Monthly Archives: September 2011

Red Firecracker Green Firecracker


 Update for week ended 30 September 2011

Chinxua stood on the banks of the Pearl River. Her hands akimbo. She looked over the gushing river and over to the opposite bank where stood her firecracker factory.

The crackers and fireworks were sold all over the northern territory and the business was growing and her products were sailing down Yellow River and beyond to the South. But she was not contemplating the business or the crackling products that went out of her factory, but a more tumultuous crackling feeling within. Chinxua was only sixteen when her father died and left her the legacy. Overnight, she transformed from a demure teenager to a pushy and hardworking boss in a factory that employed many men and a few women. She had to be a man in that world for people to listen to her – age was definitely not on her side to demand respect, and so she chose to wear men’s overhauls and work like them to ensure that her father’s business did not suffer. The most popular output from this  factory was the Green Firecracker and Red Firecracker. These were braided together into long broad ribbons that were rolled into a spool and packed with shiny paper. And these provided the excitement in all festivities – with its constant and consistent crackling lasting for as long as the ribbon spool lasted. Today, Chinxua was a successful businesswoman, but at the crossroads of her life. She felt like the firecrackers – tied together with the red and green – unable to unshackle as she stood at the crossroads of her life.

Ni Bao was the handsome painter she had hired to paint her mansion on the Pearl River and she was charmed by his rustic appeal. But he was the footloose and fancyfree gent of the country. He could not and would not be rooted, and if she took him as her husband, she would have to leave her family fortunes behind for someone else to manage. But his charms were too strong for Chinxua to resist. And on the other hand was Di Hong who was a hard worker and was the support she needed when her father died and she took over the reins of the firecracker factory. He had helped her restore the disruption in the factory on the sudden death of her father – and also ensured that she got her respect from all the workers. He was instrumental in not letting the business sag. But with the entry of Ni Bao, Di Hong felt threatened – threatened of a rival who would take away his lady love – Di Hong had fallen for Chinxua but was not sure whether she knew it or would reciprocate. But he wanted to protect her from what he saw as a vagabond who would lure Chinxua away from her fortunes. He had to protect her and that was when he suggested that they duel to death on the banks of the Pearl River outside the factory. Chinxua would witness the spectacle from across the river.

Chinxua stood on the banks of the Pearl River. Her hands akimbo. She looked over the gushing river and over to the opposite bank where stood her firecracker factory.

The D Street Boyz were in a dilemma. They stood at the edge of D Street – hands akimbo and looked beyond the busy street to their workplace – where they helped put together their cherished SENSEX. The most popular output on the SENSEX was either green or red and at times it was strung together into alternate braids of green, red, green, red. The greens were painted by the hardworking Indian Boyz (Indian companies and Indian economy) while the Reds were the work of the charming but never in one place Foreign Boys (read as FIIs, or foreign influences including US, Italy, Greece, Spains……) Not unlike this week when alternate days of the week were either SENSEX stained red or green (Monday was red, Tuesday was green and so forth till the end of the week that ended red on Friday). However, the somewhat religious D Boyz did read the local papers that spoke of colour coded days of the week for a local ongoing festival. And Friday was the green day. So the end product from the SENSEX for the week ended a little green – all in all a 292 points up – at 16454.

The goddesses are bedecked in gold, silk and other finery. The brightly decorated perforated lamp pots are lit. The dhaakis (special durmmers from the Hooghly Delta) are already practicing their drumming. The rustling silk sarees and long skirts swish their ways into musical sessions at Golus (doll exhibitions in traditional Tamil homes). The all night Jaagrans (night long prayer song sessions) are on in full swing. So if the khechuri bhog (rice and pulse kedgeree) has long queues; the children love the tasty choondals (tempered coconut and steamed grams) and who would not want to break the fast with the chola halwa puri combo (chickpea, semolina sweet served with fried flatbread)? This is the season of Navaratri, navaratra or Norta or Durga Pujo. All to be enjoyed with a little circumambulatory jig around the lamp in a pot!

Have a nice weekend and Cheers…..

It is sometime called Fate or Naseeb


 Update for week ended 23 September 2011

John-Janmohammed-Janardhan (JJJ) was quite upset that the patrons at the hotel restaurant were dwindling. The local hotel he worked in was managed by an Indian tycoon who had initially built this empire based on Indian principles. It was an Indian hotel, with Indian décor, Indian restaurants, and even the front office staff were dressed in smart saris and sherwanis. But as the globalization wave caught on in the nineties and into the new millennium, the much travelled owners brought in international appeal and tastes; so the reception which till then had a faux jharokha façade (traditional wooden filigree work window – often found in Rajasthani mansions) gave way to a modern cubist table with bottom lit fluorescent orange and green – and the front office women also dressed in smart suits as did their male counterparts. The warm namaste was replaced with the business like, Good Morning or Evening – depending on the time of the day. JJJ worked as a waiter in the restaurant and his clothing changed a little, but that was the not the cause of his displeasure. He worked in the Indian restaurant that was famous for its silver service full course Indian Thali (plated and served at the table meal), as also the Indian desserts, especially the syrupy fried milk dumplings (gulab jamuns) and the golden crisp swirls (jalebis). But with the advent of the Caucasian visitors, who did not shun the Indian food, but asked JJJ to get a tempered down version of the “Jal frezie”, spicy curry or the half Portuguese half Goan Pork Vindaloo or just plain old naan with daal (flat bread and lentils) which they devoured, the hotel also opened speciality restaurants serving up exotic oriental fare and Italian pastas. JJJ was upset because of the happening during the week. The hotel did not even have a Greek dish, but the Health Department, sighting the problems with Grease, shut down the Italian restaurant (who cared if there was a spelling error in the word Grease and why the connect with Italy). In fact the next day, the officers wanted to shut down the coffee shop as they had heard of some Idlis dropping (again they did not care of small niceties that what they heard was a Malayali newsreader talking about the Italy downgrade). The fear that American beef and pork would contaminate the eaters forced the hotel to retract its burger and fries – even though it ensured it did not hurt Hindu and Muslim sentiments and only served an occasional mutton burger, though the veggie version was most popular. So with 2 restaurants closed, a menus in a third reduced, the patrons had thinned. JJJ was feeling hurt that the hotel that was famous for its Indian restaurant was actually losing its customers due to some unrelated reasons. He now had enough time on his hand to practice carrying frilly round trays with full beer glasses and performing some gymnastic tricks with his wrist, while also swigging his hips. Some solace for him as he now was learning to dance but where was the audience.

The D Street Boyz were an upset lot this week. Just when they had savoured the sweet and savoury treats of the Kantheshwar sisters and were looking forward to a nice day on D Street with Indian food, they were reminded of the Grease (or Greece) which caused a slide. Then the Golden Arch which normally served only Indian style burgers, no pork and definitely no beef, was also shuttered as some Mac shuttered in Sam’s country. And then it was the turn of the pastas turning red in their own Bolognese sauces……. As someone dropped the bowl of spaghetti with the SENSEX in it and splat it fell red and the mess was so tough to clean that even after 2 days, the mess is still there for all to see…. As the SENSEX lay sprawled amongst the grease, burgers, fries, red sauce and spaghetti at 16162 – a total of 705 points down…. Incidentally all this could be attributed to just the American fast food, and that also caused the once in 2 years fall of 704 points in a day….. and now if you add the Italian, Greek, American cuisine balanced by the Indian food, the net result is still there….. at 705 points down!!

Just as JJJ tried to do one more dance routine, someone shouted out – “where is this John Jani Janardhan?” Immediately, JJJ straightened up, held his head high, his chest out and walked up to the suited man in the ballroom and said, ”here sir!”. JJJ was asked to prepare the ballroom for the evening’s party as it was to be a celebratory event for a movie that had just celebrated its golden jubilee. And it would be graced by the who’s who of the film world. Note that the stars were from yester years, current heart throbs and the stars of the movie that was celebrating the event. JJJ was excited, as he was a movie buff, and rushed off to arrange the room and ensure that it was spiffy and ready for the evening’s event. He wanted to catch a glimpse of the first super-star, who would be there in his trademark dark glasses worn down the nose bridge; as well as pow-wow (in jest of course) with the he-man of the film world. He would feel honoured if he was allowed to showcase his accordion playing skill for the great showman. Oh, how excited was JJJ for the evening.

So relax, and don’t fret about the pastas and greasy American burgers. Just head for wholesome Indian food and entertainment. The perfect mood lifter.

Have a nice weekend….. Cheers….

The Two Sisters


 Update for week ended 16 September 2011

The Neelkantheswar sisters were ready to roll in their kitchens. Though the younger sister, Apeksha, was more adept at cooking – perhaps driven by her zodiac sign, Virgo, her Libran elder sister, Komala, who seldom cooked, would turn out those lip smacking goodies. Apeksha waltzed into the kitchen humming an English tune and her velvet voice was very malleable. She had an amazing range in her voice and could easily slip in and out of ragas, abhangs, bhajans, thumris, tappas while still being able to belt out a nautanki number or croon a satiny smooth jazzy pop. The hum grew loud, as Komala walked in and in her almost baby voice called out, “Apeksha, what are you going to make today?” Apeksha had soaked some Bengal gram and was now draining it in a colander before dropping handfuls of it into a wok full of boiling water. She also dropped in some cloves and green cardamoms. She topped it with a lid, lightly closed, to let out the steam, as the gram cooked. She turned to Komala – who though elder to her, was slightly shorter, but always wore her white or off-white sarees that would hide her age and her height. Her long hair tied into 2 braids also helped conceal the ageing diva with a nightingale like voice. Komala had a weak timbre, even as a child, and when she cried as an infant, her mother would think that the milk boiler had gone off – so shrill was the voice, that the delicate baby got her name – Komala. Komala too was a trained singer like her sister, but preferred to stay on the staid side of music focusing on her strengths – her high pitched voice that was suited for softer singing and her go-get-it Libran attitude allowed her to be choosy as well. Despite this, she was the favorite at any singing session or mehfil. But today, she was in her sister’s kitchen and was happy to play second fiddle here. Seeing Apeksha boil the gram, she went over to the pantry and scooped out mounds of wheat flour into a steel basin. She knew where to find the clarified butter and quickly got down to kneading the dough into a soft satiny smooth dough, as her sister raised her singing volume to include recognizable words – “shout out to me, whither have you hidden – you are where?” Komala tried to sing along, but could not get down to those low octaves which Apeksha easily sunk to. Komala tried to medley into a chorus – and the effect was hauntingly nice. But it was also time to get on with the cooking – they had guests today and lots of food to be made. The Neelkantheswars were very fond of their kitchen and culinary art and never ever tired of spending time in the kitchen. They still fondly used the utensils that were used in their ancestral home in Portuguese Goa. Komala had once used the rolling pin to down a rodent in the kitchen, and her mother had admonished her for that act – Komala atoned for it by abstaining from eating the next day; whilst spending time singing Ganesh Bhajans. Komala dreamily shut her eyes, smiled and then opened them to get back to the present – as she saw her sister already ahead of the game, making a firm paste of the crushed, boiled gram, the spices and powdered jaggery. She also sprinkled in some grated coconut and rolled it into a smooth ball. Now was Komala’s turn to roll out those wafer thin pancakes into which would be stuffed the sweet jaggery gram balls, and re-rolled, ready to be cooked. Apeksha poured some grease onto the griddle and let it heat into a sizzle. And into it, slid the stuffed flat bread. And as the dough touched the griddle, the grease sizzled and hissed loudly letting off grey steam, carrying alongwith it the smells of dairy fat, southern spices and northern wheat. Apeksha used a steel spatula to press the bread down so that it cooked evenly, and turned tossed it over, adding some more ghee around the edges. This was the moment that defined the bread – the moment when the bread swelled up into a flying saucer shaped ball – nice and firm with golden brown spots. Perfect to be taken off the griddle onto the serving plate.

The D Boyz heard the songs of the Neelkanteshwar sisters as they strode into their regular haunt – the D Street, this week. And they got ready to make their own food. So if on Monday, they bent down to pick up the pulses from the store area beneath the kitchen platform (pushing down the SENSEX 367 points), on Tuesday started the boiling of the pulses routine – but they tried matching up with the low octaves of the “shout out to me” song and had to bend low taking the SENSEX down some 50 points. Wednesday was the day when they got going with the dough making and used enough Greece, sorry, grease, to make their dough pliable and flaky, taking the SENSEX up 200 odd points. And Thursday was the day when they rolled out the flat bread bring the SENSEX back to where it was left last weekend – near 16867. And finally Friday was the day that they waited for when the sizzle on the griddle got the bread to puff up and turn golden brown – though at mid-day, it did see some dip, as the Boyz tried the flip-over maneouvre of their bread on the griddle. And they ended the week lower than its peak, and not too far away from last week’s level at 16933 (50 points up – thanks to the Greece, sorry grease effect).

The Neelkanteshwars had such a medley going on in the kitchen, and yet when they walked to the dinner table with their hands laden with food goodies, their hair was very much in place, their sarees neatly tucked in, and their facial make-up made up of eye-kohl, talcum powder and the unmissable maroon bindi, all in place. These sisters had quite a reputation of being perfectionists and quite accomplished ones at that. Their guests tucked into the stuffed sweet breads smeared with hot ghee, followed by the spicy cooked rice with aubergine and coccinea and finished off the meal with traditional creamy, sweet-sour cream cheese pudding.

So what are you going to cook this weekend? Whatever it is, do let me know. And if anyone knows how to get invited to the Neelkanteshwars, please tell me. I would love to be at their dining table – maybe even help out at their kitchen table. I love their songs and am not too bad a singer myself.

Cheers and Have a nice weekend…

The Son separated from the Mother, returns


Update for week ended 9 Sep 2011

When a child gets separated from a mother, it gets quite traumatic – for the child as well as the mother. And many mothers (including those who are reading this) have experienced this at some point of time in their lives – starting with the first moments when the mother goes to work leaving her infant at home with the nanny or the granny; or in some cases when the child goes to the its prep school or playgroup. These moments at times can be poignant though the mother and child (at times) know that the separation would last more than a couple of hours. But the tears are shed, the throats turned hoarse with the bawling, and higher BP levels. So imagine what a mother would do if her child were to be separated from her for days on end… at times just a day and a half; or five or seven or even ten or eleven at times. The child and mother separation can be traumatic, right. That is why some communities invite the mother over to their place to host the child along with her; while others first get the child home and then bring the mother within 5 days (to appease her and the child) ; however the bolder and more boisterous of the lot hold on the child for ten days and then very ceremoniously lead the child to its mother. One such mother is Parvati – the daughter of the great mountain-like Parvata who married the wild and temperamental Lord who also lived in the mountains with his hordes of followers – Shiva. Longing for a child, she decided to model one from her skin and body and some celestial clay. And a strapping young lad was created who was so devoted to his mother that he even stopped his father from entering her private chambers, earning him the ill-famous wrath of Shiva by way of a severed head. Of course, this was remedied as the weeping mother ordered her husband to get her son’s life back and he did with the help of his trusted servant, the strong bull-like Nandi, who used the head of a just dead elephant on the body of the child and hence was reborn – Gajanan…. The elephant headed boy. This little boy was very intelligent, smart, a good learner, diligent and despite his pudginess, he was quite adept at removing hurdles from the paths of those who he lived with. Knowing this, the denizens of Prithviloka have been inviting him home each year. Many of them have also tried to imitate his mother, but moulding clay models of his likeness and then entertaining and feeding him through his stay. But as children get anxious for their mothers, so does Gajanan or Ganesha…. And the Prithviloka hosts know that – so they keep him back with tantalizing food, earful music and 24 hour vigilance. But when the time to take him back to his mother’s abode, they take the journey that leads the along the streets of their villages, towns or cities to the nearest waterbody and then bid a final farewell at the banks or shores before letting him slip into the water with his water friends, who will help him get back to his mother as they are part of her Nature Team.

The Ganesh Festival week is concluding – and D Boyz on D Street have also been trying to keep their Ganesh amused and entertained, by the pyrotechnics of the lightning-like SENSEX. So some days it dips low low that it glows bright red and on others it is waved upwards towards the leafy trees of the Street and it burns a soothing green. And on the last day – when Ganesh has to be bid his farewell – the fires are lit that burn the SENSEX red and point downwards – as though symbolizing that ganesha will have to meet to his sea friends deep in the sea…. So with all that movement, the SENSEX did not move much – it stayed with the Boyz close to Sea (Street) Level – at 16867 – just 46 points up from the previous week.

I happen to live near the sea shore, and I got some pictures from the sea which are self explanatory – as you see the sea friends of Ganesha with him in a moment of happy meeting before they all go together to his mother’s place.

The rippling blue waves, the tortoise and the bluefish with starfish…. They all awaited Ganesha’s arrival in the blue sea.

Wishing you all a very happy Onam and happy Ganesh festival…. Enjoy your weekend and be safe… Cheers.

Green Hills, Misty Clouds and Corn on the Cob


 Update for fortnight ended 2 September 2011

The monsoons brought in the rain with loud thunderclaps. The lightning that preceded the thunder also helped in the nitrogen fixing that plants need to grow well, and this is one of the best ways for nature to use the abundant nitrogen gas in the air. So the hilly tracts of the old Western Ghats are covered in green – including the bare rock faces that are usually barren and brown for the rest of the year. The drive along the new expressway (though it is no longer new …. It has been around for close to a decade now) on the Western Ghats does not provide enough scenic sights, except the occasional waterfall along the edge of the tunnels, or the sudden rush of water as one traverses the dark tunnels. But if you get off the expressway and get onto the country roads, the sights and sounds can be quite uplifting. Take for example the little drive off Pune heading westwards for a couple of kilometers into some industrial towns where the Germans seem to have found foothold for their engineering, and then northwards towards the little ghats that hem the little villages and hide blue lakes. You cross a hill, and the blue waters of a dammed lake are visible. The roads are winding, but in good condition despite the heavy rains, perhaps because they are seldom used or perhaps because they head to heady destinations. The roadside has little temporary shacks covered in crumpled tarpaulin sheets under which sit villagers roasting fresh corn over coal, while their children stand on the deserted roads shouting and waving down any passersby to spend a few rupees for the thrill of eating corn on the cob in the rain. Many people stop by for this earthy experience – most are motorbike couples who have the taken the half hour trip out of Pune for those private moments by the lakeside, or near a hill stream, nibbling succulent sweet corn over conversation that veer over sweet nothings cooed into each others’ ears.

Monsoon in India is considered very romantic and poets from time immemorial have written love ballads revolving around the grey clouds, the sprinkling spray from waterfalls or the soft droplets that dampen the veil over one’s head but not dampen the spirit.

A few adventurous couples would head further uphill, as they cross another hill and wind along the ghats like hair pins turning almost 180 degrees directionally, but heading uphill or downhill – depending on whether one was going up or down. And the view gets prettier as one keeps moving uphill, as the green vistas from uphill are dreamlike and made more surreal as light misty clouds traverse the hills and envelope all into its translucence. The parrot green grass cover juxtaposed with the darker green bushes are enveloped by the almost blackish green tree cover encircling blue water, which suddenly start losing their brightness as the white clouds dilute the greens and blues. The heavy and cold raindrops egg on the travelers to keep moving on and head towards the next lake perhaps for a little more than just plain corn on the cob. Perhaps a meal at a waterfront café or buffet lunch with eclectic Indian and Indo Italian menu, topped with a choice of desserts including German Blackforest Cake (I thought the Germans only had a foothold in the foothills, but looks like they have captured beyond as well).

 

The D Boys on D Street have been through quite a wild ride over the past fortnight, but the nice part is that they have been celebrating the monsoons like the medieval poets and their muses….. so they have stopped to sample the streetside corn near valley lakes and also admired the green foliage of the D street cover as they took their pet muse –  the SENSEX, across lakes and beyond to rolling green hills – upwards to finally end this week at 16821…… although the overall ride may look like a small 350 point move; it actually was quite a roller coaster as one week saw about 700 points downwards before moving up 1000 points or so.

The hilly drive reminded me of a song I learnt in class IV about a bear that looked over a mountain to see what it could see…. Do you remember the song…. which repeated these lines four times (at least) before it was revealed that it was the other side of the mountain was all that it could see. Sweet memories, misty skies and hills with cold rain on my face….. a nice drive and back.

Have a nice weekend… Cheers….