Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mien Khum And Fragranced Rice with Thai Curry

In the midst of all the studying and pointless planning, I continued my perennial quest for culinary prospects. More than finding amazing restaurants, I usually seek out places which sell fresh vegetables (exotic) and herbs, not to mention cheeses, curry pastes (semi-exotic) and the like. I love Maison de Gourmets in Chennai and Bangalore, American Food market in Chennai and Food Gourmet in Bangalore. But none of these places ever served Kaffir lime leaves or galangal (though I did find it once at Food Gourmet) or shiitake mushrooms, let alone miso paste and the like. Even ingredients like brussel sprouts, zucchini are rare. I would manage with whatever I did find (including in Namdharis and other such joints in other cities). 

Well, today made me the happiest. I really am the happiest man today and I doubt whether there is anything that can spoil my mood today (unless I meet a liar, hence, I am staying indoors!) I was hunting for some ingredients as today is Thai-day (you didn't know!?). Surely, I wasn't looking for kaffir leaves or galangal as I had nearly decided that they are only available to the major restaurants (especially at 4-5 star hotels). So I hopped from one store to another and wasn't satisfied. Hence, I decided to drive over to a Namdhari where I know that most of the ingredients should be available. I took this sequence of narrow roads to go there and saw some colourful activity at a house in a narrow gully. People were loading and unloading crates of yellow capsicum (bell peppers) and bok-choy. I simply had to stop and mustered requisite courage to enquire into their business. Would they sell me their goods? Yes, they said. Even if I didn't buy in bulk? Yes, again. Was there a minimum quantity I had to buy? No, only as much as I wanted.

I was simmering with an excitement which grew to unmanageable measures as I passed one crate after another. So that you may fathom what warmed the blood in my veins you must know my relationship with vegetables. I adore them. No, you still don't get it. I dream about them. Hmmm, nope! You still don't get it. Let me help you: I once swore that I would marry a garlic bulb and take a vegetable garden in dowry. Now you get it? Fresh, tender, sweet vegetables drive me crazy. I can simply hold each beautiful supple zucchini in my hand and cry or admire a ripe avocado for hours. Don't even ask me what I would do with freshly plucked cherry tomatoes and capsicum! So imagine my delight as I slowly walked past the crates. There was nearly everything I had ever imagined out there. Looseleaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, yellow bell pepper, red bell pepper, bok-choy, Brussel sprouts, basil, iceberg lettuce, zucchini and so many crates of wonderful veggies which titillated me no end. The only picture that came to my mind was of Po (the Panda) in the Jade Palace, hysterically going from one item to another.

To cut a long story short, I found all I wanted and more. This place happened to be the supplier for all the Taj hotels and other retailers. They even had kaffir lime leaves and galangal, rhubarb and so much more. The prices were much lower than what the retailers quoted. I got what I was looking for (except mushrooms) and had a wonderful Thai-Day.

The first set of pictures is my attempt at conjuring the delightful Mien Khum I once had had in Benjarong. The dish is amazingly simple but delightful once in your mouth. I had received bored and skeptical looks when presented this dish and predictably all of them transformed into surprised appreciation. The last dish is simply fragranced rice with Thai yellow curry.

Mien Khum
Mien Khum

Friday, August 27, 2010

Shabby Post

I know, I know. This is not even a post. It is nothing. It nearly seems like an excuse to link to my own post. Why it also seems like a forced output! I know, I know.

I was just going over some old posts (needed some info) and stumbled on this. I realised how much this post still makes me smile. Nothing seems to have changed since then although so much has happened. So much! Just felt like sharing this:

Sunday, August 15, 2010

So here I am...

But I might be away for a while. Why? Because I have a few things to do which might not give me time to blog as frequently as I would like to (and as my dear says, "Why do you announce, E? You will change your mind anyway?"). Firstly, I would like to return to the world of technical reading and hacking around (which I haven't done since 2005). Secondly, I am ... well, doing things. Thirdly, I want to work on something which I just thought about (and hence, the post). I would like to peek into the reader's ample resources (I restrict my curiosity to the contents of your mind) in helping me with this. I plan on writing a script (and there she goes again, "Why, E? Why?") which will, like a beautiful re-done Gaussian algorithm, wave in and out of the protagonist's life culminating in the rather decisive mid-life where he (or maybe she) did something which is, well, interesting. This script will question the commonly held assumption that if you know the beginning and the end then you will most likely know what happened in between. Have you ever seen a movie directed like that? A movie which alternated between a man's beginning and end and closing with what he did in between which makes the end possible given the beginning but still something which the viewer never imagined? Please let me know of any such movie that you might recall as I would like to study it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Killer Red Pasta

So I have come to enjoy dry pasta. After having cooked several versions of it (combining anything from charred tomatoes to brinjal/eggplant wafers to drunken mushrooms) I have to come to realise that this is as much fun as the saucy versions. All the pictures below are shot in my kitchen (of which you get to see absolutely nothing). What you see is pretty much all of what I used (and limbs of baby-corn added as they were threatening to get spoilt!). Yes, the pasta was slightly overcooked. Was too busy shooting the images to remember that I had to arrest the cooking! Anyway, here goes...

It had to be garlic
Don't you simply love the red?
And more reds
My Killer Red Pasta... Fiery!

Dancers Among Us - Jordan Matter Photography

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Fallacy of Patriotism

'My country, right or wrong' is a thing no patriot would ever think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying 'My mother, drunk or sober.'

Chesterton said a lot when he said that. To most people, all that it means is that patriotism cannot be taken to an illogical extreme. I would take that one step further and say that GKC actually said that if you let rationality govern your judgement, then patriotism is not something you can subscribe to. This post probably seems apposite (or otherwise) given that we are less than a week away from India's Independence Day.

Frankly, I never did care who ruled over me. Khushwant Singh wrote this interesting article about how the days of the Raj were not necessarily bad. Actually, most of us don't care about who rules over us. I haven't heard of one Indian who packed his bag and left India because the party he didn't vote for came to power. If you are going to use the "Democracy" card, then bear with me while I laugh. When I say, I don't care who rules over me, I mean, I don't care who rules over me as long as s/he has a sense of Rightness, Goodness, Fairness (which is not the same as equality or uniformity) and Honesty. All need to be in uppercase, because we have come to a world where words are abused to the extent that they need differentiators. Tomorrow, when Honesty is abused, I will use hOnEsty. Till then, read with least strain. I couldn't care a damn if I was living in a country run by the Brits if only they could be good people. Unfortunately, they are human beings, like the Indians. I would love to be ruled by Scandinavians as this will bring in some blondes to this rather monochrome population! Yes, blue eyes too. Anyway, my point is made. I don't think Independence helps unless I am being released from evil and brought to good.

India, has been released from evil and paraded naked through a bunch of parties and governments with every single person stripping a pound of flesh as India walks by. To consider this Independence, is short of stupidity. We think we have achieved so much and become an IT superpower and so on. I can debate each and every point in there, but will leave that to a later date. We are only independent in our capacity to have our own flag and constitution (which is skewed in so many places). I think if we had sensible rulers, we could have been granted the privilege to have as many flags as we wanted and in wonderful colours.

But this post is not about Independence. It is about this wasted industry called patriotism. It features in everyone's speech and is something everyone has to vote for. From the Sachin Tendulkars to Asha Bhonsles to every Bollywood actor and actress to every person whom NDTV gets on screen for their sentimental advertisements about the nation's unity in some matter, everyone has to be patriotic in order to score some brownie points. No matter what, no Indian (or AnyCountrian) can stand up and say, I do not feel patriotic. It is unacceptable. It is like saying "I do not like my mother", perhaps worse (since the number of people charging at you would be more in the former case, most people not caring about your mother).

Patriotism is stupid and pointless in the light of intelligence and wisdom. When the citizens are intelligent and wise, they will know how to take care of the place they reside in. No matter where they go. To fragment the world into ego-centric plots of land with imaginary borders and even more imaginary sense of belonging, is ridiculous and highly unnatural. But we still do it. Go up in the air and you will see no border dividing a country from another (except in the cases like that of Sri Lanka, etc.). Then why do we insist on setting these lines? Would you spit on the floor in the house of your neighbour? If you wouldn't, then doesn't it make sense that you wouldn't rape or pillage in Pakistan or Nepal? Then why can't I walk into these countries and engage in work that makes me useful and benefits people? Because I am Indian! I wish I wasn't. I wish I had a global citizenship.

Why do I need to be patriotic? How many people claim to be patriotic towards their own house? I like JK's words:

"Identification with the rag called the national flag is an emotional and sentimental factor and for that factor you are willing to kill another - and that is called, the love of your country, love of the neighbor . . .? One can see that where sentiment and emotion come in, love is not."
If caste based distinctions is an evil in a country, then so is nationality based divisions in this world. In which case, patriotism is a highly unnecessary "virtue".

Patriotism has come to mean rivalry against other countries, a sense of I-am-better-than-you. Patriotism means that I do not trust people enough thus wanting to have a military force to "protect" me. Patriotism means that only I care about my country and others are out to ruin it and exploit it. Patriotism means that I should turn a blind eye to the wrong that happens within my society. Patriotism gives us sanction to wage war on other countries. Patriotism means that if the entire world burns, we must only concern ourselves with saving our countrymen. Patriotism means that collateral damage in a war is unavoidable and ok as long as it happens in another country. Patriotism means that I have to be proud for something I haven't been part of. I need to be proud of the art and architecture of a place although I haven't chipped a rock. I have to be proud of the ancient scriptures and literature even though I have never read them or understood them. Any proliferating group of human beings can produce something good (technologically, artistically, philosophically, etc.). Patriotism tells me that I should feel indebted to my country and hence, obliged to do it favours. Patriotism expects me to enlist when the country goes to war. Patriotism expects me to love the county's soil, flora, fauna, natural entities, etc. I do, but I also love the Alps and the Amazon. Patriotism is also this sense of belonging which is the refuge of a hollow person. Patriotism is the sentiment people appeal to in order to make their pointless statements find some followers. As Samuel Johnson said, 'Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.'

One of the things I would like to see is the dismantling of the entire military. In the land that coined the word "Ahimsa" (and it has nothing to do with Mr. M.K.Gandhi) having a military unit is rather contrary. Or we agree that we never cared about "Ahimsa" and we were just glad that Mr. Gandhi's stunt got the Brits out of India and we are happy for that. The military is our continuing affirmation of patriotism. It is our knee jerk reaction to every situation of conflict. It is what we think we should deploy the minute something goes wrong and "threatens our freedom". I think we would be better off investing that in making life in India worth living and hence, creating an army of understanding citizens versus a small battalion. Having interacted with a few people in the army, I only feel sorry when they speak with great pride about India. I am yet to understand how someone can pride themselves for an act or phenomenon that had nothing to do with them. I think the day the military is dismantled and all we have is internal security for law enforcement and managing petty crimes like thefts and riots (I wish we could even do away with that but that requires everyone to be sensible), that day we can bury patriotism and be a sensible nation/world.

A lot of rather strange people would respond with "What do you mean? Aren't you grateful that your country has given you good roads, hospitals, educational institutions, industries, electricity, transport, food, etc.?" My response to that is "What do you mean? Isn't the country grateful that I pay my taxes, pay my school fees, paid money at all shops, paid my electricity bills and bought medical insurance and paid all the hospital bills on time?" Subsidies are in place to make it attractive for people to stay on in a country and not out of a sense of patriotism. I don't think I will be patriotic towards Big Bazaar though now it would be called brand loyalty! The country is doing us no great favour. Make it difficult for people and the country loses their best minds and hands and hence, their place in the market and economy. The country will move Earth and heavens to ensure that the big MNCs and super-big IT companies of India get all the privileges but not your little cobbler joint. Loans for houses are packaged with all kinds of deals while farmers in Maharashtra die because they cannot repay loans taken from shrewd moneylenders. India, and for that matter any country, doesn't care for you because you are an Indian. They care about you because that might improve their image (as a political party or institution or market for FDIs) or because you resemble a chest of gold for them. This is not a cynical take on things. Why else would I (the government and the people) act to the effect of widening the rich-poor divide? If patriotism must be, then it should be a two way traffic and since the land will not care a damn to produce golden apples for you, the people demanding me to be patriotic must do something which is selfless and overwhelming for me. Better still, we all relate and connect at a level of Fairness, Goodness and Honesty. No need for sentiments and faith.

A true patriot cares so much about his country that he will disallow anything wrong being done to and in his country. He will fight against all liars and cheats and exploiters of natural resources and fellow countrymen. He will be honest and work to his best abilities in order to ensure that his country prospers. He will work every single day to the improvement of living conditions in his country. He will be honest, fair and genuinely good, wishing the best for the country he lives in. He will ensure that there is no corruption in his country. He will ensure that the laws of the land and the policies are well formed and are not favouring just one segment of the population or one geographical sub-zone. The country's good mirrors his own good and hence, he strives to be morally good. And in a while, he and you, my dear reader, recognise that he is simply being a good human being who recognises how to live Consciously in a world which needs Honest, Fair and Good citizens. He then ceases to be restricted to a country and expands to become a global citizen. By this measure, no one is a patriot.

Think about it. You can either cease to be patriotic or bring ruin to this country. Either way, Happy Independence Day.

[Epilogue] I thought I was singular in my conviction regarding patriotism although I quoted a few big names. Before hitting the publish button I decided to search a bit and was delighted to find fellow mad-men! Some are shared below:

The mark of a true patriot

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Ninne Kandu Kothi

Some memories don't stand alone by themselves. They hold hands with and usher in others and before you know it, your entire life blossoms all over again with a different cynosure every time. How amusing it is to find a slightly different life pulled up in front of you every time based on what you started with. Like a vast flat landscape pinched by Providence's hand and pulled up to create different scenes. How much we might try to isolate that one gem from the bag of glass marbles which we reach into! How much we claim to want just that as if it is merely the fall of Autumn, an ochre leaf which we can place between page 216-217, forget for a while and then exclaim in genuine joy in having found it after several years making your day smile with the same sunshine as that day when you had found this leaf. See? How can that leaf come alone to you without the sunshine of that day? That Tuesday, when you had asked L to meet you by the bridge and then she called to tell you that she would be late? When you were angry that she always did that but were forced to smile when that little boy ran behind his Golden Retriever, and in his wake, you saw this one leaf drunkenly trip over every passing waft on its way down to the dry earth? You walked up to it and picked it up thinking you would gift it to L. She would be touched, you had thought. She would be touched to know that you see her in everything in your life. She would, wouldn't she? What happened afterwards perhaps shortens your smile now, but that day... how could it not warm your heart? That day when you ingenuously believed in the goodness of people and the sweetness of romance. That day and days thereafter dragged into your today by a single withered leaf skeleton, holding just a fragment of what it was that day, but fresh with the memories of that day, full, warm and still populated with that funnily fragrant canine still running after so many years. No, ladies and gents, memories aren't as fragmented as we would like them to be.

Though we had a Murphy radio entertaining us through the early days of my life, all I remember of it is the rough cloth which covered the speakers. It was the colour of mustard and honey. I don't even have a picture with it though there is this really cute picture of my sister sitting on it. Yes, the music systems of the yesteryears weren't an iPod and people could actually sit on them (imagine someone sitting on your iPod Nano). Something like what I had with an extra player slotMost of my recollections are from the time when we bought a National Panasonic two-in-one music system (the first in the entire family). I recall my uncle brining it with him to Bombay (where we lived) and I enjoyed it. When he was leaving, everyone told me that he was taking it back and what was placed on the shelf was actually a cardboard replica! I wept my heart out and perhaps even hated my uncle for doing this to me. I realised the prank later on, and felt rather stupid though infinitely more relieved that my music system was still with me. I listened to my first Michael Jackson and Madonna tracks on it (blue and white Maxwell brand cassettes).

But there are other genres which I was exposed to which seems to have defined my tastes and sensibilities. I would, surely, write about them some other day and would restrict this post to the collection of Ayyappa songs my father had. We rarely chose what was played, when he was around. He was the king of the house. When he wasn't around or when he was involved in something else, we would play some of our choices. Given that we never bought tapes on our own (the concept of pocket money was sacrilegious) our selections were a subset of what he thought was good music albeit not his favourite. Dad's collection of Ayyappa bhajans were nearly all sung by Yesudas (or Jesudas). His voice carried the melody and overflowing love that is vital for singing bhajans. I remember singing those bhajans in words made up to sound like the ones that were being sung. We understood none of the words nor their import, but somehow, in all that ignorance, we recognised Beauty and tried our best to mimic it in the hope that our hours be filled with the same goodness that we heard on tape.

Of the many songs that played through the chambers of my childhood, I will present and translate one of them. I do not know Malayalam (though I can understand the gist of a conversation) and hence, sought the help of a couple of Mallu friends (thanks to you, D). What I offer is to the best of what I carry with me. All errors welcome correction. Before you read my translation, I would request you to wait for the evening and when no one is at home, switch off the lights and listen to the attached song. Close your eyes, too. Once done please read the translation (yes, wipe those tears, too). I agree that the background score is not necessarily the most apt, but that is merely an infinitesimal blemish (like that on the moon). Nevertheless, it is far far more melodious than what is currently boomed out of speakers on roadsides during the Dec.-Jan. months (esp. in Madras). Sheesh!

Ninne kandu kothi theernoru kannukalundo
Ninne thozhuthu thripthiyadanja kaiyyukalundo
Ninne kumbittaashasamecha shirassukalundo
Ninte naamam paadi maduthoru naavukalundo
Ayyappa...ayyappa...swami ayyappa [Refrain]

Having glimpsed your beauty once, can anyone's eyes be satiated?
Having prayed to your glory, can there be hands that have had enough?
Bowing down to your greatness, are there foreheads which won't repeat [bowing]?
Is there a tongue which sang your praise and felt tired?
Ayyappa, Ayyappa, Lord Ayyappa!

Kandaal mathi vannidumo ninnude komala roopam
Kettaal mathi vannidumo ninnude keerthana jaalam
Kaduppamaanennaalum kerum karineelaadrikalil
Maduppu vannidumo manikanda chavittuvaan veendum
Ayyappa...ayyappa...swami ayyappa (refrain)

When my eyes see, all they see is your soft features.
When my ears listen, all they hear are praises sung to you.
However daunting the stride, I would still climb Karimala (Kari+aadri)
Can I ever tire, Manikanda, to climb your hill (to see you)?
Ayyappa, Ayyappa, Lord Ayyappa.
(Manikandan is one of the names of Lord Ayyappa and it also happens to be one of mine!!!)

Orikkal nin mala pon mala pookiya bhakthanu veendum
Orukkamalle bhagavaane pon padikal kereedaan
Thudichidum nin chaithannya palaazhiyile
Poonthein thirakalil mungi kulikkuvaan kothiyillaathavarundo
Ayyappa...ayyappa...swami ayyappa (refrain)

Having once been blessed with a trip up your golden hill
Aren't they drawn to climbing it (the golden steps) all over again, Oh Lord!?
Oh Chaitanya! In your throbbing ocean of milk
Doesn't everyone want to bathe in those nectar sweet waves?
Ayyappa, ayyappa, Lord Ayyappa.

Somehow, these songs and others remind me of a time when life was a lot simpler and filled with moments of joy. As we grow up, we seem to be empowered to rid our lives of difficulties and fill it with joy, but we seem to be largely incapable. Why else would people always miss those days?