Sunday, March 28, 2010

Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls

That is what they were called when I ordered them in a Vietnamese restaurant in Ottawa. I fell in love with them. They were, what we Indians would call, satvic. I, of course, had the option of adding chilli sauce (which is not anything like a ketchup but an oil suspension of spicy chilli) to which I often sinfully subscribed, but this dish is splendid even without anything spicy.
I returned to India planning a whole exercise of preparing these rice papers at home. I was sure my mom would throw me out of the house for making such demands of her. I then started looking for adapting Indian rice papads to serve as a coarse cousin of this dish's main ingredient, but, alas! nothing would really work. You could prepare rice paper at home. There is no one, other than your mom or, worse, your wife who could stop you. You would need rice flour, tapioca flour, salt and water. You should be able to find the recipe for this anywhere online.
The reason I love this dish (other than the satvic quality) is its adaptability. Like pasta, bruschetta and salads, this dish has a basic foundation (and hence, not entirely a free-for-all) but lets you mold it to suit your taste.
In Madras (and even in Chennai) you will find rice paper in Amma Nana, on Cathedral Road (opposite Park Sheraton, I think). In Bangalore, this is now available in Spencer's store on M.G.Road. This is the one adjoining Au Bon Pain bakery. I buy the brand below and I haven't been disappointed. Once, opened, please store it in a cool (not cold) dry place.

Rice Paper
There are about 40-50 sheets in a pack. You'd rarely want to eat more than 4-5 of them in one sitting (these are starters not enders or this-is-all-you'll-getters). There are tonnes of variations to this dish and I am simply going to tell you the tale of tonight's dinner.

We had some tomato chutney remaining. I had to exhaust it. So, it formed the base on the rice paper. Oh! I forgot to tell you. The rice papers you buy will be firm discs. You need to immerse them in hot water for about 15-20 seconds. Take them out carefully as they will now be delicate and easily given into tearing. If you have long nails, cut them.

After applying the chutney, we introduce the tofu. Now tofu can be smoked, sauteed or deep fried after being dipped in besan batter. I chose the simple sauteed and one side charred option. But before I did that, I julienned (love this word) red capsicum (bell pepper), sauteed it in olive oil (extra virgin, which is not the same as a conservative Indian girl) and sprinkled a little (really, a little) salt and about 2-3 tbsp of balsamic vinegar. This softens the capsicum and lends it a tang.

In the skillet where I had sauteed the capsicum, I sauteed the tofu as well. You can use lengths of paneer to get a similar effect, but tofu is mild and satvic. So now my tofu helped me clean my skillet of the olive oil - balsamic vinegar blend. Then I turned up the heat to char (no, not your single byte variable) them on one side (you won't see that side below). The red worms on top are the capsicum slices. Please buy fresh.

Once you have that placed on the rice paper, you should add a few leaves of fresh basil. Fresh basil in Bangalore is available in the Food Gourmet store on M. G Road and I think in Maison Des Gourmets (Lavelle Road). You might find it at other places. In Madras you will find it in MDG (Senatoph Road) and in the American Vegetable Store in T Nagar. No, you cannot use dried basil for this. Please don't. Have a heart!!

Then, or rather at the outset, you should have powdered some groundnuts and dried red chilli. Then, you add them on top of the basil leaves. It lends a nutty texture and taste to the dish. If you are allergic to groundnuts (which are also known as peanuts) then don't use them. Duh! You could sprinkle some red paprika if it suits your taste.

Now, you need to carefully roll the paper (it is still delicate) making a nice translucent pouch containing all the ingredients mentioned above.

And when many of them are carefully parceled, this is how it looks.

What are the variations possible? Several! I would need a few hundred posts to outline all of them. Experiment with different vegetables (I would never recommend non-veg in this lifetime), different sauces, tofu, paneer, feta cheese, groundnut powder, gunpowder (something that you will get in Maharashtra) and so on. I have played around with several combinations including sun-dried tomatoes, harissa, soya sauce, etc. Be creative! That is really what cooking is all about, and of course the joy of feeding someone.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring Songs

Completed 100!

A drunk butterfly
Trips on an eager blade of grass
Nature's metronome.

Writing Poems

Melted Rose

The day before the poem -
Maimed words strewn and crying out
Veiled connotations.

Truth Re-recognised

Lies Re-told

And thus I learned well -
Your lies are the rains that cleanse
The skies of perception.

Never Returns

Do you remember?

Our last photograph -
Still glossy and smiling happily,
Unlike reality.

My Love For You

Uyir PooLike rust, we blend
Into something neither of us are.
Clinging tenuously
To this world of prettiness
Until the all-pervading wind
Sweeps us away
Into far away lands
Where none understand our words
But lovers breathe us in deeply
And say
"Love is in the air".

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Are you ready to be tooked?

My friend Agni and his friend Ramanan are starting a new venture (not sure whether I could call it a company or an organisation). He tells me that the inspiration came from ... oops! I am not supposed to say it. I personally think it will be exciting and quite unlike anything else that has been tried. I would even be willing to put my money (I have lost my Monopoly board anyway) on this becoming quite a "cool" phenomenon. For one, this is not based on something hip or Web 2.0 and that makes me like it. I'll tell you what it isn't and then you can stay tuned to get more info from them (or on this blog). Agni says that the launch will happen shortly, so if you are in Bangalore you should surely not miss the launch.

  1. It isn't a software company
  2. It produces no tangible entity
  3. It will never be traded on the stock market (or I will be visibly surprised)
  4. It doesn't involve people in ties (can create ties though)
  5. It is not into the restaurant business (though food will feature in the offering)
  6. It is not about organising magic shows and event management (though it would be an event to remember)
  7. It is not into venture capital or funding or anything related to finances (though if finance is your thing then you could very well be part of this. Actually, if you're passionate about anything then this could very well be for you)
  8. It is not some social networking fad (though it is social)
You need to check it out to know more. They have a presence on FaceBook too. Join in.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Master

In a used shoe's warmth
Dreams of kings are born and lived -
Zen in a loafer.

Generation V - The Age of Voyeurism

Come, look

I don't think this generation can be called Gen-X or Y or any other letter of the English alphabet. I think we are in the midst of a growing generation of voyeurs. The funny thing about this moniker unlike the others is that it covers nearly everyone alive. The other categories seem to be temporal or spatial but not Gen-V as it stems from the basic (as in base) instinct of human beings. But I won't meander through the thickets of taxonomy.

Till a while ago, all we had was Buniyaad-like serials. That and Nukkad made most of our TV viewing, excluding music programs. Then came Mahabharat and Ramayan with their special effects. Pan to the days of Saas-Bahu serials which had daughter-in-laws and mother-in-laws nod alike with vituperative glances at their foe. Soon viewers started connecting to the characters in the serials. It wasn't uncommon to hear newly wed girls gossip about how much their mother-in-law mirrored the vile woman in so-n-so soap-opera. I believe men didn't play much part in these never-ending soaps (except for looking younger than their daughters).

Till a long while ago, we had 19:30 regional language news followed by one more at 20:30 in Hindi and then another in English (if I remember the timings right). It would have been absurd to imagine an entire channel for news. It would have been considered the joke of mankind to imagine a 24 hr news channel. What on earth could ever happen 24x7? All our politicians would be asleep and we don't quite care about some French premiere did with his in-house policies! Right? Fine, maybe there would be news for at most 4 hours in a day. Why would we need a 24x7 channel? 10 of them? Are you nuts?

Till a long while ago, newspapers were thin and the raddiwala came once in 2-3 months to collect them from us. We would be happy to see a few kilos balance the scales and a sum of Rs. 20 come our way. We would invariably buy some groceries for the kitchen and that would be it. International affairs would take 2 pages, sports, 2, domestic affairs would be 2-3, other states would command another 2 and the really local news would be a terse one page. There would be an editorial and reading the paper was a religious excursion into the words of the wise and informed! Why would I need a God-in-Gucci column? Why would I need a column about what celebrity X eats? The standard bulk of the daily in Bombay is a whopping 1 kg! Seriously, who can ever read all of that? It would require me to sit through the day with these papers and do nothing else. Especially, if I have to understand how Pamella Anderson's sprung a leak and forced her into reducing her assets. Or why Rahul Mahajan picked D and not N and why the wedding was getting delayed which would need you to be informed about his uncle's demise which would require you to be informed about the ceremonies surrounding death in the Indian communities, which would take you into an analysis of superstition in India and the atrocities done unto the Dalits and how Dr. Ambedkar was a great man before his affair was revealed, drawing a parallel with the affairs of great leaders like Nehru and Tagore (though not a real leader), finally rolling all of it back to the fact that Rahul Mahajan might not postpone his wedding because his uncle killed his father before ending in a serious debate about whether Rahul should forgive his uncle and delay his wedding with Sri Sri Sri ... Sri Ravishankar commenting on the importance of forgiveness and marriages and blessing the newly wedded couple.

Which brings me to the then-and-now topic of weddings and marriages. I have always seen weddings conducted differently. Thank my lucky stars, I still see them being conductive in a manner I can understand. Along came the Swayamvar (and later Swayamvadhu) brigade and weddings are no longer what they used to be. Marriages are no longer what they used to be. Now everyone has to know how I chose the bride/groom, what I had dreamt of when I was 5, 10, 15 (puberty set in and we would have experts commenting on the effects of hormones on our conception of our mating partner and how premature conception happens), 20 and now at the age of 27 when I am finally getting married (no, I am not!). They have to ask 10 of my friends what kind of girls did I letch at (well, they were too busy leching to notice) and a tarot card reader to divine how my first night would be (the two of clubs show a rather masochistic night with the queen of cups showing drunk revelry). Oh! In those days, the first night was really the first night (at least in India)! FYI...

Welcome to Generation V (pronounced "generation vee" or if you wish to be cool you could pronounce it "generation wee" (not wee-wee) or if you wish to sound educated then you could pronounce it "generation five" or if you wish to sound Churchillish (or hellish) you can pronounce it "generation victory" or... well, you sure are jobless!)

This is the generation of voyeurs. Frankly speaking, every decade had it. Human beings, as such, are voyeurs. We would spy on the mating habits of tigers and rabbits (do you ever find them peeping into our bedrooms?), and the affairs and flesh display of our fellow human beings. We were always curious about how the neighbour made it rich. We were always curious why the neighbour's neighbour was fighting with her husband. We were always curious and our curiosity led to voyeurism when all that we had in our life was surplus time to create and satiate curiosity and very little substance. We soon got curious about the actors on screen. We got curious about our actor's pet poodle. We soon got curious about our curiosity.
With gadgets making life simpler and somehow people having more time on their hand than options to utilise that time: enter reality shows and reality content. I will avoid trying to sound preachy, but hey! I may slip. I will dwell on the voyeurism in news, TV programs, movies and relationships. Surprisingly, that covers 80-90% of most people's lives.

Rakhi Sawant is a girl you might never marry. She is also a girl you might never want your son to marry and if you are old enough, you wouldn't want your grandson to marry. People with grey hair (and missing teeth) would summarise RS in one or two words and they aren't printable. This woman who has the least objection to doing anything on screen in order to get herself 2-10 minutes of limelight, hid nothing. She is gutsy, crude, stark and in your face (something else about her reaches you before her face can reach yours). I can't stand her because she lacks the ability to articulate and is disgustingly pretentious. RS decided to conduct her wedding (called simply, Rakhi ka Swayamvar, which means: Rakhi's ceremony of picking her own husband). You can read the details here. I was forced to see a couple of episodes (I was being fed at the house of a very dear friend and I played along). There were games and interviews and all the crap that one could manage to pack into a program (well, or so I thought before hearing about Emotional Atyachaar). RS acted the coy girl straight out of the textbook and continued to disgust me. She finally got engaged to a sleazy looking chap and later they broke up. Expected! All this, including the final breakup, swallowed hours of news channel time and pages of ToI and evenings of millions of people in India. Some kept saying "Oh! Come on, E. It is just timepass" and continued watching. I am sure Tom and Jerry serves as better "timepass" and retains our senses. Whatever! I thought the country would have learnt a lesson and would be wiser (but that, I learnt, is never true about this country).

Enter the drunkard and drug addict. He looks like a hooligan and comes from a family of politicians (less said about them). He acts like he has never seen a piece of feminine flesh and is known to have beaten up his wife and divorced her. That too, was a drama. His father was murdered and another drama conducted. This man would never feature as a model son/citizen/.../human being. He is the kind people use to scare their children into inculcating values and being educated. Mothers in far away villages tell their wailing child "So jaa, nahin to badey hoke uss ullu ke patthe jaise bann jaoge" which means, "go to sleep else you will grow up to be like that good-for-not-even-nothing scoundrel". Ladies and gentlemen, please run away from Rahul Mahajan. He has nothing to his name except disrepute. He has no job. He has no qualification which will get him a job. He has no history which can be proudly quoted to get him a job. And he decided to get married ala RS on screen. I had the gross misfortune of watching one episode of this while lunching at a dear friend's place. Her friend was addicted to this reality show and I had to wrench the mobile out of her hand as she was about to send her votes. I had to give her the math behind this SMS voting farce and she was too shocked to even notice that the program had ended (or maybe she just watches all of them in succession). I saw the last 3 girls. One of them was supposed to be extremely educated and looked rather refined. I was thoroughly disappointed to see someone supposedly so classy stoop to such levels. Her mother too joined in this drama. Hence, my conclusion that Gen-V spans age groups.

News channels have already come under fire for their callousness. Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai and all the other cartoons of our news channels will not have the decency to stay silent and leave the suffering/embarrassed individuals alone. They will keep hammering them with tonnes of questions while the camera zooms in and out. I had already written about RS (no, not the Swayamvar-wali RS) and his coverage of the Taj Hotel incident. His desperation to be the first to report some disaster oozed out of his words. BD (jalaile?) is equally dramatic and usually insensitive to the individual's situation while she continues to bombard them with questions and then turn rapidly to the camera with her conclusions. Western news channels had already mastered the art of invasive, voyeuristic reporting before India got its first 24x7 news channel and we obediently copied their style of reporting.

The coverage of the Aarushi murder was another incident which was sickening. The poor girl is dead and her family bereaved. Even if they were part of the murder, the media had no business prying into their lives in such a horrible and cheap manner. Aaj Tak and other news channels with their pathetic taste in background music insist on sensationalising every piece of news and every incident (which sometimes is not news).

Pan to the great scandal of the gurus. India is by far the most stupid nation in that it spawns more gurus per square yard than any other country. And this, in spite of the repeated scandals each one of them gets into. The latest is with Mr. N who was caught rolling on his bed with some actress devotee. My first question was, why does the nation care about what he does in his bedroom? My lifelong question is why do we need gurus when we do not have it in us to cultivate a spark of spirituality? If we had it in us, we wouldn't seek gurus beyond the nudge they might be able to give us. All the well known babas and swamis and gurus and godmen have landed themselves in scandals. From the Shankar Mutt acharya to Sai Baba (the one alive) to this recent one with Mr. N and the supposed Bhagwan Kalki and Mrs. BK. As long as there will be stupid people, they deserve such knaves. I think it is only a matter of time before something crops up against the great guruji of our times who happens to bug the daylights out of me! But that apart, why was that camera planted in Mr. N's room? Sting? Why broadcast it? The cheap thrills of watching some godman romp with an actress tickles Gen-V. If his words resonate with you, how does it matter whether he has sex with one or a dozen women? If his words don't stir anything in you why use his sexcapades to justify debunking him. And in all this, why destroy his ashram and hurt his devotees who are perhaps nothing more than ignorant fools?

We want to know the bedroom-tales of every actor and actress, and if we have exhausted that list then we want to know about our neighbours etc. It is not about whether we are holier than them or not (though a lot of people like to collect these tales to reassure themselves that they are indeed holier then thou) but more about the sheer hollowness in our lives.

Would I, E, be watching these videos or reading these articles if I had a deadline tomorrow?


Would I, E, be watching these videos or reading these articles if I had my child in the hospital?


Would I, E, be watching these videos or reading these articles if I was reading an interesting book by Henry James?


Would I, E, be watching these videos or reading these articles if I was out on a date with this lovely lady?

No (I'd probably just wake up)

Would I, E, be watching these videos or reading these articles if I was having a wonderful meal?


I am not holier than thou but I definitely don't watch TV (other than Discovery T&L, Discovery, Nat Geo, HBO, *Movies, Sony Pix, UTV WM, NDTV Lumiere and Cartoon Network) and I definitely don't read the paper (other than to find out whether there are any food festivals happening or book exhibitions or whether what they said about Libra really happened!!). I have friends call in to tell me that something happened in the world around me. I don't care, because my life has enough meat (no, I don't refer to my friends thus) to run smoothly without the base entertainment of watching someone's life lived out on screen.

LSD is the latest movie which talks about this Gen-V but no one is watching it with a meta-understanding of what this Gen-V is all about and what is happening around us without our noticing it. Perhaps LSD is fodder to Gen-V.

Reality shows, 24x7 news, newspapers with their sleaze state that they are catering to the demands of the people. Well, that is what pimps say too. That is what drug dealers say too. It amazes me to observe the double standards of people. No one I know will let their daughter sign up for the Rahul Mahajan drama or let their boy for Rakhi's Swayamvar. Still, I know enough people who watch these programs. Somehow watching is not considered on par with participating. But in murder and in violence, an onlooker who let the crime happen is considered a participant. Aren't these a violence done unto our sense of refinement and our standards of conduct and character?

If Dimpy Ganguly is considered cheap for whatever she did after show timings with Rahul M then why do you continue watching that program? Why would you watch a program where people are made to eat beetles or walk through a chamber of earthworms if you find it disgusting? Why would you watch MTV Roadies or the uglier Splitsvilla when you wouldn't swear like that and consider it vulgar? Emotional Atyachaar is the scum of all reality shows feeding directly on our craving for soft porn. And if you think they are fine and there is nothing wrong in being part of it, then my next question is, do you have nothing worthwhile in your life to spend your time on? Is this all that you can do? If you answer in the affirmative, I wonder what are you doing here!! :-) There is nothing nice on this blog. I do not cater to the "Wow" seekers. I have nothing "Wow" on this blog.

Which brings me to Seth Godin's article (for which I must thank K who shared it on Google Buzz before I did my periodic visit of Seth Godin's page). I agree with him entirely in his observation that our attention span, our intelligence, our refinement our ability to pause is taking a beating and this is no new phenomenon.

And with this I tie back to the nature of content itself. Content is created with least effort for reality shows. The people presenting news are not putting a lot of thought into what they are doing. It take a lot to be intelligent and insightful. I am yet to hear of one line of insight that the BDs and RSs have produced. The same seems to plague literature and the world of the written word with chic-lit and college capers abounding. The likes of Chetan Bhagat wave their resolve to cater to the LCD with aplomb. Music today is nearly all dhanchuk-dhinchuk. Lyrics get worse with every movie. The urgency to get out there and grab people's attention albeit for 10 min seems to be the sole motivator. It seems like a wife who cannot create genuine joy in the house and resorts to a quickie and considers her job done! The sheer effort required in producing content that is nearly immortal is what made some channels (BBC, Nat Geo, etc.) famous and fondly remembered. No one will remember UTV Bindass. The sheer lack of talent and worthy content seems to justify content providers to reel out low quality but high attractiveness stuff. So be it with blogs and the like. There are blogs which do nothing more than provide links to interesting content across the world (laziness) and some which are merely a collection of gossip columns and links to gossip columns around the world (high attractiveness). Good content need not always be only serious stuff. I had once pointed to two blogs which are seriously hilarious. Nothing about their posts provides food for thought, but they are simply hilarious and are not lazy or sleazy in the entertainment they provide. Being provocative too becomes a cheap trick if repeated too often.

So how should I conclude this? Hmmm... Generation - V is here to stay. No matter what I say and no matter what people think about the need to be refined, cultivated and educated, there will always be those who prefer the sleaze and cheap thrills of being a voyeur. You and I, definitely have the option of choosing differently. If your life lacks substance, resolve that and do not resort to the easy way out with lame entertainment. There is a huge difference between an occasional thrill and making that the only thing that can interest you.

More Reading (Will add more as and when I find them):


Peep Show

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Some relationships can afford to be kept on the far sill of the attic window with a quiet whisper assuring them that "I will soon return once I clean up this place." I believe this blog and I share such a relationship. It has been nearly two and a half months since I wrote something here. Actually, it has been around the same span since I visited this blog and cleaned up foul comments that stupid surfers leave (now I get them in Chinese).
There have been several changes I have been working on over this period and allowing myself to witness many more. Most have been good. Hence, my absence was quite conscious and necessary. I think I will return to blogging now.
Friends and readers kept reminding me of the fact that I hadn't written. Paramita even left a comment to nudge me awake. Thank you, Paramita. I hope to have something that might interest you. I had several posts I wanted to write. Some are excessively delayed now and there is little sense in penning them. I won't. The rest will be published as days pass. So, no, there was no writer's block (thank the Goddess) just a decision not to write till I sort things out.