Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Review of "Private India" by Ashwin Sanghi & James Patterson

I received this book for review as part of the Blogadda Book reviews  program

"Private India",  published by Arrow Books in 2014, is a book of fiction,  co-authored  by Ashwin Sanghi and  James Patterson. James Patterson has a history of collaborating on other books in this series, , such as Private London, Private Berlin, Private L.A. and so on.  Interestingly, Patterson also holds the copyright to this book, although he is part author.

Random people , seemingly unconnected,  being killed in Mumbai.  The killer apparently has a signature, along with strange items that are left at the scene of the crime, attached to the dead.   The investigation is being conducted by  Private India, the Mumbai Branch of the world famous investigative agency, and their Indian set up is headed by Santosh Wagh, an ex Mumbai cop, aided by Nisha Gandhe , also an ex Mumbai cop. Jack Morgan, the international Head, is also part of it. 

The entire novel is about Santosh Wagh and his team , trying to find out the connection and trend in the objects associated with each murder ,  and in the process  dealing with a string of folks, who appear to be unconnected, but end up being associated with each other in the most terrible way.

I have read Ashwin Sanghi before. There is a lot of research and mythology associated with his books. There is also a seamless flow associated with the narrative in his  books.

Unfortunately , it is not so in this book. It feels like someone made a list of all things  "Mumbai" , and wove a tale around it.

And so you have mentions of terrorist bombings, underworld, corrupt police, folks at high echelons of government associated with  prominent crimes.  You have orphanages, red light districts, kidnappings, mention of forced beggings , fancy spas, page 3 people, women and men in high places in government involved in spurious activities, cops in cahoots with the mafia, police atrocities, abandoned mill land where crimes are done, crimes against women.  

As if this is not enough, there are people undergoing sex change  surgery,  random wanderings into the Parsi Towers of Silence in a semi finale  which pours disrespect  on the dead of the community, by graphic discussions of the so called heroes getting entangled in the remains.

There are a lot of questions. 

The whole idea of Mumbai Police handing over the investigation of something to a private agency  after some cop calls his boss  and gets the OK.  This doesn't happen. Heck,  there are problems transferring investigations from one precinct to another precinct, or between cities, in real life.

Then there is this business of randomly shifting bodies from Cooper Hospital morgue to the posh investigative labs of Private India. It is not as easy as it is described, and the authors seem to have taken a lot of liberties to suit their narrative.

Somewhere in the narrative , the authors have tried to connect RDX, terrorist explosions, dormant  Mujahideen members quietly doing their stuff. The local Don holds the password to stop the carnage.   The connection between the aforesaid murders and this explosion plan, is not very clear.

The Mumbai Police are shown in a very bad way, represented by Rupesh. Everyone , except the police autopsy person, is nameless. To me , this is a very lopsided representation of Mumbai.  I get the feeling that there was more and it was edited out. 

Way at the end, there is a chapter called "Private. Where it all began"  and it says to "turn the page" .   What follows is a bunch of pages totally unconnected to the novel.  Maybe that was intended to be another story.

This book doesn't leave you at an edge , wondering what is next.  You get the impression that Mumbai is full of sleazy , corrupt, evil, mercenary , moneyed types, and you read on to see if some normal type person makes an appearance.  I am just wondering how they left out Bollywood. 

For me, this collaboration of two authors has not worked.  It is , clearly, a step down, from Ashwin Sanghi's earlier books.

I wouldn't buy this book. Period. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

MotiBindu, Phacoemulsification and other stories......

The first time she heard about cataracts in the eye, was way back in her  childhood,  when someone referred to it, exotically as "Motibindu" in Marathi, or literally, the Pearly Point. It was supposed to ripen like a fruit, and was then harvested  as such in a complicated surgery. 

A cool  Mumbai morning in August 1977. (Yes, that was before global warming set in.)

A lady in her late sixties,  in crisp white saree, and a knitted saree cardigan (to guard against AC) , got ready to be driven to an eye clinic in a Western Mumbai suburb. Her entire extended family, including her doctor daughter in law had arrived, and they would shortly reach the clinic where the cataract surgery was  scheduled. Assorted sisters in law  from within  and outside Mumbai had also arrived. Strangely there were no parking problems on one of Mumbai's most crowded roads.  Everyone watched the comings and goings in the OT, and a hush descended as the doctor went in. The old lady, wished everyone and entered the OT , with her elder doctor daughter-in-law, who had been kindly allowed to be present.

Sometime later, she was wheeled out into the room, with a big bandage over her eye, and gently lifted on to the bed by expert attendants. A whole gaggle of relatives who had gathered , and spent time talking to each other about so and so's cataract, how it was messed up, how so and so corrected it, suddenly hushed up, peeped in to see the patient and left, promising to come again.

Then started 10 days of what can only be called a cataract festival.

Literally hundreds of blood relatives, and relatives by marriage descended into the suburb, and the younger daughter-in-law, was allocated the chauffeuring job, of transporting elderly types from home to clinic and back, along with assorted lunch dabbas, dinners and tiffins for the patient. The patient, despite a traumatised lens area,  was in her absolute element , instructing people about how cooking oil at home needed to be replenished, how you couldn't buy it on a Saturday , and how someone needed to rush in the middle of everything to someplace to order and have it delivered.  The younger daughter-in-law would often wear jeans and kurtas to the complete consternation of some disapproving elder ladies , who had no clue about clutches, accelerators, and the possibility of entangling your feet in saree pleats , while driving a bunch of loudly talkative folks back and forth on one of Mumbai's arterial high traffic roads.

There were suggestions about how a sneeze  would shake the eye stitches and nullify the surgery, and how no pickles with mustard and hing were to be brought in the lunch. There were folks who visited the patient and mentioned horror stories of failed cataracts. There were indirect and direct discussions about other relatives who visited.

And there was one visit, where  a grandma type sat next to the patient, and whispered to her, asking, how she tolerated her younger daughter-in-law wearing, "these jeans". The patient lady, "patient " in more than one way, a new dressing over her eyes, and looking straight ahead and up, explained, that girls then, did many more activities than before, her daughter-in-law was fulfilling a crying need of transporting elderly people in comfort by driving them and food back and forth, and in any case , the daughter-in-law always dressed appropriately in traditional clothes for other occasions as required, and so the old lady had nothing to complain. The grandma type, suitably admonished, was heard mentioning to others , how lucky the driving daughter-in-law was.

By and by, ten days passed, stitches were examined, decisions taken, and the suspense finally ended as the stitches , bandages et al were removed,  black no-nonsense mafia style sunglasses , totally out of character with the patient in question, were worn, and everyone, patient, extended family and all, returned home, via a visit to the local deity at the temple. The entire family except for diabetic types (including the patient) enjoyed some celebratory sweet stuff specially made by the patient's sister.   And so ended the saga of the cataract.

Cut to 2014.

Another cataract surgery. Hospitals, lobbys, computers spewing out paper after paper, bills after bills, medical records and so on. Special hospital clothes to be worn by the patient. One relative allowed with the patient, and made to sit in a waiting area much away from the sterile spaces.  Patient spaces populated with all kinds of infrastructure like oxygen supply, ECG machines, bells, tables that slide, etc.

There were seven cataracts scheduled that morning. No relatives supplying advice, no waving to them by the patient, just one bed after another, trundled into the OT.  One bed after another, trundled out of the OT after 25 minutes, the operated eye covered by a specially shaped cup type thing using tape. The aforesaid driver daughter-in-law , this time,  automobile-disabled due to potholes,  was called in to see the patient, and stay for some time in the recovery area.  Patients were given a choice of snacks. Unlike in 1977, sneezing (which did not happen) was clearly not an issue, as a sambaar with red chilly tadka proved.

Patients were instructed, NOT to turn to the side of the operated eye, when they slept, as they waited. Relatives were strictly told they could wait outside. The daughter-in-law has a habit of listening to such instructions, and on her way out ,  was aghast to see a young patient , in a bed near the doorway, sleeping exactly on the side of the operated eye. She rushed back  to the recovery room junior doctors still in their surgical greens and shower caps, to tell them about this.  They came urgently, to advise that patient, and straighten her out , literally.  And the aforesaid daughter-in-law returned to the waiting area, having done her good deed for the day .

Three hours and few checkups of reddened , occasionally watering eyes, the patient returned home, wearing mafia style dark glasses, uncannily like those of the old lady in 1977.

Phone calls and emails happening, several types of drops to be put in the eyes every so many hours, useful instructions, all written down in a discharge summary, and a followup appointment in the following week.

Thanks to the modern Phacoemulsification technique, there are no stitches to be removed, no eureka moments after ten bandaged days, the patient goes home and spends some bored times checking emails on the PC, and watching TV even on the first day, observing MP's fighting in Parliament.  Immediate relatives, drop by at home , and return , pleased about the progress.

And life goes on. 


I am just wondering, if a time will come when they will have drive-in cataract operations by robots.

And like, the mother-in-law worried about cooking oil reaching reorder levels , instructing folks to avoid Saturdays while ordering it,   I wonder if the robots, will also alert you if your car is running low of gas or oil ?.........        


Friday, August 08, 2014


Times have changed.

"Aunty" is now a look, as opposed to a family status.

Aunty is a typical Indian concept as opposed to say, Aunt. When I was a child, it was not considered polite to call ladies who were your mother's age, as Mrs So-and-So, or even So-and-so-Tai.   We always called them Aunty, Kaku or Mavshi , the last two referring to Marathi nomenclature for paternal and maternal aunts.  Many of my non-marathi friends called my mother Aunty.  I often suspect, that those of us who grew up with a  no nonsense conservative approach to personal beautification , kind of seamlessly slid into Aunty states as we grew up. 

Being an Aunty simply implied that you had transcended a generation.

However, it has occurred to me that even then,  calling someone a "Kakubai" had certain connotations, that were never applicable to , say Maavshi or Aunty.  A girl, who was gung ho about two tight plaits, a sari draped over both shoulders, never wore skirts, and, as they say "walked watching her nose in front of her" was often called a Kakubai. Strangely, I do not recall any corresponding nomenclatures like Kaka being used for fellows with similar inclinations.

Clearly , we never thought there was anything demeaning in being called an Aunty. It was an acknowledgement of our status.

Aunties evolved just like everyone else, modern aunties took to salwar kurtas and jeans, sometimes to the consternation of some who shook their heads to the chorus of "We didn't have such stuff in our time!

Thanks to things like online shopping, one gets to read reviews of items one is interested in buying.

Looking through some clothes items as a present for someone much younger than me  ( I am ancient),  I looked through a review posted by someone, and was aghast to read, that although it looked nice on screen, the reviewer lady felt, that in actuality, based on the material and the fit it gave her an "aunty" look.

Her words, not mine.

I mean, she could have said, she was disappointed in the fit, and felt cheated in the material, and the color and so on.

 Thanks to globalization , instant access to visuals and entertainment, and consequent upgradation in the need and value of advertisements in commercial space,  today's women grow up feeling that they must keep up with trends. 

As a corollary, those who defy these trends, in dress, behavior and sometimes, even attitude, are today dubbed "Aunties".

So.  (The urge to call Aunty a "state of mind" is very much there.  But that phrase has been misused by powerful folks. So I desist.)

Someone who haggles and bargains with a vendor while buying something quoted at a completely unjustified astronomical price, is an Aunty.

Someone who wears sarees the old traditional way, and thinks nothing of hitching it up, displaying mismatched petticoats,  to cross potholed roads in the rain, is an Aunty.  Tucking in the palloo at the waist , as part of your normal way of dressing, to convert into a handsfree environment, is considered the height of Aunty-ism.

Someone whose kurtas still pine to reach the knees, and whose dupattas encircle her above the waist is an Aunty.

Someone whose eyebrows rise at the sight of a young girl wearing a bare midriff top on jeans, or a  extra-loose-falling pair of trousers on a chap , and tells them so,  is an Aunty.

Someone who accompanies you to the doctor and thinks nothing of asking hitherto embarassing questions  is an Aunty.

Someone who thinks paying  one hundred rupees for a masala dosa , and a similar amount for a tolerable coffee in a fancy cup in a five star hotel,   is a complete ripoff ,  and says so, is an Aunty.

Someone who still cringes at swear words and hitherto prohibited abusive words being used loudly in public places as part of so called normal conversations , and tells someone off, is an Aunty.

Someone, who completely ignores the massively matching jewellery in shops, and insists on wearing, possibly in addition to her traditional mangalsutra, assorted other traditional  mismatched items, to honor someone who gifted them, and moves around completely obvious to everyone else, is an Aunty.

And someone, who expresses shock, and is aghast at so called beauties on television and even otherwise, wearing sarees way below the waist,  palloos that hang to one side like shoulder bag straps, with blouses that have only sleeves so-to-speak, and speaks out about it, is an Aunty.

There is an entire generation that gives inordinate importance to not looking their age.  They think nothing of subjecting their bodies to pharamcological excesses, within and without, to achieve their goals.

The Auntyfication has been a phenomenon that has its roots in these folks.   And the rise in psychological consulting, family conflicts, support centres etc for young folks, is a direct consequence of such pressures.

Strangely, Aunties work, earn livings for families, multitask,  and often are there when blame for something is apportioned.

 "Uncles"  have never evolved the way Aunties have.  I have never heard a fellow say that such and such a outfit/shirt/trouser makes me look like an "Uncle".   A pronouncement from an "Uncle", in a family situation is treated akin to law.   

And so the Auntification continues. In politics, too. Even in Parliament, where recently Uncle MP's gave speeches on how Aunty MPs should dress, and NO ONE raised a word in protest.

Thankfully, I have transcended the Aunty stage.  Am well on my way to an Aji (Grandmother) stage. At least mentally. 

Most vegetable vendors call me that .  Linking Road, Bandra stall owners don't blink an eye when I demand outrageous bargain prices, and most often, give in.  The traffic cop outside at our seven road intersection, doesn't rush me as  I cross the road with my bags of veggies. The same cannot be said of Uncles  and boys in fancy cars and bikes respectively, accelerating in place, in high rpm's intolerance,  at the red signal.

Maybe, as is the current trend, we should demand reservation . For Aunties ?






Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Jevan Chronicles : Reloaded ver 1.1

In the end, it was  all about a plump, determined, snub-nosed, large-eyed, pigtailed young girl in a parkar polka,  from a green coastal hamlet ,  suddenly thrown into a world of what is often called "style".

 Gyms, size zero,  fashion, slang, designer haircuts, fast friendships, faster food, makeup, unnatural color , artificial language, fair and lovely , the works etc.

She still remembers a time when  meals were had , sitting cross legged on a "paaT". The cooking area had choolahs and stoves in the pre-cooking-gas days, and it was just a bit higher than  the floor.

Coming up in life was all about a raised cooking platform, cooking gas, and dining tables and chairs.  The steel plates , katoris and glasses remained unchanged.

 And one after another, sit down dinners became stand up dinners, and buffets happened.

Like in everything else in life, appearance became important.  Food was not just eaten and devoured, it was presented, appreciated , and imbibed.

But like they say, you can take the girl out of her land, but cant take the land out of the girl....

She still eats traditional simple comfort food. But she has learnt to present it, thanks to the hamper she recently received from BorosilGood, nutritious , simple food. Where you get drunk on the smell, and wipe the plate clean, with the soft phulkas greedily meeting the Dal.

The once proud puffed up Phulkas, with a dribble of pure ghee,  freshly satiated and quiet , in the Bake n Serve.  So what if they weren't baked.  They roll and puff on fire !

Ambadi ! No it isn't Italian, thought it might sound so.

Seasonal Ambadi greens, stir fried with onions, tomatoes, green chillies,  and cooked with Dal, spiced and then a final touch with a scintillating tadka of red chillies.

Keep it hot and ready to slurp, in one of the Smart Triples with lid.

When things get too hot with the item number mirchis, a little red thing on the lid allows you a breather and you let off some steam...

Another one  of the smart triples  with lid. A bit staid and square.

Tomatoes and Onions, chopped to pieces. Comforted by the Crushed Roasted Peanuts.  .  A quiet sprinkle of chopped Coriander leaves.  The lull before the tadka. Koshimbir Time !

Hot oil, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, a smattering of kadhipatta . A generous coming together of the clan. Stirring stuff, this , as  the leafy flag is held high.  The lid must stay away if the flag is to fly !  We are patriotic that way !

And what do you say about Kheer Seviyan, doing a hot Ras Leela with the Saffron strands in milk, tolerating some raisin types floating around with pistachio and almond folks.

Tired but happy, the Kheer sits, quiet under the special lid,  which might itself behave as a plate in an emergency.  Cooling away in the fridge, waiting for its Day in the Silver Katori.   Yes, Every Kheer has its Day...

And then, Gourmet Bowls for stuff you relish. Raw Mangoes,  in early retirement, aging well in the pickle masala.

And fresh Coconut celebrating the 8th August full moon, by participating in the chutney proceedings  with old friends dhaniya and mirchis.   A special Tulsi touch , as a lemon squeezes itself into the stuff. A quick surreptitious tasting, a thrilled closing of the eyes, and the chutney is presented to a world, currently obsessed with odd named sauces.

And then , the mango pickle, with months of experience,  quietly expectantly sitting, thinking of curd-rice, surrounded by the ajwain  beauties.

  And what a vision she has !  Squat glasses in honor of her original eating style at meals, enjoyed at her folks'  place decades ago.  Mango days are clearly over, and it is Citrus time.  Orange juice, blessed by tulsi leaves , fresh off the tree.

And she raises a toast, to her only indulgence  in the new world she inhabits; fresh fruit juices  .

An actual orange ,  worshipped with tulsi.  

A bunch of ice cubes, a raising of glasses with her daughter, and suddenly, it's time for "Cheers !"

(I received a Borosil mega Hamper with the above containers  as a result of being among the top 50 contestants in part 1 of the  Indiblogger - My beautiful Food contest.  This post is being submitted as an entry as required for Part 2 of the same contest. )

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

SMARTNESS abhi baki hai, mere dost !

To start with, I am always skeptical about new technologies and mostly the last to adopt them.  (OK. I belong to the generation that used yelling from the terrace in place of phones.)

 I was immersed for years in Black and white, while the world went technicolor on TV, I laboriously did rotational dialling on our old black rotary land line, struggled with an obese hunchback black and white  computer monitor while other flat types looked on , and even continued to use the chutney stone since blenders and grinders were too fast for me. And the chutney.

Then cell phones happened, and I joined the bandwagon like 6 years too late.  Another few years to discover that there were things called Apps.

And all the while I noticed the phone becoming more of a toy and a commercially exploitable  entity than a communication device.   Wires stuck in ears, what appears like people talking loudly to themselves, mindless tapping and clicking playing screen games, numbing the mind, following maps to places, and in general pretending that everything was , say, SMART .

But , then, I have been thinking about things ...    and as they say , "SMARTNESS abhi Baki hai mere dost ....."

I'd love to have a phone, which senses minute changes in my pulse , blood flow or temperature.  I should also be able to sense change my breathing.  Alert me when things are going on the wrong side.  It could be when I am perturbed during a conversation, it could be when I am travelling, , or simply for no reason at all.  I think the sensing technology exists. The smartness needs to be implemented via hardware.

Instead of playing siren sounds on  sensing abnormal numbers and further disturbing things, it could simply dial a pre decided number. Or your health provider if that number is not available. Or broadcast messages....

The phone would also have a way of identifying the geographical location of the caller and would display it  when a call comes in.  I can't imagine the number of mischievous and fibbing types that would get exposed.  

What would be amazing is if the phone had lie detection technology installed.  It can be done using Voice Risk Analysis on smart phones , assuming they are really smart.  Wouldn't it be amazing to know if the person calling you is lying through the teeth, when he  or she says   things that are likely to cause you worrisome trauma and outlandish costs ?    

On a social level, in technology which might yet be in its nascent stage, it would be great to have a phone, which at the press of a button  could generate some kind of rays that would immobilize the person in front. If these rays could give an electric shock, even better . This would be the phone of choice  for young girls travelling alone, whether for work, or school or even to attend nature's call.

The Asus Zen, has a capability of sensing buttons pressed while the user is wearing gloves.  Besides being useful in freezing weather,  these phones could have a special attachment when used by medical diagnostic types like MRI, SCAN technicians, and docs in OR's, who want real time emergency response from someone miles away.   I know phones exist which project their screen on the wall. 

And then there are , what I call abilities in the wishful thinking categories. Clearly technology for these may or may not exist at the moment, but I never thought I would see cell phones,  ATM's,  pen drives,  bought-and-sold-cricketers ,  and artificially honest politicians in my lifetime either.  Now anything is possible.

How about a phone, which fills a Mumbai pothole when you point the phone at it ?

How about a phone, that glows bright when you are around a corrupt person ?

How about a phone, that generates a virtual shade above your head at the press of a button ? This would be such a boon for old folks at bus stops in the summertime.

How about a phone that would generate monetary change,  as soon as you key in the amount ?   Such a boon for bus conductors, rickshawallas and  vegetable and fruit vendors.  Not to mention me.

How about a phone that quietly clicks the id number and face of the cop who has stopped you on the road, and is speaking in code words that you don't understand ?

How about phones, that could seed the clouds when used in unison, and thus helpful in times of scanty rain ?

I am not asking for any super powers from the phone.   I don't want to fly. I don't want to travel at the speed of light or for that matter even sound.   I don't want to collapse under a shower of crores as is the current trend.  I don't want traffic signals to turn red for traffic when I am crossing the road.

All I ask , is some useful things as outlined above.   I don't care if the phone comes in twentyfive psychedelic colors. I don't care if i can shower or swim with the phone attached .  I don't care if it automatically plays the theme from Titanic when the battery is low.  And I don't care if it refuses to shut down even when I slap it.

I know , our problem lies, as we are very fond of saying, in the implementation.

How about a Asus Zen phone, that actually oversees and does a successful implementation of everything ?

If so, I promise to raise a statue dedicated to it in the Arabian Sea. 

Funding will not be a problem,  as the phone will generate it with a tap on the $ sign.     

So easy .....  


(Submitted as an entry for the Indiblogger  - In Search of Incredible-Asus Zen Contest).

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The case of the Filling Fragrances

I grew up at a time when Tata's  Eau de Cologne ruled the market. 60 years ago. Simply because there was nothing else.  Everyone called it "Scent".   ( A million times better than what we have today, fragrances called , of all things, Poison.  ) 

A single bottle went on for years, as you dabbed on, or better still, someone else dabbed on you, a few drops of the same on special occasions. Room fresheners, per se, as seen today were non existent, and no one felt the need to have a room smell of pine forests when the pervading smell in the house was that of ghee being made in the kitchen, or the years supply of garam masala being pounded by hand.

Years later, when I went to the US for grad school, and shared a small apartment , I suddenly learned that when you expected guests for dinner,  it was the done thing to use a room freshener fragrance spray,  not so your menu remained a secret, but, because houses were not expected to smell of adrak-lasoon  enjoying themselves in
hot oil.

Our cerebral cortexes (or is it cortii)  are trained to actually associate memories with smells.  And while there are several memories like those inhaled while passing in a train over Mahim Creek, that I prefer to forget,  so many others take me back  to the old days.

Like when we had neighbors from Hyderabad in the early 80's and every Id, the grandma would be visiting, and she would cook up a Biryanic storm in their kitchen. The flavors would waft down to the garage area, and we would blindly follow our noses  inhaling the adrak, the lasun, the saffron, the onion, the cinnamon, the cloves , the mint, the dhania doing their stuff amidst Basmati, to land us amidst the guests visiting for Id.

 Like when we celebrated the Ganesh Festival, and the house was redolent with the small of freshly shredded coconut  becoming one with a melting jaggery amidst pinches of cardamom powder , and raisins joining the fun.  Sandalwood making it presence felt , amidst agarbattis , all of this contributing to what I might call a puja fragrance.

 Like hot summers redolent with fragrances of ripening mangoes,  and pieces of raw mango fussing about with  salt, red chilly powder, hing and methi seeds fried crisp and crushed ; pickle smells that drew the neighbours to your house, to taste and nod approvingly, as your grandmother/mother beamed  amidst the tadkas.

Like a parched Earth, achingly dry,  and the amazing fragrance of the Earth smiling as it looked up at the first rain o the season. I could say "wet earth" but Geeli Mitti says it so much better. A fragrance that draws the most stuffy person out of the house, to inhale deeply, and beam in approval at the kids getting wet in the first rain of the season.

Like the ajwain leaves, blooming in profusion,  and emanating a cleansing fragrance as you pluck some, and go forth to make the pakodas with the leaves, something always enjoyed in the rains. (Greedy folks like me also enjoy them throughout the year).

Like the smell of ginger being grated and added to the water boiling away to make tea;  like some mint leaves awaiting their rendezvous with the same;  and sometimes cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves,  behaving like mature seniors waiting their turn.

Like a roomful of Mamis , wearing flowers in their hair, gajras with heavenly fragrance, all assembled in traditional silks for a Haldi kukum , a sudden sprinkle of rosewater, while a creeping smell of frying kadhipatta  emanates quietly from the kitchen .

We have so many fragrances to celebrate.   Very Indian fragrances  which are part of our lives. 

Godrej Aer, wants us to  suggest fragrances which are crowd sourced.  There can be none better than those that celebrate our Indianness.

The International Journal of Obesity has papers by Dutch researchers, that say that food smells need to be avoided by those trying to reduce their weight.  Apparently, non-food smells like pine and cut-grass reduce appetite.

Wait. There are, however, other smells that are part of reducing weight.  The smell of lemon squeezed in warm water, the smell of sweat, as you drip after a  good run in the morning, and strangely the smell of your tired socks, as you fling them, with a grimace , into the washing machine....

Clearly pine smells and cut grass do not make the grade. 

And so the Godrej types should introduce fragrances like  Adrak Crush,  Turmeric Temptation (ever smelt turmeric leaves ?),  Royal Saffron, Puja Sandalwood,  Geeli Mitti,  Kairi Methi,  Amazing Ajwain,  Sweet Coconut,  Sinful Cinnamon,  Pretty Green Pepper,  Stuck-up Cloves, and even  Nutty Nutmeg.   

Naturally, there will be Jai Jasmine,  My Mogra,  Resplendent Rose, Chamak Champa, and  Truly Tulsi , for times when you are full. 


And for times, when you are really hungry, and cannot afford to eat (for whatever reasons, health or economical) ,  a  Biryanical Fragrance  to satiate and mislead the brain the Dutch researchers talk about.....  

(Submitted as an entry for the Indiblogger Godrej Aer #InspireAFragrance contest)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

All about all !

Indra Nooyi,  interviewed by Bradley of the Atlantic Magazine, declares "Women cant have it all !" .   


We've known about it.  And we deal with such stuff .  And get on with our lives.  Just that no one interviews us, and goes gaga over small snippets dealing with crowns, milk, PTA meetings and proxy permissions to kids.

It really depends on which part of this phrase/sentence we emphasize.

For someone  like my household help "S",  the key word is "have". 

As a "woman" she has braved life a thousand times more than I have;  she doesn't have the time to debate over whether she has a work-life balance or no.  Between being a single mother with a violent absentee (for the last 25 years)  husband, educating her 4 kids single handedly, caring for an aged mother, and now dealing with the education system and complicated certificates  to give her grand kids something she never got ,  she kind of gets a balance  only when she helplessly falls sick, and has to stay home from her own work. Her kids, plead with her to be a SAHM, now that they all work,  but she , with no pension systems, feels she must work, like her own mother, till her legs allow her.  She doesn't ponder over the haves or have-nots. Her sons too , are busy earning a living in an honorable way. Man or woman is not the issue. Theorizing about stuff is a non-activity.

For so many of us middle class types, the key word is "all" .    

For some, "all" is about a well paying  posh job, doing up your house,  annual vacations, children in schools that charge fees equivalent to down payment on a house for people like "S', a husband who looks after the kids because the wife accepts a transfer on promotion outstation,  no other aged family dependents and a house that, well, runs by itself.   " All "  is attainable, but difficult.  Sometimes requiring mental compromises, skewing the balance.

For some, "all"  is having a job, with flexible hours, ability to work from home, an understanding boss, grandparents chipping in with time for kids,   a lower remuneration is accepted simply because it is more important that  her time be her own to decide,  and the house be a home rather than a house.

For some, "all" is the good fortune to have worked, and been able to stop whenever children or parental care demanded it.  It is the ability to redefine your needs to exclude extraneous factors, and enjoy living on one person's salary, without agonizing about how your kitchen is old-style while xyz got German style counters and trolleys.

And for some, so many who have seen it all,  "all" is about managing the stresses inherent in ageing, modern ailments,  spiralling costs,  declining moral standards, and suddenly finding out that things are exactly opposite of what you thought they were.  Having it "all" is the ability to handle reverses without falling prey to psychological afflictions, and being your own Prozac . 

I read the Indra Nooyi interview.  I realize that the events she mentions are representative of her convictions about not having it all.  Maybe she should have chosen better.

I don't understand the milk stuff.  Don't they have phones ? Landlines? Cell phones ?  If the mother cannot call Indra Nooyi personally at work, what the point in being so powerful? Couldn't she call and ask her to get milk ?  Secretaries in the US system often organize and order out for sandwiches and stuff for their bosses. The secretary could have ordered the milk.  That is called efficient organization .   Hundreds of working women  in Mumbai, share grocery responsibilities with their spouses, and no one or their spouse thinks it is demeaning to stop someplace on the way home to pick up stuff. All it takes is a call or a text message.  Why all this fuss mixing up  crowns, milk, mothers and tired spouses ?  

And then the business about secretaries giving permissions to your kids to play some video game. Because you are too busy to speak to your child.  This is confusing . Isn't there a grandma in the house ?   Can the child not speak to the father at work  if the mother is unavailable at her place of work ?  Or is there something about new standards  being followed here ?  Reminds me about an interview being given once by a well known Indian industrialists wife, herself a prominent society person, who said, that as a way of teaching their children , that there exist hardships in life , on foreign vacations, the kids travel economy class, while the parents travel first class.  Wow !    

The story about highlighting absentees at the PTA meeting because Nooyi couldn't go herself,  actually sends a wrong message. Either she doesn't respect the educational system in the US, or has no qualms about her daughter learning  that. 

Never mind.

I wish Mr Bradley  of the Atlantic comes to India.

I can introduce him to so many women who can really tell him what "all" is.  How it changes with age , and how so many smart women here handle the "having it all " or "not having it all " stuff , quietly working at it.

And I am sure they will give better examples.  


Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Chronicles of "JevaN" *

I am not an ad person. 

 I don't need page 3 type exposures to bring people to the food table.  No fancy food poses, unusually shaped containers or complicated artistic procedures with a history of culinary malfunctions.

 To me, "plating"  has always been about covering something with something else, as in silver, coated in , say, 1 gram gold; and not about some sauce leaving scratchy foot prints  across a white plate, while some lettuce and mint balances itself precariously on what was once a part of a chicken , sitting in the centre of the plate, watched by the disgusted french fries.

It is about someone coming home at noon, hot in the mid-day sun, splashing water on the face, and  standing under a ceiling fan before been drawn to the meal.

The aroma of Ambemohor rice, as all the grains huddle together, puffed with confidence, in a winning skirmish in hot water .  Their emergence on to the table, amidst a steam studded opening, followed by an excited Lady Ghee, in a translucent golden trance.

A much heralded arrival of of the self obsessed Saadha Varan, quietly searching for lemon pieces, salt sprinkles, and other chamchaas.   A great meeting, or as Nikhil Wagle  of IBN Lokmat would say, a Great Bhet ,  with the rice, a churning of the two, watched with great interest by the lemon pickle, nudged by the papad types, curling cynically, and wondering how much more fuss was happening. 

And then it is almost like a Durbar. 

With folks sitting to the left and right of the centre. As is the custom .

Cucumbers with their immense Cool Quotient, in a homogenous coalition with  chilly coriander item number types,  sometimes accompanied by the Moongfali Dadas, with their ambitions roasted and  crushed.  Occasionally dahi or yogurt plays peacemaker,  and results in a very Khamang Kaakdi.  Clearly displays  certain leftist tendencies in the seating  in the Durbar.

Boiled, scrubbed,  potato pieces, having emerged from a Traumatic Tadka Trial, in the company of of the Kadhipata and Mirchi ladies,  comforted by the Dhaniya-Lemon juice gang,  trying to cool things down, and they all go through some stirring emotions, before appearing in the Durbar. That too, on the right side,  clearly tongue tickling in attitude,   giving superior looks to the proletarian leftist Kakdis. 

And then , the pièce de resistance.

Hot, spotted, Jowar Bhakris, having emerged through a trial by fire on the stovetop,   opening up and showing heart , at the thought of meeting white butter , that has been waiting anxiously  , ever since it escaped from the buttermilk folks.

They arrive where the rice once was,   and settle down with a sigh, awaiting the Pithla girls.  Both of them , the Bhakri and Pithla, have always been a pair, and played together in harmony. 

Pithla. A languorous , brightly yellow, sunny, spicy, almost burning, thick confabulation of Besan and water, thickening the mystery,  in traditional cast iron premises, supervised by the standard adrak-lasoon, onion mirchi  union,  sometimes blessed with old dried red chilly grandmas.

A lovely meal, happening in real time, with Bhakris arriving  every four minutes, al a Mumbai Metro,  avidly waiting to meet the Pithla and Khamang Kakdi  show stoppers.

Sometimes, some independent chutney and pickle types make it to the Durbar too,  and cause a bit of heart burning.

But not to worry. 

Like the Speaker of the august Durbar,  always a lady,    Her Sweet Tanginess, Madame Taak (often called Chhaas by some)  is always there, to cool things down , by the glass.  "Please, please, relax, sit down ....please please..."

Of course , occasionally there is a protest by some folks like Shrikhand who think they should have been invited.  

To this Durbar.

Yes, the Durbar.  With the members resplendent in their special containers from Borosil.  

The Rice, Deep in the Round Casserole with lid.  

Saadha Varan,   a bit more square and conservative, comfortable in a Square Dish with Lid to keep the flavours in.

Khamang Kaakdi, true to its modern attitude, at peace in a Designer Bowl Set.

The Potato sabji , very aware of its position in the meal, insisting on sitting in the Grill and Drop Round Casserole. 

The Pithla girls insisting on arriving in the Mini Oval Dish set to meet the Bhakris.

The Bhakris, of course, preferring to rest on arrival , for a short period, in the Fluted Dish. 

Eyed jealously, by the lemons pieces, pickles and salt  resident in the mini Square Dish Set .

And how can we forget the White Butter, and Golden Ghee , quietly sitting side by side, in the Baby Gourmet Bowls Set, waiting for the lead players to arrive. 

And finally, a Vision Jug, to hold, the very visionary and wise Madame Taak.


But in the fitness of things,  this really is all about the Aam Meal .

Imbibed by folks all across my state, whether on the 30th floor of a highrise, or a small one room enclosure alongside a village field.  

May or may not make it to Master Chef or Paris or whatever.

But will, always , without fail, make it,  to the hearts and stomachs, of those who slurp and enjoy the simplest of meals.....


* Jevan ~ Marathi for "meal"

(Submitted as an entry for the Borosil-Indiblogger "My Beautiful Food" Contest. )

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Least Count Syndrome....

No.  This has nothing to do with elections, faulty EVM's  and the like.

But something more basic.  




Way back, 50 years ago, when I was in 9th grade, I remember starting on Physics as a separate subject in school, as opposed to a bouquet of scientific subjects cobbled together as "General Science". A sense of having come up in the world consequent  to now attending these classes , unlike earlier, in a special spiffy  lab, the year began with an "introduction to measurements"  and put forth the concept of Least Count.

It wasn't rocket science, it wasn't new, but it gave a name to something we instinctively knew.  Every instrument that measured something  had a minimum measurement which it could do with great accuracy. That defined a "least count"  of that instrument.  For example, a scale or ruler marked only in integer centimetres, would never measure things in millimetres accurately.  

And so you had the world, the measuring instrument, and the answers. For different scales of measurement , clearly, there were different measuring methods, ranging from micrometres, verniers, mileage measuring methods, to spectroscopy, audiometres etc etc. Each did excellently on its own, but would probably go haywire if used for something it as not supposed to measure.

We as humans, measure the world around us in various ways.  Eyes, ears,  A sense of touch.   Sometimes, the measuring is more complex, where something is observed by us, and analyzed and reacted to, by our brains.

For many years, I have felt, that every human body, as a machine is blessed with a unique least count.  It can be defined as an optimum level of information showering, that brings a level of comfort as we seek a conclusion or solution from it.

5 decades ago, there were no mobile phones. Heck, our first rotary phone happened when i was in 8th grade. Many times , particularly in rain storms, it would be dead, thanks to entaglements of branches in wires and so on.  When you interacted with anyone on the phone, and then the people were unreachable, you calmly waited for them to appear in person, or maybe call back on their own; sometimes a half a day would go by before folks started getting into a panic mode.  Everyone did not have phones, and so life was lead with a sense of optimistic belief in things.  In crunch situations , the phone, regardless of ownership was available to whoever needed it .

Today, we have mobile phones, cell phones, pagers , etc etc. The ability of the phone to move with the user, has meant that you get almost minute to minute updates from whoever you are tracking.  There are things like Twitter and other social media , where people post in real times about situations. For the person on whom all this information impinges,  it is like an avalanche. 

An inability to reach someone traveling alone, phones being announced as unreachable, switched off etc,  bring horrifying visions to mind, thanks to what we see in the news these days.  

You start off for the airport, and read Twitter updates about traffic and jams on the Mumbai flyovers, and you agonize endlessly about missing flights, missing exams, and deadlines.

You see 'n'  missed calls from someone you haven't seen for a while, and you start imagining things.

It isn't terribly clear, that the human body can handle such an onslaught optimally. In the sense that something has to give. 

We were a society, that was not clobbered with so much data, but thougtfully chewed upon and analysed and digested what was on offer, and sensibly came to conclusions.  The speed with which we constantly measured events was in consonance with what the brain/mind was designed for, optimally.  And so, back then, you never heard of psychiatric treatments, anxiety and panic syndromes, depressions etc in daily life. Yes, there were patients, but it was more of a physiological affliction.

The human body, I think, as a measurer, has a certain least count.  The avalanche of information has to match that interval.  Then it leads or might lead , to a meaningful answer or interpretation , in conclusion. 

Today, we live a life of palpitations with more than 100 news sources drowning us in an avalanche,   sms's and Whatsapp  forwards add the chutney and the pickle,  and anxiety and panic syndromes are the order of the day.  The body/brain/mind  is unable to measure things smaller than a certain optimum size and come to gainful conclusions.   And so there are random, kneejerk results,   that show up in a messed up physiology and chemistry of the body.  Stress rules, and diseases follow. 

They always advise you exercises and meditation etc.  It probably serves to reorganize, and finalize concretely the least count of your body machine , so you can face the world better.


Having said all this, Google Glass came to mind.    

Clearly ,   I give up. 

On second thoughts, No,  Thank you.

I already have glasses of my own....... 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Cakes, lights and other stories

(This post was inspired by a comment made by a friend on FB.   Regarding the custom of smearing birthday cake on  the birthday person's face.  And how we disapprove....)

My sole oldest memory is from 59 years ago.  I actually remember.

My fifth birthday. A fairly cold December night in Pune. Our house had a first floor terrace then (subsequently converted to living space)  and there were folks sitting on chairs strewn around, shawls, kids in sweaters , playing, a dark looking cake with a Santa Claus on it, sitting on the dining table along with other eats, brought out there for the occasion.  

Cakes were not de rigeur for birthdays in those days, or in the area where we lived,  but a locality in Pune Cantonment had a certain western ethos, and possibly folks had got the cake from there. Christmas was the next day, so possibly, there were cakes available. I don't remember cutting the cake or blowing candles,  but i remember all of us getting a piece, and me being stubborn and insisting on eating the Santa Claus.  Only to find it was not made of sugar , but clay......

Very clearly,  there was no gorging on cake, but it was imbibed like prasadam in small quantities , amidst many other child friendly goodies cooked by the folks.  

Strangely, I don't remember any other birthdays involving cakes, then.

Cut to a time,  when my children were small, and one baked cakes at home, combined them, shaped them,  iced them  and decorated them for birthdays. The birthday child , sometimes with goggle eyed friends, often sat on the dining table observing the icing, the chocolate, and there were many occasions when the icing was accidentally magically smeared on a child's hand, and was licked away gleefully. Candles were lit, blown with great strength, and the cake was cut and distributed.  The portions were now bigger.  And kids demanded second helpings. Amidst many other menu items. 

Somewhere in the late 80's and early nineties,  ready made cake shops made an appearance.  Cakes had amazing icing patterns and designs, no figures were made of clay, and kids started overdosing on sugar.  Yes, these cakes were then still expensive, globalization had happened, expectations had increased, and keeping up with the Joneses was considered important by some.

Somewhere in this century,  we lost it.  

Sense, that is. 

It is now considered smart to go for a birthday party,  applaud while the cake is cut, feed the same piece to select few (jhoota cake was unacceptable in my time) , and then  smear handfuls of the cream/icing/cake on the birthday person's face, in a massive disregard for the value and function of food.  I am not aware of anyone licking it all back.
It is now considered smart to hire hotel spaces for birthdays, and pay through your nose.

It is now considered smart to be knowledgeable about buffet meals costing more than a second/first  class monthly season ticket on Central Railway , for a single meal for a single person.  Being knowledgeable is one thing. Routinely visiting these places  avidly is something else.  Eat as much as you want.  The size of your stomach remains finite.  You gorge to get value for money.    

It is now considered smart to use the appellation "only" after outrageous prices for sometimes substandard food, beautifully presented.

It is now considered smart to leave food on your plate, and remnants of a drink in your glass, that held a drink with a weird name  .


And I wonder, and go back to the days when  we ate, without complaining , the meal of the day, as it appeared in our plates.  Shoving unpopular bhaajis behind dal katoris was always detected,  and we had to literally finish up our meals and polish our plates till we could see our own images in them. 

Food wasting was an unforgivable crime, and we never had TV shows to tell us that otherwise was OK.  Simply because there was no TV then. Forget cable.

The cake was never the main feature of a birthday.

And then, there is something that has puzzled me no end.

Modern customs, require the lighting of candles, and a subsequent successful blowing them off .  Extinguishing them, and letting them lie forlornly to one side while the cake was attacked.

The original custom that we still follow, involves lighting of lamps , along with a spoonful of rice, haldi, kumkum, and an arti of the birthday child, as he/she sits east-west  in front of the family Gods. 

The lamps are not blown away .

The Arti thali is always left in front of the Gods, the lamps still burning, with a sense of gratitude.

I think that sense, is what we have lost......