Monthly Archives: October 2010

The Snowy Slope

Update for week ended 29 October 2010

It isn’t Christmas, nor snowing on the slope of Cumballa and Pali Hill, but I enjoyed sledging down a snowy slope just recently. The crispy cold mountain air was not particularly rare, we were at least 14000 ft above mean sea level, and spent about 3 hours to get there. The snowy white surroundings were actually blinding. Thankfully it was a cloudy day and so not as blinding as it could be. And on the slope was this strapping 6 ft something Swiss lad standing next to the “sledge hut” where tourists could hire a sledge for a few francs and use it for the rest of the day. I was anxious to try it and so rented a nice red one. I cajoled my younger daughter to join me on the ride downhill. She was unaware of the thrill of the ride and agreed to join me and so we settled onto the seat, held onto the “reins” and then the Swiss lad gave a nudge. Wheee…. That is how I screamed and my daughter was dumbfounded and just stared ahead. Our hearts leapt into our mouths as our stomachs churned when the sledge went down the slope in fits and bursts. The fits were when the gradient was steep and the bursts were when there were mild bumps that actually gave you that shove upwards and helped trap the speed a bit. It was really fun and we were almost at the end of the slope and had not yet veered off the path or tripped or fallen off. That was also making us feel good, until the clouds burst open and a storm brewed. Wind suddenly blew into our faces and the snow blizzards marred our vision. We lost control and fell off the sledge. I looked around for help and fortunately saw a little tunnel nearby and grabbed my daughter’s hand, asked her to keep looking down to avoid the sharp shards of stinging snow on our faces as we rushed into the tunnel that was less blitzy.

Climbing up the SENSEX charts this week, the D Boyz at D Street were all smiles and excited at the pristine surroundings that they could survey from those dizzying heights. They had not scaled to the top of the their SENSEX ever, and the view was fantastic, but the urge to use the contraptions around them was too tempting for them to stay longer. They quickly got onto their D Street Sledges and “wheee..ed” their way along. They were enjoying their little rides, but were suddenly upset by the unexpected storm that blew in from the west onto their streets. They toppled over and so did the SENSEX as it dipped below 20,000 after staying there and above since 1 October. But the Boyz scrambled around today and managed to get onto their feet today as the SENSEX steadied to 20032, about 133 points down from last week.

 The tunnel was a snazzy one. It went up the slope and had an motorized escalator on the side, so we didn’t have to labour hard to climb up. I held onto the side-rails and asked my daughter if she was fine. She was still shells hocked – first from the downhill ride, and then the blizzard that blinded. But her hands were ice-cold. Her eyes still sparkled and had not yet started welling up, so I quickly distracted her and rubbed her palms to keep her warm. Thanks to the oversized coat she wore, she could easily “tuck” in her palms into the warm sleeves. I enjoyed the ride and the blizzard, but rue the fact that I could not sledge again that day – as the weather did not permit. But I will return and do it again, in finer weather.

Have a nice weekend ….. Safe shopping to all of you and please share some of the nice buys and good bargains, so that I too can shop for the festive season.



The Black Rock

Update for week ended 22 October 2010

Mangal had stopped his drill to wipe that sweat off his brow. The stifling heat and moisture coupled with the dust was irritating him. The poor lighting and almost claustrophobic feel of his workplace was not something he liked, but he had no choice. Just like the 32 others with him, this was the only job he had and it paid him decently. So what if his work kept him away from his family for a week at a stretch, and the working conditions were far from comfortable. Unlike his brother, who had to work as a domestic help in Delhi kothi, a bungalow in swanky West End, and earn a pittance, he at least had a guaranteed job and could meet his family every week. Mangal had a new incentive to keep working in these dark depths – his company seniors had made an offer of selling shares in their company to him and his other colleagues. Mangal did not understand anything about shares and finance, except that his salary was good enough to support his family, send his children to school, and also leave some money aside for contingencies and savings. Mangal did not realize that his drill was still running when he dropped it to the floor, and it let out a grating noise followed by a loud crack. Before anyone could react, there was an explosion and water was gushing in from somewhere. The dust had not settled down, as all the miners felt their feet turning cold and wet and the water level was rising fast. Mangal yelled out to Vijay, the shift supervisor and the only one who knew how to operate the wireless set. There was panic, as everyone rushed towards the shaft for escape. But this was not easy, as the tunnel was only about 23 feet wide and wound its way up and down for about 200 meters. And so the 33 of them rushed to the highest ground available within the depths of the earth – 2300 feet below MSL. Vijay’s walkie talkie crackled and in his baritone voice yelled S.O.S. and the second blast that occurred that moment shook the ground so violently that his walkie talkie fell out of his hand and down a few metres to quickly submerge in the rising waters.

The D Street Boyz were very busy – many of them had barely gone home the last week as frenzied activity akin to mining kept them at work for really long hours. And on Monday, as they picked up their tools of trade and worked frenziedly in their claustrophobic cubicles, they had little time to think about their families. But when one of the D Boyz paused midway during the day to wipe that sweat off his brow, he accidentally dropped his phone receiver onto his trading terminal keyboard. And before anyone could do anything, the D Street markets got into a tizzy – as the SENSEX lost about 400 points on Tuesday. The tremors that shook the D Boyz off their seats were rumoured to have been because of some hectic black activity on the primary markets, not on D Street. The Boyz were afraid that they would lose their sheen and ran to safe havens. Wednesday was a day to heave a sigh of relief as the coal dust was settling well as Foreign Boyz brought more money during the week than they had all year. That cheered the D Boyz and it felt like coal turned to gold – black gold. But no-one even thought of the poor Mangal, Vijay and the 31 miners stranded below the earth. SENSEX continued to be the D Boyz’ pet staying above 20,000 at 20165 – about 40 points up since last week.

Everyone looked to Vijay to lead them out of this place. He was the only one who had raised voice for the miners against the mine owners. It was thanks to him that their children’s school got a teacher, and their colony a doctor and a primary health centre. The salary assurances were also thanks to him. But Vijay was panicking. He had been in a similar situation like this many years ago. And then, too, like today, he had 30 odd people who looked to him for help. But he was helpless then – all perished, except him. He carried that guilt with him and he shuddered with fear that history was about to repeat itself……

That is the story of this week. Have a safe weekend.

Betel Leaf – green or red?

Update for week ended 15 October 2010

Paan supari are an integral part of the Indian food and culture. It is the most common item eaten as an after-meal appetizer across cultures – north, east, south or west Indian and even across religions. Modern day urbanites, though, have been seen hover around the “paanwala” outside fancy restaurants after an elaborate or expensive dinner, but this is more of a fad, rather than the norm. But this leaf that grows on a vine, and reportedly has no flowers and that is perhaps where the vine got its name – paan, vetri-illai, meaning only leaf. And every state or region has a favourite that they cultivate and savour. So if the highly fragrant, but spicy dark leaf in Bengal is popularly called Calcutta, the melt in your mouth yellowish leaf of the Gangetic city of Varanasi, Maghai. The Tirur vethalai – is so strongly spicy that it is eaten by those who have strong tastes, like the tobacco chewer. Those with milder tastes prefer the Salem variety, and Maharashtrians swear by the Nagarvel. But this tradition of betel leaf eating is not restricted to India, but is still prevalent in eastern nations like Burma, Malaysia (where the older generation still chews it, though has faded away from the present). And the exchange of the betel leaf (usually pairs of the leaves with the betel nut, supari) is a common South Indian tradition during the autumnal Navaratri. And of-course, the blood red stains of the chewed leaves cannot be explained, as the leaves and the calcium, and betel nuts compound with oral fluids, concocts the deepest red that in olden times would be the organic lipstick for women and the fragrant leaf would also freshen your breath. I know it is untrue, but some myths suggest that a locality in Bombay got its name by the red walls and pavements, as the “natives” would spit out red.

The D Street Boyz also savoured their betel leaves during the week, as they got into the heady mood of the fragrant leaves that dissolved into their mouths, as they took their SENSEX to dizzying heights of over 20800, but thereafter as the week proceeded, the red stains trickled down the sides of their moth, and as the D Boyz could not hold back for long, they spat out the red on Friday to take the SENSEX down to 20125. The foreigners who have been thronging D street lately are also intrigued by the unusual Indian behaviour and don’t know what to make of it – so just stood by to watch the action.

There is a tale I heard once, of a foreigner visiting India for the first time and curious to know what caused green leaves to cause people to “bleed” in their mouths. So he courageously went to the “paanwala” and ordered one, under his interpreter’s guidance and translation. Convinced that the culprit was the condiments that went into the leaf were, he quickly emptied them into the  wastebasket and devoured the solo leaf, amidst protests from the paanwala and the interpreter. The sting he got onto his palate was enough to get him to spit out his mouth’s contents and also know why the mouth “bled” on eating this. I am not sure he tried it again.

I am sure all of you must have enjoyed the Commonwealth Games, and Navaratri. Have a nice week ahead. Cheers…

Closet Chef – Moi

Update for week ended 1 October 2010

I must admit that I am a foodie, and for those who have seen me lately, you will vouch for it. And despite being a vegetarian and to a large extent a vegan, I still look fondly at some food that I have not and will never taste. I have been fascinated at how chefs rustle up really scrumptious food from plain flour and smelly eggs; or how moms can turn boring everyday lunches to gourmet experiences. I must admit that I have been pampered all my life with people who make my food really appetizing; exactly the opposite of a famous Hindi proverb “ ghar ki murgi daal baraabar” – home-made chicken equals plain daal. When I got married, I shared my little recipe book with my wife, and she was shocked to see a recipe for a prawn cocktail, knowing fully well that I cringed my nose at the Omelette she ordered on our honeymoon. But I had the recipe for the sheer joy of seeing those baby pink prawns arranged so very beautifully in a cup and dunked in mayo and set to rest on a crisp green lettuce leaf. Yummy, to look at, and my fish eating friends can vouch that it tastes yumm too. So no surprise that I am a great fan of this Australian reality show currently being shown on Indian TV that revolves around amateur chefs taking on challenges to stay on the show to be finally named the Master. I really like this show despite the copious amount of meat, fish and crustaceans that are displayed, trimmed, carved, marinated, braised, broiled, cooked and finally served up on a plate so beautifully, that I too can taste the crunchy, smoky flavours, when the judges chew and toss the food around their palates. And of course, another I reason why I like it is because of the pace of the activities, brisk and the doing away of the Indian money spinner – “vote for your favourite contestant” routine. So we see contestants fight it out for real stakes. And the food they serve up are so diverse and colourful and to the say the least, unusual, at least to an Indian eye. And the unusual one that I would like to talk of today is the poached pear, cheese and spinach pizza (I forgot the real name given to this mystery box challenge creation). The saltiness of the cheese rightly balanced by the sweetness of the spinach and the pear and all of this presented on a freshly made crunchy pizza base. Now the only time I have had sweetish taste on my Indian pizza is when they cut up pineapple and toss them in to make it look Hawaiian; but I don’t particularly care for that prickly compound fruit and so I avoid it – but I will perhaps try a pear, spinach and cheese pizza.

Colour and multitudes of it was visible on D Street this week. It almost felt like the D Boyz were participating in the D street version of the cookery reality show – as some of the Boyz rustled up the reddish and full of heat dishes on some days – dropping the SENSEX below the 20000 mark, while on others, it dressed it up with spinach , salad greens, flat parsley and coriander to prop it up again. And at the end of the week, all the D Boyz were beaming, as was their street (perhaps explaining why the realty stocks did well)  and must have collected quite a lot of money (explaining how the banking stocks did well) to finally have a SENSEX move up 2% to tumble into October at 20445.

I hear that an Indian version of this Ozzie cookery program is in the works, and I really cringe at the thought that it will be judged by a movie star, not a chef (so what if he street cooked at Pat Pong or some such place) and going by the standards set by the channel, I am worried that it will get carried away by TRPs and introduce a “Saas bahu version” or a “Dukhi beti” one or “Bechari Bitiya section”….. and I am ready to kungfu or karate the Judge if he does a 20 year leap in the show or get the ladies to be dressed as brides while chopping their bottle gourds, doodhis…..

Oh! before I get carried away further, let me wish you a good weekend and if you are dining out, do share with me your fascinating experiences. I am a foodie and I am sure I will love it.