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)


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.