Friday Fun: Food Fiesta

It's been a while, na?  And it's winter, when cooking offers you the excuse to warm up in a nice cosy kitchen. So what better time to resume?  


Ravishing Red Salad

Time required:
About 10 minutes.

Keep ready (to serve 4 people):
3 plump winter carrots
One small pomegranate
One medium beetroot
Sumac, powdered
Salt & pepper

Grate the carrots, remembering to remove the woody whitish-yellow bit in the centre. Parboil and grate the beetroot. Peel and mix in the pomegranate seeds. Sprinkle liberally with sumac. Add a touch of pepper and salt.

Serve at room temperature.

Why you should try this:

Simply for the sheer vividness of this dish on a dull winter's day, which is guaranteed to make your life feel just a tad brighter.  The deep almost-purpleness of the beet, mixed with the glistening ruby pearls of the pomegranate, all overlaid by the rich bright redness of the carrots, heightened by the specks of burgundy sumac.  It is truly a sight for sore eyes.

Plus, it tastes yummy (sweet, with a hint of sour) and is super-nutritious to boot.

You could try adding some red peppers, red cabbage, or watermelon.  The first two if you're adamant about having a bit of crunch, the last if you've got a Mediterranean thing going or are craving some fruit.  

They all go with the base ingredients, and they bring in a whole new colour as well.

However, I really wouldn't add red onions, red radishes, or any 'red' lettuce.  It just makes the thing get too pungent or too chewy. 


Long, long ago

... I'd written about how my personal library now expands almost entirely thanks to the existence of street-vendors and charity shops. Well, five years since then and things are pretty much the same. And yet, not.

I still almost never buy new books for myself, although I don't buy as many books anymore* either.  I still prefer thumbed-through books, but I've started leaning towards ones that not that thumbed-through. I pick up random books that seem interesting, but only if they seem really interesting, and are likely to be re-read over the years.

I've also entered what I can only term as a period of consolidation.  Which means I'm replacing copies that have become decrepit over time (if they weren't already to start with**). I still don't mind a faded cover and yellowed pages, but I no longer seem to compromise on torn corners and ink marks.

Most curiously, I've got to the point where I'm begun selecting (and discarding) books on the basis of their book covers.  So I will only pick up a Discworld book if it's one of the original Corgi prints with the Josh Kirby designs, rather than the miserably 'adult' Harper Collins ones. I used to think it was just that I wanted to standardise any series I had, but now I find myself rejecting stand-alone titles because the cover is 'meh'.

And I'm also doing this by size. I keep finding myself staring at my shelves and getting irritated because a line of books by the same author are of varying heights and disrupt the flow of the book-line. I keep comparing different formats against each other to try and figure out which one I prefer and why. And then I keep hoping I'm not getting all obsessive-compulsive.

Thankfully, I'm not yet (too) fussed about the font size and page colour, but I suspect I'm headed there.

All of which only adds more impetus to my book-hunting, and introduces a heightened element of thrill. The joy of finding that one title you don't have in the cover you prefer in the size you like, for a sum that's a bargain, after months of searching through stacks of dusty piles? As the ad says: Priceless.

At any rate, the temporary adrenaline kick at such a discovery helps me pretend a little longer that I'm not just turning into a middle-aged fussy fusspot.

* I've even had to tap my inner executioner and cull my library***. This is what happens when you greedily accept random books your friends and relatives don't want, or buy ones that are on sale for 20p, in the hope that they might be interesting. And they turn out not to be.  Also, lack of space.
** Why would I buy such books in the first place? Because - a) I just had to have them then; and b) They were a bargain.
*** I needed therapy after the act(s). I still blame my evil twin.


cross purposes

He talks about
and about
and about
you and I and us and we, 
needs and wants and demands
like a bumblebee
in a banyan tree.

She thinks about flowers
tumbling into leaves,
and the strangeness of the word


A Manual of Life - Alternative Definitions

, An excuse to lower your ironing, and bathing soap, bills by hiding behind well-worn warm outerwear.

Also see:
Resources conservation; tea-addiction; "One can never have enough socks"


A Manual of Life - Alternative Definitions

n., Always remembering that while your life may be a wonderful and amazing tapestry, you are merely a plot-point in countless other stories.


Manual of Life - Ways to Keep Yourself Entertained #25

1. Land up in India.

2. Put on your most innocent, cheddar-wouldn't-melt-in-your-mouth face.

3. Head out into the public and find a suitably overcrowded location. Bonus points if it is an sweaty-armpits-and-chameli-oiled-heads environment.

4. Gradually ease your way politely into the centre.

5. Summon up your best AmrishPuri-in-Nagina voice to proclaim "Alakh Niranjan".

6. Wait till crowd realises it was you, and yell it out again to see them start once more.

7. Smile serenely (with a hint of latent pyschopath) into the growing space around you, while ignoring loud clamour.



I know it's early days, but it still feels strange being back.

Yes, yes, I know I promised to lay off this topic for a while. It's like a drug, ok? Just read on.

I look at this blog and it feels ... surreal. Like something I know from a dream.  I scroll through my feed-list, and there are some names and blogs I don't recognise.  At all.  I can't remember why they had been added on, where I first discovered them, what the connections were.  And this is me, proud of remembering arcane bits of trivia, and small details of long-ago encounters.

It's unnerving, and I wonder if it's to do with the ephemeral nature of blogs and our own innate needs of wanting to know people.  When you don't know much about the people you read, you inadvertently begin to create their images in your imagination-mould.  And so I keep finding myself going through old comments, on this blog and others, to try and find those links again and re-build the identities of those who (I think) I used to know. I find myself reading old posts, going through old comments, slowly re-creating a sense of the little world I used to inhabit.

It feels so strange. Especially when most of the voices are silent, when so many of the blogs have been shut down or locked off.  I keep trying to remember their posts while cursing myself for not saving the ones I liked.  I think of all the ideas and projects people used to talk of, or suggest to each other.  It all feels vaguely ghostly, like flashbacks of a previous life.

I keep thinking of cycles - why and how we blogged, how I happened across so many after they had established blogentities and so many came across me after I had, why we stopped when we did, whether anybody will come back like I have.

I keep wondering why I feel so blue about this.  I knew it was inescapable that I would, however peripherally, come to know some people through the blog. And I know I deliberately kept my distance (and still am). And I know this means I can only conjecture about their lives and their (possible) writing now.  So why am I filled with so much blehness when scrolling down this long list of defunct blogs and silent voices? Why am I upset that so many have faded away, little by little, pulled away by new writing and new jobs and new cities and new babies and old health woes (and yes, perhaps because they had voiced all they had to, or were done with the experiment of blogging)?  After all, if I really want, all I need to do is reach out to those who I know know these others, and find out what they have been upto.  Simple enough.

I guess it's mostly because of the comments.  The banter. The bad puns.  The in-jokes. The cross-post references.  The encouragements. The suggestions. The demands.

The ... community.

I keep coming back to that word. People - and blogs - can't really exist in a vacuum.  Especially when you don't really promote yourself much, and have a few (dozen) readers, and only follow a few dozen blogs yourself.  You begin to understand the voices better, look to them for new material, turn to them for their opinions. You carve out your own little friendly corner of the interweb.  And when the voices go away, well, it all goes away*.

I guess the solution is to reach out anew.  Find new blogs to read, or discover old ones still going strong.  Comment, make new blogbuddies, remain invigorated.  Maybe, maybe.  But one can also try and become a rallying point for others to draw hope from (however infrequently).  A point where the old faithful can occasionally congregate and swap notes and go away smiling again.  And having drawn such hope myself from those who've kept going in these past years, I guess it's time to relieve their burden a bit.  Time to keep blogging away and hope to lure the quiet(ened) ones back, and encourage the existing voices to not stop.

So I won't call out KM, Phanty, Flaffy, Falsie, Pri, Scout, OTP, Brinda, The Punkster, Veena, Ludwig, BM, Bikerdude, Baby V, and the others.  Because right now I gotta give back. So, go ahead, sit back and just read.  But maybe, someday, if you feel like piping up, that'd be just splendid (splendid I say!).  Who knows, you may even get the others talking and writing again.

Also, I miss you guys.  Wherever you are.

* I'd love for somebody to chart the activity levels and subsequent decline of blogs compared to those of their peers.



You know you've got too much fruit, and too much time on your hands, when you slice up some papaya, sweet lime and unripe star fruit to see how the mixture tastes*. 

Also, the colours!

* ....interesting.


Manual of Life - Things You Didn't Realise Till You Did #47

Almost nobody says 'semi-liquid(s)'.

We're all state-ists. Shame. So much shame.


Manual of Life - Alternate Definitions

n., That moment when you find yourself staring at a parent/elderly relative and realise you haven't really been seeing them as they are, but as they were a decade ago.  

And that you have been doing so for a long time now.  

And, in doing so, have failed to notice that a wholly different person, with wholly different needs, has supplanted the person of your memories - despite your being convinced that you had been carefully monitoring their growing frailties.

And which ends up with you in front of the mirror, trying to recognise yourself as you are today.


This world needs more pretty. And love. And pretty love.


The tales of Jeroo - Downpour

(For Space, who is the bestest, and who is very partial to the name)
There would be no peace tonight, she thought, with this latest army of clouds and their pounding assault on her city.  

They had stretched from horizon to horizon for days, a swelling mass of slowly-built-up weight aching to return to their ancient refuge in the world underneath. They brooded at the latest defences men had laid down, sighing at the foolishness of these ever-expanding unnatural fortifications, wondering yet again why humans insisted on defying and denying them. They hulked and sulked, sending forth brief forays, before finally realising there would be no parley, and had unleashed a relentless wall of liquid fury.

Trillions of stormtroopers blindly hurled themselves down, probing probing probing for the weaknesses that they knew had to exist, gleefully wriggling into the minute cracks they created, pouring in after each other to wreak as much havoc as they could in their short time they had, and leaving behind dramatically visible markers. 

Markers that mocked those who thought they could defy the world they lived in. Markers that dared the engineers to try and deny them again, while trying to explain there was no need to. Markers that they hoped would encourage an amicable truce, and the negotiation of mutually beneficial access treaties.

*   *   *    *    *    *    *   *    *   *   *    *    *    *    *   *  
Jeroo Dalal lay in the dark, distractedly listening to the battle without, wondering how much longer it would be before she went crazy. 

Four days of constant, heavy July rains had almost shut the city down. Almost everybody had been forced indoors by now, the initial delight at forced truancy having slowly given way to unease, and now, genuine distress.   She had begun to cross-index the rising water levels with the volume of noises from her neighbours - the bickering, the snapping at frustrated children, the growing accusations against the kirana guy of hoarding.  Such silly people.  Didn't they watch the news? Supplies were running low all over, it was difficult for even trucks to get through.  The only ones who dared to venture out now were the extremely hardy, the completely foolish, and those whose jobs or circumstances did not allow them to consider things like weather conditions.  

She occasionally spotted one of them, ever-so-carefully wading through waist-high water thick with the debris of uncivic behaviour, prodding at the ground with their make-shift sticks to avoid the open drains that lurked in patient anticipation.  She thought they looked like adventurers exploring an exotic land, braving their lives to identify safe trails for others to follow, moving ever onwards to discover the unknown. Just muckier.

Of course, they probably felt nothing of the sort, and were just cursing the monsoon, the inefficient municipal authority, and all the lucky sods who had the luxury of lounging at home eating fried snacks and hot chai and watching TV and ….

Hold on. 


Too early, surely? Or was it too late...

Oh well, she wasn't going to get any sleep tonight.  Might as well brew herself a cup (and eat up that last pao) and see if anybody was out exploring.  She could dig out her old binoculars and pretend she was out in the rainforests on a rescue expedition, ready to shore up some sagging souls with a boost of tannin and fermented flour.  Maybe she would even sing some old campfire songs to give them a little bit of pep.

Yes, Jeroo Dalal thought, it was time to get up.


On anonymity and being a blogger. Again.

This blog has always been slightly obsessed with meta discussions on blogging, being a blogger, and being unknown to the people in your blogging community.  It's not done yet.

All those musings were partly out of curiousity at the process and world I was involved in, and partly due to my growing belief that words should be judged on their own merit, not because of who wrote them (read the written, not the writer).

Keeping my identity private was an effective screening process - it provided me with the luxury of getting to know people (in as much as a blog can let you) and then deciding whether they were the ones I wanted to know better. Plus, it meant I didn't have to be rude by not agreeing to know somebody just because they had read my blog and thought they knew me. Yes, ironical, I know.

I also wanted to avoid cliques. Avoid carrying blog conversations offline, or bringing the latter ones to pages here. I didn't like it when people would have private conversations on public forum, so I decided not to inflict it on others. Whatever was there, was on the blog.

Plus, it's hard enough to keep track of the friends I have - and I mean the chaddi-buddy, yeh-fine-lets-go-take-on-a-mafia-gang type of friends, not Facebook contacts.  And it's harder to deal with the sense of loss of not being able to spend more time with them, scattered as we are across the world.  So why would I want to get to know more interesting people only to drift away from them as well?

More than anything, though, I kept private because there was the ever-present possibility that I would not keep this up longer, and would one day cut loose and vamoose.  I wanted to avoid all the questions, the prodding to maybe come back - all of which I could ignore if I simply didn't know anybody.

And that's how it turned out.  It was so easy to just snap ties. Sure, I may have been able to put a few names to some avatars, and I may have exchanged a few emails, but that was it.  Time to move, no explanations necessary. It was liberating, and made me feel just a little like young Kimball O'Hara.

Except that it was callous.  Small as my readership may be, and transient as a blog-life may be, it was disrespectful to just stop like that without any explanations.  I'd log in once in a few months, and check my feeds, and wonder what was happening with the people who had gone silent too. Were they busy writing books? Did they get married? Did they have new jobs? Were they even alive?  Even if one person had wondered that about me, then I had been terribly rude.

Which doesn't mean that I'm going public.  What I am doing is telling you that if I need to stop writing again, I will tell you and tell you why. And if I cannot do so myself, there's a backup which will do so for me.  This much I owe you.

And I do apologise.

*     *      *    *    *    *      *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *      *      *

Of course, I'm not planning to go away anytime soon again. Especially since I have a better idea of what this blog should be about.

This long absence has given me lots of time to go over these pages, and to clean up the output.  Lots of entries are gone, several more have been edited.  And a clearer sense of my ... voice ... is now known to me.  One which I plan to exercise a lot more, honing and refining till I don't have to go back and edit it anymore.

Some of the categories are unlikely to be revisited. There's going to be less outrage (because it doesn't really help), less commentary, and hopefully, more random weirdness.

I may not necessarily be as prolific as a result, but I hope to be better.


A world grown strange

Long ago (or what feels like it), I had written about how blogs are like neighbourhoods.  Well, Dorothy, this old hangout sure feels different.

*   *   *   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *   *    *    *    *
It feels strange to be back.

A looksee around this pad of mine, tracing the outlines of what was once a second home. The accumulations of a wandering mind, all so immediately familiar, yet subtly alien, as if a twin had evolved it. Sudden hesitations mark what I seem to remember performing unthinkingly, demanding a closer look, demanding me to wonder what made me choose them.  There's a slight frigidity about the place, a pseudo-life that was created and abandoned, vaguely aware of wanting to be angry at its maker yet failing to truly be able to do anything because it never really was.

I contemplate apologising, but I wonder who it is that wants to apologise, and to whom.  Some vortexes keep on sucking.

A rush outside, away away from this uncertainty.  To solidity, to the areas based on strong foundations and with long-term tenants.  To the places of known shelter and amusement and serenity and wonder. To my block.

But it isn't anymore.  Not all of it.

*   *   *   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *   *    *    *    *
I notice the forlorn silences of some parts, and laugh at my naivety that nobody else would go wandering. I delve a little into these empty expanses, learning histories through recent markers, trying to fill in the gaps when there are none. So many unknowns, so many aching questions.

I wonder, did all of us expect the others to be our constants? Did the rest too expect the party to keep going, hoping to slide back into their favourite seat to the tune of a friendly wave, hoping that nobody else would want to explore? Did the others also sometimes return quietly like this, watching the slow desolation, shuffling off in quiet regret, asking the same questions?

I almost feel that I can feel their after-presence, and I try to reach past these sealed doors to discover the imprints they left behind, hoping to understand more.  There is no way in, or back. I wonder where they are, who they are. I wonder why I almost never wondered about this before. I wonder if they don't either.

*   *   *   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *   *    *    *    *
I stare at some addresses, certain I used to visit them often, but no longer able to recognise them properly.  The nameplates mock me and the ego of my memory-boasts, but even their scorn can barely highlight a path through this fog.

The funny teenager merges into the roving foodie who overshadows the larking musician who ask me how I could so truly forget this all and whether I was really fully there when I was here and what does that say about who I was and am and why I should expect renewed invitations.  Do you really not remember that time, that joke, that conversation... I stand silent, confounded, searching frantically within for the person who could so easily unremember, running so fast you would think I hoped never to find that one.  I contemplate super-imposed brain scans under a green light, but I know the answer is easier to find.  As is the path back.

*   *   *   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *   *    *    *    *
I pause sometimes before houses I never really knew, dwellings of friends of friends and complete strangers who were always described as interesting, whose overheard conversations and inner jokes sometimes touched me by, who I said I would one day find out about, but never truly did.

I try to imagine the stories I never heard, the connections I missed, the inner worlds I never discovered. I try to convince myself of the old excuses of time and identity, and realise I have no one to fool but myself. And I know that's something I won't let myself do again. I move on for now, promising to at least think of cadging an introduction and exploring these avenues. All the while knowing there will always be too much, and too little time.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
And all the while, I remain aware of the rooms still tenanted and pass quietly under the cautious gazes.

I notice some of the changes in the furnishings in them, notice how some show signs of new interests and lost interests.  I wondering if I'm only imagining the hurt aloofness and in the lively laughter, a promise that these conversations have decided to pass me by.  I try to reach out, to answer, to speak.  I try to think of reasons that would evoke acceptance and forgiveness and welcome, that would cut off discussions on friendships and trust and prodigality. I try, but know I won't be able to, knowing that I haven't been able to in all my absence. What can you say to those who were your own? There is nothing to say. There is so much to say.

*   *   *   *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *   *    *    *    *
I finish my tour and here I finally stand, in the middle of this neighbourhood.  I mark the empty meeting spots. The quietly-carrying-on bookshop. The diner that no longer worries about creations, but offers filling nutrition. The children's play area that's come up.  The houses that are now just yearly retreats for those who have gone on to more successful things.  The new couples walking along. The broken hearts mending, some new, some a-new. The lenses capturing these images. The pens putting all of this to poetry.

I hover, uncertain of the next move.  I think of making my rounds, knocking on the doors, seeing who'll have me back. But I know that would be too false, too eager, too not-me. I think of calling up the few ever-dependables and asking them to spread the word, but I was never the life of the party that everyone flocked to come, just the one to the off-centre, shouting out the occasional funny line.

I decide instead to stay out here for a while, on my old seat.  There's so much reading to catch up on.  There's so many names and introductions and chats and bad puns to remember.  I'll put out some tea and baked goodies, hoping it won't seem like too much of a bribe, knowing that they will know it is.

I wonder who will notice, who will come.  I wonder if it will be enough for them to simply hear that that this time I don't plan to go away.  I wonder where this will go.  There's so much to learn again, so much to see, so many procedures and names and links to learn.  So many discussions to be had, so many stories to tell. So much of so much of so many worlds.  All in time.

For now, it's time to reclaim my spot.


Friday Fact/Fiction

(Some of this is true. Or not.)

For the last three years, I haven't posted on this blog because:

a) I decided to travel this world I find myself in, and decided to spend most of my earnings traipsing across the Andes, sub-Saharan Africa, the Central Asian 'Stans, and the Asean countries. I was usually so exhilarated and bewildered by the various trips, that I needed time to assimilate them at leisure on my return. Blogging about those experiences in the brief interludes of rest felt so ... bleh.

b) I began staring at words and could not recognise them anymore. The whole concept of language broke down. I had to seek therapy. This is my guilty fix.

c) I discovered a little ashram in the countryside and decided to spend some time there to fully understand who I really was. I farmed a bit, meditated a bit, stared at the scenery a lot. I once spent 47 days without talking.  I think they used to slip me drugs in the food. I managed to get away after I found myself cuddling a fern.

d) Too many people began to come close to finding out who I was, which got uncomfortable, and I also found myself following and commenting on blogs written by people I knew and then having to pretend when I met them in person, which just got weird.

e) I got into protest movements. One of them got ugly. The lackeys of the capitalist overlords decided to target me, forcing me to go on the run. I was eventually caught. The next few months were ... not nice.

f) Too many changes in life happened. Blogging was the last thing on my mind.

g) I no longer knew what I wanted to blog about. When I made up my mind about that, writer's block happened. I had to seek therapy.  This is my rejuvenation.

Either way, my poppets ... I'm back.