Friday, May 30, 2008


We came back from Goa by train, on the Coromandel Express, also known as the Konkan Kanya (Daughter of the Konkan). It took about 12 hours to reach Mumbai, and, for the the better part of the day, we were gazing our fill at the lovely passing-landscape, or filling our tummies with food served on the train.

Our compartment was next-door to the pantry car, and we were relentlessly plied and supplied with food and drinks of various kinds, at various times.

There was tea, there was coffee, there were the usual Pepsi and not-so-usual piping hot too-red tomato soup. A man came and took orders for lunch, reeling off from an extensive menu: Chinese fried rice (veg and non-veg), biriyani (ditto)….We chose a chicken biriyani (chicken, rice and a boiled egg cooked together…though the rice seemed to have refused to be cooked with its non-veg mates!) and a fish-thali (dish of rice, pomfret fish curry and pickles, all cooked separately, accompanied with salad).

We also had sugar-sweetened dahi (yogurt) out of earthen pots, fried fish pieces served in unusual rectangular trays made of coconut leaves (I put one in my bag – minus the fish, and fishy-smell– for keepsake), and platters of freshly-cut watermelon. We drank kokum sharbat (a sour-spicy drink) to wash down the enormous quantity of grub, giving the sol-kadi (another sour-spicy drink) a miss.

Replete with lunch and landscape, we afternoon-dozed till the Alibaba’s pantry-door opened once again with vendors tempting us with idlis, dosas, and meduvadas (South Indian delicacies). Spoilt for choice, we had sabudana-vadas (fried tapioca cutlets) and upma-sheera (a spicy and a sweet preparation of semolina served side-by-side).

Then there were a flurry of orders for dinner (almost before the sun had set in the distant speedily-left-behind horizon). We had to take home the eclectic packets of chilli-chicken, chicken noodles and alu-paratha (greasy wheat-potato pancakes), because though we alighted at Dadar station, the food settled heavily in our tummies, as immobile as the traffic on Mumbai’s streets. A rude-food reminder of the end of our light-hearted holiday!

But the journey aboard the Curry-mandel Express was definitely one to cheer (and chew) about.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


I’m just back from a trip to Goa – land of susegaad (bliss). This was our third visit, and the spell of Goa has not dispelled….we are still as much in love with the place as we ever were.

This time we went to stay for five-days-which-seemed-too-short-a-holiday at the bang-on-the-beach L’Amour Resort on South Goa’s Benaulim beach.

The hot summer of Goa made us lazy; so, in the mornings, we mostly lolled about on the golden sands at the sun-molested (rather than sun-kissed) beach, elder daughter and spouse splashing about in the white-surf-green-waves, I sitting with my younger daughter (she’s going through a scared-of- waves/won’t-step-on-sand phase) and a book in Concy’s coconut-leaf-thatched shack, watching the para-sailers and jet-skiers whooping it up, the fishing boats in the far distance, and the changing colours of the sand, sea and sky.

In the evenings, we would venture out – to see the sun dive smoothly into the sea. We scuttled back from crowded-Colva (epithet-ed ‘the queen of South Goa beaches’), but we loved the empty white sands and blue water at Varca (which is more of a private beach for the Taj Exotica – where we had gone for a day to meet up with a cousin and her family).

We would coax the autorickshaws to drop us to Madgaon, the nearest town, where we explored the streets lined with charming, colonial-era, Portuguese-constructed buildings, tall churches with wrought-iron gates and stained-glass windows or small, bright bungalows with sloping roofs and sit-outs in the garden where hens/pigs/geese poked about the flowerbeds.

We also poked about in the winding alleys of Madgaon's ancient New Market, buying bebinca (a Goan dessert), a toy Spanish guitar and a seashell-decorated, keepsake bottle of feni (a Goan cashewnut-fermented drink).

One evening we drove down the winding, well-maintained roads of Betelbatim village with a friend and his family, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the red-tiled, picture-postcard-pretty cottages along the way to gorge on the seafood at the popular (going by the full tables even on weekdays) Martin’s Corner.

The Goan fish-curry-and-rice (laden with coconut-milk, sour-kokum and tomatoes) at our Goa-baari (‘Goan house’, according to my younger daughter), L’Amour, was also pretty good, as were the roast-beef-and-onions, beef-vegetable-soup and squid-garlic-butter. I don’t know what vegetarians would do in Goa, but for us the scenic and the gastronomic delights merged into one awesome synaesthetic experience. Helped, no doubt, by urak, a fruity-flavoured, full-bodied, local liquor distilled from, what else, cashewnuts.

My senses are still reeling from OD-ing on Goa’s beauty, the natural loveliness of the beach-dotted, surf-lapped coastline, fringed with coconut trees; the calm rivers winding around the mangrove wetlands; the hills in the distance, green in summer with rocky outcrops jutting out here-and-there. And all this cradling quaint old buildings, confectionery-white churches and friendly, laidback people.

We’ll be go(a)ing back again, hopefully!

04 June 2008: I'm now sending this post on a journey to Scribbit's June Write-away contest on Going Places.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Those familiar with the jackfruit will know that it is not a fruit which likes human beings. And it shows its dislike of mankind in many, many ways.

The ripe jackfruit, when cut open to reveal the butter-yellow rinds, will emit a smell strong enough to make men run (towards it if you are a ripe-jackfruit-lover; away from it if you are notand I am emphatically not). But the spouse likes it, and so, on the rare occasions that the ripe jackfruit enters the house, it makes its presence strongly felt, like a rude guest, whenever we open the refrigerator door. And, like a guest overstaying his welcome, the smell l-i-n-g-e-r-s.

The unripe jackfruit has subtler ways on avenging itself on mankind. Bengali cuisine has a number of recipes starring the enchor (unripe jackfruit), and, like the Eve-ensnaring-fruit of the Garden of Eden, they are all quite tempting and tasty.

Lured by such a recipe (enchorer aachar – pickled unripe jackfruit), I recently purchased a small green jackfruit from the vegetable-vendor, who shaved off the green-prickly outer skin and gave me my purchase, wrapped in a newspaper (wishing it good riddance, I suspect).

The next morning, I embarked on my culinary adventure, armed with Bangla Ranna - The Bengal Cookbook, my kitchen-oracle. Having spread newspaper sheets all over the floor and having rubbed mustard oil all over my hands (and also the boti – the sharp blade attached to a wooden base used by Bengalis to chop vegetables), I began peeling the inner sticky white skin. And it was S-T-I-C-K-Y-- . We have to remove this thick inner skin, we have to remove the seeds, we have to remove the fibrous portion of the jackfruit. We even have to (bloody hell!) remove the layer of skin between the seed and the fruit. After this enormously complicated (and glutinous) operation, we get the edible ‘meaty’ portion. Since the jackfruit I purchased was supermodel-small (size zero) to begin with, there was not much ‘meat’ to be had. This confused my already clueless, gluey mind (and hands) and I mistakenly added a lot of the fibrous portion as well (which had to be removed later on rechecking my bounty).

After almost one-and-half hours of tenacious-slave labour and jackfruit-self bonding, I got:
- 800 grams of fibre, seeds and what-not: to be thrown away
- 200 grams of lean-meaty portion: to be cooked
- Black, won’t-leave-you-till-death adhesive all over the boti-blade, which still hasn’t gone away (The Jackfruit’s Revenge – Part I)
- Black, forever-bonding adhesive all over my hands (The Jackfruit’s Revenge – Part II)
- A spine-numbing back-ache from all that sitting-and-slaving-on-that-(sticky)-floor (The Jackfruit’s Revenge – Part III).

P.S: I also got the pickled fruits of my labour. The jackfruit (all 200 edible grams of it) has to be boiled in water with vinegar and salt. Then we have to heat mustard oil, fry the boiled pieces lightly; add previously-roasted-and-ground dhania/dhoney (coriander), rai/shorshe (mustard), saunf/mouri (aniseed); give salt and sugar to taste, and take it down after adding a dash of lemon. It tastes really good (if you can forgive the bad memories which STICK to the mind).

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Today we woke up to newspapers screaming that terror has struck again. In Jaipur, the beautiful Pink City in the dry Rajasthan deserts now reddened with blood and wet with tears. 7 blasts in 20 minutes – another planned-down-to-the-last-detail attack on the unarmed, unaware and innocent. The city, country, names may change, but the shock, grief, the horror are the same.

Beyond pity for the victims, beyond rage at the perpetrators, I feel a sense of bewilderment: WHY? What warped ideology, what shadowy idealism, what perverted religiosity, what greed for power and gore-tainted-glory can make a man train thousands to kill millions? When does that respect for another’s life go away? How does humanity end and terrorism begin?

The terrorist’s mind is as terrifying as his acts. It is an alien space, where the values and limits we hold so dear have no meaning. His actions are so well-planned by him, but are so unpredictable-to-us (who live for LIFE, not DEATH). And because we can’t understand his laws or his logic, we live in fear. Fearing for our selves, our family, for our children, for people-we-know, and people-we-don't-yet-know, for everybody living under the shadow of hate and death. Nothing, no place seems safe anymore. WHERE NEXT?

Sunday, May 11, 2008


My maa is the unsentimental type,
She's not moved by any Mother’s Day hype.

(She’s not a person who cuddled and snuggled or read bedtime stories to us. But she always managed to cook our favourite dishes, and sew new outfits and knit new sweaters into which we could snuggle up, anyway. She’s still busy-fingered, clack-clacketing knitting needles and trailing strands of wool, knitting for her four granddaughters.)

Her knees give her trouble, her back gives her pain,
Yet when I need a helping hand, she’ll visit again.

(When my elder daughter was born, I stayed with her for three months. She would get up at dawn, cook all kinds of food supposedly good for lactating mothers, go to work, come back late after shopping for 1001 baby-stuff, AND, after all this, would stay up half the night singing lullabies to the baby, just so that I could sleep a little.
She stayed with me for five months after my younger daughter was born, and helped me just as much as before, if not more.

She never uses make-up, her hair’s almost white,
Yet she’s fun and sporting, and a FRIEND all right.

(My brother and I never really had any generation-gap issues with her. She’s such a calm person, that we spontaneously and naturally shared all our adolescent indiscretions with her. She let go so confidently, never panicking, hardly-ever scolding. We came running back to her with our confidences. Now that the decades have ironed out the adult-child barriers, there is an ease, a comfort, a warmth, a PEACE, whenever she visits.)

You may think she’s boring, a plain-dull house-wife,
Yet she travels a lot and experiments with life.

(When we were young, she would read up, write-down and cook-up new recipes from newspapers and magazines. The whole family loved her kitchen-surprises. She would collect knitting-patterns and embroidery-designs and she also learnt dress-making. My childhood wardrobe was full of maa-made garments. All this while looking after a family of six almost single-handedly.
Now that we are all grown-up, she and her girlie-gang of sisters and cousins often take off together, traveling to various parts of India, usually to places with a religious connect. And from all accounts, the entire group of giggly sixty-pluses have a blast together.)

She never reads my blogs, though she’s hooked to Microsoft solitaire,
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY, Maa, and week and month and year.

(Thanks for being strong as a rock, comforting as a cushion. I wish you were here.)

Friday, May 9, 2008


Today is Pochisey Baisakh (the 25th day of Baisakh month in the Bengali calendar), and Bengalis all over the world are probably celebrating Rabindra-Jayanti, the birth-anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, the unchallenged Colossus of Bengali culture.

Little girls in plaits and pleated saris will sing Rabindrasangeet (Tagore’s songs) and dance with lissome, undulating (if un-athletic) movements (Rabindranitya). Little boys, chafing in uncomfortable kurta-pajamas (or dhotis) will recite lisping poems from SHISHU (The Child). Their suddenly-self-conscious parents will clear their throats and launch into reinditions of songs, poems, or verse-plays from the prolific output of the Gurudev (Spiritual Father), accompanied by the tabla and the harmonium. The chief guest will place the mandatory garland-of-white-blossoms on the framed portrait of the white-bearded, visionary-eyed, loose-robed gentleman. The boredom of listening to his (the chief-guest’s) long bhason (speech) about the ‘importance of Kabiguru (Poet-prophet-teacher) in Bengali life and culture’ will be somewhat mitigated by the tantalizing aroma of frying luchis (a preparation of refined flour) and alurdom (curried potatoes). Finally, having gorged on food and culture, everybody will return home, criticising the performance of the neighbour’s son/daughter (“Ki aar emon gaye” – no great shakes) and praising their own offspring (“Ki darun aabriti korlo, aamar toh chokhey jal eshey giyechhilo” – his recitation brought tears to my eyes) in true Bengali spirit.

But such obvious (and sometimes odious) panegyrics aside, Tagore is present in the Bengali’s life and self-fashioning in subliminal, sub-conscious, all-encompassing ways. All Bengalis will proudly declare to the rest of the world that Rabindranath Tagore was the FIRST Indian to receive the Nobel Prize (For literature, for his book of poems – GITANJALI - Song Offerings). The Bengali holds his head high during the national anthem, Jana gana mana adhinayak jaya hey (Hail the ruler of the hearts and minds of the people), because Tagore penned it. Each Bengali has his own individual relationship with Tagore’s poems and songs (the bearded-bespectacled-Bengali-intellectual has an almost proprietory relationship with Tagore’s novels, plays and paintings as well).

Most Bengalis grow up force-fed on his songs. That is not to say that they do not like it. When I was young, my father would often, in the evenings, open the battered blue-bound family-copy of GITABITAN (a collection of Tagore’s songs) and randomly sing songs in his untrained-but-melodious baritone and we would all join in at will; Didia (my cousin) would hum a few notes and I would amateurishly dance my self-choreographed dances.

Now, with my daughters, I am going through the rich legacy Tagore has left for children, the simple-but-graded stories and the lyrical nuanced poems of SAHAJ PATH (Easy Reader). I share their wonder at:
Kal chhilo dal khali,
Aaj phuley jaye bhorey;
Bol dekhi tui maali,
Hoy shey kemon korey?”

("Yesterday’s bare branches
Are today in full flower;
Can you tell me, O gardener,
Who wroughts this strange power?") – Imperfect translation by me.

Each Bengali grows up with his own memories of Tagore. His lyrics-of-many-moods comfort us, cheer us, make us weep, sustain us through the seasons of joy and sorrow, hope and despair. All nostalgia-haunted-Bengalis, separated from home and childhood-friends by time or distance, have sung (or lip-synched or listened to) “Purano shei diner katha bhulbi kirey haye (How can we forget those old days…)”. My aunt had once told me (when I was dismissive of Tagore as overly-sentimental and old-fashioned), that as we grew older, the relevance of Tagore would increase. How true she was! Now in my thirties, though I still have a lot of uncharted Tagore-territory to travel, and though I still do not agree with a lot of his opinions and emotions, in my heart the bond has grown stronger.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


I have recently discovered the Little Golden Book stories for children. My daughters and I have read together half-a-dozen of these classic reprints by Random House. Most of the books were first published in the 1940s/50s/60s and, charmingly, retain the original illustrations and the original delightfulness.

We have sailed down the stream (almost into the sea) with Scuffy the Tugboat, gone for a walk up and down hills with The Poky Little Puppy, felt happy-sad-happy like The Saggy Baggy Elephant, got our bruises bandaged by Doctor Dan, the Bandage Man and slurped over the ice-creams delivered by The Good Humor Man. So many decades later, the stories remain as enjoyable, truly golden in their unchanged appeal.

But my particular favourite (my elder one liked the ice-cream story best, while the younger one loved the doggy book) is the Seven Little Postmen, written by the reassuringly-named Margaret Wise Brown. This lovely little book took us along the journey (for me a rediscovery, for my daughters a slice of history) of a letter-with-a-secret-message written by a little boy to his lonely-waiting-for-his-visit grandma. This red-wax-sealed letter travels through the hands of the seven postmen, from the mailbox to the BIG Post Office (where it is franked and sorted into a brown mail bag), travelling in mail vans and airplanes and trains, down country lanes and through the tiny village post office and is finally, at last, delivered to the waiting hands and eager eyes of his granny. CAN YOU GUESS THE SECRET MESSAGE IT CONTAINS?

Such a wonderful way of sharing with my daughters the almost-lost process of letter-writing-posting-delivering-receiving!

Sunday, May 4, 2008


Shoe-shopping makes my entire family happy. I get to spend money guilt-freely (SHOES come under the NECESSARY ITEMS-category), the kids love trying on new stuff and the maid loves the shoeboxes.

I prefer keeping shoes wrapped in clear plastic bags, so that I get to know what is inside. I used to throw away the shoe-boxes, till my maid came to stay with us. She resolutely hoards the boxes in an empty cabinet…and then they keep turning up in the most unexpected places.

There is one once-white shoebox (KITTENS, Size 20, blue booties with red-and-yellow laces for my younger daughter, outgrown and given away long back) crammed full of rubber/plastic rabbits/lions/puppies/cats, neatly arranged on my daughter’s toy-shelf, which is taken down when the animals are ‘bathed’.

One such grey rather-worse-for-wear shoebox (CATWALK, Size 40, black/bronze slip-on sandals for self, also rather worse-for-wear) is hidden in my clothes cupboard, full to the brim with various socks and scarves I hardly wear in sweltering Mumbai (but they walk me back to happy holidays in Darjeeling and Gangtok).

Another REEBOK-trainers-box (white-and-blue with red soles; my ‘comfort-shoes’) is a storehouse for discarded crayons, pencils, erasers and God-knows-what-else, which await a run-through by me before being delegated to the dustbin.

My maid keeps her own stuff (from hankies to hairclips) in a forest-green shoebox (WOODLANDS, Size 42, tan suede semi-formals for weekend-dressing).

Open any cupboard, search any shelf, and, sure enough, there’s a shoebox full of stuff 'packed' by my maid (she must have been a secretary with a filing-cabinet-fetish in a past life).

Yesterday, I took my daughters out to a nearby shop (THE SHOE FACTORY) to buy two pairs of grey- blue floaters. And, because there were discounts (Buy 2, get 20% off, buy 3, get 25% off), I gifted myself a pair of coffee-coloured sandals (I’m DEFINITELY caught in a black/brown/beige rut). The smart new shoes are gracing the shoe rack, and the shiny empty shoeboxes are waiting for my maid to fill them up.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


Somebody up there is having a good laugh at my expense. A few days back, I had GLOATINGLY posted a comment on how self-important and self-satisfied I feel when I am down with some illness. Sheer HUBRIS.
Here I am now, feeling completely miserable instead of me-at-the-centre-of-the-universe. This is the merry month of May, when I'm on my summer holiday...but I can't even giggle, let alone laugh aloud.
I have met my nemesis, the sorest throat I have ever had, and eating and talking (two of the greatest joys of my life) are now two painful, throat-wracking/wrecking exercises, preferably avoided completely.
But that is not to be. I have to eat (and drink, water at least) and talk, too, as I am the only one at home, looking after a seven-year-old who needs a verbal-reminder-a-minute to finish her food/milk/homework AND a two-year-old who needs to be read four entire books of nursery rhymes before she deigns to sleep (and, of course, constant verbal cajolings and scoldings when she is awake).
In true Greek-tragedy fashion, I have had an anagnorisis (realization). The one thing I have realized is that a mother’s job is mainly vocal/oral/speech-based. And again, like an authentic Greek tragedy, this realization has come slightly late in the day….
I just want to bawl my lungs out, like a Greek chorus of old women, but every word I speak aloud is AGONY. The self-pity is there alright, but I just wish it’d go away, along with the soreness which seems to scratch down my throat and stretch across to my ears…Oh, for a catharsis of the catarrh....

GOD PROMISE : I will never, ever, be frivolous about fevers or tinker about with throat-sores, I swear on my Aristotle.