurd and abrupt end to a film, where every little string doesn’t necessarily have to be neatly tied in a bow. Especially not if the film preceding it has been bizarre, full of twists and turns and downright cheeky.

The characters are whimsical and eccentric, the plot unnatural. Almost like a scene from a Mario Miranda postcard brought to life. It’s sufficiently peppered with little distractions in the form of smaller characters, like the cat, the padre and Fanny — which made it feel like theatre, more than anything I’ve seen in Bollywood in recent past.

I’m also a fan of quick and clever story-telling and am losing patience with Hindi movies that make no effort to tell engaging stories, without the pace flagging or going OTT. Finding Fanny managed it beautifully, steady pace that kept me engaged at all times. Again, very reminiscent of theatre, I felt like I could have been reading a crazy book with the same story, the overly caricatured characters and the totally strange plot. None of that unnecessarily dragged out drama, verbose dialogues, song and dance. Every scene packed a punch, left me guffawing and rapt. The few unexpected and utterly bizarre twists were well-timed and many of them made the entire theatre hoot, or gasp in unison.

As for the acting, for a change, each character hold their own and pulls their weight in building up a solid story. Naseeruddin Shah was the star for me. Soft, economic acting that made you really feel for his character, despite his quirks and eccentricities. Pankaj Kapur comes a close second, but just the very nature of his character gave him a long rope to work with. Dimple Kapadia was fabulous, nailing the Goan Aunty meme completely. I was pleasantly surprised by Arjun Kapoor who seems to fit these lazy, angry young man roles so much better than the chirpy college kid roles (2 States, I’m looking at you) kinds. And I can’t believe I’m going to say this, given my deep dislike for DP. But, Deepika was glorious, almost ethereal and so perfect for the character — pretty little maiden, out of everybody’s reach. Good daughter-in-law, good friend, clever on one hand, scheming girl who orchestrates the whole trip, and also smart enough to get what she wants along the way. I just wish she’d perfect her dialogue delivery a little. She still sounds like she is outside herself when she speaks, which paints all her acting with a thin, but impossible to ignore coat of inaccuracy.

I quite liked the music too! Very real and well-suited to the setting, it balanced out the general loony theme of things. No song and dance sequences, but a quirky Shake Your Bootiya track to which the credits roll out. But mostly I think I liked it because I am shamelessly, hopelessly in love with Goa. It’s also a large part of the reason I wanted to watch it, in the first place. I’m known to endure the shittiest films just because they’re set in Goa, and sit and point out familiar places and scenes through out. And this film captures Goa beautifully, minus the usual cliches that make my skin crawl. Drunken men going What men!, and the like. The setting had a sense of timelessness, in that it was obvious the film wasn’t set in present day, and yet you can’t quite pin it to a particular period.

After a long, long time I came out with no complaints. It was equal parts funny, touching, sweet and mad and I wouldn’t mind watching it one more time. Because it’s a simple film with a straight forward story, no acrobatics in drama and style, good acting and the combination makes it thoroughly entertaining. Who needs anything more?

Confessions of an endorphin junkie, part 3

I’ve been attacked by starting trouble for the most part of this week. I know it’s just Wednesday, but dragging my feet to the gym is not something have dealt with too often. I don’t like it, it’s very unlike me and I don’t know how to shake it off.

This week I have felt super lazy to get going. This is why I am almost afraid to take a holiday from training. Even though my body really needed the rest in August, deep-down I worried I’d face the sloth-attack when it was time to return. Maybe its the weather, or limbo-like situation I’m in, but every morning, I am overcome with this intense need to just stay home, sit around and wait for things to happen. All the while, I know at the back of my head that once I begin I will come out feeling really good. But try telling that to my heart that’s longing to just lounge around and not jump around for a change. Perfect spirit-is-willing-but-the-flesh-is-weak kind of situation.

But here’s the thing, I still managed to drag myself to the gym. Everyday. Because the promise of feeling fabulous and energetic an hour later is too good an opportunity to pass up. I’m thoroughly addicted. I wasn’t kidding when I said I am an endorphin junkie. Twice over. It’s no wonder really, because endorphins work pretty much like drugs and narcotics do. Wonderful chemical reactions in your brain and other parts of the body, where endorphins make masti with neural receptors to inhibit all signs of pain, dullness, lethargy. Tricking you into feeling so goddamn good, you want some more. And more. Until you basically just can’t get enough. So much so that even when your body is saying no!, some part of your mind is going yes! yes! yes!

So, like the quintessential junkie who needs just the slightest impetus to give in, I took myself to the gym. Unwilling flesh and all.

up
Because the only way forward, is up.

All it really takes is a few rounds of lifting some big-girl weights, or a couple of spunky dance numbers, some good music and  eventually, pretty soon, I’m bopping around like a happy trooper. Like one hit of a newly passed joint, or that swig of vodka, neat. And all is well with the world again.

I don’t know when I got so addicted to it. But working out has quickly replaced most other addictions in my life. Friends constantly crib that I am no longer as willing to catch a drink, and invariably stop after a few — unlike before. I’ve nearly given up most other ways to get high, and I’m that wretched person in most circles that can be described as annoyingly high-on-life. Sometimes just thinking about what it feels like at the end of a workout is enough to get me going. Starting trouble diminishes by half right there. Mid way through an ass-busting circuit, the mention of hurdles that are going to make an appearance in the gym, makes me go yay! and makes the aunty next to me roll her eyes.

Endorphins make me feel alive. The energy I expend over the one hour at the gym, oddly enough, sets me up to keep going through the day. It’s funny how it even makes me eat and sleep better. And to go through the day feeling elated, satisfied and like all is well, is the biggest bonus. They say an endorphin high actually heightens the sense of satisfaction you feel from working out, and makes you come back for moaarrr. Which is what takes me back, dragging fee in tow.

So I’ve been battling this starting trouble this week, but all it takes is pushing through that hint of a beginning of that nagging thought that says to-go-or-not-to-go. Because once I’m over that hurdle, and I do go in to the gym, the feeling evaporates in no time at all.

Today, it was this new cracking salsa number. I’m no great dancer, but by the end of this song I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face.

The trick is to just push through, begin, and let that energy rush do the rest for you. That’s just the beauty of endorphins at work. And I’m hopelessly addicted.

The legend lives on

It’s true, I will die never having watched the King of Pop live. Performance extravaganza, entertainment histrionics aside, I honestly believe he was undoubtedly the king of groove, of beat, of soul and all that happy music. And there will never be another like him, nobody who hits those high notes with so much accuracy and body, gets the right groove with every song, and entertains as much as he did, I thought.

Until I listened to Justin Timberlake really carefully. Some time last year I got completely obsessed with the 20/20 Experience — his solo album that slipped in like a silent, calm evening wave. Lapping away gently, comfortably, without causing too much of an uproar. It was so comfy and smooth, I could listen to the whole album on loop a couple of times, as I went through my day, my chores, worked to it even — without realising how much time had gone by. Very few albums have that quality, that kind of listen-ability. It really got me thinking when the geeky chocolate boy from NSYNC turned into such a major dish. (AND he can act!)

Legend has it the album got its name because JT and Timbaland (who btw, I think is incredibly talented) locked themselves up in a studio for 20 days and banged out the whole album in 20 days. Quite a feat, given that every track on the album is upwards of 5 minutes long, blends at least 2 different sound styles seamlessly, and ends sounding nothing like the it did when it began. Every track has that inimitable JT touch of soul, enough to make you forgive the soppy lyrics, because there is just so much groove its hard not to have your knees go weak, but also shake your booty just a little bit. Of course most of the tracks, excluding a couple are very danceable and if you’ve been a fan of JT’s moves since you were like 16 (like I was, ahem) then you go back and google every video and drool over it for days on end.

So why am I talking about JT and a year-old obsession today? Lately, the radio has been digging out some older, lesser-known JT tracks. I don’t know why, maybe someone at the station discovered a forgotten compilation? Can’t complain because I realised, that JT has that quality MJ did. That incredible eye for music. I say eye, because I think it takes serious talent to picture music, and when he churns out tracks like this one, and this one, and this one, wait — must not link it up, you need to really see the deliciousness that is JT in a suit.

 

I can only imagine each of these were plotted out like a masterplan for how each track would pan out. You need an eye so acutely tuned to seeing music just so — to get that right lilting groove, the perfect tight arrangement, the movement from one style to another so distinct but effortless, and the groove, oh the groove. Many of those were my favourites. They switched all the time, and I think I obsessed over every track on the album at some point or the other.

There was a time when JT was segueing from his boyband days into a full-blown solo artist and while Sexy Back solidified his place in the bubblegum pop category, I think he’s really come a long, long way from there. His brilliantly tenor-gifted voice makes R&B and soul come so naturally, its impossible now for me to listen to him and not think of MJ. And every since I’ve made this connection, I’ve relaised the same happens when I listen to Bruno Mars.

Anyhow, so this is what I heard on the radio today that made me want to jiggy in my car seat a little bit. And it made me want to come home and look up the song and refresh my mind a bit.

 

A few days ago I heard this and swooned a little.

 

And just when I was wondering what kind of solid ear-popping magic might happen if MJ and JT had the opportunity to get together, I discovered this.

 

The legend lives on. It’s true, I will die never having watched the King of Pop live, but if I manage to catch JT, there’s hope yet.

Small change

Bundled together at the bottom of the apple shaped terracotta pot with no lid, and only a roughly cut slit, sat all the shiny little discs of metal I had ever collected in my life. The glistening coins seemed to come to me, like shards of metal to a magnet. I gathered them from here and there. Prizes for small tasks done well — a loaf of bread fetched from the store, my PT shoes polished on time, 2 rupees leftover form buying that bunch of dhania. Prized earnings that all went in. They only went in. Never to come out. They sat there growing, I imagined. Money is like a tree, I was told. The more you save it, the more it grows.

So I imagined each little coin sprouting more coins, and piling one over the other until they reached the top of the pot. A tree of coins if you will, minus the watering and the soil. I was beyond fascinated by the idea. That something slipped in slowly, with care, was put there precisely so it could never make its way out, and nestled deep in the dark innards of that pot, it would grow.

Time and again, I’d run my finger around its smooth circumference, a yellow gradient fading into red, ending abruptly in a coin-sized slit on top. Seamless, cold, flawless and heavy with the weight of all that it held in its belly — that little piggy bank was the cause for so much wonder.

But why, I remember asking my dad

It’s how you learn to save money, I was told.

So I listened, and continued to drop coin after coin int the pot. Before I knew it, a pattern had formed. My attitude to money is still pretty much the same. What comes into my hand, must be tucked away, where it can “grow”. I’m horrible at planning finances and investing smartly. I tried the mutual funds and SIP route, but realise very soon that it is not meant for those who don’t have a head for finances and the stock market to some extent. So I’ve reverted to thinking of my bank and my many FDs as little piggy banks, and onwards I go.

It’s not the smartest way to go, I know. But at least this way I have a handle on it. And it helps with the big expenses. For all else, there’s the little black box in my cupboard. Old habits die hard, and I still unconsciously collect small change. Leftovers from market visits, remnants from VC’s pockets, odd numbers the milkman returns on sleepy morning — all lazily chucked into the black box that grows heavier by the day, ever so quietly.

The round terracotta pot has made way for a neat black bidri box. But even 25 years later, the contents is still the same. Small change.

Chekkit, men!

The end of July had me heaving a sigh of relief, that August was finally here. I don’t know why I put so much pressure on myself to unwind in August. I chuckle now, but I go back read my posts from July, and immediately I know why so much depended on doing that unwinding right then. So there I was right before IFBM, glued to my computer morning and night, up to my eyeballs in spreadsheets, documents, emails and lists, cut to a few days later in August, when it was done and dusted, and all my hopes of chilling for unending spans of time with no plan in mind. August was meant to be my month off from normal programming. Empty time, with no agenda. Regrouping my work, the home, fixing things and picking up to go.

If you read the last couple of posts, you’ll know it was by no means an empty time, it was time off from all things mundane, because a lot of different stuff happened, but it was also rather busy. And for the most part, I found myself with no time to sit at my computer for more than 10 minutes at a stretch. When I did, I’d find things I wanted to come back and read, blogs I’d want to delve into, people I’d want to stalk on twitter (;)) and what not. So I saved a lot of it in bookmarks to come back to. Some of it went into a folder of things to share on the blog. So here goes.

I’ve been blogging for eight freaking years says Jessica Hagy — someone I love and follow. And now I found her on Medium. Its been about as long for me, and I found myself furiously nodding away at each of the points in this piece. I realise at the heart of it, every bloggers reasons for blogging really just comes down to a bunch of finite possibilities. And Jessica gets a lot of it right in this one. I wanted to write each of them on a post it and stick it up where I can see them in rotation. If you’ve been a blogger long enough, you’ll see what I mean.

I was talking to someone last week about how our generation has experienced a quantum change in the growth of technology. My  first television was a tiny black and white box with no sattellite TV. I got my first computer very late in life, and the Internet was an unweildy phenomenon I couldn’t quite understand. I’ve seen the days of audio cassettes, dialup Internet, burned music on CDs, using CD writers — all while still referring to the World Book Encyclopaedia to hand write my school projects. All of that happened not so long ago, and even then where we are now seems like a huge leap. Apparently we’re going to be the last generation to remember life before the Internet.

Not to clutter your reading lists but R sent me this feminist reading list today and had me all wide-eyed and very interested. My reading list is still bursting at the seams, but this list is tempting. It helps that I’ve already read about 4 books on this one (that’s more than the luck I’ve had with most other lists on the internet!)

I’ve been feeling a little off about my growing intolerance and my inability to stand around and give my time and attention to people and things that don’t deserve it. I’ve become super choosy about where I choose to invest myself, and some part of me wonders if I’m just turning into a cynical, unpleasant person. Just when I was beginning to consider not being the weirdo that I am, S (from The Baker in Disguise), sent me this. Apparently Meryl Streep feels like that a lot. So yes, I feel totally normal now of course haha. You’ve probably seen it already because right after I read it, I saw it pop up all over fb and twitter. If you haven’t, here it is.

I have sometimes wondered about food memories that I have. And I don’t just mean strong associations or pieces of food I’ve tasted in the past. I mean thinking of something and tasting it immediately, or imagining what it might be like, or getting so fixated on tasting something specific, I am unable to rest until I make/eat it. This beautiful, beautiful piece on “imaginary food” is something I’m going to go over again and again. It brings together food, imagination, words and collective thoughts about all things delicious — fantastic.

A friend recently told me about a couple that’s forcing their 9 year old daughter to diet, because they think she’s too fat. Aghast and exasperated doesn’t begin to tell you how the conversation made me feel. Ironically, I read this piece later that night. It echoes so much of what I have learned through my fitness journey — most important of which is that fitness is not an event, its a life-long choice. Which automatically means exercising to fit into a dress, (or a body type, or an image of what you think the 9 year old should look like) is futile. Not to mention problematic.

You know I told you my plants are almost dead? It’s been over a year since I moved to this home and have harboured plans to garden a little bit, grow some basic herbs and veggies — get some green thumb action going. And I have not. Most of it is just lethargy, but there is also the thing about not knowing enough, not knowing where to begin or how to go about not killing everything I touch. This piece seems like a good place to begin, if you’re a newbie. So come end of monsoon, I’m going to try and do some of this in some small measure. Wish me luck!

AND, and, and.. since we’re talking about cool things on the internet worth checking out, here’s our latest foodeo!

VC is churning them out at the speed of light now. I am afraid I won’t be able to keep up. As we speak, two more foodeos are in edit and I’m tres excited to share them with you.

But until then, make do with the one above.

And listen to some music. This was playing in the supermarket some time last week — a track I was mildly obsessed (yes I was kind of into Tu Pac for a bit) with some 8-10 years ago, I was gobsmacked to hear it again, in the supermarket of all places. But old laowes have this way of haunting me from time to time. And it was on loop today.

August Angst

Every year, as August rolls along, this quiet but very apparent angst sets in. A restlessness that I can’t quite put a finger on, so many questions, way too many ideas, no clue where to begin or how to proceed. Behind it all is a voice, soft, but persistent. Asking questions direct and sharp. The answers to which are unformed. Mushy, nebulous. And they evade me most times.

And as always, it happens in August. Something about the eighth month of the year suddenly creeping up on me, maybe? I was never very good at managing time and the sheer race of keeping up and doing so much in so little (one can never have enough time no?) is a well-established refrain in my life. I have come to accept that the number of things I want to do or am in the process of doing will always be disproportionately larger than the number of things I have done satisfactorily well. That feeling of looking back on a task well done, with that smug, satisfied grin, dusting hands off in glee – that feeling is something I have never known.

This year though, the knocks have been louder; and the questions have come thumping, banging down the door rather than knocking gently in the background. They resound in my head, refuse to leave, circle around relentlessly — “have you sold as many cakes as you possibly could?” and “have you written as many different blog posts as you wanted to?” or “have you sketched out the food project you promised yourself you would?” and “have you contacted Mr. XYZ and Ms. ABC with the proposal you had in mind?” or “Have you pimped your cakes enough?”  — I immediately shudder, because at the root of it the answer screaming out at me is “Have you sold yourself enough?”

This year the angst has been multiplied by the burgeoning activity I have suddenly experienced on facebook. But this year though, it’s been quickly followed up by a peaceful understanding, and acknowledgement of what is, what will be and what will never be. For the most part I watch from the sidelines, agog, as my newsfeed is tantalisingly full of food, now more than ever before. The floodgates opened after IFBM and there’s no looking back now. People engaging in link-swaps, page shares, pimping classes, props, photography, ingredients and all kinds of other goodies all the time. In the midst of the cacophony my Hungry & Excited cakes cry out feebly too.

I’ve never been able to make peace with what the H&E page does for me. I bumble along because people tell me it is the way to go. I do it, but I can’t say I’m at peace with it. I have never been very good at pimping myself. I am the person who is perennially looking back on opportunities and wishing I had it in me to dive in and sell myself at the time. It’s a skill one must either have, or be willing to acquire, I have realized. Right now though, I have neither the natural ability to self-promote, nor the willingness to learn it because something about the whole act itself doesn’t come naturally and just doesn’t sit right with me. When I try, I am reminded of the one time I went all out, got out of the comfort zone and do something that didn’t come naturally but I got forced into egged on by a very head-strong and cut throat entrepreneur friend. The incident involved a stack of business cards that sat by a basket of H&E muffins, with one shoved into the hand of every hapless person to pick up a muffin for some Christmas cheer. It yielded several calls of appreciation, and one of them converted into an order. But several other things happened as a result, and the relationship with my friend (the entrepreneur has been strained ever since) and it has been one of the biggest lessons in listening to myself; and only doing something if my gut says its right.

So I hang around on facebook, mostly just posting instagrammed pictures of everything I eat, everything I cook, everything I want to eat, everything I plan to cook – and many things in between. Ever since the frequency of posting a recipe has reduced, there has been even lesser action in terms of populating recipes and links on facebook. When I think about it, I feel incredibly lame cross-posting instagram pictures, because I already have instagram for it. And because I’ve a private instagram account and am an unabashed junkie, that really ought to work for me. I know I ought to be doing more on facebook, but I just cannot get myself to push through the clutter, I cannot find it in me to hit that “boost post” button, I don’t have the willingness to post every pictures, recipe link on a gazillion recipe groups, I cannot engage in comments and likes the way I see most people do. And the way they do it, I also see how fb works for them. I know its possible, but I have realised there are some things I will probably never be okay doing. I might do them in future, but never with a straight face and a comfortable stance.

This is where I miss the perks of a day job. Full time employment means you don’t have to constantly sell yourself or prove yourself with every task. You’re hired for a set of skills that you’re believed to possess, and known to perform well. So the going can be as good or as great as you make it, but for the most part you just have to sit around and do what comes your way. Singularly. The responsibility of finding work, the selling work lay squarely in the lap of project managers – many of whom I worked with did the job with such astounding lack of ability, that it ought to have taught me to step in and learn a bit of it for myself. But no. I’ve said before, I’m a doer. A follower. A worker bee. And this ability to take charge, sell a product, skill or even myself, doesn’t come naturally. When I found myself doing it for IFBM, I shocked myself. Every instance of talking to a potential sponsor or a vendor and pimping the event and our desperate need to keep costs low, made me feel like I was having an out of body experience. At the end of every instance, I had to pinch myself to check if it all really happened. I surprised myself several times, sometimes pleasantly so. And it showed me that deep down, I do have the ability, I must harness it and finetune it to use it well.

I remind myself that every cake I have sold this past year has happened organically, on its own without too much noise. Mostly through word-of-mouth, either in real life or online. I am yet to put an advertisement out there, or pimp an offer a discount or a scheme. It has worked so far, the question stalks me all the time — wouldn’t all this be that much higher, better, louder if I actually actively sold myself a little?

The answer is yes. Of course it’s a yes. There was never a doubt about that. But my state of perennial fb-angst and observing everything I see going on fb, in these days of social proof, salability and viral quotient, makes me realize that I am old-school in this respect. When I come across articles about social media marketing, tips on how to get your blog stats to soar, how to float a business completely on facebook etc, I find myself rolling my eyes quicker than I can get through the entire piece. I have however moved from mocking it all, to watching with wonder. I realize now that there are many who make it work, and work well. I also realize why I cannot make it work. A lot of it may have to do with my stubbornness and unwillingness to self promote. But at the heart of it is a personality type. And that is something that isn’t going to change very easily, no matter how many cakes go between me and several happy clients. I’m willing to wait it out, without rushing the process by hitting “boost post”. I’m willing to wait for organic reach, even off fb. And perhaps this has everything to do with the fact that I do not depend on selling cakes to feed myself, but still. I’m willing to wait, because I believe that I may not reach out to 100 people, and sell 50 cakes a month. I may do about a tenth of that number, but the ten cakes that I deliver will be cakes I didn’t mindlessly churn out because some boosting action drove my fb stats and order scheds through the roof. They will be ten cakes going to ten people who understand the difference between fancy cake and everyday teacake. And if enough people get the taste of that, the numbers will grow and eventually, the money will follow.

I call it old-school because this is what I have seen my parents believe in, and made it work. I have realized that when they told me to “find my passion and follow it uncompromisingly”, the statement unwrapped itself into a whole bunch of lifestyle choices – choices I would have to learn to slowly make. Choices that are still coming to me, slowly. Painfully. I have learned slowly but surely that it often means being happy with less and not constantly aspiring for what can be. Not letting the pursuit of money become the centre of my being and life. It means worrying less about what other people think should be my path to “success” and defining success by parameters that work for me. It often means being grateful for the little things. It means focusing on my craft, without worrying about the numbers.

It’s why I struggle to call myself A Writer. I’m constantly prefixing it with trying-to-be or finding polite ways to define my niche. I don’t dare call myself a “chef” on my blog, because really WHO ARE WE KIDDING?! And I roll my eyes and chuckle every time I see something to the effect of foodie-turned-specialist on one of the million food blogs that now surround us. Every time I hear of a blogger turned author, and then read the tripe doled out in the form of a book, I resist the urge to drive a nail through my brain. It is often passed off as unnecessary modesty when I pick a veil and hide behind it, but come August every year the sinister question raises its head again – have you sold yourself enough?

This year though, a quiet acceptance has turned up, in place of the restless angst that used to come with it.

Have I sold myself enough? No, I haven’t sold myself at all, actually. I had grand plans to pimp a personal project at IFBM, because “it was the thing to do” and anything less would be “a waste”, I tried to do it, and the mosre unnatural it felt, the farther I felt myself moving from the project I was so supposedly so invested in. Eventually, I dropped it, and told myself things will happen, if they’re meant to. Even if it takes five years longer than if I self-promoted NOW.

Recently, I read this piece of the thoughts of Werner Herzog on making a living of doing what you love, and it echoed so much of what I have seen growing up, experienced in some part, and now know is an indelible part of who I am.

If your project has real substance, ultimately the money will follow you like a common cur in the street with its tail between its legs. — Werner Herzog

My grandfather was a prolific musician who silently made some of the most brilliant music for over 8 decades. He lived off meager earnings, and yet supported his wife and three children on it, and from what I hear my mother and her brothers tell us it was a fabulous childhood, that rarely allowed them to feel the pinch of what might have been missing. He won national acclaim in the form of a Sangeet Natak Akademi award when he was well past 70, but over the years won millions of hearts through his heart-rending music, passed on his thoughts about music and life to scores of students, and created a living parampara of his kind of music that will live on for hundreds of years to come.

I feel humbled and grateful that I have had my grandparents and parents who have lived by this, so I don’t have to go through the hardships that they did, before I learn this way of life. They did most of the grunt work, weeded out the crap and passed on some of the best things to us – teaching us not in dogmatic, academic ways but through actions and the best example that is their own lives.

Of course where I talk of baking, I could just as well replace the word “cake” with “writing” and the logic still works. What I call old-school, some may call unrealistic, idealistic. Some might even say its downright foolish. But it’s the only way I know.

I haven’t done nearly as many things as I imagined I would at the start of the year, but I feel satisfied in knowing that what I did, I did without the worry of money, stats, success or adulation. The stats on my blog, the likes on the fb page, they’re just numbers. I bake because I love it. I write because I love it. And that’s pretty much all there is to it. Because like Bette Davis said, If everybody likes you, you’re pretty dull.

*****

Related (if you manage to see the connection) is this song my sister was obsessive over, the whole month of August that she was with me. Look up the lyric, read between the lines and if you’re feeling any of the August Angst, maybe you’ll agree :)

Moments

Tenderness is a fleeting spot of time, sandwiched somewhere between waking and drifting back to sleep. I open my eyes just so, and I see VC bug-eyed-glasses on his face, windcheater zipped up, and helmet strapped on. The sun is not even out and he’s off for his morning cycle ride. But not without stopping to kiss me good-morning and goodbye. I’m not awake to register it all, but I take it in, in spurts. Like tenderness. Sandwiched between waking and drifting back to sleep.

I turn over and slip away. Comfort is that blanket of repose that spreads over me, as the seconds tick down one at a time, and I get drowsier, giving in to deep slumber that hits me like a flat-line. The pillow just right, cupping my head full of unruly hair, a light sheet jammed between my knees so they don’t touch, my palms sandwiched between my chin and chest. And its easy to let go and drift away into the white noise.

I wake up some time later. I’m not sure how long. The din of falling rain as it slams the parapet above my bedroom window. Strong, persistent and showing no signs of ceasing. I peek out, and the sun is struggling to shine, creeping up from behind the grey clouds looming large. The balcony doors have swung open on their own. I walk out and feel the rain come in. Peace is that bristly, feathery sprinkling of rain on my face. I’m awake now. Arms outstretched over the balcony, I reach out to touch the rain, which is now coming down in big bullets. The street is quiet, nothing moving except the coconut trees swaying, and holding fort in the face of the anything-but-gentle breeze.

Suddenly I hear a pair of wheels turn the corner. Making contact as they crunch the wet gravel and head back home. Pedals circle wildly, and on it a grinning VC. Joy is all-encompassing, like the downpour that drenches an obsessive newbie cyclist to the bone, bug-eyed glasses, helmet, windcheater and all. I see him. I smile. And then I’m really awake.

Currently tripping

On a lot of rain music. I wasn’t joking when I said rain love would be followed by rain food and eventually rain music. It’s that time of year and right on cue, the select few tracks of the season find their way back to me. Every monsoon has one new appearance — the track of that year. It rarely has anything specifically rainy about it, but for the fact that it comes into my life around the time the monsoon begins and subsequently goes on to forever be associated with the rain, specifically with the monsoon of that year means its fate is sealed and will forever be clubbed into “the monsoon playlist” of my mind.

And this is what its looking like at the mo.

TOTAL ear-worm and the new entrant for the year. I have to listen to this song a minimum of three times a day. Preferably on loop. Or my day feels a bit askew.

I wear songs like security blankets. Thick and wrapped snug when I need them. Playing all the time, over and over, refusing to go anywhere without having it close at hand.

It is totally not unnatural for me to get out of bed at an unearthly hour, after a few hours of tossing and turning because a song wont stop haunting me. I have on many accounts pulled out my laptop/iPod and listened to the track on loop to get it out of my system till I can go back to sleep in peace again.

Every single track in the abyss that is my list of musical favourites has a specific memory attached to it. And listening to Coldplay just screams monsoon in my mind. Does music do that to you too? Forever remind you of a time and place that once was? No matter how many years and life-altering situations come and go, listening to Coldplay is like falling into a manhole. It’s bright one moment, and the next you’re in the pitch black, suddenly the lights come on and its 2003 all over again — a few years of repeated heartache and love/growth-pains. Of wearing out the CD by listening to this CD (which I still think they are yet to surpass) on repeat, dragging a clunky discman on the bus to college, hiding the damn thing under my sweatshirt or in my backpack, thin wires creeping out, leading to my ears, and hidden beneath my wild and frizzy hair – earphones that cut the miserable world out and took me to a world where brooding like a melancholic chicken on her last living day seemed okay.

Coldplay takes me back to those years of rebellion. I’d listen to Shiver on loop, because it spoke to me. Oh the insurmountable pain and difficulties of college life I now associate only with Coldplay. Trudging 20 km across town to college, wading through traffic, being shoved around by sweaty swelling crowds, swapping buses, and doing it all so mechanically like none of it mattered. All the while cursing under my breath about how nobody got how hard and bloody unnecessary it was to go through this effort for a substandard education. I had the woes of the world on my shoulders, and I zoned it out by sticking my earphones deep into my ears, stretching the sleeves of my sweater over my wrists, grabbing them in my thumbs and feeling very rainy and cold inside.

Many of those morning bus rides happened in rainy weather. Rather apt for the rainy music. Pissing down melancholy and bleeding it into my ears. I was a quite the broody, pensive person back them. Everything made me contemplative — raging hormones, with a healthy dollop of rebellion and misguided anger. It reminds me of the days of a newly acquired drivers license, loud music in the car and a reckless sense of abandon every time I took the wheel. A boyfriend who lived 25 kilometres away from me was just the perfect twist in the tale and I’ve spent too many days and nights driving that route listening to Coldplay. And so even today, if I listen to Parachutes and close my eyes, I go right back to that point in time. And I smile. Such a good album. Such a fabulous few years.

Apparently can still listen to an album that’s a decade old (and isn’t considered classic) and still enjoy it much the same way I did a decade ago. My sister is perennially chiding me about how my tastes in music have just not grown. She’s right, my criteria for enjoying music is still the same, but I have become slightly more open to exploring other genres, and in recent years tend to obsess over the music I like, soaking myself in it, like pickle that soaks it in and just gets better over time. It’s like looking at old pictures, when you’re all grown up. So much has changed, and yet looking at those pictures briefly makes it seem like nothing has.

And since music has such strong associations with memory, phases of my life, sometimes even very specific events and instances, I outgrow some music as much as hang on to some older music, which never seems to get old. Its how I feel about most Coke Studio – which I now cannot separate from our monsoon screening nights. Even if I listen to it on the hottest day in summer, vivid memories of watching those 40-odd videos in a darkened room as we passed around sausages and pao, listening to our pick of the top 40 best Coke Studio videos over the din of the torrential rain, come to mind. There was something fantastic about being huddled in that room at Joy and Shashank’s place, a projector “borrowed” from the office, a potluck of sorts, endless beers and the music. It was an event to remember.

It’s this track in particular that reminds me of that night, because it was one of those overlooked tracks in the gigantic sea of Coke Studio songs. the one track that you always gloss over, hit next the moments the beginning bits start to play. For some reason I had never given it a listen, until it came on out of the blue that night. And now I cannot undo it.

Surprisingly, I haven’t started on my annual Zero7 trip as yet. It comes on during the monsoon, too. So predictable, I know. But maybe its because most of my music is stashed away on the hard disk which isn’t always easily accessible. So I’m forced to listen to what I have here, on loop. And sometimes I remember to check out youtube.

I loved this track even before I watched the movie. In fact I loved the song so much I was convinced I wouldn’t like the movie. Because that’s how it works these days — mindblowing music = shite movie. Long after the movie was watched and remembered for a short while and eventually forgotten, the song remains the same. I’m a massive fan of ARR’s music, and his phenomenal ability to compose the most surprising melodies, but I’m not such a fan of his ability to sing in Hindi. But this is one rare case where I can’t think of any other voice that would do this song justice.

Mood music is a very done thing around here. Sometimes the hugsband comes home to high-pitched, fast-paced Bollywood remixes, jigging about in the kitchen as I make dinner, and he knows its been a good day (and he doesn’t hesitate to sneakily film it). If there’s George Harrison or playing softly and I’ve forgotten to turn on the lights even though its past 7pm, and I’m lying in a pile on the beanbag, staring lifelessly into the glow of my laptop he ought to know I’m either pissed, upset or just not feeling quite like myself. This song has been my “evening song” for the last few weeks. Every day, really loud with a deliberate disregard for who is around me. The hugsband included.

Stuff like this is not meant to be played in a soft, mellow volume!

I accidentally discovered it on the radio, and on first hearing it I was convinced it was a George Michael track that I had completely missed. It has that distinct 80s feel to it. But Shazam confirmed that it was Muse, a little bit of google and youtube scoping has made me fall a little bit in love with them. I have a few other favourites, but Madness plays everyday.

It’s that season again, when a rainy, happy, trippy track drips into my ears, just as the drizzles begin. For no apparent reason, I feel happy. And this is one such song. Come get it bae is now going to be filed under the rain-music category forever.Simply because I discovered it on youtube one day, when I was song-hopping and there was a more than heavy drizzle happening. SUddenly the shun came out, big and bright, white and yellow shiny, with sparkly droplets of rain blurring the view.

It goes without saying that it will be used, abused and overused across the next few months, till it reaches a point where I can no longer tell if repeatedly listening to it triggers the showers or the showers trigger the need to repeatedly listen to the song. On loop, over and over, until I’m done. Or the rain is done. Whichever comes first.

Weighting and watching

It’s a special feeling when you pull out a skirt you from a forgotten corner you tucked it into aeons ago, convinced it would be ages before you fit into it again. You try it on, shaky hands, wondering what truths a blasted piece of fabric stitched a little too tight around the hips, holds for you. You slip it on gingerly.

It fits. You sit down, and see the little triangle of fabric around the waist hang low. And you realise it doesn’t just fit. It’s freaking loose.

The weather changes, the air is damp and musty, everybody around you is falling sick like 9 pins. The typical beginning-of-monsoon viral flu is doing the rounds. You enter the gym on Monday morning and begin your workout with a massive bout of sneezing. You power through. And this routine goes on for four whole days — you wake up every morning, your body feels like it needs to be in bed, swaddled in a blanket, but you drag it to the gym. You sweat it out, you drink a gallon of water.

And then you literally feel your body fight the bug. On day 5, you wake up feeling sunshiney. It’s a mighty good feeling.

You’re on the floor, your dumbells all lined up. You wonder if you should kick things up a notch and increase a few weights, try something new, push yourself. You’re partly dreading it, but you give it a go with a heave and ho. Only to realise 2.5 kgs higher is just a number. You lift if with ease, you swing it, you push it, you pull it, you press it. All a breeze. And you realise you are stronger than you have ever been.

The past year has been a good one in terms of fitness achievements. I have dropped a significant amount of body fat, which was my primary goal. I was bordering on an unhealthy ratio of body fat and that is well under control now. The discovery of strength training was a bonus. Weights have been a life-changing revelation, and body-strength training even more so. But the best part is this: a thumping affirmation of my belief in the fact that staying healthy and fit is a life-long commitment. An attitude to life, how you want to treat yourself and how much you respect your body for what it can do for you.

Flash diets never worked, sporadic exercise regiments even less. Consistent work, sustained over a long period is what works for me and the best part has been the organic discovery of new challenges and higher standards for oneself. Its been a year of busting my rear end off at the gym, and on the day that marked 12 months since I began working out at the studio, I told the hugsband that despite being a fitness freak for over a decade now, this is probably the first time that I have stayed with a single fitness-oriented activity for twelve whole months. I have not been so focused or persevered as much with too many other things in recent time. And this is the real achievement for a restless fitness maniac who has tried a dozen different programs, on an average of a new thing every 6 months, since age 16.

Growing up in a home that always encouraged an active lifestyle, it was impossible to sit back and watch what I ate, in the hope that it would somehow miraculously make a difference to my health, the way my clothes fit and how you feel about myself. I cannot remember a time post age 16 when I wasn’t engaged in some form of exercise. My mantra has always been to eat everything I love in moderation and burn calories and sweat it off through exercise. But this is the first time in my life that I have truly dedicated time and effort in a single-minded way. And this is the first time that the results have been so drastic. And visible.

Yes, the results are visible to me. Especially when I wear a forgotten skirt and realise it fits. But then I look at myself everyday, so this transition is not as apparent. What is more apparent is the little things, that I kicked the flu bug and sent it packing before it could get the better of me. That I could barely do 5 bicep curls without wincing 6 months ago, and on a good day these days, I can push it up to 5 kilos, 20 reps. That I can do the tricep hover for longer periods of time now without feeling like my arms will turn to mush.

I feel strong. And this, this is a first for me. But who is going to explain the delirious levels of satisfaction of that to every second person who meets me and greets me with the OMG-you’re–disappearing spiel? How do I explain that yes, I’ve “lost weight” but I’ve also gained strength? How does one politely tell well-meaning people to back the fuck off when they tell you to stop “overdoing it” because I look skinny. How do you get them to believe that fitness isn’t point at the end of the tunnel that you strive to reach, and once you’re there you can kick back and pretend its all over? Why is it so hard to understand that being skinny isn’t the only outcome of going to the gym? And most importantly, how does one explain that thin people can go to the gym and benefit from it too!

The fact is I have never been skinny. Even at my thinnest-best, I always prided myself in the little chub that always stayed on my tummy, around the sides of my waist and of course there’s no changing my genetics which give me wide hips. Growing up, appearances were never a focus, and how we looked wasn’t given too much importance. I attribute my slightly stunted sense of fashion (my staples in terms of clothes haven’t changed in twenty years) to this and even to this day I am not used to worrying about it too much. Quite naturally, my obsession with being fit was never about getting that flat tummy, fitting into a skinny pair of pants or getting rid of saddle bags. Yes, the years that I was at my unhealthiest best, I was very aware that these changes had crept into my body — a bloated belly, stalky waist etc — but beyond looking at myself in the mirror and thinking I was “fat”, it was the fact that I felt lethargic and unhealthy that made me want to kick myself back into action.

So, now when people stop me to say I’m looking excessively thin, I don’t know how to react. Somehow it seems okay to sheepishly blabber some nonsense, and deflect their comments. Anything to take the attention off the weight that has been lost, and focus on the satisfaction and happiness that hopefully shows. Someone at the gym called me sexy the other day, and for some reason it seemed okay to do something totally un-sexy in response. So I flailed my arms and legs about and ran back to my spot. It would be nice if the compliments made me tongue tied, because then I wouldn’t open my mouth and say some of the ridiculous things I have said in the past few weeks. Wholly unintended, totally misleading things that seem to flutter out of my mouth before I can say pilates-ball. Because somehow, that seems okay.

Rain food

Where there is rain love, there will soon be rain food. And if you come back in a few days, I promise you rain music too. Trust me on this. If I have learned one thing from the atrocious summer gone by it is this, that I function like a seasonal creature. When the weather is grey, I am grey. When its sunshiney, I am sunshiney. When its horrendously hot, I am horrendously hot. Except not in the ooh-thats-hawwt sort of way, but more like sticky oily skin, sweaty nether regions, mood swings and ill temper. And there’s nothing hot about that. But now that the monsoon is officially here and I’m waking up to rain-swept mornings and misty windowpanes I’m doing what Other season creatures do. I’m coming back to life, much like the parched world around me is bursting forth again. I’m also mentally preparing myself for un-dried laundry, mildew-y pillows and trying to see the silver lining. Which is a month of light, essential rain, before the slightly inconvenient relentless rains begin. And it’s filling me up with joy. The kind that most of these firang bloggers seem to be expressing over their delayed summer. The kind of joy that comes out in exaggerated sighs, excessive smiling and repeated declarations like “It’s here, it’s so here, it’s finally herrrre!”

And like a true seasonal creature the weather invokes the desire to eat these very specific things. Season-appropriate stuff that doesn’t make an appearance in my kitchen all year round. I’m talking about rain food. Like, you know, pakodas?

Except I was making them in the house of a beer lover. So they’re beer battered kanda bhajias, if you will.

What's a rainy day without some pakodas?

Aided by the fact that I’ve been pottering about my kitchen again, rather than just rushing in and out as fast as I can. I’ve been spending time in there, not rejecting it like a lover who no longer holds my interest. I’m flirting with the idea of going back to life the way it was pre-summer. I’ve been cooking more than just eggs and toast. I am willing to stand by a hot stove and make it happen without feeling like the life is being gradually sucked out of me. Full meals are back again, complete with accessories like salad and raita, sabjis that are not run of the mill and slipshod, and occasionally a crunchy-munchy makes for an interesting embellishment too.

And that’s how these Beer Battered Onion Rings came to be. Because it was a rainy day that just called for it.

While I am really fully enjoying the outdoors in this time of monsoon — my most favourite part of this season — I’m also snuggling indoors taking full advantage of the rare opportunity to use blankets, drink lots of hot chai and sit around without a fan on. Changing seasons also change the light around my home. Where summer had me shutting all the curtains away from the blinding light, June has me turning on the lights on in the daytime, on some days. The harsh, direct, bright white light of summer makes way for a mellow, yellow-grey hue all day long. When a thick carpet of clouds floats over us, it gets gloomy and grey. I am blessed to have a large window right in front of my cooking range, so I can cook facing the window which is exactly the direction the rain lashes down on us. Cooking in the monsoon is usually cooking with a view of rain trickling down, turning the large windowpanes into pools of melding watercolour greys and greens.

It was that kind of morning, last weekend when the rain was coming down in fluid streaks, and I stood by the stove pouring my morning chai into my blue mug, and something told me I needed to cook rain food. A warm, crunchy, and fit-for-the-rain snack. It had to be a fried something of course. And while heating up a load of oil in a wok is the last thing I voluntarily do, the rain calls for some ground rules to be broken. VC was only too happy. Getting Reva to cook fried stuff = achievement unlocked!

I had bookmarked these Beer Battered Onion Rings I saw on Joy’s blog, because I knew it would be a welcome treat for VC who loves onion rings. The only other time they were made in this home was when he made them himself in a fit of anger; convinced that I would never, ever deep-fry anything for him. He had decided that day that if he wanted something crispy with the goodness of transfats and triglycerides, he’d have to do the deed himself. His burst of anger and the prominent streak of rebellion had made him improvise and add a South Indian twist to his onion rings — blending in come hot red chillies, curry leaves and a dash of mint into the batter. So good, that between mouthfuls of those spicy pakodas-with-a-twist, I admitted to him that they needed to be made again. Gasp!

Joy’s recipe seemed like a great thing to combine with VC’s flavor combo, and I already know what the use of flour, corn flour and beer can do to anything deep-fried. It gives the word crunchy an all new meaning, adding that required lightness to the batter, creating ruffles of golden crispiness, that cling to sweet rings of onion.

Of course getting VC to shoot this took absolutely zero convincing on my part. Rain, onion rings and beer – need I say more? So that’s how we made another foodeo. It seems we can’t escape the beer sneaking in, even if we try. This one may sound a little weird, but take it from me — once you try it, you’re going to want to make it again. Something about South Indian spices meeting beer battered onion rings makes it perfect for the rain. If that’s hard to digest, think of it as onion pakodas fortified with beer. Whichever way you look at it, it’s a winner. And its perfect for the monsoon. And it will perk up a boring meal. And it will make the perfect snack-for-no-reason. Don’t wait for a reason, or the right season. Make and thulp, I say.

I’m cross-posting versions of the video-posts from Hungry & Excited on to this blog, so those of you who’re seeing repeats, please look away :)