Friday, June 29, 2007

Rock On, Begum!

Yesterday, I went to a Farida Khanum performance at Kamani Auditorium. According to me, this is one of the signs that you are finally growing up - when you realise you now like the same kind of music that your mother does.

This doesn’t mean that I’m suddenly into Ghazals overnight – it’s just that this particular woman has, according to me, the most beautiful voice in the whole world. And I’m not ashamed to admit that I knew and judged this through the one song I’ve heard of hers over and over again – the ubiquitous ‘Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo’.

However, I am a little ashamed, to admit that when my mother mentioned this upcoming performance, my first reaction was ‘Farida Khanum is still alive?’. I had already mentally written her off as one of the greats of a past era. However, I quickly got over her non-death and decided to accompany Mum for the concert.

Vijay was a bit sceptical. ‘You’ll probably just like that one song, if she sings it, and get bored during the rest’. I think he was just jealous that he couldn’t make it, being in Bombay and all.

So we got there yesterday evening at 6.15 p.m., and just in the nick of time. The authorities, in their infinite wisdom, had decided to issue approximately three times the number of passes than the number of available seats. Apparently, right after we entered, they shut the gates, and there was danger of a real riot taking place outside – the furious crowd was actually threatening to break the gates down. In fact, Farida Khanum was herself 20 minutes late because they weren’t opening the gates to let her and her accompanying musicians inside!

She came in eventually and took her seat. She was dressed in this pretty, shiny, pinkish sari and she gave me the impression of being a nice, big birthday cake with delicate pink frosting. I don’t actually know how old she is, but she didn’t look particularly decrepit or anywhere near being on her deathbed as I had imagined. She exuded a great deal of charm, and I could almost swear that from the minute she took her place on the stage, the aroma of beteljuice or supari, whether real or imagined, reached me in the 8th row, and for once, it was not altogether unpleasant at all. The real magic began when she started to speak - her voice was so low, pleasant and soothing, and her entire manner so humble and winning, that it didn’t matter to me that I couldn’t understand half the words she was using. Urdu is such a beautiful language to listen to, I must learn it sometime.

And then she sang! Wow. There is absolutely no way to describe her singing. I have decided that you have to be a real writer to be able to accurately describe her singing, or maybe it’s just not possible. For me, the only thing I can think of is that her listening to her singing is like the vocal equivalent of warm chocolate melting slowly in your mouth – and that the occasional break that you get from her smooth flowing voice, in the form of a sudden heady rasp, is like the finding of an unexpected, delicious piece of chocolate chip that needs to be separately savoured for a moment. Damn- I think I am obsessed with food. Don’t worry, I’ll work on it. One day, I will find that description.

Surprisingly, after two of her songs, somebody yelled out a request to her. I thought it was rather rude, I didn’t know this kind of thing was acceptable. But Farida just said ‘Acchha Ji, Acchi Baat’ and accommodated the request. After this, it was a mixture of her performing her prepared songs, and the audience getting louder and louder with their requests. Some people were rude enough to yell out while she was actually speaking and describing the history behind a particular song, but she still continued to be supremely polite and charming and accommodated almost every request, pulling out three or four different diaries to refresh her memory of the lyrics, in some cases. Of course, I was secretly pleased when some silly boor yelled ‘Aaj Jaane ki Zid Na Karon’ and the whole audience applauded in unanimous agreement– and then, she actually sang it and blew me away even further. The only sad thing about this was that everybody in the hall had apparently heard of this song, with the sole exception of her tabla player, who blatantly refused to get the taal right - despite her attempts to gracefully direct him with elegant waves of her chubby white arm. It says something that despite this impediment, she still managed to effortlessly squeeze out this beautiful song with great poise.

But unlike Vijay’s sour prediction, I actually enjoyed every single song that she sang though I fervently wished I could understand the inherent shayari within each song. As it was, I clapped along but couldn’t bring myself to actually say ‘Wah, wah’ like the rest of the audience, at lines which were apparently particularly poignant. I also wished Vijay was around to translate – and oh, he would have loved the entire thing, too.

As usual, there were also the typical cretins who were rude enough to talk on their phones during the performance – ‘Haan, bolo. Mein Farida Khanum ko sun raha hoon, Kamani mein. Nahin, nahin...Bolo, na!’. I wanted to swoop down on them like an eagle, snatch their phones and run away – but the great thing was that Farida’s voice was so all-powerful that I could actually tune these people out so it really didn’t matter, for once. In fact, at one point, the authorities had to let in the restless crowd waiting outside into the hall (something they should have done in the very beginning) and they all piled in sat around on the floor, or leaning against the wall, a noisy mixture of self righteous indignation and triumph at having finally entered– but Farida just continued to sing, without batting an eyelid.

The performance went on for around 2.5 hours without a break - and proof of how much I enjoyed it lies in the fact that I held my urge to pee for over 45 minutes, before eventually stepping on a lot of toes, (deliberately aiming for as many cell phone cretins as I could manage), to get out and relieve myself.

Overall, it was absolutely magical.

Yes, maybe I’m getting old now and I’m sure a lot of my friends will be a bit taken aback to read this post. All this from the girl who some years back would float around Delhi University in baggy jeans with a guitar slung over her shoulder, singing Alanis songs at the fests? But what the heck! That was then, this is now. I still like Alanis. I can like Farida Khanum too. And frankly, if growing up or growing old, whatever you call it, means being able to appreciate something so beautiful – well, it ain’t half bad!

One final thing – another bit of slightly strange behaviour I observed was that some people were recording her on their fancy cell phones. I don’t particularly mind this because it is quite non-intrusive. But I don’t understand the mentality. She is right there in front of you, singing for you - live! Enjoy it and be in the moment, for once!

It’s potentially almost spiritual.

(I was going to end this post with a couple of the video clips we took on my Mum’s fancy cell phone, but decided against it – the video quality wasn’t that great and didn’t do justice to the Begum's performance. So you will just have to imagine it!)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Why We Don’t Travel On Air Deccan Anymore

(…as if you really need a reason?)

It was our good ‘friend’ Shome the Troublemaker, who told us a couple of years back, that we should ‘invest’ in the Air Deccan Family Coupon tickets. These were a set of 16 tickets for the long flight sectors, e.g. Bangalore and Delhi types. He told us with great confidence that this is how he was travelling every weekend to Delhi to see his wife, and that it was great. Always quick to get caught up in someone else’s enthusiasm, Vijay and I thought ‘Wow, great deal!’ and immediately purchased the family booklet for long flight sectors – and never ones to do things in half measures, we also bought another coupon booklet of 12 tickets for their ‘short flight sectors’ since we go to Jaipur fairly often from Delhi –a total of 28 tickets, which would be valid for one full year of travel. We spent over Rs.70,000 but it all seemed worth it at the time.

What you have to remember is that these were days when the Kingfisher, Indigo, GoAir, etc. had not really come up in a big way- Air Deccan was pretty much the only low cost option and we figured our already frequent personal travel would become far more frequent with this intelligent purchase. Alas…

I submit, with all the benefit of hindsight, the top 5 reasons why we don’t travel Air Deccan anymore. These are apart from the usual poor service, lack of cleanliness, flight delays, etc – experiences of different people vary here. Anyway, the top 5 are:

#5. They lose luggage with alarming regularity, even pride: We lost our luggage while travelling from Bangalore to Delhi because Air Deccan seemed to think we would be better off with our baggage in Chennai. So off we went, husband and wife in one direction, beloved suitcase in another. We were travelling onwards to Jabalpur later that day and so had to buy new sets of clothes there, and that too, from a Bombay Dyeing showroom, due to lack of time. We look great in the photos on that trip.

Now, these guys do not just do not just lose luggage, they expect to lose it. I remember how once Vijay overheard one Air Deccan guy casually remark to another ‘Aaj to bahut bags ghumenge, yaar’ in an almost satisfied tone, as they both stood observing the chaos around the check in counters.

#4. Their staff is clueless and rude: I still remember trying to talk to the Air Deccan staff member in Delhi about our lost suitcase– he was a haughty young man (why haughty? You work in Air Deccan!) and I really ended up losing it with him. My temper, always quick to flare up, was set off because he was refusing to check the possibility that our suitcase was in Chennai. We knew it had gone to Chennai, because back at the Bangalore airport that day, there had been great confusion, with the Delhi and Chennai flights boarding all together - and we had actually watched our callously thrown suitcase float away on the conveyer built with great trepidation.

Anyway, this rude young man in Delhi informed me with great dignity and broken English ‘Madam. I work in the Dah-li aair-pote. So how I can know about flights taking off from the Bangalore aair-pote to the othha aair-potes…?’ While I started raving to him in my poor Hindi, Shome (who was travelling with us that day, with his luggage intact, I might add) pulled out the Air Deccan flight schedule from his bag with a flourish and waved it under the idiot’s nose. The man didn’t have much to say to that and blubbered something about calling his superior. Anyway. I didn’t actually physically assault the guy, but believe me, I’ve seen quite a few passengers come really close to this state. We eventually recovered our luggage a few days later. Yippee.

#3. Their short sector flights hardly ever seem to take off:
Believe me – we tried taking the flight from Delhi to Jaipur and back many times but it just didn't seem to exist. Two days before the scheduled flight, we would get a cheery SMS saying that ‘due to technical reasons, this flight will not be operating two days hence’. Well, if there are technical reasons, why don’t you just use the two days to fix them, we asked the helpline operators. But they just tee-heed and ‘tch-tch’ed and ‘I know, sir’ed with us, in the manner of those who sympathize but are powerless to make a change, being helpless cogs in the wheel. In fact, in some cases, the call centre operator’s tone would suggest that she was the one who deserved sympathy from us - because she was unfortunate enough to be employed by Air Deccan, while we were free to just walk away… (we certainly wouldn’t be flying away any time soon)

The worst part of this entire thing was the story I heard about how when Air Deccan, on one particular day, realized that there were only 5 passengers booked to travel on the flight from Delhi to Jaipur – being the financial wizards that they are, they did some quick mental maths and decided that it would be much more economical to cancel the flight and transport the passengers to their destination – in a Tata Sumo! Now, I don’t know whether this is true or not – I am partly offended that I was never offered this option, and partly relieved that I didn’t have to bash someone’s head in upon being made such an offer.

Actually, that’s not the worst part – the actual worst part is that thanks to this flight-cancelling tendency on Air Deccan’s part, we ended up wasting around 8 of our short sector tickets – that’s around Rs.16,000 or so – which Shome later casually told me we could have gotten refunded if we hadn’t allowed the one year deadline to elapse.

(Note to Vijay: have you noticed we take too much advice from Shome when we really should have buried him long back? I have realized over the last two posts that listening to him proves that we are not a very bright couple).

# 2. Their ‘food’ sucks so much that the airhostesses bring their own dabbas:
It’s true. One late night, after a three hour delay, we found ourselves on the flight, with our stomachs growling. We philosophically purchased two moldy sandwiches, a packet of chips and some Frooti-type of drink and were just settling down to this sumptuous, overpriced meal when our nostrils were assaulted with the smell of some truly delicious alu paranthas. We were sitting near the front and craned our necks around the curtain to catch a glimpse of the two airhostesses giggling and sharing their wholesome, home-made full meals, right out of their steel tiffin dabbas. Vijay and I looked at each other, peered wistfully for a while longer through the curtains and then resumed our listless poking at our own sad excuse for food, trying to ignore the tantalizing whiff of the real thing. It was pure torture.

# 1. And the top reason not to travel Air Deccan is….: the attached sign which we saw on one flight. Now, this one would only be an issue for you if you happen to have a baby and coincidentally, to also be the type of parent who happens to love it.

In case the Hindi isn’t clear enough for you to read for any reason, allow me to tell you what the sign says:

‘Kharaab Mausam mein Shishu ko Fold Karke Rakhen’

The Monsters!

So that’s it. Those were my top 5. Our one year period validity of our coupon tickets was over on October 8, 2006 and we have never travelled on this airline since. And though I have seen something on TV a few months back about Air Deccan’s attempt at a complete image makeover, a full relaunch and rehaul, with a focus on making it a fabulous flying experience – it’s going to take more than a few ghastly yellow shirts with equally ghastly slogans about ‘being No. 1’, to get me to try this airline again.

Anyone travelled recently on this airline with a good experience? Come on, shock me!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Here Come the Big Bucks

My husband decided a few months back that our savings are being wasted, just lying there in the bank. I agreed whole-heartedly with him that it is a bit foolish to earn piddly rates of interest in a savings account when you can invest it for higher returns - however , my own interest in the matter dwindled shortly thereafter as I find the whole finances thing very tiresome.

Now, Vijay is usually the most practical and intelligent of people that I know. Most of the time, he handles life with admirable grace. However, there are these times when he enters into an alien zone, which is marked by blind enthusiasm, unjustified self-belief and totally devoid of even the teeniest modicum of sense. These are rare occasions, but I shudder at the thought - because there really is no way to handle him then.

So, anyway, the day after our conversation on finances, I got a call on my cellphone at work.

Vijay: I did it, honey!

Me (apprehensive at his unusual enthusiasm): What did you do?

Vijay: I have opened an account to start playing in the Stock Market!

Me (surprised, and feeling a sudden prescient chill): You have? But what do you know about this?

Vijay: It's very simple, honey, it's all common sense.

Me (unconvinced): Achha? That's great...

Vijay: I bought my first stock, too...

Me: Really? What did you buy?

Vijay: (brimming with pride) It's great.. I bought a whole lot of stock in 'Balrampur Cheeni'

Me: (Stunned into silence momentarily. At such an announcement, who wouldn't be?) ....

Vijay: Hello?

Me: You did WHAT? BalRAMpur CHEENI? What the heck is that??

Vijay: No, no, honey, I have it all figured out. It is going to be Diwali in a couple of months, right? At Diwali time, sale of sweets are sure to rise sky-high. Sugar is used in sweet- making ..(By now, he senses that there is real danger of my hand crushing my cellphone to bits, so moves on quickly) So anyway, the thing is, the stock is sure to rise and we will make a killing! Ha ha!

Me: (muttering to myself) Killing...good idea...Deep

Vijay: Hello? Hello? (Decides it's time to take the high ground, changes to plaintive tone) I thought you would be happy that I am taking so much initiative. I have thought about this properly.

Me: (mustering up every ounce of sarcasm from every vein in my body) Of course you have. This is possibly the smartest thing you have ever done. I am sure our money is going to multiply exponentially...(abandoning the sarcasm for the far-more-satisfying good-old-fashioned wifely rant)...How COULD you invest in something called BijLANI SUGARCANE?

Vijay: (Relieved, thinking that this is where the confusion lies) No, no, honey...not Bijlani Sugarcane..It's Balrampur Cheeni...

Me: (all veins, including sarcastic ones, about to explode): That is WORSE! Who does that? Who buys stock in companies with names like Balrampur Cheeni? Have you lost it? Is this a joke? It's not April Fool's Day, is it? You're joking right? Ha ha ha ...

Vijay: Umm...I'll call you later, okay? I have to go now.

Me: (trying hard to be reasonable and keep out the threatening tone from voice) Vijay....what are you doing with our money?

Vijay:'ll see...just trust me on this. I've thought this through. You'll see...Okay, bye!

(Click. Dial Tone. Most sensible thing I've heard all morning)

So, a number of months have passed since this conversation took place, and needless to say, the inevitable has occurred. 'Balrampur Cheeni' rose by 2% around Diwali, only to plummet to unimaginable depths subsequently.

Since then, on the advice of some friends and with sheer good luck, Vijay has expanded his portfolio and his other investments have not proven so disastrous. However, every bit of gain made on all the other stock has been wiped out completely by the losses on the wretched Balrampur Cheeni ( I just noticed the initials...coincidence, you think? Never mind, this is a family-type blog).

Anyway, the indomitable Vijay still insists he has it all figured out. Sometime back, he came and tried to convince me that he has fine-tuned his master-plan for beating the stock market - 'See, you only make a profit or loss when you sell...So, as long as I don't sell, I can never lose! So I will never sell it! And we will never lose! Great, na? Ha ha!'.

This singularly masterful piece of logic has rendered ineffective all of my efforts at pleading and cajoling him to sell the damn Balrampur Cheeni stock.

He stands firm.

And Good ol' BC? Not so. It continues to plunge everyday.

So this is a plea to any stock-market-savvy, kind-hearted souls out there: if you have any advice to give Vijay, please do it. I assure you: as long as we think you're over four years old, we WILL listen. Can hardly do any worse, can we?

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Awesome Twosome

Right now, I quite like Delhi, where I am spending my leave - the weather was truly horrible the first week of June, but it is sort of tolerable now (Of course, I am writing this happily in A/C comfort, but never mind that...). But I guess I do miss some things about Bombay.

Like the husband, my friends...and as I realised earlier this week, the help that we have in our maid, Zareena and our driver, Vinod. It's strange how these two characters have become, in just a few short months, like members of the family - I have blogged about them before, too.

Before leaving Bombay, I bought our maid Zareena a mobile phone, which which she was very kicked, and gave our driver Vinod a handsome tip - instructing them both to take good care of my husband. It was gratifying to see that they both seemed suitably sorry to see me leave, despite the generosity. (Zareena got teary eyed and reached up from her three-feet-two-inch height to give me a hug, and Vinod told me 'kuchh galati ho gayi, to maafi maangta hoon', which I was quite mystified by until Vijay explained to me this was a standard way of saying goodbye in some parts - strange!)

Anyway, Vijay was travelling abroad earlier this week, so on the day he was to return to Bombay, I called Zareena with a set of instructions, on her new mobile.

Me: Hello, Zareena?
Zareena: HAAAN? HAY-LO? (Sounding very excited to be getting a call, and bawling at the usual unnecessary decibel)
Me: Zareena, main bol rahin hoon (Realising she probably has no clue what my name is, has always just called me 'Madam'). Dilli se.
Me: (Wondering what Gadi she is talking about...bus, train, auto...there is enough noise in the background for it to be all three) Theek, theek. Aur Tum kaise ho?
Zareena: HAAN!
Me: (Realizing I better get on with this quickly) Achha Zareena, Saab aaj raat ko aa rahen hai wapas. Kuchh khaane ko banaya?
Zareena: HAAN! BANAYA, NA..
Me: Accha. Aur unhe camera nahin mil raha tha, wo dhoond ke rakh dena, theek hai?
Zareena: HAAN! MILA, NA...
Me: Aur ek aur baat - aur hamara bank se courier aane waala tha, wo aaya kya?
Zareena: HAAN! AAYA, NA...
Me: (Satisfied) Achha, theek hai phir, Zareena. Dhyan Rakh na. Bye..
Zareena: ACHHA MADAM! (Gleefully reassuring me) MERA PHONE BAHUT ACHHA HAI. ACHHA, BYE!

Having done the dutiful wifely thing by making this call, I then proceeded to take my afternoon siesta. It was broken two hours later by a call from Vinod.

Vinod: (In his slow, soft spoken drawl) Hullooo? Madam? Mein Vinod bol rahan hoon.
Me: Haan Vinod. Kya haal hai?
Vinod: Bilkul First Class, Madam (Usual endearing sing-song lilt to the 'First Class') Aur Aap?
Me: (Finding this to be a good expression and not quite awake) Haan, bilkul First Class. Kya ho rahan hai?
Vinod (Supremely politely and apologetically, explaining the reason for his call) Madam, aapne Zareena ko aaj phone kiya tha. Usse kuchh samajh nahin aaya. Mujhe phone kar ke bola, ki Madam ko phone karke poonch lo kya bola...

I was dumbfounded for a minute, and then saw the funny side of it all, as usual. I laughed and repeated all the instructions slowly and carefully for Vinod, who seemed to have no problem understanding it - and then bid him goodbye.

These two conversations left me thinking about what prizes these two characters are, individually, and as a team. Alright, they have their own quirks, but then who doesn't? In any case, I know how difficult it is to get good help - someday when I have the strength for it, I will tell you about the Bangalore maids (Sickly Sarojamma, Clever Kalpana, Creaky Josephine...shudder, shudder).

In any case, Vijay and I have been fairly fortunate in Mumbai, to get Zareena and Vinod. Overall, I guess, we are just two clowns who have sort of lucked out with these two clowns.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Other Side of the Brother In Law

My brother-in-law is a fascinating person. And to think, I discovered this only the first time I saw him drunk.

Till that time, he had always struck me as a bright, sweet person, who always went out of his way to help others and was strikingly unselfish and accommodating.

However, a few years back, when Vijay and I were living in Bangalore, the BIL, Ajay, came over to visit on a short trip from the US, and we all decided to go out to Geoffrey's for the night. And that is the fateful night during which Ajay demonstrated his uninhibited side.

To begin with, all was the normal hee-hee-ha-ha bit. There were a couple of Ajay's friends who had joined us for dinner and drinks. Conversation carried on, but I soon noted a change in Ajay's temperament. To order the third round of drinks, he kept signalling the waiter closer and closer (the music was quite loud) until the man had his left ear two inches away from his face. He then proceeded to bawl deafeningly into the unfortunate waiter's ear 'Another Round for EVERYONE, please!'. The waiter, reeling unsteadily and shaking his head, went tottering off to comply.

Ajay then proceeded to regale us with this new (to me) side of his personality, with numerous little incidents and jokes, a bulk of which I unfortunately cannot recall now. But I do remember when a short, bespectacled man walked over and started talking to Ajay. Initially, Ajay looked at him very blankly, seemingly unable to recall who he was - but soon, the blank look changed into complete recognition - he then greeted him like a long lost friend, and insisted that he sit down with us - in fact, since the place was crowded and there were no extra chairs, he gave up his own chair, and stood there, his six foot frame towering over this new little man, who turned out to be only marginally shorter standing down.

All this was pretty much in the usual generous spirit of Ajay and we tried to be equally welcoming of this stranger - shortly after, however, we discovered that contrary to our impression so far, Ajay in fact had not known this man (named Raj) for many years - but in fact, had met him approximately three minutes back in the men's loo and they had bonded for a few seconds over the fact that they were both IIT passouts.

Now, I do not know the proper ettiquette for conversation topics when you are peeing next to a stranger, but a deep chord of friendship had clearly been struck between Ajay and Raj. And so, Ajay proceeded to use Raj as the scapegoat for the evening thereafter.

Raj was obviously a bit drunk himself, or perhaps he was just a strange man who had no friends - or probably, both. In any case, Ajay was frankly curious about everything in his life and Raj blossomed under all the attention.

When Raj mentioned that he had spent some time in London recently, Ajay immediately sprang into a discussion on the 'British Raj'. He evidently thought this was the joke of the century and kept referring back to it later in the conversation, even when there was no context to the same.

When Raj said that he was going to Germany in a few months, Ajay interrupted him with a very earnest expression 'But how do you truly feel about going away?' - and then, proceeded to supply the options, without a pause 'Happy? Sad? Mixed Feelings?' - and then, changed the topic abruptly before Raj could gather his thoughts and actually respond to the question.

When Raj did manage to get a word in edgewise next, he remarked that he didn't really miss a place, he misses his friends. Ajay then immediately pounced on him 'So if your friends are in India, you miss India? If they move to Germany, you will miss Germany? If they move to London, you will miss London?'. Raj, inebriated as he was, couldn't figure out the flaw in this seemingly logical conclusion, and Ajay was anyway on another plane by that time.

The evening continued in much the same vein, and we had a ball of a time watching Ajay be the most charming, friendly and amusing person around for miles. His final parting shot to poor Raj was 'Gimme your email ID, Raj', and as they said goodbye, a very serious 'And remember -if you get an email from me - delete it!'

Vijay and I told Ajay it was time to go home. He turned moist-eyed to his other friends, and demanded their credit cards. Shortly after, it was clarified that what he really wanted was their visiting cards. Examining the visiting card of one of his former colleagues, he noted that it said 'PMP' (which apparently stood for Project Management Professional). Not knowing this at the time, he exclaimed loudly, with an expression of shock and disappointment, as we stood there in the hotel lobby 'What?? Mahesh! You've become a PIMP?'.

Thereafter, we took him home in a hurry and he was very quiet on the ride back and fell asleep very quickly.

I was really amazed by this whole episode. I didn't know that a couple of drinks could reveal such a wholly different side to your entire character. When Vijay has a couple of drinks, he just becomes alternately cheerful and mournful, his poor jokes get even worse, and he likes to sing old Hindi songs, tunelessly but without inhibition - sometimes even with his eyes closed.But I've never seen someone so charmingly cut other people down to size, while maintaining a thoroughly friendly and innocent manner throughout.

And so, I have been looking forward to the opportunity to take Ajay out and ply him with a few drinks again - and maybe next time , I will deliberately invite along some people I don't particularly like. Either way, it should be fun.

Friday, June 15, 2007

A Banoffee Friday

So, all you working folks are sighing 'TGIF'! today - but what do you do when you are on leave in Delhi and have nothing important to achieve during the day?

Well, if you and your younger sister are both vela, both have sweet tooths (sweet teeth?), and both have just read the latest (Jun 07) Reader's Digest and found a simple recipe for the simple yet delicious sounding ''Banoffee'' (Banana+Toffee) Pie; you apparently spend the morning making the Banoffee Pie!

Now, while you could just follow the simple recipe as stated in Reader's Digest, here is the process we followed so that you additionally get the benefit of our experience:

- Crush 250 g of Marie Biscuits to a powder - this suits me just fine because I have never really liked Marie Biscuits - they are just so bland and boring - they even look boring- so I crumbled them with a vengeance. But the Sister pointed out that it was meant to be a 'coarse' powder and not a 'fine' one, so I stopped after a while, rather reluctantly. Also, while the recipe says to put the biscuits in a ziplock bag and use a rolling pin, I found that using my hands worked just fine for this.

- Add 3 Tbsp of melted butter to the biscuit crumbs, mix well and set the mixture in a pan firmly - We had a little issue here because the butter just didn't seem to be enough to mix with the biscuits. I then figured that the Sister had taken 3 Tbsp of solid butter and melted them, whereas, in fact, it was 3 tbsp of Melted butter, which is very different. I have the benefit of being older and wiser, of course, and so bear no grudges against the little one.

-After the mix above has been refrigerated for 20 mins, take 3 bananas, slice them up and add them as a second layer to the pie - This was rather simple and we accomplished this without incident.

- Add the Toffee Layer as the third layer - Now, this was the interesting part. I neglected to mention that you need to boil a can of Milkmaid (400 g) for three whole hours in advance to starting this process. Our maid of 24 years, Kajal Didi, was to be asked to do this. But Kajal is very different from Zareena (our maid in Bombay) and is liable to be rather eccentric, slow and absent minded (although this is very understandable, given her long years of interaction with our fairly eccentric family). Anyway, as we were going out yesterday, I had instructed her to boil the Milkmaid can - my Sister discovered this only when we were out and was horrified by this. Apparently, if the water runs out while the can is being boiled, there is likely to be an explosion of no small proportion. I protested that I had informed Kajal about this, but my Sister took a grim, ominous view of the whole situation anyway. We returned later, with keen interest and trepidation, and were relieved to note that the house was still intact. However, this was only due to the fact that Kajal had promptly forgotten to do as asked.

Anyway, the can was boiled, under Sister's supervision, this morning - and we were pleased to discover that the condensed milk had turned into 'toffee' - which basically means it had changed from white to brown. It tasted exactly the same to me, although Sister said that 'there was now a distinct flavour of jaggery to it'. I nodded along insincerely, not being a believer in fruitless argument. We spread the thick layer onto the banana layer and put it in the fridge for another 20 mins.

- Add 250 ml of whipped cream as the fourth layer: I had lost interest by this time so the Sister found the whipper, whipped the cream to a light, fine texture and spread it over the toffee layer. It was looking quite fascinating by this time and I regained interest. It was again refrigerated for a final 20 mins.

- Garnish with Dark Chocolate: We didn't have any Dark Chocolate but we did have some Lindt Milk Chocolate. Now, I view Lindt very differently from some crummy Marie Biscuits so I looked very sadly at the sacrifice we were making, until Sister assured me there was much more chocolate in the fridge. However, it turned out that in the hot weather of Delhi, it was impossible to grate the chocolate and it sort of just melted in small lumps which we artistically (?) spread over the whipped cream.

And Voilà! There it was - our sumptuous looking Banoffee Pie! We were so pleased that we took a picture of it. Looks pretty nice, eh? (Those are my elegant hands holding it out proudly)

We eventually did eat it, too – and it was truly delicious although a tad too heavy. The combination of ingredients is really a winning one. My sincere compliments to the inventors.

The only real issue was that despite our following the given instructions to a ‘T’ (almost), the pie hadn’t really set properly for some reason, and all the layers fell apart as we scooped them out into our bowls - but, we philosophically chose to ignore this since it does not affect the taste – it all ends up in the same place, right?). And as for the original pie, the whipped cream layer sort of just settled back, slowly and goo-ily, to cover the areas we had gouged out. Wonderful, we thought, a regenerative pie!

And took another picture, as below, to show how it still looked the same even after we had finished our first helping. (Well, almost, eh?)

Here’s to Holidays!
And to quote PG Wodehouse:
'Every day, in every way, I am getting little bit fatter and fatter!'

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Fascinating Mahabharata

The Mahabharata really is one of my favourite stories. It is absolutely fantastic in its complexity - the politics, the hypocrisy, the grey characters - everything about this story is just brilliant.

I never knew a thing about the Mahabharata in my childhood years, apart from the fact that it was a very annoying, boring show on television - wherein men wearing obviously fake gold-coloured cardboard crowns would fire an endless series of arrows at each other. These fabulously magical arrows would hurtle in slow motion ( rather unsteadily) towards each other for several minutes, accompanied with the sound effects of lightning and serious mood music -only to clash mid-way and cancel each other out, in a huge crescendo of sound and light. This spectacular scene would then be followed alternatingly, by close-up shots of the villian's face (heavy moustache and eyebrows quivering in shocked rage), and close-up shots of the hero's face (clean shaven or light moustache, one eyebrow arched triumphantly). It was fascinating for many, but very trying on my own patience.

Anyway, a couple of years back, I developed this fascination for the Mahabharata and have been trying to find a really good English version to read ever since. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be one: I have tried P.Lal and C.Rajagopalachari (both of which are very 'kunji' types) - I even read the Amar Chitra Katha version (all 3 volumes) - and am now reading Meera Uberoi's version, while waiting for Ashok Banker to release his 18 volume masterpiece. By the way, does anyone know a version that is really comprehensive, yet fun to read? Do let me know...

So while I am reading Meera Uberoi's version, I thought it would be fun to chronicle some of my favourite moments in the story so far - just to give you an idea of exactly why this story is so enjoyable.

a. When Vidura warns Yudhishthira about Duryodhana's plot to kill the Pandavas:

Vidura says cryptically 'The science of politics says that he who knows what the enemy is scheming takes suitable measures to protect his own interests. Be like the fox that has more than one exit in its burrow. Directions lie in the stars:let them guide you. One who is in control of the five senses cannot be defeated. Bear in mind there are weapons other than the obvious ones and they can destroy just as effectively. Creatures of the forest know that straw and wood burn'

Later, Yudhishthira is asked by his mother what Vidura told him. His reply 'He said that the palace being built for us will become an inferno and we should have our escape routes planned'

I love this because it reminds me how often, in corporate life, we often need to decode top management 'advice' - almost exactly like this.

b. When it is made imperative that Draupadi marries all the five Pandavas:

Arjuna wins the hand of the beautiful Draupadi after performing a fantastic feat at her swayamvara. But during this time, the Pandavas are disguised as Brahmanas as they are in hiding from the Kauravas. So when they get back to their humble abode, he tells his mother 'See what alms I have got today' and Kunti, without looking up, tells him to 'share it amongst yourselves and enjoy'!

She then looks up and sees Draupadi. She is dismayed and says 'Oh, what have I done? I didn't know he was talking about the king's daughter...but my words must not become an untruth'.

And thus starts the series of events which leads to Draupadi marrying all five brothers. Now, the point is - the royal Kunti had absolutely no issues lying in other parts of the story ( including the clever concealment of the fact that Karna was her son). So why this sudden urge to become Miss Honesty-Honestor? Why could her words not become an untruth? Was it because what she said was supposed to be a blessing of some sort? There is no further elaboration in the story on this point, I can't really be bothered to research it right now (probably will when I get vela enough in a couple of days).

Anyway, the point is that this one reminds me of one of my earlier bosses, who would often thoughtlessly make a commitment to his superiors like 'Sure, the presentation is all done- Y is just putting the finishing touches on it, and it will be with you in the morning' - and only then, come and casually inform me about it, for the first time, with no trace of 'dismay'. Then, I would have to work late evenings... 'so that my words do not become an untruth'. (The Cretin.)

c. When Arjuna needs to go into exile for a year:

So, Draupadi has the good fortune of being married to all the five Pandavas. But Narada (who else!) suggests that to prevent jealousy between the brothers, they must at all costs avoid 'catching each other in the act' with their common wife. They agree that if, for some reason this cannot be avoided, the brother who violates the privacy of the other, will go into voluntary exile for a year. Sounds like a good plan.

Now, Arjuna is approached by a brahamana about his cows being stolen, and is begged for protection - so he needs to go into a chamber to pick up his weapons. Except that he knows that Yudhisthira is with Draupadi in the chamber. But being the noble Kshatriya that he is, he decides that what must be done, must be done. So he walks in on the two of them, picks up his weapons, and 'greeting Yudhisthira lightly', informs him 'Thieves have stolen a brahmana's cows and I am going to retrieve them'.

He then leaves the chamber before Yudhisthira can say a word, and goes and does the needful about the cows - and then adamantly goes into exile for a year, as per the agreement.

Now, while this is all very significant and serious and moral, I love this not because it reminds me of any moment in corporate life - it is solely because I am imagining the look on Yudhisthira's face when Arjun walks in and out. See, while this particular version of the Mahabharata is not specific in what he and Draupadi are doing at this particular moment, it's not very difficult to hazard a guess. And the fact is, when you're in that moment, you probably don't want to be 'greeted lightly' by your younger brother and furthermore, be treated to a rather unnecessary explanation, consisting of a load of hogwash about some arbit brahmana's cows. Therefore, it is no wonder that Yudhisthira 'could not say a word' before Arjuna walked out. Ha ha ha ha ha ...sorry about this, can't help picturing it - it all seems very comic to me.

Anyway, I will now read on and will probably continue to chronicle other glorious moments sporadically. I repeat my request: does anyone know a really good version of the Mahabharata?

(Note: I really did like reading the Ramayana by Ashok Banker but Hanuman's eyes kept welling up with tears of emotion too often and it got very irritating after the fifth or sixth time. I still do look forward to his Mahabharata, just don't know when it will be out...)

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Olé!...Or...The Post That Became Far Too Long

The good thing about having your own blog, such as this one, is that all incidents of your life can be put down in random order ( I am discovering that I love self-contradictory phrases like 'random order')

Last night, unable to sleep, I somehow thought back to the year 2001. It was a significant year in my life, as it was the year that I first met my dear husband. But it was also a significant year because that's when I went to one of the most beautiful places I have been, to live and study for a period of three months on a student exchange program-Aah, Barcelona.

My institute, IIMB, had a tie up for exchange with many institutes across the world and for no particular reason, I found myself allocated to attend that glorious insitute ESADE (had never heard of it in my life) in Barcelona, for our fifth semester. It all sounded very exciting, and I was also pleased to note that the other person who would be travelling with me was a girl called Neha B. I didn't know her very well at the time, despite her also having been with me at SRCC for three years - but she did strike me as a vaguely pleasant sort. Of course, after a few days of living together, we were both ready to strike each other- but we sorted it all out eventually.

A Few Interesting things I learnt on the trip:

- Barcelona is a truly wonderful place, with lovely architecture, pleasant weather and nice, warm people - who rarely speak English, but go out of their way to help you anyway, using sound effects, mad gesturing and helpless smiles to communicate.

-It is not a good idea to go to a strange country, no matter how nice the place and people are, without having made any arrangements for your accommodation, breezily saying 'the college will take care of it' - this is more true when you are landing up on a weekend and the college is closed. Neha and I had to stay in a hotel and then in a 'pension' (motel type thing) for two sad weeks, during which we discovered the other to be the most feather brained, disorganized travel companion possible. This, we thought, would be an interesting trip at the least.

- Barcelona attracts interesting and diverse people with its myriad charms. We discovered this by observing our roommates in the nice apartment we finally found. A brief synopsis:

a. Fleur Vandennowland - a tall, beautiful, blonde Dutch girl with a sweet nature, but terrible luck in love. Her affairs were a constant source of interest and anguish for us. She was actually the only roommate that Neha and I considered a friend at the end of three months, but sadly got out of touch with her immediately after leaving the country.

b. Melanie - a short, rosy cheeked blonde from England, who worked in an English Pub. Melanie was a nice, friendly girl, but a bad housekeeper and was fascinated to see us washing our dishes after meals. She tried to contribute her own dishes towards this ritual once - but got the cold shoulder and didn't try it again.

c. Sparky - now, Sparky was the real amazing one. She was also blonde, but in a bright yellow way, anorexically skinny, fussy, fancied herself an opera singer and above all, was psychotic.

Bear with me, but Sparky deserves a bit more space here:

One time, Neha and I invited our new friends from college over for a home cooked Indian meal (also, the first meal either she and I had ever cooked). We surprised ourselves by making a succulent Zeera Aloo dish, and went out for a few minutes to fetch some drinks. When we came back, we were shocked to find the casserole almost empty, and Sparky bounding up to us cheerfully saying 'Gerlz! I Eet Yore Potatoes! Vass Deleecious'. All hell broke lose, and Sparky just couldn't see what all the fuss was about - she defended herself with a perfectly plausible explanation: the poor girl had thought we were going to throw the potatoes away ( Sure, Sparks! That's why they were in a casserole on the Batty Bulgarian Psycho!). Anyway, the dinner party was somehow salvaged and Sparky soon escaped the apartment (without paying her rent), to be replaced by...

d. Laura - half Spanish, half American, slim redhead, the product of a mixed marriage that ended in divorce, Laura spent half her time in the States and half in Spain, and unlike Sparky, was only half crazy. Apart from being somewhat lazy and selfish, Laura wasn't really a bad person but she just spent way too much time on her hair, and hogged the bathroom a lot.

It really was quite an experience living with these girls -of course, they each had their individual rooms but Neha and I were sharing a double - which was an experience by itself. Oh, we fought a lot but we had our moments.

Such as the one night when I had a terrible cold and was in a bit of a daze - actually, completely out of sorts. For some reason, I got out of my bed groggily at one a.m. and headed over to Neha's side of the room - perhaps I thought it would be more comfortable to lie down on top of her, and this is precisely what I tried to do. Now, granted that this was an unreasonable assumption on my part, but I feel that the blood curdling scream which she let out was a bit overly dramatic. Still half asleep, still feeling ill and now with a busted eardrum, I headed back to my bed. In the morning, I tentatively asked her if it had all been a dream, but she gave me a cold reply saying it had been only too real, and justified her screaming with the information that the expression on my face had been 'weird and horny'. It took her a few days to see the funny side of this, and I don't think she slept particularly well even after that.

The other thing that stands out in my memory is our use of the underground trains. There is nothing as simple and uncomplicated as the use of this wonderful network of trains that connects every part of the city - so naturally, Neha and I kept bungling on this as well. One morning, well into the semester, we were headed to the University, and for this, we had to change trains at a particular stop - so, as per our now familiar routine, we got off our first train when it reached its last stop, scampered out hurriedly, climbed up a long flight of stairs, climbed back down another and clambered into the other train. However, due to the fact that all this while, I had been busy with my new CD player and Neha was cutting her nails (now really, who does that on the commute!), we soon discovered that we had inadvertently entered, from the other side of the platform, the same train we had been riding on - and as a consequence, we were now speeding back towards our home.

Anyway, it was wonderful. Stationed in Barcelona, we went to various places within Spain, whose names I now sadly forget - we also went on a car trip to the South of France - and finally, a trip to Amsterdam, and onwards to Paris.

This last one involved our good friend 'Ganju', who was on exchange in Rotterdam at the time, and the three of us spent a glorious thirteen hours walking around the beautiful city of Paris, taking in all the marvellous sights, and enjoying the most delicious chocolate waffles, crepes and hot cocoas.

I am tempted to hurriedly pass over the fact that Neha and I were not talking to each other for twelve of the thirteen hours. This was because I was a tad upset that KLM had lost my luggage on the way to Paris; and she had mockingly remarked, most inappopriately, that since she was 'not feeling fresh after the journey, was planning to change into a set of clothes', and followed this up with a catty 'How about you, Yashodhara? Ha ha ha...'. I can clearly recall how, later that day, as the three of us looked out serenely over Paris, from the very top of the Eiffel Tower -all I could think of was throwing Neha to the ground, just to see how high she would bounce.

As I write this, I am amazed to realize how much I have grown since those days. If this kind of incident were to happen today, I would just gracefully laugh it off ( dream on, Y) - but that particular day in Paris, it was Ganju who was stuck between me and her, passing on our cold messages to each other. However, as always, we did eventually make up and headed back to Barcelona after a great trip. And KLM recovered my luggage, too.

I have now also realized that this is one post that could go on and on and on, because there were just so many great things and people and experiences on the trip - but it's taking too long to put it all down and this will become a book instead of a post - I will need to stop now - So I can't write about our interesting friend Alex, the fiery little Greek who was an expert in martial arts, and who nearly broke my back with his final goodbye hug - about our only fun class, in Basic Spanish with our sweet, goodnatured teacher Anna, who gave me top marks in the class (90% - what a geeky show-off I am) - about our car trip to Cannes, Monte Carlo and Nice, where we saw the most beautiful sights, and predictably, got badly lost - about the beautiful Church near our apartment, outside which we would enjoy a hot coffee on many evenings, and curiously watch a bunch of really old, white-haired folks dance around merrily in a circle - about how I actually went ahead and got my tattoo that I love, a treble clef sign on my left shoulder, how it took fifteen minutes, how it didn't hurt at all, how I didn't get AIDS and how I'm still alive - about the pleasure of walking along the famous street Las Ramblas (the Place to Gather) and seeing the numerous freaky and colorful performances and articles that people of strange talents put up there - about encountering Americans for the first time in the ESADE Classrooms, and noticing how incredibly and irrationally overconfident they are - about our psychotic landlord Miguel who didn't allow us to have guests over at the apartment (like it stopped us!) and extorted extra money from us for the 'unusually large water bill' ( probably thanks to Laura washing her hair six times a day) - about how every week was an adventure and how unimportant academics actually were that semester ( we had a strange finance professor who gave out the exam question papers along with his suggested answers, with only minor changes in the figures, a day before each exam!)- about how we never went for a bullfight because we learned how cruel it was and how they apparently stab and kill the bull at the end - about how we had to learn to cook and feed ourselves for the first time ever, and how I repeatedly made omlettes, day after day, so that even now, I shudder at the thought of eating an omlette made by my own hands- about how great it felt to chance upon the occasional Indian restaurant even though the food would be sure to turn out both over-pricey and over-spicey - about how Neha and I fought like two cats throughout but were always there for each other in a pinch, and probably wouldn't change a thing about it now - and about how everything in those three months was in beautiful, vivid technicolor - at least in my memory now. These are only a few of the many, many things I can't write about. See how difficult it would be?

And also, I don't have the time to write about, how despite all of this, when at the end of the three months, someone realized that they had gotten a raw deal on our exchange, and decided it was time to send us back - how indescribably wonderful it felt to come back home.

And finally, I must add (hang on, hang on, the end is nigh) - the one single thing that fills me with bitter disappointment about the whole trip is that I never heard a single Spaniard use the term 'Olé!'

...and that's the other good thing about having your own blog...I hereby end this 'book post' with one word...Olé!

(All right, all right -I've stopped now, haven't I?)

Friday, June 1, 2007

On Leave

The next few months are going to constitute the longest break that I have taken since…since…I was around five years old. Seriously.

And, it is all rather worrisome.

I am going to be in Delhi for the leave from next week onwards, and so I thought I would spend this week in Mumbai ‘wrapping things up’ – and organize stuff, make a ‘personal work plan’ and generally put in place a good schedule for myself, to minimize wasting time.

So, my daily routine since Monday:

a. Wake up at 5.30 a.m. to encourage the husband to go to the gym. Go back to sleep at 5.32 a.m.
b. Awaken when husband is back from the gym at 8 a.m. Watch him get ready, all bleary eyed (me, not him – he is as fresh as a daisy, all adrenalized from the workout). Fix breakfast ( which means, bringing the plates Zareena has fixed, out from the kitchen to the drawing room)
c. Bid the husband goodbye at 8.30 a.m. Resolve to start my own workout soon.
d. Sleep till 12 noon. Wake up with a heavy head. Call husband and complain about heavy head and how so much of the day has been wasted already.
e. Watch TV till 1 p.m. Have a light lunch, since my workout is soon to follow.
f. Watch more TV till 3.30 p.m. Get a headache from watching TV. Decide to read instead as it is far more productive. Something enlightening like Osho.
g. Read Osho till 4 p.m. and realize that my life is a waste. Get depressed and stop reading.
h. Call and tell husband at 4.15 p.m., explaining that my life is a waste. Ask him to come home early ‘just today, please’.
i. Listlessly fix myself a light snack at 4.30 p.m. since lunch was light (I forget why…). Watch TV for the ‘last time in the day, this is it!’
j. At 5 p.m., switch on the computer and decide to blog. Decide that other people’s blogs look way more interesting today, and spend an hour reading, agreeing, disagreeing and/or mildly scoffing at other people’s strongly expressed views.
k. At 5.30 p.m., decide enough is enough. I must write on my own blog and I must also have strongly expressed views. A lot of people seem to write on issues-based stuff, and all I write on is everyday incidents. Issues, issues…
l. At 5.45 p.m., decide I have no strong views on any issue, since I read only the comics section of the newspapers, and that nothing matters anyway and the world is going down the drain and that Osho said that we must let go, meditate and ‘watch ourselves’ to increase our awareness.
m. Spend the next fifteen minutes watching myself quietly and meditating. Realize I am a fascinating but highly disturbed person, who doesn’t like being watched. Resolve to do this more often, and gradually become a very peaceful, happy, non-demanding being.
n. Since it is now 6 p.m., call up husband to check if he has left office. He has not. Throw a hissy fit until he promises to wrap up and come home soon.
o. Watch TV till 7.45 p.m. till the husband returns. Sulk wordlessly until he fusses over me and cheers me up.
p. Talk about our respective days for an hour (for some reason, he has a bit more to talk about) and give him good and utterly impractical advice on every work and life related issue.
q. At 9 p.m., husband tries to convince me to go for a walk near the sea, and I look aghast at him. It’s dinner time now.
r. Have dinner by 9.30 p.m., and then husband gently suggests a post dinner walk. I look aghast at him. We just ate! What is with the restlessness? Osho says one should be comfortable, just ‘being’.
s. At 10 p.m., he suggests the walk one final time. But I am way too tired by now. Also, it’s almost time for bed.
t. Since I feel terribly hot, put on the AC at level that makes husband shiver and dive for shelter under a warm blanket. Try to get a comfortable hold on him without touching the stupid, stuffy blanket – find that this is impossible. Toss and turn irritably for an hour.
u. At around 11 p.m., finally drift off to sleep in a cranky mood - knowing that tomorrow will be only a minor variation on today.

So now do you understand why I am barely blogging anymore? Because clearly, following my example, my brain has also gone on extended leave. The rest of me is merely decomposing slowly in laziness.

I have also realized why we have jobs. Apart from all the sundry, obvious reasons, it is also because it takes a lot of practice and patience to sit around ‘being’ and not ‘doing’.

But I have got a long time ahead of me to work on it. So Good luck, Delhi – Here I come!

And Mum, Sister and various other friends and relatives in my hometown - now might be a good time to plan your own out-of-town vacations.