Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Man in White

 Update for month ended 29 April 2011

Baburam’s routine was unbroken for over 3 decades. He lived near the Dattatrey temple (a temple dedicated to the patron saint of Maharashtra) and always started his day with a visit to the temple. On festival days, he was often seen helping the priest manage the crowds, or even help in a few chores pertaining to the temple rituals, like breaking coconuts, distributing Prasad. And thereafter he would trudge 5 miles on foot to the little shantytown in the middle of the city to start his work day. He would head to the little alley that he had been visiting all his life in this metropolis and meet Sethji, the owner of this crude refrigeration unit, which was a hub of making frozen desserts. He knew his routine so well, and would quietly head to the “store” – just a shed in the corner of the large compound, from where he would pick up the large earthen pot, and head into the freezer room. This was a squarish room, with rows and rows of racks that had little aluminium moulds. He headed to the shelf that he always headed to and pulled out the tray holding over 2 dozen moulds. These were frozen and chillingly cold. His weathered hands were used to handling freezing temperatures and he quietly picked them up, one at a time and placed them into the pot. Baburam was a man of few words, and just as he was going about his chores, so were other near-clones of his who had started emptying out their shelf trays into their similar looking pots. Once done, Baburam met Mistry, the accountant, and handed him the advance money (form the earnings of the previous day), picked up a wad of freshly plucked tendu leaves, using it to cap the wide mouth of his pot, covering it with the thick cloth scarf, and tightening with a string cord. He started his brisk walk to the ice store within the compound. The block of ice was being chiseled by Bade Miyan, the elderly gent in blue checked lungi. He cut out a block and handed it over to Baburam – no words exchanged, as Baburam took a gunny sack cloth to the small stone slab, rolled the ice block into the gunny sack and started clobbering it with a wooden club. He did it till the sack had been flattened, and then he scooped out the crushed ice and stuffed it into the pot. He kept churning the pot as well with his arms, so that the aluminium moulds did not get buried under the ice. Then, he opened the pack of sea-salt, and sprinkled it into the ice. This would ensure that the ice stayed solid for a longer time. And then after wrapping the pot in a red cloth, he picked up the pot, placed it on the cloth ring atop his head, and walked back to the Sports Park by the seashore in the central part of the city. The walk back was tiring, as the hot late afternoon sun shone directly into his face. As he neared the park, he started peddling his wares, shouting out in a high pitched voice, “Kulfiye”. He walked slowly, looking about himself to see if anyone responded to his calls. If one was hard of hearing or the noisy crowds of cricket trainers muffled his voice,  then his sight would not have been missed. Wearing a white pyjama, with a white bush shirt, and a white narrow cap on his head, juxtaposed with the dark red round pot balanced well on the head – that was Baburam.

April is the month when summer starts its appearance in most parts of peninsular India, so D Street was not spared this season change. The D Boyz looked forward to their work, but always rushed to office to escape the heat. And when the leafy tree-lined avenues of  D Street did not protect them enough, the Boyz would look out for their “Kulfiwala” who could be spotted in his spotless white attire and the red cloth covered earthen pot atop his capped head. They would crowd around him as he would sell them the frozen “Indian Ice cream”, neatly scooped out of the tin or aluminium moulds, and placed on a tendu leaf, sliced into perfect rounds. The kulfiwala would then shape a leaf into a scoop like device that could then be used like a spoon by the weary D Boyz. They would devour the cold milky dessert, pay the kulfiwala, and head home, after a long day at work. The heat also made the Boyz volatile, thereby causing them to act erratically especially with their favourite SENSEX, sometimes being influenced by the green leaves of the kulfi platter, or the red cloth covered earthen pot. So finally at month end, the SENSEX juggled between days of green growth to days of bloody red downturns, to finally end cold at 19135. This is about 300 points down from early April.

Baburam would always endear towards the lovey dovey couple; standing close to them, and shouting out his sales refrain, pretending that he had not noticed the weary couple. This trick would always work, because the girl would cajole her man to buy her the sweet cold treat, or the man would offer to woo his lady with this creamy milk dessert. Baburam, would then gingerly place the pot down and go about looking for the “perfect” kulfi mould to serve out to the couple. He would tap the metal outer casing a couple of times, before uncorking the cap, and then slowly scoop at the sides and slide out the frozen dessert onto the green leaf. His experienced hand would then quickly slice the conical cylinder into little white discs. He would then handover the leaf platter to the lady and then shape his scoop with another leaf to be handed over to the man, so that he could feed his beloved. Baburam would then pocket his earning and then tieup the pot, before hoisting it onto his head, shouting – Kulfiye” looking for his next customer.

So this summer, go ahead and indulge in some cool treats and enjoy. I will be away for about 2 weeks, so here is wishing you all a wonderful summer. Have a nice weekend and more …. Cheers….


Fasting – the Hindu Way

Update for week ended 8 April 2011

Monday was the start of the lunar cycle year for many Hindus. This marks the beginning of the Chaitra/Chitra/Chithira month and a very auspicious day. It is also the day, when many retailers await hordes of shoppers to throng their stores and augur a good beginning to the year. This is also the starting date of the Nine Day (or literally Night) Festival ,Navaratra or Navaratri which should not be confused with a similar named Festival held in October or November – though in concept is quite similar. To differentiate between the two Navaratras, some prefixes are added, the most common being – Vasant Navaratra to denote the Spring Nine Night Festival and Sharada Navaratri – the Autumn Nine Night Festival. Interestingly, both these homonym festivals are dedicated to the same two though unrelated Gods from the Indian Pantheon – the Sacred Goddess and the Warrior Prince. And customs during both these festivals are quite similar – including piety, prayers, following a vegetarian diet and for many – fasting. And fasts among Hindus can be quite far away from the dictionary meaning of the word as I describe below. Most fasts in Northern and Western India start on a basic concept – stay away from grains and pulses. So with carbohydrates and proteins deducted from an average diet, and also the fact that vegetarianism prevails, the rush towards alternate energy givers and body builders gets desperate. So little known grains like buckwheat , kuttu or water chestnut, singhaada or sago, sabudana become ideal carbs to introduce into the diet. And with Indian vegetarianism, which does not exclude dairy products, quickly takes in all the milk, butter, cream, clarified butter to supplement the proteins and the fat. And vegetables are replaced with fruits, especially the cheaper and more calorific among them. Bananas are the easiest to fill this gap. So during these 9 days or so, most fish markets or butchers will be chasing flies or hitting flies – as a Hindi, Tamil, Bengali or any other Indian phrase goes. And so if egg prices drop, and the butcher takes his bi-annual vacation, the banana farmers rakes in the bucks. The Eastern Indians have a simple rule, no meat, no fish nor poultry, no eggs – niraamish as they call it, is equal to fasting. The South Indian version of the fast is slightly different from those of the north, west or east – as it stays away from the staple cereal – rice, and tries to lighten the meal with snacks, Palahaarams. So any other cereal goes – cracked wheat, bulghur, semolina, are par for the course. And like an adorable uncle who once jokingly mocked the ardent “fast followers” in the household by commenting on the lunch table spread. “This is a feast, not a fast”, said he, “pala ahaaram not palaharaams” where pala translates to various while ahaaram translates to meals..

The D Boyz were also in the mood for the nine day or night festival, so they started the week with purchases as the vendors on D Street sold many stocks that were attractively priced – and with more Boyz buying, the prices of these stocks are started moving up, pushing up the SENSEX – and this sustained for the next 2 days. And then the pangs of fasts caught up with them, as bananas and other fruits started getting costlier and the Boyz had to shell out more than they did last week, causing drooping faces and dropping SENSEX. And as the nation fasted , at homes and even at public parks and near monuments, the starving Boyz had to let go of more of their money, letting the SENSEX settle lower at 19451 – so the euphoria of the new week were nearly erased as the SENSEX ended the week just 31 points above last week.

The fight against corruption has taken a different route that many Indians today may not relate to – that of public protest through fasts. This was quite rampant in the pre-independence era, as history books expound, but seeing it happen on television sets in drawing rooms, is something that has stirred the mood of many urbanites. Candle vigils, marches, sit ins are getting more common, as the main targets stay smugly in their place wishing that this just dies a natural death as many protests in Independent India have. I hope the jasmine wave from the Maghreb does flow through India, and I am confident it will bring in its sweet fragrance and uplift us all.

Have a nice weekend as the next season of cricket frenzy hits out across the country – this time with tuskers and warriors joining in the action. Have a safe and happy weekend….. Cheers

Battle of the Devas, the Ogres and the Asuras.

Update for week ended 1 April 2011 

The warriors had a good night’s rest. They awoke early in the morning. The pages had ensured that all the chariots were ready for the battlefield. The wheels were oiled, the bolts tightened, the reins were harnessed tightly, but not too tightly that they hurt the horses. The horse soldiers had their saddles polished with linseed oil to keep the leather supple. The stirrups were buckled well. The horses had been fed early in the morning on a high protein diet of oilseed cake, mixed with gram. They were also hydrated well. The grooms had done a good job in grooming the horses – as their shiny coats glistened in the dawn rays. The warriors filed into the pantry tents – they followed protocol as the generals and officers headed to the main tent in the centre while the lieutenants and foot soldiers went to the peripheral tents. The morning breakfast was simple, but highly nutritious – bananas, wheat cereal, milk, eggs and high calorific sugar – in modern times, this could have been a simple banana muffin followed by a cup of cup of tea or coffee. The warriors ate well, and mounted their respective mounts – chariots, horses, foot soldiers took their positions too. And at the first rays of dawn, the conch was blown and the flag fluttered. All the warriors were wearing the Blue dhoties – the official colours of the Royalty that ruled the Deva kingdom. The battle was against the Green Ogres that lived to the west of the Kingdom. Though there was a natural barrier in the form of the ruthless and hot sandy desert that framed the western borders, it was not unusual for some of the ogres to sneak into the Kingdom. And these ogres would come in small hordes and menacingly destroy little villages and peace in the areas that they visited. The last time such an attack occurred, they actually sailed along the placid winter seas and landed in one of the cities in the dark of the night. That was 2 ½ years ago, and the Deva King was determined to get back at the ogres. (It did not help even with the sole captive ogre who is currently housed in the Ardhara dungeons). So the King sent his finest warriors to the battlefield in their finery and best weapons. The General gave his orders to his finest archers to lead the attack and attack they did. There were some slippery moments when they were nearly attacked by opposition arrows, but the archers managed to survive, with a few minor injuries. When it looked like a tough battle, the heavyset mace carriers, who normally rode atop elephants and could swing and hurl the solid spherical maces over a few hundred kosalas (yards), knocking out at least half a dozen or more soldiers from the opposition in a blow, came in with full force. They managed to create havoc – and to keep their spirits soaring, they jumped up and down like simians when their targets were met. What initially looked like a battle of equals, ended into a one-sided affair with only 29 surviving ogres, who submitted meekly as the Men in Blue returned to their bases victorious. They had a huge spread ahead of them. The celebrations included rice dumplings, unleavened stuffed breads, pastries stuffed with starchy potatoes and cooked in a wok full of fat, and fruits of all colours. The highlight was of course the green fruit drink that was made of crushed berries from a far-away land made famous by a Cook. Those whose livers could take some barley and hops, hopped into the den where large casks of cool brew was being ladled out. The sweating, bruised warriors gathered together in little groups, shouting out hoots of victory, as the chitrakaars (painters) took in the scene and quickly doodled out portraits of victorious men in blue. And some tired weary but vain warriors went to their masseurs to loosen some of those tense muscles.

A battle of sorts was what the D Boyz were also preparing this week. They started off by getting some of their friends from N Street (the friendly neighbours of D Street) to organize an event to commemorate something. After all, this week looked promising as cricket and investments were to take centre stage. So the D Boyz adorned their blue jerseys and tucked into muffins and coffee on a Sunday morning to challenge their stamina by running along a 5 km SeaLink. They ran, some walked and finally replenished their lost energy through energy drinks and calorific food, and cooled their sweaty bodies with beer. They were now ready to take on anything that came to D Street – so initially they boosted the SENSEX and propped it back to lofty heights. Then some other men in blue decimated the green men, and the D BOyz rejoiced further by propping the SENSEX further higher. Until they decided to cool it off and take a breath before the Boyz in Blue meet the Boyz in Darker Blue. All in all, the profits booked by the D Boyz was a good 605 points up on their pet SENSEX taking its tally to 19420.

With the Kingdom jumping with joy as the Green Ogres were felled, the citizenry decided to now look forward to an epic battle almost like the one that the famed author Valmiki penned a few years ago. Not many had read it, though they had heard from their grandmothers about how the King of their times had tried to do the Horse Sacrifice (Ashwamedh), but was foiled by twin hermits living in California. They had tied up the horse on Horse Island in the middle of Big River, and when called by the King to explain their mischief, they sang out the epic that they had learnt by rote (taught by the writer poet, Valmiki).  So not so far back in time, there was a battle between the Devas and the Asuras, and the Kingdom residents who were from the Deva Race – now knew that they had another battle to fight against the Asuras from the Dweepa, Island in the South. But they were determined to give their best at Battlefield Rural Forest – this was a patch of green in the otherwise grey district near the Bay by the Beach.

Have a nice weekend and wishing all a very happy new year – Ugadi, Cheti Chaand, Gudi Padwa.