Monday, July 27, 2020

How to make most of the monsoons - hint, do it the Bengali way

Monsoon in India is anything but mundane. It is chaotic, disruptive and joyous at the same time. As the skies open up after months of relentless heat and drenches the parched earth making it fragrant and green, emotions run high and the mood becomes festive. Each spell of rain becomes a momentous occasion that must be celebrated the only way we desis can celebrate - through gluttony.

At the first sign of thunderstorm, the kitchen comes alive with the sound of pakodas being fried crisp in sizzling oil. Served with piping hot chai, the heart sings loudly like a peacock in heat while the stomach prepares itself for acidity.

But if you are a Bengali, you curl your lips with disdain at the sight of your Panjabi neighbour gobbling pakodas with glee. You are the self-anointed human version of L’Oreal shampoo. Since you’re 5 times more enlightened, cultured, opinionated and intellectually evolved than the boddo-average Indian. even your monsoon celebration is meant to be five times more elaborate and painful.

You're loath to spend a piddly half an hour to rustle up crispies to celebrate the drumming of rains against your windows. You put the book you’ve been reading aside, and announce to no one in particular - aami aajke khichuri khabo.

I can already hear a chorus of ‘who the fuck has runny khichri meant to soothe an agitated tummy on a rainy day?’ Let me assure you all, the Bengali version is nowhere near the sloppy mess you have on diarrheal days.

For Bengalis, khichuri is not merely a dish, it is an emotion. It is the culmination of utter joy we experience when we see dark, angry clouds gather and rumble with displeasure, the air heavy with promise of rains. As the parched earth, greying trees, dusty buildings greedily soak up the rains, the house starts filling with the aroma of moong dal being roasted for the khichuri. 

Pic courtesy Cosmopolitan Currymore

Unlike the khichri a hastily thrown mix of daal and rice thrown in the pressure cooker and served as a watery, tasteless gruel that you want to throw up, the Bengali version is a mix of rice, lentils, cauliflower, potatoes, peas, seasoned with spices, chillies and served with a dollop of ghee. If you dare dump all the ingredients together and make it a lumpy mess, you will be haunted by a Robindro Sangeet humming ghost for the rest of your life! Each one of them must wait for its turn before it is added to this desi risotto and stirred till your arm falls off. While the potato adds silkiness to the texture, the cauliflower and lentils breathe in their unique flavours, and the peas add a sweet note to the khichuri.

Since ek poder ranna(one course meal) is considered a cruel joke in Bengali households, we coolly pick up the exhausted arm from the kitchen floor, stick it back and proceed to slog a few more hours to prepare the side dishes, bhajaas and chutneys for the khichuri.

The rains have long stopped. The locality kids who were splashing around in newly formed puddles are now back home. The Panjabi neighbours are now prepping for their dinner of rajmah chawal when their ears prick up to the sounds of ssssss. No worries. It is their Bengali neighbours who have let go of their table manners. They are scooping up the hot khichuri with their fingers and going ssss in a futile attempt to cool it. It will be followed by loud slurping and crackling noises as they take a bite of the begoon bhaja, fried Illeesh, deem bhaja, break a crisp papad into pieces, take a noisy lick of the sweet, sour tomato chutney, pause to mix the labda( a runny mish mash of veggies) with the khichuri, interspersed with loud sighs. The K drama climaxes with obeisance being paid to the creator of this feast. Boddo bhalo baniyechho eibaar!

The Bengali neighbours are finally on their balcony, rubbing their tummy gently with satisfaction of a feast partaken. One of them is going through her Instagram feed and rolling her eyes at the million rain drenched pics that her friends have shared. Losers, she mumbles to herself. They are now singing Jhoro Jhoro Borishe even though the rains have long retreated. The bottle of Gelusil in the medicine cabinet is getting ready to play its knight in shining armour role later in the evening.

The night is still young. One of them chimes - kalke luchi aloor dom? The weather forecast says it’ll rain tomorrow as well.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Vocal for the local Gamchha

If you are a Bengali kid whose childhood resides somewhere in the 70’s and 80’s, you were probably scarred by the memory of a grandparent prancing around the house in a mere gamcha. Since they were no Zeenat Aman, you probably had difficulty sleeping for the next few weeks, haunted by the image of their shrivelled frames and flappy skin. But then this was a generation that had yet to be introduced to the miracles of skin tightening formulas and gave ‘zero fucks’ to the outside gaze.
Image courtesy- Google 

 Perhaps this jaunty confidence stemmed from their cape with superpowers, the limp gamcha. To the uninitiated, gamchha is the country cousin of the fluffy bath towel. This deceptively flimsy piece of cloth resembles a dusting cloth that has seen better days. Usually check patterned, it is as soft as it is absorbent and dries as quickly as a Twitter outrage.

The gamcha was the OG of multitasking. Either flung casually on the shoulder, or tied carelessly around the waist, this versatile piece of cloth flitted from one role to another with little effort. To ward off the pesky fly disturbing the much cherished afternoon nap on the armchair. Gently wipe off beads of sweat while surveying the storeroom for pilferage by the staff. As a hand wiper, table wiper, God, I need another bath wipe, wrap-around bathrobe to scar your grandkids for life….. It was everyone’s favourite silent companion.

Ms G was loved so much, it was embraced across all communities and castes with equal vigour, making it one of the greatest equalizers. On a hot day it would transform itself as a farmer’s turban as he toiled in the sun. On a lonely evening it was the homely housewife’s cheek caresser. The adolescent’s dhoti because why waste a proper garment on a growing child. As an all purpose scarf for the male on the move it was also his fashion statement.

It wasn’t until my 30’s that I let myself be introduced to the wonders of the ubiquitous gamcha. And when I did, it was love at first wipe. As I gently rubbed myself dry with the gamcha, I could hear my forefathers and foremothers sigh with contentment. Its texture reminded me of my favourite pyjamas with half a dozen holes that I had held on for years despite its sorry state. It felt as soft, airy and comforting - just like an ideal relationship that exists only in our dreams.

I shed silent tears for all those years I had wasted on alpha towels. I chastised myself for being led astray by bulky towels wrapped around glamorous divas beckoning sultrily on billboards. My heart was simmering with rage thinking of the unfair treatment given to gamchas, ignored, taken for granted, dismissed as too unsophisticated. Even in movies, Ms G was relegated to cranky old men who wouldn’t stop talking about their daily ablutions! 

No my dear gamchha, not anymore! I will not let you be subjected to anymore humiliation. I held it close to my cheeks, whispering sweet nothings and pledging my undying love to it.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Dammit Covid - Did you have to cancel Gluttony as well?

The beloved breakfast buffet, the sole reason why many of us went for vacations, is about to be relegated to the dustbins of history. I mean I get it. These are unusual times. Thanks to bat borne virus, the greatest threat to humanity is now humankind. We are supposed to jump into the nearest hedge every time we sense human presence to save ourselves from their length and breath.

Hotel buffets is where guests converge to exchange pleasantries, germs and viruses. Ask the ladle, the chafing dish that has been touched so many times by so many. It’s the favoured playground of the gluttons because dammit I paid 20k a night for a deluxe room with ‘all you can eat breakfast’ package. Diets die a swift death and without any regrets. And why not? How many times in our lives do we get the opportunity to eat our weight in aloo bondas, meatballs and egg Benedict, and follow it up with a mountain of croissants, muffins and danish pastry taller than Everest! And then wait for a pot of green tea to erase our guilt.

Agreed, Mrs Mehra’s chutney smeared hands on the sambar ladle will now be a health hazard and Samikshaputrika sneezing near the bagels will give us seizure. But hey, that doesn’t mean you can deprive me of the dilemma of having to choose between crab legs and poached prawns while downing wheat-germ shots! Buffet breakfasts taught me the art of balancing my plate delicately on one hand while trying to open the lid of the chafing dish with the other with the other and then dropping it with a loud clang on the floor.

God forbid if hotels go a la carte, my vacations will become as bland as the daal I had on my last trip to London. Imagine having to start your day without half a dozen sausages, smoked salmon cartwheeling with bircher muesli, coffee, orange juice inside your stomach, and not being able to complain about indigestion for the rest of the day! And now I am getting the sinking feeling that lunch and dinner buffets are on their way out too. Oh no! My life will become pointless if I won’t get to spend nearly an hour at the buffet table meditating in front of the 16 varieties of orange gravies that look exactly the same but claim to be different. I’ll miss giving exasperated looks to the lady who’ll appear out of nowhere to ask me if this dish is gluten free, fat and taste free! Is this prawn or fish? Is this dish vegetarian?

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Quarantine- when you discover everyone has hidden talents and you have none

The last 50 plus days of quarantine have been extremely distressing for me. I had to experience the ignominy of discovering that every single one of my friends and acquaintances, including the ones I had long dismissed as useless, have hidden talents. While everyone I knew and did not care to know was busy channeling their inner Jamini Roy, Lady Gaga. Behen halwai, Nigella minus the decolletage, handstand diva, I discovered I had none.

Maybe their huge reserves of talent was a shy thing, bit of an introvert, waiting for an epidemic to be coaxed out of the closet? Perhaps the anxiety pangs of dying from a mere virus had made everyone desperate to seek refuge in creative pursuits and discover to their horror they were damn good! I would stay up all night desperately seeking answers to these questions. I even tried passing off insomnia as a talent but realised it was too commonplace.

Initially it wasn’ t this bad. I was too busy feeling euphoric and was determined to make the most of this unexpected break from the outside world. One could actually open windows without being assaulted by cacophonous sounds of screechy traffic. The air had become so clean, I could actually see my neighbour weeping on her balcony. Rivers were detoxing with relief. I would often stand near our windows for hours hoping to spot a leopard.

Nature was healing, you know!

As an act of self preservation I pretended not to care at all. I had even mastered the dead fish look while I faked astonishment and awe with panache. But pretty soon it became impossible to be the ostrich and ignore the sudden influx of talent parades. Inside me was a raging dust-storm. My heart was breaking into tiny pieces. I tried assuring myself my heart would emulate the Japanese art of Kintsugi. The broken pieces would magically rejoin themselves with lacquer dusted gold and become so beautiful that I’d be tempted to take it out and flaunt it for envious glances.

Even as I was busy dismissing these divas as wenches suffering from performance anxiety, constantly seeking validation from strangers who they will never meet, a part of me was dying to wear the crown. I wanted to do back flips and splits in my living room, without crashing into the furniture and breaking a limb or two! I wanted my breads to rise and shine and sing an aria too while they were at it! I was finding it impossible to accept I was a lazy oaf who lacked the willpower to pick up a new skill, or master a language I may never use.

My impatience and addiction for a drug called Netflix was the biggest impediment between me and imminent greatness. Obviously I have many hidden talents. I just don’t have the time to rake them out!

Eventually I did find my refuge, not in french bread braids, overripe bananas or my vocal chords, but in my rows and rows of potted plants. If I could clean pigeon potty all day and feel like their long lost Mom without wings, surely I could adopt my plants and smother them with tender care! Plus they needed protection from these winged assholes who were treating my helpless plants like their ‘all you can eat buffet!’

Thursday, March 14, 2019

India – URine Trouble

10 December 2022 – Nitin Gadkari is the first Indian to be awarded the Nobel prize for Piss and India can’t stop bursting their bladders with joy. This is the first time any Indian minister has been awarded for doing something productive. Another first is the category that was especially created to honour Mr Gadkari for leaking his novel idea in making India the number one country in pee sufficiency.

What started off as a simple idea of harnessing every Indian’s inner piss to make urea has now boomeranged into a Yellow revolution that has not only made us the global hub for fertilizer, but also bio-fuel sufficient and manufacturer of world’s brand-new favourite miracle drug that can cure diarrhoea, viral, bacterial infections, cancer and its aunt with just one swig. Patanjali’s Pissleri is now being exported to 195 countries and has replaced Green tea as the undisputed king of unverified claims that everyone loves to believe. With the emergence of Tea, Coffee or Pee as the millennial’s favourite café to hangout, Starbucks has closed shop and is planning to try their hand in bhajiya business.

Since no one uses petrol anymore, Saudi Arabia is now a mecca for dates and is the favourite hunting ground for Shiv Saina and Hindu Mahasabha.

To the bitter disappointment of sickulars, pseudo-leftist-jhola-loving-JNU-going doomsayers, India is finally seeing acche din and proud Indians can’t stop patting their full bladders for its invaluable contribution to the economy. Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas is no a longer mann ki baat but reality.

India’s journey from Pee negative to a Pee positive country was far from easy. Like any brilliant mind, when Gadkari first floated his out of pot proposal of harnessing urine to make our own urea, everyone including the writer of this piece missed the moot pint and chose to ridicule him instead. Like any visionary he chose not to get pissed off by mockery and remained steadfast in his vision of sucking out the last drop of urine from us to make our future golden.

Thanks to his unshakable belief that all his ideas are fantastic, airports all over the country now have giant stills that store every flyer’s urine. Unlike the rest of the country it makes no distinction between Savarna, Avarna or minority pee and is the modern day Prayag where all hues of urine mingle freely. Though sources claim the ‘always outraged Hindu’ pee fetches the highest price for its bright orange colour.

Nitin Gadkari’s garden at his official bungalow in Delhi has long reaped the benefits of his golden bounty and his rows and rows of pissed-off plants have shown better growth than India’s GDPee. Thanks to Gadkari’s revelation, women who were previously condemned as vindictive for pissing in their guests’ and MIL’s tea are now being hailed as ‘peelanthropists’. They are now being urged to mix pee in their family’s tea as well.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

2018, a LOU story

Heartless Nimmo ran away with all of Pran Nath Banke’s money leaving him with egg on his face. The neighbourhood is abuzz with it. 
Technically it was not his money but we’ll come to that later.
Many of his men friends turned up at his place with ‘we told you so’ condolences. He was yet another casualty of the nefarious schemes hatched by women out to squeeze helpless men dry of their juice.  
Too bad this was not Love Jihad otherwise they could’ve hacked Nimmo into boti sized pieces.
Theirs was an unlikely LOU story. Nimmo and Banke were as different as wine and lassi. She, pish -posh, born with a diamond ring in her mouth, soft spoken and petite, who wore nothing but couture. He, a hard-working simpleton, unpretentious to the point of shabby. A quintessential nice guy he was every aspiring mother-in-law’s dream come true. Since he only spoke Punjabi and she really bad Gujarati in a firang accent, they communicated by poking each other. Nimmo had even given him a cute nick-name - Pokemon. 
Nobody expected Nimmo to be the runaway bride. Leaving on a jet plane, with not even a note when she’ll be back again.  Didn’t even wake him up to say goodbye. 
She was after all from a rich khandan and from the looks of it definitely not in need of his money. Ok, not his money but given by others for safeguarding it. 
Idiot. Couldn’t even do one job right! 
It’s not as if Pran Nath Banke was short of suitors. But they were mostly middle-class and needy. For the uninitiated this is the breed that has to earn their own money instead of inheriting it from their family and then pays most of it as taxes to a government that doesn’t do its job well. Our dear Banke loved to make them sweat like they were in a Mumbai local. One of the commandments of the holy grail of dating is act like a government servant. Keep mum, make them run, and always look disinterested, just like a dead fish. It is rumoured he even made one them dance on broken shards of glass like Basanti in Sholay. 
The poorer they were the nastier he was with them. 
Nimmo was subjected to none of this. All she had to do was shimmy in a skimpy tight dress that could have gotten her raped but didn’t and pout seductively. Then she faked some interest. And before she could croon ‘are you loansome tonight’, he was hopelessly in LOU with her.
Unfortunately, his inner voice that was screaming Banke, you fool, you are giving her too much credit, was put on mute.
Maybe he was not so nice after all. Maybe he was asking for it.