Friday, October 27, 2006

Penne Alla Eroteme

Okee! This is something I have never done before on this blog, but there is always a first. Last night was a night of honour, privilege and satisfaction. Mom permitted me to take over the kitchen (honour and privilege) to turn out a dinner (to our satisfaction). I don't think I can put to words how nervous I was cooking for mom. It had to be good and good enough for her. One deep breath and I started rolling...

Let me start with a few notes about how I cook. I am not a manageable cook. What that means, is that what I cook can not always be reproduced nor is there any predictable order in there. Mom on the other hand is a fantastic cook and very manageable. She knows exactly where to find each and every ingredient (because she leaves them there after use). But one thing we both have in common (and she was glad last night that I inherited her genes!): we talk to our food. Now this is not mere ramble, I assure you. You need to understand how each ingredient blends and their history. Some veggies don't get along with each other. Some of them are friendly with nearly everyone (like tomatoes). Some have a nasty past and you'd do well to lend them a sympathetic ear. Understand them, talk to them. That is the key to every well flavoured relationship. :-)
Secondly, I hate reading out of a recipe book. The whole idea jars in my head. Its like someone else betting on my tastes. Its like trusting your body to a person who has never seen you before (even though they call him a doctor). Urgggh! Read as much as you want but when you cook, trust your gut (well, you'd better as it is at the receiving end) or you'll end up like the bookworm on his wedding night, busy flipping through Vatsyana's tome.
(Yes, Oh! Yesssss!
Honey, woah honey. Wait a minute!
Okee, now move slightly to the right and throw your ankle behind your neck. No, the left one!)
Never get carried away on the spice regime. Be tender and understand what they want (you aren't dousing yourself in red paprika, are you?). Sometimes it's just a dash of salt and pepper and sometimes it's rock-n-roll.
Lastly, although I am a strict vegetarian, these also apply to a non-vegetarian meal. You really need to listen to the chicken breast and realise what it's dying wish was: stuffed and cooked in soy sauce or baked with peppers and red wine sprinkled on it. That's the problem with non-vegetarian food; you are always dealing with something that once upon a time moved and had a mind of its own. Well, deal with it.
So, last night found me running the entire concert through my head before I cracked my knuckles and dived in. This is what I recall of it....Heaven is indeed in white...
Cooking pasta is simple and hence, very easily done wrong. You need to boil the water and add salt to it (I am told that in the good ol' days, Italians used sea water. People near the Marina beach can do so at their own peril.). When the water rolls, slide in the pasta. Don't ask me how much water for how much pasta. Listen to them. I go by my senses which at one point will tell me "Enough". The rolling will slow down now. After about 5 minutes you can slide in long strips of red and yellow capsicum (no they are not the same as painted green capsicum. Listen to them) and let the entire thing cook. I used penne. For more information about various kinds of pasta, check this out:
While the pasta is getting cooked, start work on the sauce. The sauce is the life breath of pasta. Do it right and be nice to the pasta, and you have a wonderful meal and a bonus smile on your face while you go to bed. I had played around with a lot of red sauces so I wanted to try white.
Have a cup of grated cheese ready. In India you could choose between cheddar or parmesan depending on availability. Cheese spread won't work. If you love cheese, go here:

In a wok, heat a slim slab of butter (preferably non-salted) and while its melting, pour in some olive oil (Eh!? Did you say gingely oil? May the sky fall on your head!) to prevent the butter from browning. A thick, yellow unctuous colloid will be formed soon and when its happy and bubbling, slide in the finely chopped onions (you always slide in ingredients into hot liquids). Saute the onions and when they are just right (golden brown, like the sunlight which kisses a baby's bottom) sprinkle some oregano and rosemary (herbs). How much? Listen to them. Rosemary talks to you through your nose. When its just right, you'll know. In case you have a cold or a blocked nose, don't cook. Have a bowl of hot soup and crash for the day. Don't make cooking a routine.
So where were we? Aaah! Lovely rosemary. Keep stirring till all the ingredients are well mixed. Now did I add the cornflour before the herbs or after? Hmmm. Not sure. I don't think it matters. Add a little cornflour to the simmering (oh! all of this is done on a low flame) spices and stir in order to avoid lumps forming. Now a dash of fresh basil (or even dried ones) will make a happy family on the stove.
Garlic is avoided in our homes (being the orthodox Vaishnava kinds) but I swear by the bulbs. Anyway, Lord Vishnu was behind the origin of garlic (another post on that some day). But seriously, I cannot live without adding garlic to pasta. Its essential and mom shrugged her shoulders last night. Peel the garlic and slice the top. Place it on a flat hard surface and cover it with the flat side of a butcher's knife (or wooden spatula). Smack it hard but with love. Crushed garlic is the best. In case you cannot find it or consider the entire operation banal, ginger-garlic paste is a fine option. Honestly, I hope you have tried the mixture before in order to understand the proportion of ginger in there. If you are opening the pack straight in here, god save you.
So slide in the crushed garlic or paste (it might coagulate, so keep stirring) and cook for a couple of minutes. Take it off the flame but keep stirring it.
Now comes zee cream. Pour in the fresh cream and keep stirring the sauce. Ensure that the sauce is of a uniform consistency. Use a perforated spoon if you like but just ensure the consistency. Once it is smooth and flowing like a silt river at its mouth, put it back on the flame (yes, low flame). Keep some fresh cream aside and maybe dilute it a bit. We might need it. While stirring, add red paprika. Sprinkle would be the right word when introducing herbs. Anyway, keep stirring. Please don't be lax now. If you got this far, it might be worth the extra effort.
By now, the pasta should be cooked. Pour off the hot water and pour in some cold water on the pasta and capsicum strips. Keep them aside and let them stand. Nothing more to do here.
While stirring the sauce, sprinkle the shredded cheese on the sauce. Add little cheese and then stir in order to avoid lumps forming. Once you feel that the added cheese has blended well, add some more. I was happy with 3/4th cup of cheese and I stopped. Keep stirring. If the sauce is too thick now, you might want to add the diluted creaming that was set aside. Keep stirring, baby! That's the way to go.
Drain the pasta and toss it well in a large vessel. Pour in the sauce on top and mix well with a wooden spatula. How does one know when the pasta is al dente? You can inspect with a spoon. It should not be overcooked nor undercooked. Some people prefer cooking it just short and then cooking it again with the sauce. I don't think it feels right. Its like a marriage. Both come together fairly complete and the other completes them. But, you know by now how to listen to your pasta, so follow whatever it says.
After mixing it very well, cover the vessel and let it stand for some time. This ensure that the pasta retains the aroma and the cheese cools to create the right texture between pieces of penne. Why I choose penne for this is a simple reason. When mixing the sauce, some of it enters the cavity of the penne and rewards a good cook with the occasional surprise of a stuffed penne. Mmmmmm. Don't try this with thin and fragile pasta.

Bruschettas work well as starters and we had them last night (the tomatoes you see are fresh uncooked ones which were in excess after using them for the bruschettas. So I sprinkled them over the pasta to add colour. You needn't do the same). Mom rolled them one by one into her mouth and then announced her verdict.
"Hmmm. Perfect! Nothing in excess. Nothing lacking!"

Accompaniment to pasta can take the form of soft western instrumental (preferably wind instruments). Please do not have anything distracting while you eat pasta (yes, even Baywatch is a no-no). I think Mohd. Rafi ballads might also suit the texture of pasta, but surely not Maharajapuram Santhanam (he doesn't seem to blend with anything save curd rice). But as they always say... Listen to them. :-)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Happy Diwali

A warm glow...
I wish I could reach out to each of you and wish you personally, but this is the closest I can get. Wish you a very happy Diwali. May there be joy and several reasons to smile throughout the year that unfolds before you - one day at a time...

Happy Diwali (In a language I employ the most)

Diwali Nallvayythukal (In my mother tongue)

Diwali ki haardik shub-kaamnaayen (In a language I enjoying talking in)

Diwalichi shubh-itchcha (A language that surrounded me in my growing years... I really haven't stopped growing! ;-)

Diwali mubaarakaan (In a language I love the most)

I have no clue how to say it in Telugu and Kannada, so help!

I would be obliged if readers took a few minutes off to let me know that they received the wishes!! ;-)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A trip back

"Kahaan jaana hai, sahab?" (Where do you want to go, Sir?)
I told him, and waited for what would be my madeleine.
"Achchee baat hai!" (this can never be translated effectively. It could range from "Sure will" to "Okee-doks")
What it definitely means, is that you are definitely in Hyderabad and that knowledge makes you want to soften your eyes and take in a deep breath which fills your heart with the warm tehzeeb of Hyderabad and your lips with a smile (and such a figure of speech is known as a zeugma). Hyderabad still holds fond memories and the area where I lived was still developing (although all the IT companies had setup shop out there). To return occasionally to watch it more "developed" was a pleasure, like watching your kid return from boarding school and honestly exclaiming, "My, look at you. You have grown so much since I last saw you."
This time my trip was bound to be hectic and hence, I decided to enjoy the early morning trip to my house from the station for that was all I might have to enjoy over the weekend.
The streets were still dark and a match struck, startled me to look closely in that direction. Stray cigarette stubs went alit punctuating the morning air like fireflies. The chill in the air was noticeable and I hugged myself.A strange journey...
"Bangalore ka train tha, sahab?" (Was it the train from Bangalore?)
"Haan." (Yes)
"Half return lete hain is timeko." (We charge 1.5 times the fare)
"Half return to bilkul nahin denge. Gaadi rokna hai to roklo." (No way am I going to pay that. You may stop the auto if you want to.)
"Nahin sahab. Aapse nahin lenge." (No, sir. Won't take that amount form you.)
We were silent for a while. I ran memories like slides through my head, projecting the past on to the streets which were still yawning and stretching under the flow from behind the buildings. Hyderabad sure changes fast.
"Aap Bangalore ke hain?" (Are you from Bangalore?)
"Nahin." (No)
"Hyderabad ke hain?" (Are you from Hyderabad?)
I nearly said yes, but recalled my wonderful origin. I wondered whether I should explain the whole thing to him, and settled for a simpler answer.
"Haanji." (Yes)
"To aap rehte yahaan aur kaam wahan karte hain?" (So you stay out here and work out there?)
"Aisehi kuch samaj lijiye." (Something like that)
I looked outside, watching familiar building bathed in the bluish grey of the morning. Gandhiji sat still with his back arching forward and the paper-boys were busy pushing pamphlets into several papers. I unconsciously started humming "Ye daulat bhi le lo. Ye shauharat bhi le lo."
"Bangalore mein meter ka minimum kitna hai sahab?" ("What is the minimum charge on the meter in Bangalore?)
I didn't want them to feel bad nor end up paying more out of guilt.
"Dus rupaye." (Ten Rupees. Actually it is 12)
"Kyaa sahab. Par Bangalore mein bahut kharcha hota hai, naa?" (But Bangalore is costlier, right?)
"Haan." (Yes)
"To kyaa khaate hain?" (So what do they eat?)
Now, how on earth could I know? Probably the usual rice and dal and buttermilk. I took a minute to answer which he mistook for disinterest. He was a lanky boy who was bouncing all over the expanse of his seat. He cut around corners quickly and kept wiping above his upper lip often. He had tonsured his head recently and now he could pass himself off as cousin to a hedgehog. A few more familiar corners passed before he spoke up.
"Yahaan pe injineer log bhi auto chalate hain." (Out here even engineers drive autorickshaws)
"Sahi mein?" (Really?)
He seemed to think that this topic would interest me. Actually, I really liked the guy already, but I liked the onrush of sepia images more as I looked around the place. It wasn't very long ago that I had been in here, but memories are just that... :-)
"Haan sahab. Sarey B.Sc. or injineer log aaj kal auto chalate hain. Din ka aaraam se 400-500 kama letey hain." (Yes, Sir. All the B.Sc. and engineer folks drive autorickshaws. They comfortably earn about 400 to 500 a day)
We continued talking about the cost of various parts of the auto and he kept pointing out to so many parts and appended numbers to their description. A few temples rushed past my peripheral vision and I wonder whether the gods had woken up. The sky was brightening itself and I could see further down the road as well as on the sides.
I reached my house bracketed in by several new constructions as well as offices (supposedly of Google and IBM coming in. Nothing sure. A 5* hotel is in the offing too. I will miss the cool, neem-laced breeze that washed my house from all sides). When I stepped out and handed him the exact change, he touched the money to his handlebar and raised it to his forehead. "Boney!" I thought. Then he smiled at me and said, "Teekh hai sahab. Mein chalta hoon." (That's it, Sir. I shall take leave.)
"Ji zaroor. Khuda haafiz." (Sure. May god be with you.)
He gave me a quizzical look and spotted the tilak mark on my forehead. It only served to confuse him further. Then he bent down to yank the crowbar and hesitated.
"Sahab?" (Sir?)
"Haan?" (Yes?)
"Bangalore mein auto driver log kyaa khaatey hongey?" (What do auto drivers in Bangalore eat?)
"Khushi se jo milta hai. Waise to dal-roti-chawal hi hoga." (Whatever they get happily. Most likely it would be lentils-breads-rice)
"Bye bye, sahab", he said and smiled as he yanked the auto back to life.
"Bye", said I as I swung my bag over my back.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Musical Tag

I have been tagged by a dear friend who once told me that she couldn't bother herself with completing tags! :-)

Your favourite lyricist and the lyrics you remember the most..

Well, I can't surely pick just 1. I'll give you 3!
Sahir Ludhianvi Sahab:

Shakeel Badaayuni Sahab:

One of the finest poems sung on the silver screen

Gulzar Sahab:


Your favourite song on friendship:

None, really.

Best song portraying life's emotions {zindagi se bhara hua,zindagi ke baare mein}:

one song which brings tears to your eyes:

No guesses for the poet's name!

A song which gives you hope,reason to try again and again,a reason to say that life is beautiful:)

Lemme think a bit... Actually this song is special for more than one reason... :-)

When you want to be with yourself,silent and content but with music,with song would that be?

I would prefer instrumental here...

If you have to express your love for someone with a song which would that be?

It would surely be very contextual, so I cannot pick just one song. Gimme the context and I could do better than this! :-) The following song is candidate:

Maine poocha chaand se

5 songs which you listen to the most?

Pick 5 from the above! :-)

Honestly, I do not think many people are as involved in blogging as they once were (and that includes me, as well), so I won't force anyone back in with a tag. Anyone who would love to be tagged, do let me know, and I shall add your name right in here...

Sunday, October 01, 2006


A while ago I had taken a break from any form of publishing of my works (written, visual, etc.) as I wanted to meditate on something that had struck me with all its love and ferocity. I am still working on it but recently I had this urge to compact what runs in my head into 18 verses which would serve as summary and hint to what I am working on. These 18 verses are structured into 36 questions (in 108 lines. Funny isn't it? 18 * 6 = 108 i.e. the original multiplicand with nothing (zero, 0 ) in between!) which might help an interested person to meditate and ponder further on the intricacies of life. These 18 verses cannot and will not claim to be the one-stop-shop for a glimpse at truth. There is no right answer to these questions, so commenters might do well to refrain from trying to check their answers!

The Goddess

Today is the day spent in worshipping Goddess Saraswathi. Think about it, were it not for her what is it that would have been passed down the ages? Where would all the great works of literature, drama and poetry be? Would we know the gods and goddesses in Her absence (she is also the goddess of speech, hence the Vedas would never have reached us!)?
Not that this is worth Her attention. Not that this is to Her refined tastes. Not that this is the best that can be offered to Her, but this is what I can. This post is offered to Her.What is within alone can emerge...

Isn't it an attempt at magic,
When we cast life's rainbow
With half-done words, black and red?
In the infinitely finite desert
Slashed by the winds of time
Do hawks and snakes, like paths tread?
Sitting in the benevolent shade
Biting the juicy fruit, do you recall
What you had once called rotten has grown thus?
When the lifetime of goodness is but
A day in the life of Truth, what is
Good, bad and this duality to us?
Like the swan exclaiming "I am alive"
By gazing into the stagnant lake
Why, in mirrors, search for yourself?
If the "why"s and "how"s matter not
And the beheld is all of truth
Isn't life a well-stacked shelf?
After listening to the villagers' words
Did any crow powder itself and
Which donkey sipped honey tea?
Having lost it in the woods
Why gather a dozen strong men
And search it in a well-lit monastery?
Though meats for lions, grains for doves
Fish for seals, and salvation for a sage
Don't they all want the very same?
While the stolen lasts four nights
And the arrogated, a while longer
What's time to an untainted gain?
What's thought to a hungry stomach,
Or God to a bereaved mother
Or reason to whom in love swoons?
Why measure truth in pounds
Or mountains in thumb-lengths,
Or wide oceans in full teaspoons?

And what shall remain is this...7
With all your bags packed
Shouldn't you know where you are
Before you start to get there?
Why, like dark autumn clouds
Without a drop of wetness within,
Do you rush to thunder and flare?
Without knowing why water is wet
Or why the flame glows warm,
How could you ever know honesty?
When in no storm, does gold leaden,
And no grief makes coal of diamond
Why trade virtue in adversity?
Why does it astonish you that
No sword can bleed the air,
And a feather, no cudgel maims?
In the cold, lonely winter night
Doesn't every red coal need
Fresh breath to blush with flames?
Does the creeper weep tears,
Because the rusted pole
Broke in half and tore it too?
If every joy and grief were like
A sip of water, can an unbinding
Memory, brew unrest in you?
Why enter the marketplace
And walk amidst baskets of goods
Without knowing what you want?
To a river clearly flowing its course
On to the chosen sea, do shunned
Green meadows and deserts haunt?
When one knows what is, is
How can one ever discriminate,
And how can one not do so?
Though boiled rice by a grain is told,
Would you buy a jewel chest
Going by a single ruby's glow?

Like an overflowing cup of tea
How can the chatter of the mind,
Allow the Divine to take its seat?
Ever wonder why fishermen, old,
Teach you to tackle and bait, but
Silently bite into the carp's meat?
In this world of unending action
Who can be happier than the
Dispassionately passionate worker?
When every act of love and labour
Is touched by the deepest flame
How can this man ever ail or suffer?
Have you watched two lovers dance
Stumbling and twirling and tripping
But laughing in their togetherness?
When there are no words, no ideas
No honour, no status, no point to prove
Can there be fear in Truth's soft caress?
In a haste to understand it all
Why do you cast him in your shadow
When the Divine casts no reflection?
What use is any alien resolve to call
All the Divine and live in a haze
When deep down lies a trembling scission?
Having saved your son from seven deaths
With seven sacrifices and seven fasts
Should you now cry at his grave?
Ever know from where desire comes;
Where borne the effort and ease or,
The fate you fear and fortune, crave?
When there is none to make you think
And none to make you feel or realize,
Why make a God of a wordy ploy?
Although these eighteen known shall
Breathe life and joy, would a soul
Ignorant, not live and enjoy?

Yadakshara padh brashtam maathra heenantu yad bhaveth
Tat sarvam kshamyathaam deva, Narayana namostute
Visarga bindu maathraanee, padh paadhaaksharaanee cha
Nyoonaani cha atirikthaanee, kshamsva Purushottama.