A Meaty Tradition!

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What is it about Bengalis and their must-have dish, mutton curry, on Sunday?

As I type this, I have mutton and potatoes cooking inside a pressure cooker, delicious aroma wafting into my living room from the kitchen, to remind me that I need to turn the gas off after a couple of minutes. And it’s a Sunday.

There goes the warning whistle.

They say it’s tradition. I find that odd as I’ve never been particularly traditional. Yet I find myself craving mangsho every Sunday. My family isn’t very traditional either. Though my ancestry dates back some three hundred years in West Bengal. My father left home when he was twenty to be a mariner. He loved the seas and was hardly ever seen shopping for groceries on a Sunday morning like most traditional Bengali men. My mother cooked only when she had to, though she was happiest with a book in her hands, not a ladle.

Yet, oddities aside, every Sunday we ate meat curry for lunch.

I’m grown up now. At least I hope so. I don’t live in Kolkata anymore. I couldn’t be further away from it, enconsced in the heart of dusty Jat Land. Yet every Sunday morning, there’s that all-too-familiar gnawing in my stomach.

I buy the meat myself. The husband does NOT go shopping with a tholey (cloth shopping bag – I’ve always hated the ghastly things) though he would oblige if I asked him to. My meat is home delivered. The friendly neighbourhood butcher knows the cuts of meat that I like. I wash and cook the mutton myself, potatoes fried golden brown, chunks of meat marinated and cooked in a fiery amber gravy before being tossed into the cooker with the potatoes to sizzle in their own juices.

The cholesterol scare keeps us away from the dish every now and then but it’s back on our table sooner or later. Always on a Sunday though.

There goes the whistle. I’d better go. My meat is cooked.

What’s your Sunday meat story?

 

 

 

 

About Names Not So Good, After All!

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They say people from West Bengal have a chip on their shoulders. Who wouldn’t? Imagine laboring through life, tough enough as it were, with a name gifted indulgently to you by a fond uncle or a loving grandma when you were little. Too little to protest.

Cut to the present. Imagine the horrors of having that name discovered, being ridiculed by the world at large. From anonymity to the centre of attention, except none of it is good. The name that you spent your whole lifetime trying to hide. How does it feel Potla? Or should I call you Habool or Phoolkumar? Or are you a hulk of a man who goes by the name of Chhotu or an obese, middle aged woman called Flopsy?

Tsk tsk!

My pet name, or as Bengalis would have it, daak naam, was recently revealed to the world thanks to a tip off by a friendly relative on a social media site. I don’t think she meant any harm but I have been struggling with the jibes ever since, silently seething. Why did my supposedly loving parents allow this to happen to their daughter? I haven’t a clue. And no, it doesn’t help that it is a one-of-a-kind name and that you cannot claim mistaken identity.

Still, I guess it could have been worse. I could have been named after a cat. Or a dog.

During a visit to her sister-in-law’s place once, my grandmother discovered, much to her horror, that one of the many cats in the household had been named after her. Throughout her visit, she heard her sister-in-law (the matriarch of the family) screeching out at regular intervals: “Penky, stop jumping on the table!” “Penky get off the bed!” “Penky don’t you dare touch the milk!” You can imagine my grandmother’s state the whole time. She had been sitting in one corner of the room, drinking a cup of tea, rather quietly as this particular relative was not a favourite. I realise now that the feeling was probably mutual!

Each time, her name was yelled out, my grandma would jump out of her skin. She didn’t know why she was being admonished for the things she was NOT doing till her sister-in-law slyly introduced her to her namesake. A scruffy looking cat. Grandmother was humiliated to say the least! Secretly though, I thought it was hilarious and the perfect revenge!

Another time, my father was invited to a colleague’s son’s rice ceremony. On reaching the venue, he found the house teeming with guests, most of whom he obviously didn’t know. So he chose to park himself in a spot away from the crowds, next to the golden-brown dog tied to a charpoy with a chain. After a while, he heard the host, his colleague, shouting out loudly for a “Goldie? Goldie, where are you? Come here at once. Goldie?????”

My father helpfully offered: “Goldie is here, next to me, tied to the bed.”

The host came over to where my father was sitting, eyeing him rather coldly. “That’s not Goldie, that’s Jimmy. Goldie is my son, he’s crawled off somewhere and we can’t see him!”

Do you blame my father? I would have made the same mistake.

How was anyone to know that Goldie was not the dog.

Incidentally, Goldie is now a middle-aged, pot-bellied man, working as a manager in a bank. Good thing, he’s not on social media though.

Sigh.

Disclaimer: Any similarity to unfortunate pet names of persons living or dead is purely coincidental!

Not Shaken or Stirred!

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For the first time in fifteen years, I have slept peacefully through an earthquake. Snoring contentedly, if I might add, while the ground rumbled and shook beneath me, sending people into a tizzy. And I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. So relieved that I  feel like celebrating with a vodka martini, NOT shaken or stirred! It’s almost as if I’ve cheated fear itself, fear that I’ve been living with, ever since the very first earthquake I felt in Gurgaon.

Chamoli: March 29, 1999: Having moved to Gurgaon from Kolkata, we rented a quaint apartment on the tenth floor of one of the oldest condominiums in Gurgaon, Silver Oaks. Life was all about work and hectic after-work partying. After a particularly bohemian night of friends, alchohol and loud music, we collapsed into bed a little before midnight. Just as I was floating into dreamless slumber, I was rudely poked by my husband from his side of the bed. “Stop shaking the bed,” he growled menacingly, speech still blurry from all the spirits in his bloodstream. “Stop shaking the what?” I got up angrily, ready with a stream of cuss words to hurl at him for disturbing my sleep, “I’m not shaking the …. “ but before I could finish my sentence, I noticed our flimsy cane bed shaking rather violently. I looked up, the fan was swaying this way and that. My heart skipped several beats. From the next room, I heard my brother shout out “Earthquake, run for your life!”

Easier said than done.

Getting dressed in a hurry and running down ten flights of stairs is no easy task. Especially when you have gallons of alcohol inside you and your vision is sleep blurred. But we made it, and heaving for breath in the open parking spaces next to the building, I wondered why we had bothered to race downstairs at all. If the building did fall, we would be buried right under it. Meanwhile, I made a mental note to stay properly dressed at all times, even at night.

Kutchh: January 26, 2001: After the first earthquake, I grew restless. I would look at the ceiling fan a lot, just to make sure that it was not swaying. The after shocks ceased in a few days but I often felt my head do a little spin randomly. I would get hot flashes at the thought of another earthquake. Nightmares of being trapped under rubble. I started looking for excuses to get closer to the ground.

Then, Kutchh happened, and breakfast was never the same again. From getting ready to tuck into a nice, hot breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast and bacon to running down (you guessed it), ten flights of stairs again! I had to get out of the damned 10th floor flat, and fast!

In the years that followed, I moved house. A two-storeyed house, facing a park. Life was peaceful, earthquake-free. There were pests of another kind – the simian variety! But isn’t that the irony about life?  The grass is never greener! My daughter was born, we got burgled, held to ransom inside a house by a gang of marauding monkeys and, it was time to move again!

Only this time I insisted that I would not move higher than the third floor if I had to live in a flat again. It’s no joke running down ten or twelve flights with a baby in your arms. With Gurgaon being a seismic zone, I was NOT taking any chances this time. We moved into a fourth floor flat in another condominium and I started getting my earthquake kit ready. Just in case. Packets of formula, water, odomos, flashlight, wallets, credit cards. Strangely, the list kept increasing and the bag, heavier. How on earth would I lift it if we had to leave in a hurry? We started going to bed fully dressed at night. Our shoes, bags and earthquake kit neatly stored next to the bed. We were all set. Just in case …..

Days passed, months even. The milk powder started smelling rancid, I started digging into the earthquake kit and using up the supplies when I felt lazy to shop. Soon the (empty) bag disappeared under the bed. We started getting into bed in our disreputable night wear, tired of being poshly turned out all the time. Our wallets and bags went back to being scattered all over the house, in places you would never find in a hurry.

And then it happened. In the dead of night, in winter. After a New Year’s party at a neighbour’s house. As we raced down the stairs, with our five-year-old, desperately trying to avoid being trampled by neighbours, we couldn’t stop cursing ourselves. Huddled in our car, near a open field, a little distance away from our block of flats, we sat in silence, angry and fearful while our little toddler kept lisping cheerfully at regular intervals “Is this an earthquake? Are we going to die?”

No, we didn’t die but all three of us caught a dreadful cold. From sitting out in the freezing cold for over an hour. We were laid up for nearly ten days and let me tell you, it wasn’t fun. My earthquake kit reappeared again with fresh supplies and I made a vow NEVER to touch it again.

I kept my promise, and the kit is still there under the bed, intact with bottles of musty water, sour milk and expired medicines. In all the earthquakes that followed over the years, whether at night or in the afternoon, I have never been prepared or remembered to grab the kit before leaving the house. In the most recent one, in summer last year I think, I have rushed down only to realise that my t-shirt (which I threw over my camisole in a hurry) was inside out! Nonchalantly, I walked up and down the park as I waited, pretending as though this was the latest style, ignoring curious stares and sniggers. Gurgaon women are always well-dressed even in times of calamity. Though I once saw a women wrapped in a towel trying to hide behind a pillar. Poor soul!

The moral of my story? Don’t know if there is one. It’s hard to be prepared for an earthquake and after years of fearing them and trying to stay alive when it happens, I slept through it all. 

Oh well, until next time I guess. Till then, I guess I should go check on that earthquake kit. Something has been smelling really foul under the bed!

  

Let the Music Play On!

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Music is the soundtrack of our lives

(Dick Clark)

 I believe this is true. Music certainly is the soundtrack of my life. I don’t think I’ve spent a single day without listening to music. It’s the perfect aide to my writing, a companion if you will. It helps me get into the “zone” every single time. It inspires me in a way that nothing ever can or will. In fact, I would go so far as to say that music is my muse. If I hadn’t become a writer, I would certainly have pursued music.

Writing won (for the moment) but music is biding time, waiting patiently in the wings. Like many other writers, I have my favourite playlist that I tune into when I sit down to write. Songs with lyrics don’t work when I’m writing. I find myself singing along, writing forgotten somewhere along the way. These powerful soundtracks provide the right mood. These are just a few of the tunes I like, there are many, many more – too many to list down. From light to noir, happy to maudlin, check them out if you need a muse. You won’t be disappointed! You will notice I have a few favourites, John Williams being a permanent fixture in the list. But I’m very taken with Olafur Arnalds and Shigeru Umebayashi.

  1. Atonement 

2. Broadchurch

3. Inception

4. Harry Potter (Lily’s Theme)

 5. Harry Potter (Courtyard Apocalyse)

6. Dr Zhivago

7. Memoirs of a Geisha

8. Pride and Prejudice

9. Forrest Gump 

    10. In the mood for Love

For Your Eyes Only!

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The ground floor trial rooms at the clothing store are occupied. It’s the start of a long weekend and there are shoppers crowding every floor of the three storeyed retail store in Gurgaon. A couple of women are trying on clothes (heaps of them, in fact), darting out every couple of minutes to parade in front of their men, waiting patiently at the entrance to the trial rooms, and seek their approval.

The men, some of them pacing up and down the aisle impatiently or checking their smartphones while they wait, look up when their women materialise and either nod or shake their heads. The smiles on the womens’ faces dissolve into frowns or stay firmly in place depending on the signals they receive from the men. One of them, a pretty, thirty-something lingers a little longer than the others, smoothening the shimmery top over her tummy, fluttering her eyelids.

“Is it okay Jaanu? Are you sure I don’t look fat? This colour, is it nice?”

Jaanu, a stout man with heavyset features, nods and waves her off, back into the trial room. The moment she vanishes, he  starts checking his mail again, but not before darting a furtive, embarrassed glance in my direction.

I’m beaming now, enjoying the runway fashion show.

I’m accompanying the teenager and she has disappeared into one of the trial rooms with a bundle of things she wants to try on. There’s no chance of her appearing in the doorway to seek my approval. She knows I won’t approve and neither of us like exchanging angry words in public. So I wait, skulking in the aisles, while she makes up her mind on her own. Much like I do, when I’m out shopping on my own.

I can’t help but feel astonished that all of these women cannot pick outfits without taking sartorial advice from the men in their lives. I can understand wanting to look good for someone, but shouldn’t you be able to decide what you want to buy and whether or not it would look good on you, on your own? If the man says no, it doesn’t look nice, will you just accept that verdict without a question?

That doesn’t seem right to me. And it’s certainly not something I would do!

Jaanu’s better half has just appeared wearing a frothy chiffon dress. But he doesn’t like it. He scowls and shakes his head vigorously from side to side. She looks uncertain, bites her lower lip and heads back indoors sadly. What a shame. I thought she looked rather nice in that dress. But no one has asked for my opinion!

Of course, I can’t help but feel slightly envious of the fact that these men have taken time out and are patiently waiting while their wives and girlfriends shop. Not just that, it’s their decision whether or not a particular article of clothing will be bought. Now, that’s an awful amount of responsibility to give someone. Even if you are in love with that person.

There is the tiny matter of the bill. If these men are the ones doling out the cash, then perhaps it does make sense? They do get to decide what they spend their money on. But it’s not an air conditioner or a fridge or a piece of crockery that we are discussing. Why do they get to have a say in what their wives and girlfriends wear?

No one (other than my mother when I was a little girl) has ever taken me shopping. None of my boyfriends when I was a teenager or my husband of 23 years. I’ve mostly shopped alone and bought clothes I wanted to buy and felt I looked good in. Whether I did or not is another matter altogether! The only approval I’ve ever sought is my own.

Is it time to change? Seeing all these women, I’m beginning to wonder that maybe I’m the odd one out.  Perhaps I should ask my husband to take me shopping next week. There is a lovely blue blouse I’ve spotted.

I’m quite sure he will think I’ve lost it. Early onset of dementia. I can almost hear him laughing at me. My jaanu is not willing at all. But then, he’s not used to his woman seeking approval for anything so can’t say I blame him!

Do you?

 

 

A Slice of Childhood!

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While flying out of Kolkata last weekend on a work trip, a tiny kiosk at the airport’s food court filled my heart with wistfulness and unleashed a floodgate of memories. I scanned the glass racks and found a slice of my childhood, delicately placed on its customary bedding of a frilly white lace paper doily. It was intact, as though time had not touched it at all.

As I hurriedly tucked into the sugary treat, I could hear my voice of reason, chastising me, warning me of the consequences that would follow this act of reckless abandonment. I wasn’t listening, of course. Would you have?

I may as well have been born in Flurys, for all the time that I have spent there.

My mother was around five or six years old when her grandfather first took her to the tearoom to buy some bread and cakes. He wasn’t allowed to eat sweets at home because of his duodenal ulcers so my mother accompanied him on stealth missions to Flurys. Her reward for not ratting him out was a box of sugary pastries that she would eat all by herself!

Over the years, the visits to tea shop became an inevitable part of her school and college routine. Loreto House, her school (and college) was just down the road and that made it all the more easier. When she married and had children (who also went to the same school), her Flurys circle became larger.

Most of the people at the shop, starting from the doorman, waiters to the cashiers knew us well. I remember, staring into the display racks piled with goodies, my head barely touching the counter,  chubby fingers tracing patterns on the glass as I stared googly eyed at the mutton patties, sausage rolls, rum balls, chocolates squares, boats and strawberry and pineapple pastries, lined neatly one against the other. There would be a delightful array of round cakes, with bright marzipan roses on top. Pink, green, orange. Loaves of bread, buns and cheese straws.

On special days, after a swim at the Club, my father would bring us to the tearoom for a late breakfast. We would all huddle together, all three of us siblings, expectantly. The waiter would bring chicken sandwiches and a trolley full of pastries we could choose from. My heart would skip a beat at the sound of wheels against the marble floors and the sight of the familiar trolley piled high with pastries and other cakes. The sandwiches were divine, soft white buttered bread, stuffed with chicken. I still remember the faint whiff of mustard in each bite.

All good things always come to an end. Childhood included.

I’ve grown up, gotten a job and moved out of the city. It’s been over twenty years. The tearoom has gotten a makeover and I can hardly recognize it any more the last few times I’ve been back on a visit.

Most of the old staff have left. The new waiters are young, impatient and speak in accented Bengali. There are queues of noisy people, always waiting outside to get in. Everything about the place seems pretentious – from the menu to the pastries and the chocolate boxes on display. My fingers don’t knock on the glass expectantly any more. Instead they tap impatiently on the counter demanding to be served. The pink pastries are conspicuously absent and I can’t hear the familiar sound of the wheels grating against the floor any more. Perhaps it’s time to move on. There’s a brand new world of Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf out there. I shouldn’t be hanging on to the past any more.

I sigh, finish the last of the squidged pink cream and sponge cake on my plastic plate, collect my bags and walk out of the food court. Boarding for my flight to Delhi has just been announced.

Yikes on a Plane!

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Tiny feet were kicking my seat from behind. Annoyingly regular kicks, a couple of seconds interval between each. I pressed back hard against the seat with all my might in a futile bid to stop the kicks. Didn’t work. Kick Kick Kick, the demonic feet were at it again.

“Dhruv Beta, stop. You are annoying the aunty in front,” I heard a woman’s voice from behind me drawl.

The owner of the annoying feet, Dhruv Beta, refused. “Nahi!” he yelled at his mum and continued kicking the back of my seat, more determined than ever.

I gritted my teeth and started counting till ten, staring at the air hostess who had started her flight safety demonstrations in the aisle, further ahead, fixed smile on her pretty face. My face, on the other hand, had turned quite purple and I could feel my blood beginning to boil. Another couple of minutes and I would stick my face in the opening between the seats and glare at the little brat. That should do it. It’s worked before.

I stared at the yellow mask the stewardess was displaying when a sudden movement in front distracted me. From a narrow gap between the seats in front of me, I could see the occupants of the two seats glued together in what looked like a passionate liplock. As I stared at them, mouth hanging open, Dhruv Beta, his kicks, and the flight safety instructions were temporarily forgotten.

Smack. Muahh. Groans. Oh Baby, Janoo Panoo.

At the outset, let me tell you, the scene wasn’t particularly pleasant to look at. They were hardly Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson. And Fifty Shades isn’t even my favourite movie!

These two were in their sixties, the lady with an unpleasant scowl and brightly hennaed hair, piled high on her scalp. I had noticed her earlier being quite rude with the flight attendants when we were boarding the airplane. The man was wearing a jet black toupee. Tufts of white and orange hair peeked out from the side of his head not covered by the hair piece. He looked like Rocky Raccoon from the cartoon strip. For the next couple of minutes, I couldn’t help but stare as they went at each other in that cramped space. It was getting quite steamy. Much like a C grade South Indian soft porn film.

Yikes.

Wait a minute. Was I forgetting something? Or Someone?

I suddenly remembered I had company! I stared guiltily at the teen in the seat next to me, panic stricken for a heart stopping moment. Had she seen the action in front? Didn’t look like it. She was bent over her iPad, curls all over the place, glued to the Subway Surfers game on the screen, blissfully oblivious to the action in the front and back. Thank heavens for technology. At least, at this very moment, I thought to myself.

Dhruv Beta had started kicking again. I looked out of the window and realised that we were in mid-air and I hadn’t even noticed due to Mr and Mrs Grey in front of me.

I was determined not to stare, eyes fixed on my Kindle for the entire duration of the two-hour flight. But it was very hard, let me tell you. Between Dhruv Beta’s kicks and the passion being served up front, I was between a rock and a hard place. When refreshments were being offered, I heard Mrs Grey yell at the stewardess loudly “Hello! I want a lemon tea. Get me some nimboo at once!”

I sighed.

There should be a code of conduct for people travelling on board airplanes. Annoying passengers who need instructions on how to behave. Our plane could have done with a Romeo squad, much like a security inspector, to keep the amorous uncles and aunties in check. I hear they are quite strict about these things in cities such as Dubai. And more recently, Uttar Pradesh.

As for Dhruv Beta …. I’m not in favour of corporal punishment … but spanking might help!