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)


Planting roots

Increasingly, there are days when I daydream of planting fruit trees.

Over the years, I've had the fortune of having access to private gardens and courtyards that have had a plethora of fruit trees.  There are the friends and family who've lived on land where fruit trees existed (some of which they planted themselves). In England, the houses I lived in and visited all had fruit trees, even if just one lone apple tree, not to mention fruit bushes everywhere.

One of my favourite memories is of discovering a love apple tree in Lonavla, and plonking myself in the branches one whole morning, stuffing myself sick with dozens of a fruit which normally cost a pretty penny back in Bombay.  I'd like to think I love that memory because it's a mixture of the large-village atmosphere of Lonavla as it was back then, the knowledge that this wonderfully warm summer morning held no threats of schoolwork, and the fact that I was on holiday away from the city.  But I know it's mainly because I remember the delightfulness of crunching into dozens of sweet fruit, which had not been touched up or fake-ripened and were not bland.

I have a couple of fruit saplings now, but they're in pots.  I tend to them, enjoying the few fruits they've already started giving, and hope I will be able to take them along in the next move.  I could leave them behind to some little park here, but the gardeners don't seem to be too fussed and keep talking about quotas, which makes me angrier at the concept of planned gardens.  And perhaps, even if they were enthused, I mightn't leave them behind.

Because I want to watch these trees grow.  I want to see them age year by year, defying the winds and the rain and the sun and the horrible things in the air to keep getting a little wider, a little more hard-skinned.  I want them to not be the nomads we're all increasingly becoming, to settle down in one spot and create a little bastion of oxygen and shade and coolness and colour and aroma and taste.  I want them to be the little permanence I can return to, a little reminder of time and memory that will (hopefully) outlast me.

I want to plant apples and love apples, and pears and guavas, and peaches and nectarines, and plums and damsons and greengages, and oranges and sweet limes, and papayas, and mulberries and raspberries and gooseberries, and figs, and chikoo, and mangoes and mangoes and oh-so-many-mangoes.  I want to wander the countryside to plant them wherever there's space and suitable conditions, and wherever somebody wants them.  Call me Johnny Fruitseed.

And who knows, maybe some day, some kid might hoick themselves up into one of them branches and spend a lazy summer's day curiously watching to see just how far their tummy will swell and just how messy their clothes will get if they keep eating.

And who knows, maybe some day, I will too.


A Manual of Life: Why Not To Have Children

Reason #319

You realise that, unlike your (sensible) father, you would actively support and facilitate their watched-too-many-kungfu-films* plans to become Shaolin monks.

* If you haven't already planted such ideas in their tiny brains  *wicked chuckle*.


Green, but pale

I keep telling myself that growing up, my attention was on books and sports, and that's why I never really was too interested in learning what sort of trees and plants surrounded me.  I could identify banyans, and gulmohurs, and Ashoka trees, and palm and coconut, and .... well, that's pretty much it (sure, I could identify a lot of fruit trees and several flowering plants, but only with the fruits and flowers on them).

I keep telling myself this is also partly because I was more interested in the crumbling facades of the delightful old buildings dotted across Bombay.  Which I know is a poor attempt at retroactive rose-tintedness, because apart from occasionally going "Oh, that's pretty", I never really appreciated the little details adorning the colonial-era buildings until much, much later.

I could attempt to make some flippant comment about being a city boy, but I have tons of friends who are the same, and are a lot more clued in.

I could try and spin some story about how the clutter of tall buildings and lack of open spaces in the city made me so irritable and desperate that when presented with the latter, all I wanted to - and could - do was sink my face into some leaves and thank them and tell them they were loved, whatever their genus.  But that's a load of hooey, because there's a great big ocean all around where I could - and did - spend a lot of time wondering*.  And I got to spend enough time in small rural places with wide open spaces, where people grew their own things and would talk about nothing but them.

I could say that the reason I didn't learn more while living in England was because everybody just kept on and on about their "little patch" and talking up walking in the rain to go see gardens, which inevitably made me go to the other extreme.  Except I did go on about my little patch too, which I miss, and I did walk in the rain around gardens.  But I still can't differentiate between a beech and a birch.

I try, occasionally.  I try and remember the names of the potted flowers I'm buying, but neglect to note them down and inevitably forget them. I look up how to identify by leaf-shapes, but then forget which ones match which.  I look up what sort of soil and temperature and water-levels are needed by the plants I grow, but in the end, end up just treating them all the same.  Some grow, some don't. I keep trying every few months.

What I guess it really is, is that maybe I'm just happy knowing there's something growing, without really being worried about what it is.  I guess having seen too many things grow when and where they shouldn't, and too many things not when they should, I stopped trying to obsess about how to grow them properly.  I guess I just don't like the concept of humans imposing their rules on plants and deciding what should grow instead of letting it all just develop on its own.  And besides, I'd rather let even weeds grow because hey, they're green and every little bit of photosynthesis helps, right. 

Or maybe I'm just lazy, and can't be arsed to do more than bung them in the pot and expect them to grow.

They still do grow, though. Mostly.

* Mostly, why this ocean wasn't as blue as the one as the one around Zanzibar and the Caribbean and Australia.


The tales of Jeroo: The daily bread

(I'm tempted to make Jeroo a regular feature. She's ... interesting.)

She often joked that people were like dough - quick to rise when warm, sluggish and flat when cold; needing some external stimulus to really discover their potential; and evetually available in a multitude of forms and colours and textures.

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Jeroo Dalal's day began with the bell of the paowallah's cycle.

For years, the tring-tring-pause-tring had been her only morning alarm.  A gentle tune of promise, of joy, sounding clarion in the soft dawn. She couldn't say when it had stopped being a chore and turned into a comfortable routine;

the shuffle onto her bedroom balcony, a quick peek up at the sky, a quick peek down to wave back at his smiling face, waiting at the door till he sauntered up, the standard whispered pleasantries, the ek-haath-le-ek-haath-de, the farewell salaams, and then, and then, hastily shutting her door, almost-nuzzling her prize and inhale 

the warmth and freshness and yeastiness, tracing the tendrils back to the big ovens and the utilitarian spaces they were produced in, full of men moving with the grace and ease and boredom of practiced certainty in a job not-entirely-stultifying, gradually building up their internal tempo for the working rush that would soon sweep in, bleary eyes waking up by each sip of double-boiled lacticated tannin, too-lazy uncoiling muscles adding to the clatter, tinkle, slurp, tinkle, thump, scrape, do chai teen maska-pao table chaar pachaas rupiah that slowly filled the whole place up in a giant mush of fermented hopes and dreams and ponderings that would filter out across the city as each departee unspooled away a bit of that perpetually-refuelled essence of what this city was built on

and exhale.

Then, before putting it away in the dented old aluminium dabba, she would bite off a chunk from the six-pack, still wrapped in paper. 

And in the silence of faint snores and little scrapings, slowly feeling the spongy texture melt inside and swell her up, she would learn to believe again, to hope again, to chin-chin-up.

Smiling, Jeroo Dalal would then prepare to take on the world.


Of bikes and blogs

You know how they say resuming an activity is just like riding a bicycle again?

Yeah, very helpful.

Because they don't tell you that it kind of depends on the kind of cycle you're going to use. And the kind of bike you were used to.  Whether it had gears or not, whether it used thick, knobbly tyres or smooth, thin ones.  Whether it had a bottle-carrier clip, or had quick-release wheels, or had a dip handlebar.

And they don't tell you it depends on whether the terrain you're cycling on is different from the one you were used to.  And whether the weather* and climate is different.

And they don't tell you whether you'll be using cycle lanes or not.  And whether you'll be travelling on country lanes or city roads.  And whether you'll have street lighting to ride by.

And they don't tell you whether this is going to be a solitary ride where you can spread your arms and pretend you're flying (really low), or whether you'll have to jostle with other cyclists or trying to dodge drivers who insist in believing you exist solely so they can rack up imaginary GTA points.

And they don't tell you your legs are going to ache so bad, and then you're going to stare at the bike day after day, knowing you really should get on it again because it'll only get easier each time you do it, but the thought of putting on your gear and your helmet and greasing it up and getting it on the road just does you in.

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I know, I know, the old truisms are old because they're true. 
And to write well, one must first write.
And write often.
One must.

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I've been doing some other wordy stuff of late, and the drastic difference between that work and this blog is causing a ... slowdown.

It's almost schizophrenic, having to settle into a completely different mindset for each side. And it's something I underestimated.

I'd assumed this blog would be something I could just easily return to, and these random jottings would flow easily once again.  Not realising just how much thought used to go into those random jottings. Not realising that this represented a part of me that I was focusedly delving into, digging specifically into, and which when left alone, would just heal over and close up.  Not realising that those boring old things like dedicating a time to write, sticking to a schedule, might actually be necessary.

Of course, this block itself is fascinating.  But it's too irksome. So away with it. Sacchi.

* Isn't "whether you can weather the weather"just the most delicious phrase?


This is me
making tea;
with leaves, black
and green,
making it mintea.

This is me
making tea;
brewing by colour
bulb yellow, white tube,
mixed view two-by-two.

This is me
making tea;
tasting by sight,
testing by smell,
swirling, stirring, pouring, purring.

This is me
drinking tea;
damning the world,


Friday Fun: Fact/Fiction

(I sometimes make these things up. And I sometimes don't.)

Apparently, the latest must-have requirement for a fashion model is something called a 'thigh gap'. Which of course means that teenage girls are going to insane lengths of anorexia to achieve it, even though it's extremely difficult to manufacture one (unlike, you know, building muscles).

I suddenly realised that despite all my years of uber-hyper-appetite, I have one of those.

I'm not sure whether to:

1) Be utterly mortified and rush to the nearest gym and start doing heavy barbell squats to rectify the situation.
2) Get onto the forums where girls discuss this and troll them into tears by crowing about my genes*.
3) Just wax my legs and earn money by modelling (print, most likely).

Choices, choices.

* In the hope that they'd see the inanity of their actions and drop this pursuit, of course. I am a good person, after all. No, really.


'Tis the season

It's a strange thing, but I've only recently had cause to care about the seasons.

Growing up, I never really associated seasons with the weather.  I mean, it was Bombay - what seasons? You had the rains, and then the rest of the year just sort of merged into a flow of muggy and different-levels-of-warm months. Except for May, which was particularly dusty and sticky. Ok fine, and two weeks in Dec-Jan, which were purely an excuse for people to flaunt their woollens even though it was 17C. Apart from that, actual, defined seasons such as spring and autumn and winter were these fancy things you read about in books, or which happened to relatives in places far away.

What I did associate them with, was food. You knew 'summer' was around because mangoes appeared in the market and because you could get a bellyache every afternoon eating a whole watermelon (just so you could use its rind as a cool (geddit? geddit?) hat). You knew 'winter' was here because those nice red 'Dilli' carrots were in season, and because every Gujju household went into overdrive making undhiyo. Spring? Gotta be chikoos from Dahanu. Autumn? Strawberries from Panchgani.

So I looked at my plate, not the skies.

And then I moved to England. Where all I did was look at the skies.

Again though, given how random and arbitrary the climate is in the country, it's hard to associate seasons with the weather.  To me, the only noticeable difference in seasons are the daylight hours.  You know it's summer because once a month, the weather's nice enough for you to go for a picnic in the park at 8pm and believe it's afternoon.  Oh, and for a week or so at a stretch, you can even walk around without socks without having the heating on.  You know it's winter because you've turned into a hobbit and are eating two dinners - one at 6pm when your eyes tell you to, and one at 9pm when your stomach tells you to.  And because occasionally there's ice. But then that happens in March too.

So, no real difference in seasons.

But now, after having moved here, for the first time I've really started noticing - and reacting to - the difference in the weather as the seasons change. There's a proper cold months-long winter, with dark evenings and chilly nights, requiring hot soups and gloves and yearning looks at the sky.  Then there's a proper spring, full of days that are warm but not hot and nights that bring the flowers a-budding. And then there's a scorching summer, where all you do is pant and lie thanking the person who invented airconditioning. And an actual autumn, with leaves being shed and temperatures visibly cooling, and cocktails on balconies.

It's a bit ... unreal.  I keep finding myself unprepared for the changes, and realising that yes, summer clothes and winter clothes do need to be packed away and aired. I keep finding myself surprised by just how ... permanent each season is, and by how definitely it morphs into the next.  I find myself not peeking out and seeing what sort of day it is, because it's the same sort of day every day.

But, in a sort of reversal, you get all the fruits all through the year now (well, except mangoes). Sure, they're cheaper in the actual season they used to be available in, but you can still get them at any time of the year. When did this happen? Are these being grown artificially? Are they frozen stock? Are they being imported? Nobody knows, or if they do, they ain't telling. And so my year-fruit-clock has gone completely out of whack.

... I wonder what the next place I end up with will have in store.


What he said

"Whatever happens, they say afterwards, it must have been Fate. 

People are always a little confused about this, as they are in the case of miracles. When someone is saved from certain death by a strange concatenation of circumstances, they say that's a miracle. But of course if someone is killed by a freak chain of events - the oil spilled just there, the safety fence broken just there - that must also be a miracle. Just because it's not nice doesn't mean its not miraculous."

- Terry Pratchett (Interesting Times)


Chasing memories

It was always about the thrill of the hunt.

You marked your terrritories and, by purple, you fought to retain them.  If any marauders dared enter your zone, your pack got together and chased them - even if a moment later you were all hissing at each other over the latest prize.

And then, patience.

You waited and waited, and waited, watching every move eagerly, but patiently.  Over-anticipate and you ended up snatching at air. Or somebody's hair (spite, baby).

You watched and you watched, and when one came your way, you ran.  You dodged and you tracked and you ran onto cars and into trees and up on Shouts-Loudly-At-Cricket-Time Auntie's window.  You didn't look down at what you'd stepped into, you didn't look ahead to make sure you weren't barging into somebody (did they not know the chase was on?).  You just looked up, head pulled back as if by an invisible thread, and you watched the thread.  And you kept your nerve and you calculated the angle and monitored the wind direction and you allowed for window-drag and as it got closer, you waited and waited and ... wait for it ... and elbow! and jump.

And if you managed to avoid the pitfalls of being tripped and of wet-ears and shorts-pulled-down (what? beshht tactic) and you got your arms around it and embraced it quickly to your chest, gently but firmly, practicising for your lothario years to come, and you kept it away from poking fingers and tearing hands, then ... well, then the kite was yours. 

The kite was yours.

It was yours and you had it and everybody knew it and they grudgingly, resentfully backed off.  And that moment, that moment was groovy.

(And if you got the kite and all the manjhaa ... oh, baby)

And you were hooked onto it.  And that is why you never learnt to fly kites properly (besides, kites as a proxy for fighting? There was monsoon-football for that. Or marbles. Or hide-and-seek. Or ... anything really). And that is why you never had to buy any kites, ever.  And that is why you would scream louder than the winner of a kite-match, because really, it was you who really knew the thrill.

And that is why you stayed down and stayed low and you ran.  You ran in the holidays and you ran after coming home from school and you ran even when it was too dark to see if it was a kite or a bat.  

You ran.

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It's been so many years since I was in Bombay for Sankrant.

Growing up, January in the city was all about kites. Christmas was gone, a new year was here, and you were still on holidays and things were supposed to be ... easy.  No sports, no games, just kites.

The kids started in the afternoon, and by the evening, the adults had joined in.  Shivering slightly at the nippy sea breeze bringing the last of the winter across, bundled in our sweaters ('beta, sweater pehno') at 18C. Every day would see a few more joining in, slowly filling up the skies with colour and shouts.

We used to make noise from the ground too, egging on vain fliers into battles they didn't want, and gleefully screaming when they lost, and lost their kites.  No sympathy - they had more of those bought kites to spare.  Every day going home to count the day's, and the overall, tally. Some days more kites than books.

Two weeks of kites and thread and kites and thread and then on the main day ... manna from heaven. Run run run ... jump.

(I'm not sure what I used to do with those kites after it was all over.  Maybe I gave them away to anybody who wanted to fly them.  Maybe I stashed them away till one day re-discovering their mildewed remains.)

Today, however ... heck, even 15 years ago, it had changed.  Who had the time for kites?  We had liberalisation, and cable, and even The InterNet.  We had money to make, and worlds to explore, and games to cheat-code on, and people to write to now now.

I would stand at my window, too grown-up to run, too disinterested to fly, watching the swoops and soars and the dheel de-ing and then go back to this world of books and music and art and movies and knowledge that I was discovering.

I imagine it's worse now.  There's probably an app somewhere that lets you indulge virtually.  Maybe the only shouts of Kai Po are from somebody watching the film.

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One year, I'll go back to the city on the day.
And if there's even one kite in the sky around, I'll run.
I will run.