A growing problem, too

A follow-up to the last post. Didn't realise it hadn't been posted earlier. I really need to pay a bit more attention to lil bloggy.

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A corollary to the books-I-cant-be-bothered-to-finish, is the books I want to finish, but somehow just can't. Case in point: Sealy's Trotternama.

I can't remember where I picked up my copy, which is in itself an unusual occurrence (I have a vague feeling it was on sale at some book exhibition).  What I do remember is that I hadn't heard of Sealy or the book before, but was simply intrigued by the title.  Which might or might not have to do with the vague feeling that I'd eaten Khyber's* then-famous paaya shorba a few days earlier.  I could be imagining this memory, of course.

The book's been with me for around 15 years.  It's a lumpy Penguin edition, slightly bigger than standard paperback size, which means it sort of flops around.  And it's one of those poor prints that Penguin occasionally comes out with, with a weird narrow font size in a not-blackily-black ink on paper that's really too thin to not see what's on the other side of the page, and with a so bleh cover.

I've made several forays at the book.  I keep getting a quarter into it, and then just ... moving on.  I know I'm quite interested in all the minute details that he goes into, and I don't really mind the archaic English form he slips in, or the fourth-wall breakouts.  But I just couldn't ever finish the book, and a few years ago, I'd put it on my shelf of books-to-be-finished.

I took it up again recently after picking up copies of his Everest Hotel and Red, and devouring them over a couple of days. Right, I figured, you just didn't get Sealy at the time.  Maybe it was all too jumpy-abstract for you then. But you get him now, and Trotter-nama's going to be awesome.

Like bugger it is.  This time I've got halfway through it, and I'm stuck.  The damn thing has been lying on my bedside table for a month now, striking up irritatingly brief conversations with all the other tomes that have passed through, and wondering what it can do to make me love it that little bit more.

I'm seriously considering blaming the physical book for it, for the reasons above.

Which would of course raise a whole set of other questions and issues, such as whether I'm really that shallow as to require good form to appreciate good content, and so on.


* Whatever happened to Khyber? I can't remember it ever being discussed as an option for eating out in the last ... decade or so.  Heck, I can't remember anybody even mentioning it in the same time. Even in guides or somesuch. It's one of those places that seems to have simply been bypassed by the foodie crowd, and probably relies on old faithful diners**. 
** Now that I think of it, this applies to a whole bunch of places that used to be the eating-out option, when there like, five. And are now just staples, dinosaurs, same-old same-old and quite rubbish in most cases. Delhi Darbar's another that springs to mind.


A growing problem

I'd like to think it's because of the way I was taught to eat food - if it's on your plate, you finish it. And that somehow this extended in my mind on how to read books - if you started it, finish it.  Or maybe I just watched too much Mastermind.

It used to be a point of pride.  No matter how plodding the book, how utterly bad the writing, how boring the plot, if I'd got past the first dozen pages, I was going to finish it. If only so I could utterly shred it apart once I was done.  That was the rule.

Somewhere down the line, though, that changed.  I think the first book I consciously put aside was American Psycho*, which was just too .... 

Then came the ill-fated re-re-attempt to read Ulysses. Which, by the way, I blame for the stoppage of my blogging back then. 

And since then, it's become increasingly frequent.  I get halfway through a book, and if I can't take it any more, I discard it.  Just like that.  And not just with books that are bad.  I've even got to the point where I'm comfortable with leaving a book just because I don't like it.  No more 'oh I should read it to expand my horizons', or 'I should be open to all forms of writing', no more 'oh but novels are meant to be deep and full of pathos and misery'.  Screw that.

No regrets, no feeling of ashamed guilt, no itch of incompleteness.  Just, away, and onwards.

Maybe it's the increased awareness that there are so many better books that I could better be spending my diminshing time on.  Maybe it's the acceptance that I simply don't like some genres and styles of writing, and more importantly, that I don't have to.  Maybe it's just the fear of disappointment, and being content with the books that I know appeal to me**.  Maybe I'm losing that sense of urgency and drive to go read the works of all the amazing authors I have only heard of thus far.  Maybe it's that I know the world is shite, and I just can't deal with more tragedy and pain and angst in the fiction I read for pleasure, however well-written they may be.

Maybe it's just a phase.

* I was certain I'd posted about this before, but can't seem to find any mention on the blog.  I might have deleted the post.  I do that quite often.
** I find myself re-reading a lot.


The city of my dreams

Whenever I visit Bombay now, I'm a fragile vessel of conflicting and equally-demanding emotions.

Appreciation.  Of the architechtural quirks and delights that dot the old city.  A new-found, on-third-look, see-past-the-grime type.  I always liked and admired them, but I didn't really understand how wonderful they were till I spent sufficient time with the oh-this-pub-has-been-running-since-1793* Brits.

Wistfulness.  Due to the growing realisation that this appreciation has come too late.  A reminder brought forcefully home as I decide to go and properly observe a vaguely-remembered colonial-era building, only to be confronted by a concrete block of unimaginative dullness.

Desperation. Borne of knowing that even if I were to win the biggest Euromillions jackpot possible, I would be able to buy and restore just about a dozen of the few villas still remaining, thanks to the city's insane land prices. A mere dozen.

Claustrophobia.  The city was always narrow and the existence of some parts felt like you had walked into a Tardis, and now it's going vertical in a way that would make ol' Jack scold his beans for being so slow to grow.  Walking down some roads now, it feels like they're all listing towards each other, trying to crowd out any little sky, and are waiting to come toppling down on you.

Despair and disbelief.  At the sheer levels of filth and infrastructural decrepitude. A decade ago, a dozen years into the liberalisation era, there was such belief, such hope, such ambition that the city was headed for so much better, given its already-established position in the country's mythos. There was hope that the sale of the mill-lands would create new open spaces and educational institutions and hospitals and cultural hubs and help de-congest the place. Instead, other cities have overtaken and sped past it, with their shiny new airports and metros and wide roads and innovative schools and massive spaces for arts. And Bombay ... well Bombay just crawls on, with its poorly-planned, rushed-through transport projects and a citizenry that just does not care anymore, that has lost the will to fight, that is so tired from having to try and claw back the merest and tiniest of necessities.

Nostalgia.  When remembering that wada pavs used to cost a rupee.

Shock and denial.  That the cheapest one I could find this time cost twelve rupees!**

Simple-pleasure happiness. When lazily dunking a bun-maska into a cup of sweet chai at one of the few cafes still left. In the middle of the morning.  While watching the crowds scurry scurry scurry along.  And then ordering another round.  Because you don't have to scurry anywhere.

* Of course it has. Do you people ever stop drinking?
** I sound like my grandmother now ('We used to get a dozen for the same price that
just one costs today'**). 


A Manual of Life: Things You Didn't Realise Till You Did #94

Yellow lightbulb.
Light yellow walls.
Switch light on.
Stare at the part of wall closest to the bulb (and where the light is brightest).
Yellow fades to green.
Mind blown.


A quiet chat

Do you remember ICQ and MSN and Yahoo messenger and GTalk?

I used to use several of these, because different friends had different addresses and preferred the look-and-feel of a particular one. And then people started shifting to Orkut and FB and Twitter and Whatsapp and Viber and Snapchat.

It slowly got lonelier and lonelier.  After all, in this always-connected world, who needs those old IM platforms when the smartphone apps are so much better? (Well, people who don't use smartphones, for one!) 

I still use one of the old ones, mostly for work.  Till not so very long ago, there used to be a regular flow of friends on it.  But slowly slowly, the logged-in list has been growing shorter and shorter, till now it's only populated by those who know it's the best way to reach me for conversations (when they can't talk, of course).

I guess the reasoning is not without logic - why bother to log in on multiple platforms when nearly everybody is on the two-three big ones? And for those who aren't, well, tough. In a world where we have too many friends in too many places and too little time, a few are bound to slip through the crack, right? And if they do, and you don't really miss them, then obviously they didn't matter to you that much, yes?

Whatever. All I know is that I have to continually log on to bloody FB to keep tabs on my friends. 

And let's not even get started about emails. 


Happiness Index

Everywhere I turn, there seems to be a new Index to measure how happy you are. None of them seem quite right, though.  So, after much thought (this afternoon), I came up with the Chai-Toast-Book Happiness index.

The index is mapped using the quality of three variables - a cup of chai, a butter-cheese toast, and the book being read. Bas. One was so happy at having invented this.

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Of course, as you may have surmised already, I then realised the value of each factor itself depends upon several variables.  To wit:

the blend of tea being used and the proportion of leaf to dust;
the kind of milk available (skimmed, semi-skimmed, full-fat, extra-creamy, dairy-free);
whether the milk was environmentally packed (pouch or bottle or carton);
how confident I am that the milk has not been adulterated or contaminated;
whether the sugar is sulphur-free;
is there was enough lemongrass and ginger and mint to hand;

is the bread is healthy-grain;
is the flour is organic;
what sort of cheese is being used;
has it had a proper cold-storage history;

what genre of book was it;
was it an easily-holdable paperback or a big, heavy, slipping-from-finger hardback;
was it a comforting re-read or a gripping new one or just something to do TP with;
was it bought new (thus paying royalties to the author and indirectly encouraging them to write more) or secondhand (thus helping the recycling movement and some poor vendor);

what time of the day was this activity being undertaken in;
was the weather all monsoon-y and wistful or was it spring-y and sprightly or was it cold and snuggle-inducing;
were all three being ingested sprawled on a couch or lounging in bed or out in a park;
what was the likelihood that somebody would call or ring the bell in the middle of this activity.

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I stopped making the list about then.  So much complexity for something so seemingly simple.  Not so happy now, I can tell you.


The tales of Jeroo: Chai and philosophy

Jeroo Dalal willingly admitted that if there was one weakness she had, it was for strong chai. 

(Well, that and fresh pao.  Preferably with butter.  And some cheese. Oh okay, gossip too.  And yes, the smell of frangipani after a light drizzle.  Alright, alright, and Georgette Heyer novels. But mostly chai).

And she had a particular weakness for the first cup of the day.  Because the first cup was special.

The first cup of chai, as she often remarked, was the true alarm clock of the city.  Oh, people would awaken with the sound of cars being slapped by wet cloths, or the too-loud greetings of security guards as they took over for the day shift, or the unloading of the paper and milk vans.  But they only really came to their senses as their noses involuntarily dilated with the waft of boiled mint-and-ginger, as their scalded tongue sent admonishments to the brain, as their empty stomachs protested at the sudden influx of so much tannin, as their brains sparked into consciousness with the jolt of sugar and pure bliss. 

(Of course, there were some people who blathered on about not being able to face the world unless they had their coffee, but they were heathens really. Coffee was for hill stations, and late nights, and for winter trips.  Mornings were meant for chai, and really, that was the end of the discussion).

But what she never revealed to anyone was that the preparation of that first cup was more special, and which is why she insisted on readying it herself. 

Every morning, as she rinsed out the dented four-cup aluminium kettle that Behramsha had gifted ohsomany years ago and set about her routine, she took a moment to ready herself for the world.  The simple movements, honed to a fine efficiency by years of practice, helped warm up her body while her mind slowly yawned itself into focus.  And almost inevitably, she mused about how human society was so much like a cup of chai.

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Take a little bit of several completely disparate ingredients, fiddle constantly with their proportions (sometimes even adding and removing things) to achieve just the right balance, and throw them together in fiery circumstances.

Every small thing mattered.  The material of the kettle, the type of water, the kind of milk, the amount of leaf in the tea, whether you used mint or peppermint, lemongrass leaves or stalk, sliced or grated ginger, cardamom shelled or not. When you added them and in what sequence and for how long.  Whether you used a comforting old chipped mug or a little glass or a steel tumbler.  Whether you gulped it down or sipped it daintily or slurped it from a saucer.

And all this swirled and bubbled and eventually blended together to form something … remarkable.  Something that in the light of cold logic should be a total disaster of mismatched constituencies, but somehow was full of sustenance and promise and comfort.  Something that changed slightly each time and each day, but intrinsically remained the same.  Just like humans.  Millennia of the same emotions and routines, the same conflicts and triumphs, and yet, each event was uniquely different. Something that seemed harmless enough when left to simmer, but which would inevitably boil over and mess the surroundings if oversight was withdrawn for even a moment. A unique restorative that offered comfort, but one that would slowly stain every receptacle it came in touch with.

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Of course, Jeroo thought, there were those who insisted there were aliens amongst us.  That would account for those would put saunf in their chai.  Saunf! Brrrr.


Friday Fun: Fact/Fiction

Sometimes, at random occasions (always when I'm alone), I find myself wistfully going om nom nom

Just because the interwebz discarded you for other fancies doesn't mean you aren't still fun, little poppet. Who's a little wunnerful meme? Who's a perfectly lovely mouthful? Who? Thaaaat's right. Om nom nom nom nom.


Hidden deaths

There's a dead wasp on the path. Ants swarming round, calling in reinforcements till they successfully begin to lift-drag it away.  I wonder if it died, fell and was then discovered, or if it was got injured and fluttering on the ground, got pounced upon by this army.

I realise I don't know how long wasps live, or how they die if fortunate to live their entire lifetime. Do they just stop breathing (how do they breathe)? Do they just stop and settle down somewhere, waiting as their vitality drains away? Or do they submit to the hive-mind, surrendering their bodies for the little nutritional value; one last task for the good of all? 

I look around, and I see butterflies and birds and little flies brought by the heat.  I see them everyday, and when they flit off, I dismiss them.  Show's over, see you again tomorrow.

But where do they go? Do you butterflies group together in a bush at night? Do flies have hives or nests? Are these the same ones I saw yesterday, or are those all just so much fodder by now?  And if they are mulch, did they topple over, or did they just stop and fall mid-air?

I keep thinking I've read all of this somewhere before, but I realise that I don't really know, and am merely trying to convince myself. And I realise that where once I would have rushed off to learn about such new things, today I insist that if I just spent enough time reflecting, all this information would be dredged up from whatever deep recess it had been stored in. 

I try not to even think about the fact that I haven't even thought about these things. Or why.

The thought of my curiousity dying scares me more thoroughly than the prospect of my own death.

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All the dead wasps I've ever seen have been curled up, like a newborn baby.  One position, two diametrically opposite stages of existence.

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So much to know. So much to known about what to know, what there is to know. 



I have taken to hiding every single pop-up recommend, trend, suggested reading, additional reading, feedback request, and quick survey that happens across my browser. 

Without offering any reason why*.

I do it in the faint hope that somewhere, a data-sucking, ad-misselling, clickbait-creating algorithm writer will end up screaming in frustration because at the lack of information.

And if they do factor such null value in as well, I keep hoping it will result in fewer such messages cluttering up my view.

Either way, win-win.

* No, not even 'Other'.


For Feanor

And your collection of food in books. 
He opened it and then poured equal quantities of brandy and champagne into three large glasses.
The kitchen ... was stone-flagged and at one end a positive battery of charcoal fires glowed and winked under the bubbling pots.  The walls were covered with a great variety of copper pots, kettles, platters, coffee pots, huge serving dishes, and soup tureens.  They all glowed with a pinky-red gleam in the fire-light, glinting and winking like tiger beetles.
The first course that Demetrios-Mustapha set before us was a fine, clear soup, sequined with tiny golden bubbles of fat, with finger-nail size croutons floating like crisp little rafts on an amber sea ... Demetrios-Mustapha filled our glasses with more of the pale, musky wine and placed before us a platter of minute baby fish, each one fried a golden brown.  Slices of yellow green lemons in a large dish and a brimming sauce-boat of some exotic sace unknown to me accompanied it.
Demetrios-Mustapha removed our empty plates, poured a red wine out for us, dark as the heart of a dragon, and then placed before us a dish in which lay snipe, the heads twisted round so that their long beaks could skewer themselves and their empty eye-sockets look at us accusingly.  They were plump and brown with cooking, each having its own little square of toast.  They were surrounded by thin wafers of fried potatoes like drifts of autumn leaves, pale greeny-white candles of asparagus and small peas.
"You do like wild boar, I hope?"
I said that it was one of my favourite meats, which was true, but could I have a very small helping, please?
"But of course you shall," she said, leaning over the great brown, gravy-glistening haunch and starting to cut thick, pink slabs of it.  She placed three of these on a plate - obviously under the impression that this was, by anyone's standard, a small portion - and then proceeded to surround them with accoutrements.  There were piles of the lovely little golden mushrooms, chanterelles, with their delicate, almost winy flavour; tiny marrows stuffed with sour cream and capers; potatoes baked in their skins neatly split and anointed with butter; carrots, red as a frosty winter sun and great tree trunks of white leeks, poached in cream.
During the pause, the Countess smoked on a long thin cheroot and ate salted peanuts ... she called for the next course, and Demetrios-Mustapha produced two mercifully small omeletes, crisp brown on the outside and liquid and succulent on the inside, stuffed with tiny pink shrimps.
The meringues were large and white and brittle as coral and stuffed to overflowing with cream.
"Mustapha, bring the boy his owl and bring me some coffee and some of those nice Turkish delights up in the lounge."
I dismounted, went behind an olive tree and was deliciously and flamboyantly sick.
- Gerald Durrell (Birds, Beast and Relatives)

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I find it astonishing and distressing just how many avid readers have never even heard of Durrell. I wish I could make his books - particularly the Corfu trilogy - mandatory reading for schoolkids at least.

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I've always wanted a stone-flagged kitchen, with great big fires and hanging pots. I should move to rural Europe, methinks.


Of cricket and madness

The full article here.
"There was a moment as he struck it that you thought he'd messed it up; but he hadn't, and then all you could do was bang on tables and throw water on yourself."

 - Hassan Cheema (Cricinfo blogs)