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November 10, 2010

Prejudice with a halo

There’s something eerie about one’s heel. And on Sunday late night, given that my mother’s name isn’t Thetis, I didn’t face Achilles’ fate when a sharp shard of glass bizarrely lodged itself on my bare feet. However, this incident resulted in me being whisked away, next day, to a clinic in Statue for a tetanus toxoid shot.

The drive to the clinic took 30 minutes (it should have taken 5 minutes) since various political and professional parties/groups were protesting and picketing in front of the Secretariat in Statue. Even though there’s always some kind of protest at the Secretariat on any given day, Monday’s confluence was teeming, mainly with students from the city’s colleges and university who were protesting against US President Obama’s visit to India. This made us observe the protestors and it was rather surprising to spot certain famed ringleaders, merrily dousing the fire with more oil. These were educated, famed men of the city, whose children not only studied in the US, but are also working there with their families (facts which probably missed the perception of their disciples). And these men were also well known for visiting the country at least twice a year.

Ambrose Bierce was indeed wise.

Full of sound and fury….

I don’t like fireworks. Or rather, I should specify that I don’t like the Indian/S.Indian versions of fireworks- since the market favours sound over light, the popular local fireworks have the capability of bursting ear drums and creating mini earthquakes. In fact, a recent study established that the most popular fireworks have a decibel range extremely harmful for human hearing. And given my sensitive hearing, such fireworks days would find me closing all windows and listening to Offspring or Green Day at a very high volume (unsure which is more hazardous: fireworks or punk rock).

Fireworks are indispensable entertainments at the local festivals, religious or otherwise. And the Hindu festival of Deepavali (or Diwali), the festival of lights which celebrates the triumph of good over evil, is one ordeal which I abhor. This is when it seems as if you are trapped in a nightmare, standing frozen right in middle of a battleground, clad not in the army fatigues but in your nightdress, and with constant ammunition and bombs detonating in near proximity. Yet, admittedly, the plight might be worse in other states, for Kerala is reputed for having subdued Deepavali celebrations.

This year’s Deepavali was quite different and I made a significant effort in not scurrying to the lair even when it seemed as if the earth was shaking-- for, this year’s Deepavali fell on November 5th (the specific date is determined by the lunar position) the day known as Guy Fawkes Day. Even though my first Guy Fawkes was spent in Lewes and Brighton, the subsequent ones all featured myself and C enjoying the breathtaking display of fireworks at Midsummer Common in Cambridge.

But this year’s Deepavali also established a trend which has been rather perceptible over the years: Our neighborhood has a ‘Christian’ population of more than 80%. So one might expect the Hindu festival to be much tamer given the minority of Hindus. Interestingly, whilst the Hindu households limited their celebrations to lighting some lamps, the so-called Christian households were busy earning all kinds of swear words.

October 15, 2010

Recipe: Cheese n' Leaves cutlet avec tomato gravy

This late afternoon, armed with the recipe for a certain light snack, I headed to the kitchen. Whilst I was merrily preparing the ingredients, I came to a standstill upon realising that we didn’t have some key ingredients. The only option then was to improvise (not a chore given that this is exactly what I do all the time!)… and the amended recipe was entirely original and lip-smacking! Even my very fastidious parents are now goading me to cook more of these cutlets!

For the cutlet:
Chickpea flour- 6 scoops in a tablespoon (I reckon it is approximately 6 x 10 mg)
Cheese- 2 slices (I further divided this into 32 pieces of equal size. Obviously, you can use up to 6-8 slices if you can stomach that much cheese).
Bread- 2 slices (disintegrate these into crumbs- as fine as possible).
Spinach leaves/stems- a handful, chopped finely.
Lettuce- a handful, chopped finely.
Coriander leaves/stems- a handful, chopped finely
Large onion- 1/3rd. Chopped finely.
Coriander powder- 1 tsp
Cumin powder- 1 tsp
Meat masala powder- 1 tbsp
Turmeric powder- ½ tsp
Garlic- 1 clove, finely chopped
Tamarind juice- freshly prepared (around 10 mls; You could also use lemon juice)
Baking soda- 2 pinches
Salt (if needed)

- Add all of these together in a bowl, and use very minimal water to mix these. The aim is to knead these into something like the constitution of dough.
- Keep this apart for 30-60 minutes.
- Adjusting the burner to very low flame, heat sufficient oil in a non-stick pan.

- In the meantime, take some dough and use your palms to shape it into small round balls. I also flattened these to ensure an evenly cooked snack.
- Fry these in the oil until it is golden brown.
- Drain these off oil by placing these in paper napkins.

Serve hot with the tomato gravy (recipe below).

For the Tomato gravy
Tomatoes- 3 ripe ones, chopped.
Onion- ¼ onion, finely chopped
Green chilli- 1, finely sliced

Cumin seeds- ½ tsp
Mustard seeds- ½ tsp

Coriander powder- 1/3 tsp
Cumin powder- ¼ tsp
Turmeric powder- 1/3 tsp
Meat masala- 1 tsp
Garlic- 1 clove, finely chopped

- Mix the tomato, onion, and green chilli in the mixie or food processor, with very minimal water.

- In the meantime, heat 1 tbsp of oil in a pan.
- Once the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds.
- Once these starts popping, add the mixed puree, along with the coriander powder, cumin powder, turmeric powder, meat masala, and garlic clove.
- Stir these and let it simmer for 10 minutes.

Serve the warm cutlets (sans meat and potato!) with the tomato gravy.

August 21, 2010

Lessons from Trivandrum

A visit to the nearby voguest department store in Trivandrum was in order upon finding that my favourite leave-in conditioner (Garnier) was at its last dregs (Garnier’s products have made a successful foray into the local market). When an eager sales assistant approached me, I conveyed what I sought- ‘Garnier’s leave-in conditioner’.
‘Oh, you mean live-on conditioner?’, she asked cheerfully.
‘No, leave-in conditioner’, I clarified.
‘No, it is live-on’, she countered.
‘I very much think it is L-E-A-V-E-I-N’.
‘No, it is L-I-V-E-O-N’.
I gave up. In any case, leave-in conditioners seem to have taken a (hopefully) temporary hiatus.

I deeply loathe Heathrow’s dreadful Terminal 3. And I am not fond of turning up Trivandrum’s international airport too (unless I am the passenger). This airport is quite small (but gradually expanding) and, consequently, terribly overcrowded. Trivandrum airport is used by passengers from both Kerala’s and Tamil Nadu’s southern districts. And, understandably, it is not just the passengers who turn up: family, friends, and relatives turn up, en masse (often hiring huge tempos), to see off and receive the passengers. Ergo, it is quite reasonable to deduce that each passenger would have a train of at least 4-5 individuals. Many turn up in their finest outfits (I make it a point to wear my worst) for it is their grandest outing.

My visit to the airport today reminded me of the reasons why I dislike it. Even though I turned up when the airport was reasonably less crowded, it was still teeming sans any order. And since the concept of maintaining a personal space is deficient in the Malayalee mentality, you would often find them snuggling up to you. And, in most cases, it is likely that they would oust you from that little comfortable niche far from the madding crowd. Decorum is blatantly absent and you might find yourself resembling an injured porcupine if you decide upon worming your way through the crowd. Then there are those who covertly slither around, slipping their nimble hands into bags. And of course, there are the rich beggars and lottery and newspaper vendors. And worst of all, you might find yourself mowed down by one (or many) of the trolleys, thanks to the thoughtfulness of the passengers. And it is quite likely that you will bear scars of this formidable skirmish- I am now richer by particularly painful swellings in my shin and calf (thanks to two baggage-laden trolleys) and a foot which is quite devoid of sense (thanks to a 15-kg suitcase toppling). And don’t expect any apologies- it simply doesn’t exist in their vocabulary.

August 08, 2010

Come hither, ye sluggard

Living in Kerala has a few advantages- especially for the indolent. And the ridiculous number of holidays/days off is one of the very specific reasons which may enchant one to consider this land where you are guaranteed to tussle with mosquitoes and exude expletives at incompetent drivers. Still interested? Read on….

One television channel recently stated that Kerala enjoyed approximately 295 days off in the 1460-odd days of the past four years, which approximates itself to 73.4 days per annum. Indeed, that is a modest number- being just 1/5th of a year. Er, but no. This number does not include the 384ish Sundays and Saturdays (96 per annum). I am not certain as to whether the number includes approximately 120 public/state holidays and the odd holidays due to adverse weather or a prominent individual’s death. But a good proportion of that aforementioned 295 days is certainly contributable to hartals/bandhs/strikes. Political parties (both ruling and opposition) calls for hartals/bandhs/strikes every now and then- and it is a suitable instrument of protest, for vehicles are not normally allowed on the roads, neither are shops allowed to be opened. There is one caveat- there is also a possibility that whilst schools and educational institutions are inevitably closed, employees are supposed to report for work.
Nonetheless, surely safe to assume that the average Keralite tend to enjoy around 169-200 days off per year, i.e a good 5-6 months at least? 

Potato curry

I tried out this recipe (a good accompaniment with chapatti or puri) last week and had moderate success. Those with sensitive tummies could toy with lesser chilli and curry powder.

2-3 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp mustard seeds
handful of curry leaves (Murraya koenigii)
1 onion/shallot- finely sliced
1 red chilli – finely chopped
1 garlic clove- finely sliced
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp chilli powder
250 gms of boiled and cubed potatoes
3 tbsp of curry powder
2 ripe tomatoes- chopped
2 eggs- beaten

Freshly chopped coriander leaves
10 mls of lime juice/tamarind juice

1. Heat oil over low/medium flame. Once the oil is hot, add first the mustard seeds and curry leaves. Once the mustard starts to pop, add the onions, chilli, garlic, turmeric powder, and chilli powder. Stir/fry until the onions are golden brown.
2. Add the potatoes, curry powder, and tomatoes. Stir to mix evenly. Cover with a lid.
3. After 5 minutes, add the beaten eggs and ensure that these are mixed and scrambled evenly. Add the salt and pepper. Cover with a lid and cook for another 5 minutes (note: do check regularly to ensure that it doesn’t get burnt!).
4. Add the lime juice/tamarind juice and stir once again.
5. Sprinkle the coriander leaves and serve hot.

July 30, 2010

The Convenient Marriage- Georgette Heyer

I had written a detailed review for a popular e-shopping website, only to find that the recommended word limit was rather restrictive. Ergo, here is the original version of a book which I read lately:

I absolutely loved this extremely delightful and charming novel by Georgette Heyer. It is well-written and exceptionally descriptive (especially on Georgian fashion), with a liberal dose of humour (evocative of Sheridan’s ‘The School for Scandal’). Another feature which I admired is the historical accuracy (which, unfortunately, is not met by many contemporary ‘historical’ fictions)- the fashion, entertainments, geographies, and even the language stay true to the Georgian era.

‘The Convenient Marriage’ is set in Georgian London. The prestigious and noble Winwood family, albeit impoverished (thanks to the ill-effects of gambling), have much to be thankful for when the wealthy and handsome Earl of Rule offers to ‘address’ the eldest and most beautiful daughter Elizabeth. Ostensibly, it is a good match: Elizabeth has the pedigree and beauty, whilst the Earl has the title and is considered to be the most eligible bachelor in high society. Elizabeth unwillingly accepts to hear Rule’s addresses for she is deeply in love with a childhood friend, Lt. Edward Heron, who hails from an excellent but more impoverished family.

Elizabeth’s predicament compels the youngest Winwood sister Horatia (or Horry) to come up with alternatives. After the second sister Charlotte refuses to marry Rule even if he were to propose, Horry decides to save her sister by ‘sacrificing’ herself. She secretly visits Rule to propound an alternative solution to the dilemma (which he wasn’t aware of, in any case) which would make everyone happy: Rule should marry her instead of Elizabeth (or Charlotte). Of course, she (being tiny, dark haired, and with thick, straight, and dark eyebrows….. oh, and a stammer) is a far cry from Elizabeth or Charlotte, but she presents solid reasons, including how she is aware of Rule being keen on marrying any Winwood. Although it did seem as if their age difference (he is 35, she is 17) might pose a problem, Rule (who is amused, especially by her candour and foibles) eventually assents. The two reach an agreement on a purely marriage of convenience, with Horry promising not to interfere with his life, provided he becomes Lt. Heron’s patron.

Soon after, Rule and Horry tie the knot, honeymoon in Paris, and return back to London. Subsequently, Heron (now Captain, thanks to Rule) and Elizabeth gets married as well. And the hilarious drama begins, with the young Countess of Rule continuing to behave immaturely, spending copious money on clothes, accessories, and gambling, whilst her husband views her antics indulgently, seldom interfering. The only exceptions were polite disagreement over Horry's friendship with Letherbridge, which Horry refused to relinquish just to make Rule jealous (for she had fallen in love with him and didn’t want to share him with his mistress Lady Caroline Massey).

In the meantime, a few individuals are very keen on creating discord for the newly-weds: Rule’s aforementioned mistress, the beautiful and scheming widow Lady Caroline Massey, who certainly hoped that she would be the next Countess of Rule; infamous nemesis Lord Robert Lethbridge, who yearns for revenge against Rule; and Rule’s cousin and heir presumptive, the truly comical, vain, and cowardly Crosby Drelincourt, who was hoping to succeed to the earldom.

Horry is far from being the archetypal heroine for she posses an array of faults (immature, impetuous, obstinate, naïve, appalling lack of manners, and insecure). On the other hand, Rule is the classic rakish (yet underestimated) hero whose confident, quick thinking, and clever self hides behind a mask of suaveness, politeness, and indolence- one certainly worth falling in love with!

The supporting characters provide an entertaining background: the materialistic and patronising cousin of the Winwoods, Mrs Theresa Maulfrey; Rule's astute Cantabrigian secretary Arnold Gisborne; Rule’s sister Lady Louisa Quain; the nervous Lady Winwood; the sweet and faithful Elizabeth Winwood; the waspish Charlotte Winwood; the profligate and bungling Pelham, Viscount Winwood; Pelham’s incompetent friend Sir Roland Pommeroy.

Admittedly, there are some drawbacks. The characters are not explored in depth, there are quite a few times when the plot is unconvincing (including, the growing romance between Marcus and Horry), and the ending is quite predictable.

But if you need a light, humorous, melodramatic, and engaging novel to cheer you up and take you back to the Georgian times, complete with duels, highwaymen, pistols, swords, coaches, laughable wigs, powder, patches, hoops, cravat, Macaronis, Bucks, and rakes.... don’t look any further!

p.s: And apparently, my writing in this post resembles that of Jane Austen (according to http://iwl.me/ , previously mentioned in The Hidden Author)

Image source: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Convenient-Marriage-Georgette-Heyer/dp/0099474425/ref=pd_rhf_p_t_2