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Category Archives: Personal

What’s in a Name


6.40 for the good stuff (although it’s Rosie Perez – it’s all good stuff)

Ma: Who were you talking to?

Me: A friend.

Ma: Which one?

Me: Beth.

Silence.

Me: What?

Ma: Is that her real name? I mean, are you sure?

Me (thinking): Uh-oh, somebody’s been reading about the dangers of online predators again.

Me: Yes, of course that’s her name. Why?

Ma: Well, what kind of name is “Depth?”

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2010 in Personal, Video

 

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Presenting!

gaddar

People who sound like narcoleptic chipmunks with a bad cold have no business participating in a podcast, which is why I never did. Until now.

As I slide down the other slope of my 20s towards 30, I’ve decided the time has come to stretch a little. This involves doing things I would rather not, such as talk. There’s nothing I hate more than talking – I’ve been taking John Wayne’s advice to speak slow and seldom for years without even realizing it – but I do love to listen. Left to myself I’d communicate in grunts and gestures but it’s kind of hard to convince people to have a conversation without saying something once in a while.

Thank God, then, for Beth! My partner in crime who is charming, articulate and very kind. The story of Masala Zindabad: The Podcast that Ought to Have Been a Book, our new project, is a long and not very interesting one but the topics it was to cover and the people involved are the opposite. Unfortunately, it was one of those things that just wasn’t coming together, hence our decision to present it in this format.

You can follow it here. I’ll warn you up front that this is about the most DIY amateur production ever (and it nearly killed me setting it up – so fiddly!) so if you know your way around an effort of this kind and want to share tips, they would be most welcome!

This is an example of our test run:

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2010 in News, Personal

 

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Spoiled for Good, not Evil

Back when I was a teenage asshole, I used have great fun yelling out important plot points at my extremely spoiler-averse BFF. I think she basically walked around with her hands plastered to her ears for a whole week after Gupt came out until she could see it too.

And then there was me – the girl who’d read Agatha Christie novels back to front because I always “like to know”. It’s earned me a number of puzzled frowns and blank stares over the years, even from fellow ending-addicts who prefer to leave at least their mysteries unspoiled, but it couldn’t be simpler for me: I derive very little satisfaction from figuring out whodunnit, I’m a lot more concerned with how and why. I’m not really looking for a two-in-one “Get a puzzle free with this story” deal.

I’m very specific about what I like.

The ends of things, especially a book, is often a good indicator of what the rest of the material is like. There’s a reason why the most famous line from Gone with the Wind is from the last chapter – that’s where authors often store their best work. A book that peters out or pulls its punches at the climax is not a recommendation, no matter how powerful the prose or sky-high the praise on the cover. I might still pick it up, but I’ll know how to manage my expectations.

Reading Matt Yglesias and Ta-Nehisi Coates on the subject, however, I was reminded of AMC’s Rubicon, which just wrapped up its freshman season this Sunday. I suppose you could call it a sort of bait-and-switch: you’d expect the story of Will Travers (James Badge Dale), an intelligence analyst and “pattern recognition expert” whose chance discovery of a mysterious code leads him down a deep, dark rabbit hole and soon endangers the lives of all those close to him as well as himself, to come with a lot more bells and whistles.

Instead Rubicon‘s the kind of show that the British still make, the ones that are put on a diet of speed and steroids when they decide to remake it for the American market. It’s a show unafraid to take its time, devoted to establishing not just the world in which its story unfolds but also its atmosphere.

Little things about Rubicon appear designed to evoke fleeting memories of uneasiness you might have experienced over the course of your life. I don’t have to be an analyst on the brink of a momentous, life-threatening discovery to understand that feeling of paranoia when you’re walking down a deserted street in the middle of the night and you start imagining that that guy who got off at the same stop as you might be following you home with evil on his mind. I don’t have to be planning catastrophic world events to recognize hushed conversations that fall silent at the sound of high heels clacking on the floor of a temple to modern architecture.

Half the season of Rubicon was seemingly devoted to building these little moments that might have made you impatient at the time but ultimately served to underscore later events. If you hadn’t heard Maggie’s sad observation to Will, “This is the closest we’ll ever come to that lunch date, isn’t it?” or glimpsed her face after her disastrous booty call, the scene where Will confronts her about her betrayal wouldn’t have landed with the punch it did.

But how many people stuck around to watch that take place? Not many if even reviewers needed to be lured back:

At one point, Rubicon was in prime position to set the world record for “slowest paced episodic television show.” I even joked that I wasn’t smart enough to understand Rubicon. As it turned out, though, it wasn’t particularly confusing, it was just boring. Through the first three episodes, no character ever seemed to turn on a light let alone say something interesting. Minutes of screen time would be spent watching a guy we barely knew sit alone in the dark. I’d think, wait, that’s what I’m doing right now; why would I want to watch someone else to that on television?
[…]
Somewhere, around the sixth episode, something happened. I mean that literally — something finally happened. But things kept happening and, most importantly, the characters started developing personalities. I’m not making this up, Kale Ingrim (Arliss Howard) just may be the best character on television right now.

I was hooked early on, but that little nugget about the 6th episode caught my attention since my general rule for a new series that I find interesting is 6 episodes: that’s how long I give it to reel me in, after which, 9 times out of 10, I’m as committed as I can be without a wedding ring. Just ask Bones – I even forgave it that all time low of a season 4 London-based premiere.

But not everybody hangs around as long as I do. Not even me, if I find it heavy going. It took me just three episodes to bid farewell to Boardwalk Empire although it’s apparently going through a renaissance of its own so I might have to revisit and stick around for the full six.

And that’s the point about getting spoiled – if somebody were to tell me “stick around because things improve at such-and-such point when this-and-that happens”, that only makes me more inclined to watch it. Unless those plot points don’t appeal to me at all, in which case I’d be grateful to save my time because the Lord knows there’s no dearth of quality television out there.

But I’m apparently the minority.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2010 in Books, Entertainment, Movies, Personal, Review, Television, Video

 

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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 time  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.

 
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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.

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

 

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