Thursday, December 30, 2010

Celebration Biryani

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Today, I had the world's BEST mutton biryani. I really did. Call it hunger or the severe deprivation of good food, or what you may, but from the second it arrived to many more after I wistfully left my plate to the starving atmospheric organisms, I couldn't think about anything else. Not the server who was probably still laughing at how badly I couldn't speak Malayalam. Definitely not how many cockroaches lived behind the cardboard walls and the kitchen. And not the three text messages awaiting a reply on my phone.* Nope.

It was all me and my biryani.

On my way to south Delhi I found myself in what is probably going to be my favourite place to shop when I'm living this part of the city: INA Market. A name-it-they-have-it marketplace filled with everything you could possibly imagine. And more!

I headed straight for the biryani place, of course. Kerala Hotel. One of those "meals-guaranteed" places that never seem to close. Perfect for college students' untimely hunger pangs. And their wallets, too. But so crickety-crackety, you're never sure whether it's the last place you'll enter alive. While experiencing aforementioned college student hunger pangs late last night, I'd read an exceptionally glowing review of their mutton biryani, and decided I deserved to have a nice meal. Just because.

After a LOT of linguistic fumbling -- I spoke Hindi in a place that spoke Malayalam -- I thought I'd ordered a meal plate; vegetables, rice, the works. Biryani, they told me, would take twenty minutes. I waited. I tried not to look at the cockroaches climbing beside me. I tried not to think about the origins of the water I was very parchedly sipping. I tried not to be offended by the miniskirt-wearing advert girl printed onto their cardboard walls. I tried, I did.

And then it came. Barely five minutes after I'd ordered my vegetarian meal, I was handed a very welcome steaming plate of rice covering what looked like... mutton! Could it possibly be that they'd understood what I wanted to say? I looked up at the gods, and accepted their offerings. I understood. And if meditation is thinking one thought for twelve seconds or more, I meditated upon that dish till the entire thing was demolished. Every single grain of fragrant rice stuck to every single bony piece of mutton. True, it wasn't biryani so much as it was curry-rice. But oh my god, it was the most beautiful combination of mutton and rice I have ever eaten. Absolutely perfect. Like every morsel was made to be loved, not eaten. But eaten it was. With so much joy.

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I almost don't want to come out of that feeling to talk about the rest of my time spent at the market. But I will (very briefly), because it made me happy.

Before today, I'd only ever ventured into the side near the main road, which is unusual for me, because I usually spend so much time walking around places. But today, a few soon-to-fade beams of light shone through the tiniest possible walkway, to show me I'd been missing the most interesting part entirely, the fish market! Very celestial, yes. But meat and vegetable markets are like heaven to some crazy people. Bok choy, chinese cabbage, iceberg lettuce, seaweed, baby corn, dried chinese mushrooms, fresh mushrooms, fat chilies; all the perfect ingredients for stir fry. In bundles so large you could almost dive into. And fish! And prawns! And crabs! And chickens! Of every conceivable colour and texture and flavour. I felt like a child let loose in the city. Eyes wide open, mouth in an 'O', soaking, observing, wanting everything around. My personal, static little bubble as the world moved in slow-motion around me.

I so need to go back.



*Sorry, R



Saturday, December 11, 2010

Have Telephoto Lens, Will Use It

Jewish Man

Scoping out Jewish men from really high rooftops is always fun, no matter what your mother tells you.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Little Kids Know More

"Do you know what butterflies' favourite food is?", my cute seven-year old cousin very seriously asked me when she saw the picture below.

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"Uh, leaves?", I meekly ventured, embarrassed at not knowing more.

"Bananas!", she leapt up, like it was the most obvious thing. "If you want to attract a butterfly, just hold a banana close to it, and it'll come flying to you."

"Oh" was really all I could muster. Is there a factbook where kids learn this kind of stuff?

"I tried feeding one once. It was very sticky, so I shook it off." Cue, hand-shaking hula-hoop wiggle dance.

"Wait, which was sticky -- the banana or the butterfly?"

Pause. She wrinkled her nose. "Well, the banana was a little soggy, and the butterfly was a little sticky too."

Aww.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thank you for your infinite patience, Pak-Man.

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In July, I bought a Rubik's Cube. I promised myself that I would be able to solve one by the end of the year. After carrying it around with me for a month, I put it to rest in a shoe box at the bottom of my cupboard, where it has lain since.

Well, it's the first day of the last month of the year. And I can solve it.

I'm so proud.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dog-food

There's one thing you should know about my college. We love dogs. Stephens just wouldn't be the same without its usual smattering of canines, all very well-looked after, rolly-tumbly, dare-I-say-pampered little things with crazy metabolisms that keep them just the right amount of skinny to elicit our sympathy.

The looks they give you as you're about to dig into that deliciously warm chocolate chip muffin could melt Finland. All at once, you feel sympathy, responsibility, and generosity. Feed one hungry doggy, and you've fed the world. Right?

Wrong.

Everyone knows that feeding dogs chocolate kills them. Universal, elementary-school knowledge. Forget that one superdog you hear having survived all Diwali on chocolate. Chocolate is fatal to the canines. You can't feed it to humans in large quantities without them being very sick, forget dogs. Or, that's what you're thinking, anyway, when Chacko comes up to you to beg you for one, tiny morsel.

So you don't feed him.

But while you're thinking this insanely long stream of thoughts, and convincing your brain not to fall prey to the charms of the campus dogs yet again, the poor, starving, pouting doggy is still standing there endearingly. Unashamedly drooling, eyes wide open, a low moan starting to escape his lips. Raww-wwww. Quite the cutie. Your conscience, if you have any, bubbles up to your throat, threatening to make you implode. So you walk to the cafe, and buy the dog a meal. That's right. Toast and mutton mince patties to go. And a bottle of almond milk. Plain milk would just be un-classy.

And that's what Stephanian dogs eat.

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As for the puppies? These pudgy, little furballs probably get the best of the lot. Yes, they're poked and coo-ed at since before they can open their eyes; yes, they're picked up and played with before they know what playing is; and yes, they're given the most nonsensical names ever (Waffles? Snowflake? Mojo-Jojo?). But they're also easily the most loved members on campus.

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It's hard not to melt at the sight of these teensy cupcakes on legs. They're always falling over, or scampering off at speeds that make their stomachs bob along the floor, or lolling about on their backs in the winter sun, four legs up in the air. Sunning is their favourite thing to do, and reasonably so, because they can't walk very well; they just don't seem to understand that their legs have to move forward, not sideways. So if you call Puppy X towards you, make sure it's in an open field, because he'll run towards you, but end up bumping into the wall beside him, courtesy his leftward gait. Silly babies.

Most of campus gossip is centered around puppies:

"Did you see that new lot?"
"Yes, they're soooo cute! What should we call them?"
"Well, this one is called Tux, already. Maybe we should name the others Butterfly and Milky?"
"What? No way. Not Milky! Let's call him Rambo!"
And so, Rambo is christened.

Two months later...

"Aww, look-at-chyou! You're such a pwetty girl, aren't chyou?"
"What's her name?"
"This one? She's called Rambo."

(Someone obviously forgot to look somewhere important while naming her.)

But all that aside, they really are the cutest things ever. Flopsy, velveteen bundles. And on a sunny winter afternoon, there's nothing else you really love more about college than the puppy nestled in the nook of your arm.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Violet and Grey


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Fireworks out my window,
flame-throwers in my head,
daydreams in the distance,
foreground well be dead.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gateau et Moi

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Tonight, I want cake!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Firelights and Sunshine

Happy belated Diwali, everyone!

(I wanted to call this post La Fete des Lumières, but I was laughing too hard to do it. Hopefully, the first entry when you search for that on Google will explain why.)

My little cousins and I watched Ramona and Beezus this evening. Thank you, Beverly Cleary, for Ramona. She has always been one of my favourite book characters. A spunky, imaginative exploratress who colours outside the lines and cuts her own hair (though not always intentionally). My role model!

The movie is the same happy explosion of sunshine Ramona is.

In the perfect span of time to keep a fidgety seven-year old and her easily distracted teenage cousin entertained, it safaris through the often exasperating intricacies of a nine-year old's relationship with the confounding adult world. Here is a girl who falls through ceilings, constructs herself a crown of burs, sets fire to her kitchen and accidentally spills nineteen varieties of paint on a vintage car. You start and end very much looking at the world through Ramona's unique, nine-year old fisheye view.

Ramona, I love you for reminding that I'm so much more the person I used to read about. Sunshine and happiness. Funner. And while I'm reflecting on that and the time I read Ramona, here's something from a cookbook I also received when I was six. And finally managed to make on Diwali morning, thirteen years later.

Sunny! Mashed potatoes and eggs in a basket.

Quit drooling, you.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

History is a Cylinder

The Mughals and their architecture. Spellbinding.

Seriously. I never thought the Qutub Minar could be this gorgeous. I mean, in the distance, it's just a multi-coloured cylinder, fuzzed in the Delhi smogosphere.

Up close, it's quite something else.

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Layers of toffee-coloured Mughal rule enshrined in a tower. Years of Delhi's history, neatly contained in a truncated cone.

While we're on the subject of truncated cones (groan, if you must), it struck me that history is kind of like a cylinder. 'What on earth?', you ask. Well, a cylinder is just another name for a cone whose apex is at infinity. And the Qutub Minar seems like the perfect example of this: built from the bottom, one floor at a time, extending infinitely higher as time goes by. A historical cone into the unending sky.

Beautiful, isn't it?

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I would fail at further describing how seeing it made me feel, because the sight of such a magnificent relic so close made my head spin like a sea of bubbles, rendering any thoughts incoherent. So instead, because most of you live in or around Delhi, I'll take you there someday. And then we can gaze up at the skies, admire history and art, and thank god we're alive. How does that sound?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Happy (Birthday) in Hampi

For my birthday this year, I wanted to do something as far from my routine as possible.

I ended up not just on vacation, but on vacation from being on vacation. Turning one year older in a place so old, you'd probably need a cake wider than its expanse to fit all its birthday candles.


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Speaking of birthday cakes, here's mine. The most delicious birthday cake I've had in a year! Dark chocolate with hints of orange, held together with bananas -- not butter -- studded with nutty chocolate. Cut on a hill at sunrise, in the company of strangers. Absolutely gorgeous.

Like Hampi itself. As the capital, Hampi is built on the amassed wealth of the Vijaynagar empire, which stretched over a major part of the South Indian peninsula. Established over many, many years, the capital consisted of several religious centres, each surrounded by its own residential enclave. Hakka and Bukka, the original rulers and designers, must've been pretty chuffed at how it turned out.

The sheer scale of the whole thing is amazing. Six hundred square kilometres of temples, columns, boulders, and water channels. Never mind that the whole thing was knocked down by armies five hundred years ago. What remains is stunning. Grand, but not imposing. Ornate, but not ostentatious. Spaces so vast and so stark in their simplicity that they reduce you to open-mouthed atoms. An album to see what I mean?


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Part of the other-worldy feeling was perhaps induced by our journey to Hampi, which was too ordinarily Indian for me to believe where it had brought us. We went there in the most exciting section of an Indian train: the sleeper class, so called because it has eight bunks, and not much else to do but sit, eat and sleep!

To me, there can be no more fun way than sitting with a bunch of strangers, your arm on the open window grill, your hair whipped by the wind and your ears and nose wafting in all the morning tea snack-sellers yelling "vada-vada-vada-idli-idli-idli-idli" and their wares; delicious fried onions held together with spiced gram flour, steaming broken-rice cakes that are so good you're glad you asked for more than one, and shots of tea with amounts of sugar you can't imagine fully dissolving.

Travelling cattle class is also about really seeing India, smelling India, covering your ears so they don't hurt from the noise and just accepting India for what it is. You don't get to choose how warm or rainy the weather is that day, or to not see the fields being used as toilets. You don't get to smell only fresh, clean air, or live in a bubble of quietude. Being in sleeper class means you take it all in, both unending chatter and the babbling gush of giant waterfalls. Both the sweat of a million Indians and the eucalyptus trees in the distance. And all kinds of people. Skinny, verbose, tobacco-stained, curious. This is India. Everything, all at once.

And then some more.

India both allures and annoys you. It makes you covet it, and then challenges you until you come back smiling, though you don't know it, saying, "I'm in India." It makes you change game plans a dozen times a day, until you learn that the easiest way to be here is to just be.

You could fall in love with it, but it's not easy.

But I'm going off on a tangent here. Travelling for eight hours with what seemed like every single person in India did no good in preparing me for the remoteness of Hampi. Here, it's so quiet, you can feel the souls of the departed Vijaynagaris hovering over their boulders, guarding them from wayward tourists. So quiet, you forget you're in India. So quiet, you can hear yourself think.



And when those thoughts resonate in all that empty quietspace, Hampi takes a step back, opens itself out even wider, and consumes you. Completely.

Like seeing the sun set in Hampi, over a sea of boulders and Canons. I wish I could give you more than a glimpse, but try to imagine the panorama below in three sixty degrees. A giant sunset egg, with you in the center.




And now, I rather hastily bid you good morrow, because my legs keep falling asleep, and I should follow.

Gah, first days back.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Sea-shine


I spent another gorgeous day at the beach today. Being outside the sea, being within the sea, and being the sea

Though my relationship with water is profound (ha!), I have only gotten to know the sea fairly recently. The first time I stood with my back to the crush of the waves, I was twelve. It wasn't my first time on the beach, but it was the first since I've been a little girl. Since then, I've come to love the sea for all it brings to me; turquoise skies, the smell of sunscreen and drying fish, and the warm, holiday feeling of being a thousand miles from reality.

So, tonight, I leave you with some Neruda. Beautiful, eloquent, the poet I'd like to be.

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A fisherman readying his nets to go out for his second trip of the day.

Poet's Obligation

To whoever is not listening to the sea
this Friday morning, to whoever is cooped up
in house or office, factory or woman
or street or mine or harsh prison cell:
to him I come, and, without speaking or looking,
I arrive and open the door of his prison,
and a vibration starts up, vague and insistent,
a great fragment of thunder sets in motion
the rumble of the planet and the foam,
the raucous rivers of the ocean flood,
the star vibrates swiftly in its corona,
and the sea is beating, dying and continuing.

So, drawn on by my destiny,
I ceaselessly must listen to and keep
the sea's lamenting in my awareness,
I must feel the crash of the hard water
and gather it up in a perpetual cup
so that, wherever those in prison may be,
wherever they suffer the autumn's castigation,
I may be there with an errant wave,
I may move, passing through windows,
and hearing me, eyes will glance upward
saying "How can I reach the sea?"
And I shall broadcast, saying nothing,
the starry echoes of the wave,
a breaking up of foam and of quicksand,
a rustling of salt withdrawing,
the grey cry of sea-birds on the coast.

So, through me, freedom and the sea
will make their answer to the shuttered heart.

- Pablo Neruda

Monday, October 4, 2010

South Goa

I spent the morning at Palolem beach yesterday. Just me, my camera and the sea. Rows of weathered fishing boats, shells striped like the rear-view of a line of happy dogs, and the ceaseless thundering of the waves, content in their marriage to the lazy palm fronds. 

Below, you see one of the million blue dragonflies that hovered around me as I sat under one of those zorgein maads [Conconi for 'lazy palms'], reading Eat, Pray, Love. One of the best books I've ever read. Thank you, mum.

To its right, you see the proud flag of a fishing boat. Who knew?


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I found a five-paise coin washed up on the shore. It's refreshingly light and, as you can see, very worn by time and sea. But it's mine, and I love it.

The baby pomfret on the right? "Wery fresh", assures us the lady in the fish market. We can tell by how pink its gills are. And how it smells like the entire sea dried up into three square centimetres.
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Don't let the two pictures below fool you. Life is not equal parts work and rest in Goa. Much less picking up rags at the beach, much more sitting in your chair, staring out at the passersby.

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It's good to be here. On holiday, finally.