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Category Archives: Personal

Give Me Leaves, I’ll Give You Shampoo

Things not to do in the kitchen… especially when cooking with aunties who remember you were banned from lifting even a spoon when you were a child and are convinced you must still be that little girl even though 20 years have passed since you last tried to make everybody eat your “cooking” i.e. raw gooseberries in brine.

A short listicle:

  • Fiddle with gas connection
  • Turn on heat under empty vessel
  • Wash knife
  • Thinly slice
  • Grate
  • Deep fry
  • Transfer utensil from one burner to another
  • Insist everybody wash hands with soap in between tasks
  • Offer tips
  • Explain flambe
  • Cook

I finally had to stop because she was clearly not enjoying the experience at all. When I offer to “help”, I don’t mean I’ll help some senior citizen to an early grave. Not her fault, though. The last timeĀ  she saw me, I was busy manufacturing shampoo out of hibiscus leaves.

I was fascinated by housework as a child – a fascination that was immediately dispelled once I had to do any. Eventually, bugged by my constant pleas to chip in, one of the maids asked me if I knew I could make shampoo at home. My paternal grandmother, the child of an Ayurvedic doctor, used to mix up powders and potions all the time so this little chemistry experiment appealed enormously to me. It sounded like real grown up work.

My great aunt who ran the kitchen immediately whipped out a mixing bowl and sent me packing with a heartfelt squawk of relief. I gathered my retinue of essential staff (one of the houseboys, the oldest of the drivers, and the head gardener who was incidentally the henpecked husband of the maid who’d made the initial suggestion) and set off for the garden where I spent a pleasurable half hour discussing the merits of differently colored hibiscus plants. The boy held the bowl and offered to climb the gooseberry tree instead; the driver smoked and grinned; and the poor grandfatherly gardener nodded his head gravely when I informed him color was an important indication of cleansing strength.

Having established that red was the best choice, capable of cleaning even the dirtiest scalp, I proceeded to make my shampoo. This is how you do it:

  • Pick leaves. The shinier, the prettier the better
  • Pick flower. The more brilliantly red, the more you will enjoy it
  • Remove stamen. It offends the eye and has gross crumbly pollen. Yuck
  • Place in mixing bowl and pour water. From garden hose or whatever is convenient. As much or as little as you like but mixture made with less water is more satisfying in texture
  • Put in your hand and squish, squish, squish
  • Revel in sticky scented glory
  • Display results to universal acclaim
  • Abandon bowl because your job is done – you have prepared shampoo for whoever needs it
  • Wash hands and forget about the whole thing until the next time you’re bored.

As an adult who continues to use store bought shampoo, I always thought they’d invented this whole hibiscus thing to keep me out of their hair same as when they convinced me people were just dying to eat my gooseberry “pickle” – just note how the jars mysteriously vanished from their shelf.

But turns out people actually do use hibiscus to wash their hair. Hibiscus and a whole bunch of other stuff including bananas and baking soda and God only knows what else. I don’t think they’re following my recipe though.

 
15 Comments

Posted by on October 18, 2010 in Personal

 

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Prizes to be Won, etc

I feel like I really try to keep my mind open to new information – if not for anything else, then because it gives me something to write about – but every so often, the universe will lob a nugget my way that totally takes me aback. A recent example emerged in the weeks of hoopla and controversy surrounding the release of Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Freedom, when I learned that men apparently don’t read books written by women.

Call me oblivious, but it had never occurred to me that gender played a role in determining readership. But this too makes sense statistically, since women read more books than men and as male authors continue to appear on bestseller lists, it’s a fair bet that women like myself must not mind reading books written by men.

Perhaps it’s also because I’m an Indian and I grew up in an environment where everyone read Enid Blyton when they were little, graduating to Alistair MacLean and Agatha Christie in their teens and hiding beat-up, much-shared Sidney Sheldon novels in their schoolbags when they got a little older. Content was king, the way I remember it, not the gender of the person who wrote it. I guess I do live in a bubble of my own as my mother has often observed. And I’m getting on a bit in years as my mirror now observes. Who knows what the crazy kids do nowadays. Look at J.K. Rowling, for god’s sake!

Anyhoo, all this is an elaborate setup to announce to you, dear readers, that Women’s Web is running a “My Favorite Female” competition. Now I know what you’re thinking and I just want to say, chee-chee!

Okay, cheap laughs aside, this is the deal:

Pick any female character from a novel, that made you sit up, that made you go wow, that made you laugh or cry, that got you angry, that got you thinking, that made you fall in love – in short, a character that made you feel, ‘I wish I had written that!’ Tell us what you liked about this character in a blog post. Your entry must be dated between 12th Oct and 22nd Oct, 2010.

Click here for more information on rules, prizes, word length, submission, etc. I know there are those of you here who don’t blog and they have a submission option for you too. Or I’ll host your entry as a guest post for you if you’re especially shy. Bottomline is that I can think of at least a few of you lovely people from the comment pool who ought to give this a shot. Men included.

I think this is a conversation I’d like to see, don’t you? In the light of this post, I think I’ll write about my favorite female character written by a man.

[Plus: The Female Character Flowchart & A. S. Byatt Interview]

 
8 Comments

Posted by on October 14, 2010 in Books, Life, News, Personal

 

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Cheese Pakora Begorrah

As Winter comes creeping up, I thought the time has come to share with the world the joy of cheese pakoras. Or, as my father likes to call them, “Not Really Pakoras” – a sentiment shared by the entire male sex according my very informal poll. Ingrates.

However, they’re delicious, hot, comforting, easy to make, very forgiving of adaptations, and quite filling for a snack. In short, they’re perfect!

Other than those pesky health issues they’re bound to give you, but who cares about a heart attack tomorrow when you can eat yummy pakoras today, right? Right!

Cheese Pakoras
(serves 2 – or 1 greedy person like myself)

Ingredients:

Cheese – a handful grated or two slices. (You can use any melty cheese although the more fancy ones are really wasted here. Just go for your usual cheddar or Velveeta or similar local variant for best results. And you can adjust the amount of cheese up or down as you prefer too)

Flour – three heaped tablespoons

Egg – one, beaten.

Onion – one half, chopped fine but not minced. (You could substitute one leek or four spring onions, less if you’d rather)

Chillies – One or more, according to taste, red or green, minced is good but not necessary. (You could substitute with jalapenos or even crushed black pepper. I prefer red chillies because those little flecks of red look great in the batter)

Milk – cold, three tablespoons or more, enough to bind without turning the batter into paste. (Substitute with cold water if you’d rather. Do not use hot water because it will melt the cheese and turn the batter runny)

Salt – a pinch. (Seriously, a pinch – because the cheese and egg will make it salty)

Oil – enough to deep fry

Method

First off, if you’re using cheese slices because you haven’t got anything better (ah, college! OR ah, laziness!) in the fridge, then go ahead and dice it up by running a fork lengthwise and widthwise. Use a knife if that works out better for you. If you’ve got grated cheese, then good for you, you’re ready to start.

Beat the egg till frothy with the salt, add the onions and chillies and beat till incorporated. Now add the flour and mix. Tumble in the cheese and give it a couple of turns so everything comes roughly together. Next add three tablespoons of milk to the mixture.

Use the same tablespoon for the flour and the milk if possible so that the measure is consistent. Add more milk if necessary. You don’t want the batter as runny as your usual pakora mix, but you don’t want it to be a sticky dough either. Too runny and the milk will overwhelm the egg and the pakoras will lie limp on the bottom of the pan like octopi suffering from ennui; too sticky and your pakoras will just taste of flour, a gluey warmth that sticks to the roof of your mouth in a decidedly uncomforting way. Your ideal batter should easily flow off the spoon but still roughly hold its shape for a few seconds when it plops back into the bowl.

Don’t stress if your first effort isn’t perfect though – the point of the cheese pakora is for you to relax, make stuff out of things that are already in your fridge and scarf it down (preferably with ginger chai) before you notice anything about it other than its guilty deliciousness. Once you’re hooked and experimenting with these once a week to your doctor’s horror, you’ll soon figure out your sweet spot.

Now as this involves melty cheese, I strongly recommend a nonstick pan. But go ahead and use the sticky kind if the nonstick is still in the wash. Pour tablespoons (yes, the same one with which you measured out your flour and milk) of the batter into the hot oil. Since these are made with egg, they’ll puff up to twice their size, so you’re not being mean with the portions.

Cook on medium-low heat. Stand back because these will spit and spatter as the cheese inevitably comes into contact with the oil. A minute on either side. Remember these are made with ordinary flour and contain cheese, so you don’t want them to turn that reddish brown of your usual pakoras. They’re cooked on one side when they puff up and are ready to be flipped over; take them out when they turn a gentle golden brown all over.

Yields about 10 pieces, crispy on the outside and melty on the inside. Drain and serve with your favorite sauce. I prefer Sriracha or Maggi Hot & Sweet. It goes great with leftover Taco Bell sauce too.

If you share my father’s exacting standards and would rather eat something more traditional, check out the video above. That looks crazy good.

 
10 Comments

Posted by on October 13, 2010 in Life, Personal, Video

 

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Sorry for the Interruption

“As The Rama annihilled The Ravan; as The Krishna annihilled The Kansa, so we are sure, The Chavan will annihil The Chou.”

– The late owner of one of India’s most famous English dailies (the first one that popped into your head is probably the right one) in 1962, at a banquet honoring YB Chavan, the new Defence Minister.

Suresh Kalmadi isn’t even tops at screwing up his speeches. The only good thing about a massively disappointing week was this little anecdote offered as a piece of dinner conversation. Normal blogging to resume.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on October 11, 2010 in Newsmakers, Personal, Politics

 

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Bling Slave

You know what I don’t get about jewelry? The fact that they are really just flimsier, more expensive, shiny restraints. Unless you’re male, in which case they’re flimsier, more expensive, shiny armor. Just look at them:

The chains for men are thicker, broader and more flat. Bracelets are made of chain links or they’re plaque-shaped. Rings are wider. It brings to mind chainmail, steel cuffs and brass knuckles. Cufflinks (the very name is suggestive) resemble arrow heads, nails or bullets.

Meanwhile, women wear bangles and bracelets that channel handcuffs. Link those anklets with a chain and you might as well be in leg restraints and shuffling around jail. Collars around the neck. Noserings that have cows mooing in envy.

Even the more outre items suggest an end to liberty. Grills, for example. Those awful metal and gem-laden horror shows that people shove in their mouths like they’re suffering from retainer-loss. You’re creating a prison in your mouth. For lots of nasty little germs, probably.

Then there are the materials used to fashion jewelry like amber: you’re carrying the corpse of some long dead bug trapped in resin. And how about wire sculpture? They could probably build a cage for a hamster just as easily as whatever is wrapped around your neck. A really nice cage. On the other side of the scale, I know people are crazy about platinum but what is the inherent message of a wedding ring fashioned from it? At least gold is pliable, gives off a soft glow and an accepted global commodity.

What I’m most unreasonable about, however, are necklaces. I don’t know why I hate them so much. I love them on other people and will exclaim over them as much as the next woman when confronted with a pretty piece. The moment I clasp one around my neck, however, it’s panic-city. Maybe I was hanged in a past life or something, but I can’t have things touching my neck.

Sigh. This is why I can’t have nice things.

 
23 Comments

Posted by on October 6, 2010 in Personal

 

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TMI Nation

Dear People-Who-Will-Never-Read-This,

here is a helpful list of things to avoid discussing with me when next you run into me at a supermarket checkout/ bar/ restroom/ wedding/ public transport/ other public venues. Since you don’t know who I am and will never see me again, try not to bring up the following topics with anybody at all… just to be on the safe side.

Please do not tell me about -

  • the consistency of your diarrhea
  • the consistency of your kid’s diarrhea
  • the exact details, including taste and color, of your vomit
  • the boil on your bum and your deranged fantasies of what will happen if it bursts
  • the blood you discovered on your used toilet paper after examining it closely
  • your exciting holiday
  • your opinion of my clothes
  • your analysis of my hair, weight, complexion and height, and how they will fare in the marriage market
  • your thoughts on kids today
  • your terrible mother-in-law (who is standing right next to me)
  • your super cute love story
  • your hope and aspirations and why none of them have ever come true
  • how Jesus can save me from my heathen ways
  • how God will punish me for not going to the temple enough
  • what your neighbor said to you
  • what you said to your neighbor
  • what your son’s boss said about him
  • what your son said about his boss
  • what is wrong with Muslims
  • what is wrong with Christians
  • what is wrong with white people
  • what is wrong with black people
  • what is wrong with people who are not you, and perhaps, me
  • Commonwealth Games (this goes for people who know me too. I just… can’t anymore.)

Thanks!

I swear some days I feel like I’m turning into a crotchety old lady. The kind that mumbles to herself and she threateningly waves her cane at passerby. One step from homeless and warning of Armageddon on my soapbox, that’s me. You know why does that? And you know who drives me there most days? The loyal citizenry of the global TMI nation who have slowly colonized the world.

 
11 Comments

Posted by on September 27, 2010 in Life, Personal

 

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Conscience Called

Sometimes other people’s honesty can have a profound impact on the way you perceive yourself, leading to introspection that can change your life forever. It doesn’t have to be a bang-and-whistles speech – it could be just a throwaway moment in ordinary conversation.

There is that story a professor of mine shared about attending her mother’s funeral, for example. The way she told it, she was sitting at the kitchen table with her aunt who said to her, “You know, you die the way you live.”

I forget the context in which this came up, but I remember other things – the fleeting, faraway look on my professor’s face; the dip in her voice as she said to us: “And I thought to myself, what a terrible thing – to die as you live. I wondered then what people would say of me and I hoped they would say I was kind.”

I don’t think anybody else was really paying attention. At least, I remember the topic changed pretty quickly thereafter. But it’s always stuck in my head, perhaps because I’d just emerged from a rather unhappy two years of deep unkindness that I had perpetrated and suffered in equal measure. That whole mess had ended mere months before that class, marked forever in my mind by the passing of a woman known to be unkind to those who loved her best and needed her most.

That day it all came together and knit itself into a lesson people had been trying to teach me for years to no avail – that a bit more thought and flexibility could do wonders for my personality. I knew how to apologize and mean it, but that day it occurred anew to me that nine times out of ten, life gives you ample opportunity to avoid creating situations that end in meaningful apologies.

It’s been ten years since that day. I’d like to think that I’ve changed and evolved since then, to what degree I’m not certain but enough that I’m satisfied not to be the same person I used to be. Or rather, I’m satisfied that everyday I try to be a better person than the one I know myself to be.

That itself is growth, I think.

 
7 Comments

Posted by on September 17, 2010 in Personal

 

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What Ho, Man Ho

“The first time I had sex,” he said, “it was so amazing we had to do it again! But I only had one condom on me, so I decided to reuse it. That didn’t go well.”

The problem with dating when you’re a mere child is that you don’t know it’s perfectly acceptable to stop your boyfriend right in his tracks and say: Gross! Nast! Shut it! etc. Instead, I listened to the whole thing in icked-out silence that didn’t deter him one bit and then proceeded to take out the full virulence of my feelings by passive aggressively mocking him about it, time without end. That, by the way, didn’t go well either.

Now why, you might wonder as I often have, would he tell me this story? Were we exchanging horror stories, first time faux pas, etc? No. As far as I remember, this was an anecdote that presented itself completely without context in the middle of a coffee shop. Polite cappuccino conversation for the 21st century.

In retrospect, I feel a bit of regret at having unleashed the full weight of my Mean Girl skills on him for this strange foray into intimacy – not because he wasn’t asking for it, but because age has made me realize that he was simply indulging in a strange-yet-common phenomenon of Indian dating:

Boy: Girl, I really like you.
Girl: *giggle*
Boy: In fact *blushes* I lub you.
Girl: I wuv you too! *starry eyes*
Boy: So. Did I ever tell you about this other girl I loved?
Girl: Er.
Boy: Okay! Let me describe her and our relationship in extreme detail.
Girl: o_O

Sometimes you don’t even have to be dating. You could simply be flirting. And all of a sudden you’re listening to some guy you met five minutes ago recount the tawdry nitty-gritties of his encounter with his neighbor, the widow, the girl he met at the club, his senior in high school, the highly inventive list is quite long.

What is. UP. with that?

I mean, what is the thinking there? Ha-ha, I told my guy friends about this totally fictional woman who can’t keep her hands off me and it went over really well; now let me repeat the story to this non-fictional girl expressing interest so she’ll… what? Be impressed? “Woo! I’m dating a certified manwhore!” Gratified? “Awww! This slut could have had any old auntie in his neighborhood but he chose me instead.” Awed? “Oooh! His DNA is like a substitute for Viagra.”

I must be missing some essential chip of Indian womanhood because I’ve only ever had two reactions to these stories: skepticism and “eww”. I need a bottle of wine and a degree of friendship to even care, much less participate in this game. “Oh, you’re jealous!” cooed one person with some delight when I mentioned that maybe he should save his war stories for some other time.

Uh, no. I don’t expect the men I find attractive to have lived their lives wrapped in protective plastic sheeting, waiting for that mystical One like a human-sized touch-me-not and I don’t know why any reasonable man would expect that of me. I know it works for some people (hey there, freakazoids! happy you screwed up the curve for the rest of us? hmmm?) but the very thought of ending up married to the first boy who ever asked me out makes me shudder – and not just because I’ve seen his Facebook page.

I just don’t understand why I must be regaled with tales of sexual prowess when I haven’t even hinted at anything resembling interest. Everybody has these stories, of course. Girls and boys. Some of them flattering, some of them cringe-worthy, all of them kind of hilarious in hindsight with the right company at the right time.

So the next time you feel the need to share, remember what your mother taught you and speak when you’re spoken to. Take it from a girl: The Excellent Adventures of Little You is not the icebreaker you imagine it to be.

 
7 Comments

Posted by on September 16, 2010 in Life, Personal

 

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The Shame of Young Adults


Video NSFW

Auntie: What are you reading?
Child Amrita: Gone with the Wind. Have you read it?
Auntie: What?!
Child Amrita: I don’t really understand all of it but I think it’s great! The drama is out of this world! I think I’m addicted to good trash for life now. In fact, I’m gonna get the movie now and watch it.
Auntie: Stop it immediately or you will lose your childish innocence too soon!
Child Amrita: *grumble* When I grow up, nobody’s gonna tell me what I can read or not.

Teacher: What are you reading?
Tween Amrita: The Giant Book of Murder. It’s great.
Teacher: What?!
Tween Amrita: Look, it has sections devoted to axe murderers, serial killers and poisoners. I’m totally going to mine this for information that I will cunningly introduce into my English school essays to blow my competition out of the water!
Teacher: Stop it immediately! Or you will grow up into a psychopath.
Tween Amrita: *grumble* When I grow up, nobody will tell me what I can read or not!

Friend: What are you reading?
Teen Amrita: The Wheel of Time. It’s great!
Friend: What?!
Teen Amrita: Yeah, I’m really into fantasy fiction! It’s like science fiction but better! There’s parallel universes and alternate realities and magic and strange creatures and -
Friend: Stop!
Teen Amrita: Why?
Friend: I dunno. It sounds stupid and I’ve never read any. Here, read Chicken Soup like everybody else.
Teen Amrita: *grumble* When I grow up, nobody’s gonna tell me what I can read or not.

Internet: What are you reading?
Present Day Amrita: Young Adult fiction. It’s great!
Internet: What?!
Present Day Amrita: Yeah, I was too busy reading regular adult stuff when I was kid but now I find that there’s a lot of YA fiction out there that’s really good. So now I’m catching up.
Internet: Stop! Or at least have some shame! You’re reading stuff meant for children.
Present Day Amrita: *grumble* When I grow up…

I didn’t even know I was supposed to feel inferior about it. Should I cover my copy of Mockingjay with brown paper the way some women who read sexy romances on the subway do? What about graphic novels? Are those cool? Or is everybody sneering at me for choosing to read a comic like a little baby?

If only I read less and monitored the reactions of random strangers to my choice of reading material more, I bet I’d have the answers to all these pressing questions.

 
23 Comments

Posted by on September 2, 2010 in Books, Personal

 

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Bittersweet

Some places are gone forever.

The best part about moving on is that which is yet to come – the busy-ness of it, the sense of purpose, the future that awaits, the anticipation builds. You see a door and you don’t know what lies behind it. A whole another world to explore. A new house with new neighbors and new idiosyncrasies to learn; a new room with new shadows that wait to make friends with your old dreams and forgotten nightmares; new sounds that announce themselves in drips and creaks. A new life with new possibilities.

The worst part about moving on is that which is past – the sadness of it, the sense of loss, the memories that fade into a sepia tint despite promises of forever. You look over your shoulder and you see all that you’re leaving behind. You grieve because you know you’ve said goodbye even though you pretend it’s au revoir. The old house with its worn knowledge, its mysteries exposed; the shadows you know by name; the sounds you’ve investigated a million times; the walls pitted with your deeds. It is home.

Sometimes a song, the music of horns, snatches of conversation, the sound of someone’s laughter, wind rustling through leaves along an endless line of defiant trees, the smell of tobacco warming the morning air, squirrels at play, the squeaky tones of an adventurous toddler’s sneakers, mustachioed men at gates, the milky warm smell of a happy puppy, aged stone warmed by sunlight, the smooth grain of polished wood, bright red blood welling from a cut – and there you are again. In that place with no address; that space you carry within you. Fold by fold it opens to envelope you, until you stand there, just as it used to be.

Nothing has changed. But you don’t live there anymore. Nothing has changed, but these streets don’t look the way they used to. The trees have been cut down. The flowers aren’t the ones you love. It was the people who made it real but where have they gone? Nothing has changed except you.

The monster ate them. The bulldozer got them. The man bought them. They lost the directions. It’s a bittersweet realization, but some places are gone forever.

 
9 Comments

Posted by on August 20, 2010 in Personal

 

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