Monday, December 27, 2010

And So, I Had Myself a Merry Little Christmas

And I hope you did too!

Mum's here and we were out for 7-8 hours at a stretch on both days (Sat & Sun). We did the lunch-movie-coffee-shopping shindig. I was amazed at the amount of energy and enthusiasm my mom still has! Unlike my dad who's favorite activity is to watch TV - and who thinks family bonding = watching TV together - my mom is always willing to go out for lunch/ movie/ shopping. And she doesn't tire easily.

You know what eye-openers mothers' visits are? I'm talking of Indian mothers, of course. Apart from the tips she'll give you on how to live your life, what to eat/not eat etc., your mother will also introduce you to these strange shows on TV. On Colors, Sony, Zee and Star Plus to be precise. Shows where they paint a woman's face black or join her eyebrows with an eye pencil or make her eyebrows thick as Imran Khan's (the actor, not the cricketer...have you seen how thick his eye brows are?) to make her look ugly. Where women wear the blingiest, most exotic saris and are decked up in 20 tonnes of gold irrespective of whether they're at home or at a wedding. Where they are perfectly made up with the best of M.A.C. products and have not a hair out of place even when they're sleeping. Where women who are slightly more educated or ambitious are invariably vamps who spend their entire day plotting & conniving against the other docile women of the household and making strange faces, trying to look evil. Where the dialogues play in the background while the evil woman rotates her eye balls in every existent & non-existent direction, to show what mean thing she's thinking!

The kind of crap Indian television dishes out is amazing. And my mother, like millions of other smart, educated women across India watch it with the utmost dedication. She is glued to the TV between 7-9pm watching all kinds of assorted crap, and she watches them with a lot of involvement and emotion, giving her own comments and insights, lauding the "heroine" and chastising the vamp, tsk-tsking at the appalling state of society as shown in such serials. It's almost as entertaining to watch my mother watch those shows as it is to watch the shows themselves. Bhagya Vidhata, Balika Vadhu, Nakusha (this one's particularly hilarious), Uttaran, Na Aana Is Desh Lado...the list is endless. And funniest of all, she even wants to have a discussion with me during the commercial breaks and tells me what lessons in life one learns on watching such shows!
I really wants to know what is it about these shows that has our mothers so tightly in their grasp? Is your mom hooked onto prime time regressive television as well?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!!!!



So, appalled at the lack of enthusiasm around our favorite festival, we tried to force some Christmas cheer into life. Took out our little Christmas tree and decorated it with ornaments. Went to Flury's and picked up a couple of plum cakes (thanks to the mother who warned there better be plum cakes in the house when she comes visiting for Christmas-New Year's!)

I think it's going to be a quiet Christmas with mum. We'll probably go out for lunch, watch a movie, have cake & hot chocolate...that kinda stuff. And I don't mind, actually.

Gasp! I'm getting old. That's what it is!

Though there is the little person inside me jumpin' 'n' dancin' around 'coz it's X-Mas. And as long as I have that enthusiasm in my heart for this time of the year, I needn't be scared about losing my love for Christmas. Or getting old for that matter!

Merry Christmas all you guys! Eat, drink, make merry, party...OR...chill at home, watch unending re-runs of 'Friends', watch your favorite Christmas movie, make love...do whatever works for you. Just make sure to have a jolly good time!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Who Stole My Christmas?

Crib post ahead. You have been warned.

It's two days till Christmas and I'm not feeling Christmassy yet :(


I'm a Christmas person. I decorate my house every year. I put up a tree, ornaments, wreaths, streamers...the works! I used to decorate my desk at work as well. My friends & I play Secret Santa. So it's very uspetting to not be feeling the spirit of Christmas because I know I'll have to wait an entire year for the next one to come around :(

Honestly, I'm done with 2010. It's been a year of constant change. The changes have been for the better, career advancement and all that, but they've been way too frequent for my liking. I'm also staring a few more undesired changes, personal and professional, in the face. Sigh.

Then there are the bitchy people. They abound in my life. People who pretend to be really fond of you to your face but bitch about you once out of earshot. People who spread all sorts of false malicious gossip about your personal & professional life. I'm amazed at how bitchy some people I know can get!

I understand that people bitch about someone when they're insecure or feel themselves to be inferior, and you'd think that after 6 years of working in the corporate world I would've learnt how to treat these people, i.e. ignore them. But I really can't ignore negative talk. I've learnt how to deal with it and not get angry over it, I've got to the point where I don't let it get to me. But I can't completely ignore it. Negativity affects me.

These events have taken the festive feeling out of this time of the year. Looks like someone has stolen my Christmas :(

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gone Are the Days...

....when I would feverishly start making plans for the weekend on Friday evening itself. Now my answer to queries on what plans I have for the weekend generally is, "I don't have any yet", or "I don't know, I think I just want to chill". I wake up on Saturday morning & check if someone's up to doing something.

....when Saturday nights meant party nights and I'd feel completely unloved & unpopular if I had to spend a Saturday evening doing nothing. Now I'm OK with staying home on Saturday, ordering in, watching a movie. Or going for a quiet dinner & drinks followed by a movie, maybe.

....when I had to be out doing something on Sunday evenings because I'd get massive Sunday evening blues otherwise! Now I prefer Sunday evenings at home watching TV, reading a book or chit-chatting with The Boy. At most, I'd meet a friend for coffee.

Life changes and how! Or are these signs that I'm getting old? :(

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My 'Go-To' Books

I had the most wonderful day today, even though I spent it all by myself.

It's a long weekend. I woke up at 10 in the morning, dawdled over tea, had breakfast and went back to sleep at noon. Woke up at 2, showered, had lunch, went to Barista with my 'Adrian Mole', had a lovely hazelnut mocha and blueberry muffin, ran a couple of errands and am back home doing nothing.
Why can't we have more such days? :(

*******

I have a few "go-to" books and movies. These are books/movies that I turn to when I'm feeling low or have been having rough days.

My "go-to" books include the Bridget Jones Diaries (both) & Confessions of a Shopaholic.

Bridget Jones because...come on...it's Bridget Jones! Here's this girl who's constantly fretting about her weight, very much like me. She keeps landing herself in the most embarassing situations but she also has the courage to laugh at herself. She is being courted by two sex-on-toast men - one the biggest gentelman and the other possibly the biggest jerk in town - and she keeps falling for the jerk just because he is glib enough to talk his way into her heart. Now that's a situation many of us (women) are familiar with, aren't we? But in the end she goes with the nice guy. What's not to like?

Of course, the diary format also works for me. The book is fast-paced and not unnecessarily wordy. And I don't need to read it from start to finish at one go. I can read a few pages when I'm sad, put it down, pick it back up after some time and continue reading from where I left!

I also love Confessions of a Shopaholic. Becky Bloomwood is hilarious! She comes up with ingenious excuses to buy things she doesn't need. She also writes the funniest letters to her bank manager asking him to waive off her credit card bill and increase her credit limit! We could call her stupid and hate her for not having the mental strength to put an end to her shopaholism, but we don't because we know there's a little bit of Becky Bloomwood in all of us.


I've discovered two other books that could become my "go-to" books soon. One is 'Dork' by Sidin Vadukut. The book has workplace humor and it's outrageously funny. If you haven't read it yet, I'd say you MUST. You'll be rolling on your sides laughing.

The other book that I'm currently reading and finding absolutely adorable is 'The Secret Diaries of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 Years'. Here's this adoloscent obsessed with the spots on his face, which he's convinced is a result of the poor diet his mom feeds him, and the size of his "thing". He's a drama-queen, a chauvinist (he expects his mom to worship the ground he walks on & he'll let his girlfriend work at a cake shop or some place like that but not to have a career), but he also cares for old people & animals and looks out for his father who's having a rough time. The humor is subtle but it's definitely there.

Then there's 'Love Actually', the movie. It's my favorite movie EVER. I think I've watched the movie more than 20 times and it makes me happy every single time. It's got so much love floating around - love between a brother & sister, between a father & his step-son, even between a musician & his manager (!). Love that transcends boundaries of social strata and race. And it's got this Christmas theme running all the way through. And we LOOOOOOOOVE Christmas over here.
Which reminds me, Christmas is right 'round the corner and I haven't bought my decorations yet! I have a little tree from last year but I need to buy the ornaments & mistletoe & streamers. And plum cake! Oh, Christmas is going to be so much fun!! :)

How I Long To Go Back Here


Monday, December 13, 2010

The One Year Itch


I recently read an article on how the seven year itch has become passé. Couples have started facing issues in their marriage within the first year itself.

Let me say at the outset that this wouldn't apply to every couple, obviously. This is a general trend that's seen to be developing in Indian society of late. And I agree.

All around me I hear of and read about people getting divorced. This phenomenon is not restricted to celebrities anymore. There are quite a few people I know personally who have divorced/are in the process of getting divorced within a few years of marriage.

As far as celebrities go, we're reading about an ex-Bollywood actress contemplating divorce for the second time in her 3-4 year old marriage. The first time around, the couple took a vacation together and somehow managed to save their marriage. Will they be successful this time around as well? Are they even trying? Notably, the couple got married within a month or so of the actress breaking up with her then fiancé, so one wonders whether her decision to get married to her current husband was a hasty one. This morning I also read about a British actress splitting from her Indian industrialist husband. They've been married only two & a half years.

Closer home, there are two friends of mine who got married within a year of meeting each other. They come from very different social and financial backgrounds and the girl could not deal with the conservative thinking and financial habits of her in-laws as well as their constant interference in her life. The couple started having issues within 6 months, and 2 years later they're separated and waiting for their divorce to come through. Another friend filed for divorce 6 months after getting married. Her husband is a habitual cheater, and 6 months after marrying him she decided she couldn't take it anymore! I wonder why she got married to him in the first place? Did she really think he'd clean up his act? Does that ever happen?

My views on marriage aside (on which I've done very many posts & will spare you the brutality :), I've been thinking of why marriages have come to have such a short shelf-life.

Come to think of it, when a friend/relative celebrates, say their 5th marriage anniversary, many of us react by saying "Oh wow, 5 years together!", without even realizing the implications of what we just said. 10th anniversary, and this surprise turns into marvel. "Oh man, 10 years!!!!!" This is a sign of the times we live in. It's a sign of how the dynamics of relationships have changed.

So obviously, since I've been thinking I've reached a conclusion. If you're interested I'll tell you why I think fewer marriages work these days (this is my opinion alone and I'm no marriage counsellor :) If you aren't, you can skip the rest of this post.

To begin with, our generation is in a tearing hurry to get married and I don't know why! People decide to get married within a year, two years, and sometimes within months of knowing each other. That makes me wonder if they even know WHY they're getting married? I'm sorry but "I love him and can't live without him" is just not a good enough reason to take such a big step because once the reality of life kicks in - which will be sooner rather than later once you start living together - you will not be so much "in love with him" anymore.

I don't mean to preach, but we've got to have clear reasons for getting married. We should get married if we want to build a life together or share some of life's experiences together, not to prove a point to our family/friends or society.

Before we take the plunge, we need to make sure our basic philosophies in life are similar and if not, we need to have a clearly defined action plan on how we'll combat situations where we don't see eye-to-eye. We need to have common goals and aspirations for ourselves as a couple (though personal goals may vary). We need to be sure we can live with the habits (some of which WILL be irritating) and idiosyncrasies of the other person 24x7 because these things have a way of getting magnified when you're living in close proximity with someone. But most importantly, we need to be sure that we're mentally and emotionally ready for marriage because it takes a lot of commitment, hard work, trust, understanding and compromise. And all of these come from maturity.

Our generation is also low on patience and tolerance levels. We want quick solutions to every problem, and with increasing career demands on both partners we have neither the time nor the energy to work on a troubled marriage. Getting out of it seems to be the easier way of dealing with the mess, particularly since divorce no more connotes such a huge stigma as it used to, and plenty of divorced people do go on to date new people, start new relationships and get married again.

Financial independence has given a new sense of confidence to women. Working women in bad or even indifferent marriages feel there's no reason to suffer silently. They're simply less conditioned to give in than they used to be, and if they're not happy in their marriage they prefer moving on.

Then there is the issue of not working out the details of life together before taking the plunge. This ties to my first point of getting married in a hurry. We forget to work out answers to some pertinent questions that may give rise to marital disharmony later and become the basis of a failed marriage. What expectations do we have of each other as husband & wife? Are we willing to/able to fulfil those expectations? How will we deal with conflicts? How will we find solutions to problems where our points of view differ? What kind of spending habits will we have? How much interference by parents-in-law and other relatives is OK? How important are our respective friends going to be? What do we think of having kids? What kind of lifestyle changes do we expect each other to make? How are we going to share our space? These questions may seem trivial but trust me they can be fatal to a marriage. Married people may agree with me on this!

Then there is the issue of growing infidelity and the toll that the constant suspicion takes on a marriage. Is our generation really less loyal than the generations before us, or is it that the cases of infidelity are being exposed more? Are people who cheat on their partners less afraid to admit they slipped up than they used to be? Are people more aware and open about their sexual and emotional needs and less hesitant to pursue gratification with people other than their spouses? Whatever the reason might be, infidelity stares us in the face whichever way we turn, and we have become more intolerant of it because we know divorce is easier to get now than it used to be and it's not the end of the world.

This is the age when all the myths associated with marriage - such as marriages are made in heaven, there's only one person for all of us, when you meet your soulmate, you'll know he/she is the one etc. - are getting debunked. Marriages come with a 'fragile' tag and we can't breathe easy once we've tied the knot. On the contrary, that's when the real work begins.
Are we up to the challenge?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Marion, You're Being Missed

Marion Grasby, my favorite person in Masterchef Australia Season 2, was eliminated from the competition earlier this week (well, the elimination really happened in July as that's when the series was being filmed but it's being telecast in India now).



Marion was tipped to win the competition by one & all. Even the contestants were convinced that she would win. She constantly kept winning team & individual challenges and invention tests. Everyone would want her on their team during the team challenges. She was also the only contestant to beat a professional chef in the Celebrity Chef challenge to win immunity, which she used to get herself out of another elimination challenge earlier in the show. That's how good she was!


Marion reacts after beating Chef Frank Camorra of 'Movida' restaurant


And then the unthinkable happened. The most bizarre elimination. I say bizarre because she got eliminated on the back of a Satay sauce. Marion is half Thai & half Australian, has a trained Thai chef for a mother, and has grown up cooking Thai food. So everyone expected her to come up with a brilliant Satay sauce. I guess she was having a bad day.

If what one reads on the net is to be believed, she's on her way to becoming a millionnaire! She's working on her range of Asian products & sauces and is apparently being chased by culinary houses to release her line with them, has landed a series of cookbook publishing deals, is being invited to various food events & product launches, and she's also rumored to be the face of Coles, an Australian supermarket chain!!


That's a lot of money for a girl who gave up a career in journalism to follow her dreams (how I wish more of us had the courage to do that!), and who admits she always wanted to start a food & wine bar along with her partner Tim, but didn't have the means to do so. And you know what, she deserves every cent of that money.

I hope her product range does really well and becomes available in India as well (I'm so buying!), and I also hope she gets to open her restaurant real soon.

Marion was a flavor cook. The dishes she produced had bursts of flavor, to the extent that the judges would complement her by saying "when you eat a dish made by Marion, you know it's by her". That I think is a huge compliment for a chef!

The sad part is that while such an exceptional cook as Marion is out of the competition, ordinary cooks such as Jimmy and Aaron remain. Jimmy can't cook anything except Indian and Aaron's good only with pasta. So it's very surprising that the judges would prefer to retain such average cooks and let go of a brilliant cook as Marion. Masterchef is just not the same without her. I miss watching her at work, I miss her dishes, her enthusiasm, her excitement, and her smile that goes right upto her eyes.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Something to Think About

I don't generally read 'mommy blogs' (for obvious reasons) but I came across this post by Parul Sharma. I'm sharing the link because I think it's a topic that a number of women struggle with post-motherhood, and also because I think I've done a post on this topic earlier (I'm too lazy to dig it up so just take my word for it, will you?)

In her post, Parul puts across her point of view on the issue of stay-at-home moms vs. working moms. She talks about how women who give up their careers to look after their kids feel responsible towards their parents & their efforts to give them (the women) the best education they could afford, so they could be financially independent. On the other hand, working moms suffer tremendous guilt for not being able to give sufficient time & attention to their child(ren). And there are some women who're lucky enough to be able to work from home, and while it may seem that they have the best of both worlds, the flip side is that people often don't take their work seriously and trivialize it.

Parul also goes on to say that when it comes to deciding whether to be a stay-at-home-mom or a working mom, there's no right (or wrong) decision. That we have to respect other people's choices, and if we feel we're superior to them because of the decision we've made for ourselves, then we're probably just trying to hide our own feelings of inferiority and dissonance with the choice we've made.

My favorite paragraph in the entire article is this: ".....tough as it sounds, that we cannot turn on our babies and burden them with accusations. Here, I did all this because of you, gave up so much because of you, made so many sacrifices to give you a good, better, best life. Nobody asked you to. So just shut up already, yes?"

I see this happening all the time, particularly when it comes to the child making a choice of career his parents might be opposed to, or in our great Indian society, the choice of a partner. And I think it's completely unfair on the child.

For all the talk about how people want to experience the miracle of creating life, it can't be denied that people have kids for very selfish reasons. They want a child to carry on their family name, to inherit and tend to their assets after they're gone, and most importantly to take care of them when they're old. So they really do need to remember that they have no right to emotionally blackmail the child into doing what they want him/her to do by counting the number of things they've done for him/her and the sacrifices they've made. No one asked them to have a child and do any of it; they did it all completely out of their own volition.

Me, I have taken the easier way out and decided I don't want kids. But for those of you women who are/plan to become mothers, hop over to Parul's blog and read her post.

There. My good deed for the day.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Some Cribbing and a Cupful of Desire

I don't like kids. Particularly in restaurants, movie theaters, airplanes & my house.

Gaaah, who am I kidding? I don't like kids anywhere, period. They are generally crying, wailing, throwing tantrums, misbehaving, destroying/messing up things around them, or acting like monsters. Not to mention they are major attention seekers. But more than kids, I can't stand parents who don't know how to/won't control their kids in public places.

Last weekend, we went for dinner to this nice restaurant where I had the most decadent dessert, but more on that after I'm done cribbing about kids.

There was a kid running around the restaurant while his parents were chatting away with friends at a table next to ours. He would often come and start running around our table. We tried scaring him away with angry looks but he just wouldn't leave us alone. And then he started poking his finger into our food!

So imagine you've gone to a really nice restaurant with your partner/friend/family/whoever and all you want is a quiet, sumptuous meal with lots of nice conversation and there's this random kid who comes over and starts poking his finger into your food! What would you do?

We turned around and asked the mother to get a hold on him, and this takes the cake - her reply was "shayad woh khana chahta hai, thoda khila dijiye na (maybe he wants to have some of your food, feed him some"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I just stared at her open-mouthed. When I finally managed to pick my jaw up off the floor, I told her that I wasn't there to feed her kid. Neither were the other people in the restaurant. And if she couldn't control him at a public place, she had no business bringing him to one.

At this point, the manager intervened and thankfully, he had the sense to point out to the harebrained woman that there were perfectly behaved little kids at other tables as well, so could she please look after hers as he wanted everyone at the restaurant to have an enjoyable meal, and moreover, the kid might hurt himself by falling/running into furniture?

I was impressed by this man.

While we are on the topic of kids, I got a little shock this morning.

I ran into two of my neighbors who have 1 year old kids. They were going to drop their kids off at school!!!

I asked them what kind of school exists for 1 year olds and apparently, it's a play school that starts at 9 and ends at 12. But isn't 12 months too young for a child to be going to ANY kind of school? And both of these women are stay-at-home moms, so why do they need to be sending their child to school anyway?

I tactfully enquired whether they thought the child was old enough to be sent to school and they blatantly replied that they do it so they can get some peace in the morning and get household chores out of the way, pack their husbands off to work and get their pujas & what not done.

I mean, this really pisses me off. Everyone has the right to "peace" but if peace is so important to you, DON'T.FUCKING.HAVE.KIDS.

When you decide to have a kid, you undoubtedly & unequivocally give up your right to "peace" at least for a few years. It's like people have this pressure to procreate and then the kid can go to hell.

Why do people have kids when they can't take care of them? Gets my goat every single time.

Phew! So now that we're done cribbing about pesky, annoying kids, let me tell you about the mindblowing dessert that I had at the restaurant. Chocolate fondant with crushed peanuts and butterscotch ice-cream with peanut and salted caramel. Oh man, it was orgasmic.

For non-food connoisseurs, the fondant was essentially a cupful of molten chocolate, baked so it was slightly crusted on top. It had crushed peanuts in it and I love peanut butter, Reeses peanut butter cups and peanut Snickers, so I really enjoyed it. The crushed peanuts gave the molten chocolate a slight crunch as well as a slightly salty, nutty taste. The butterscotch ice cream was equally good. It too contained crushed peanuts and was drizzled with a salted caramel sauce. You couldn't help but moan with every bite.

I'm not much of a picture taker (basically I'm just a lazy person!) so I don't have pictures of this mouth-watering dessert. But here's an idea of what it looked like. All that the picture below is missing are tiny bits of peanuts and a drizzle of salted caramel sauce :)

Picture courtesy: http://blog.5min.com/

Baby Steps in the World of Cooking : Creme Anglaise with a Strawberry Reduction

I finally came good on my plans to make this dessert. I've been planning to make it for the past 2-3 weeks but never got around to it. Then I saw a box of strawberries at the supermarket on Saturday and I knew this was my chance to make it.

Creme Anglaise, or English Cream, is an English custard made with milk & eggs. In theory, it sounds easy. Milk, egg yolk, sugar, vanilla essence. How tough can it be?

Well, I wouldn't say it's tought but it's quite labor intensive b/c you're adding hot milk to egg yolks and then cooking the mixture directly over heat, so there's a very good chance your eggs will scramble and you'll end up with scrambled egg in milk! Yuck!

So what do you do to prevent the eggs from scrambling? You whisk...and whisk...and whisk...

Don't let this put you off though. It's a yummy dessert. So here's the recipe for Creme Anglaise with a Strawberry Reduction.

For Creme Anglaise:
Milk - 200 ml
Egg yolk - 2
Sugar - 2-3 tbsp depending on how sweet you like your custard
Vanilla essence - 2 tsp (It would be ideal to use vanilla bean or pure vanilla extract but they're not readily available in every city, so vanilla essence will do)

For the Strawberry Reduction:
Strawberries - 100 gm
Sugar - 1 tbsp

  • Boil the milk. On the other hand, whisk the egg yolks till they are light yellow in color. The bad news is you can't use an electric whisker b/c you don't want to get too much air in, so this must be done by hand. And it takes a while.
  • While whisking, keep mixing in the sugar. I used powdered sugar so it's easier to dissolve.
  • Once the egg yolks are light yellow in color, start adding the milk bit by bit to the egg & sugar mixture. Keep whisking with the other hand b/c the milk is hot and you don't want the eggs to scramble.
  • Once you've added in all the milk, put the mixture on low heat and cook while stirring continuously (again to prevent the eggs from scrambling). The idea is to cook the mixture till it reaches the desired consistency without bringing it to a boil. Technically, the temperature should be between 75-80 celsius. You can keep a tab on the temperature with a food thermometer if you have one. I don't, so I just stayed alert. A sign your mixture has gotten too hot is if it starts sputtering at the bottom. If that happens, remove the mixture from the gas and stir for a few minutes to let the excess heat out. Then replace on gas and cook till it reaches the desired consistency. REMEMBER, DO NOT LET YOUR CUSTARD BOIL.
  • A way to test that your custard is done is to run a finger down the back of the spoon with which you've been stirring. It should leave a clean line (ie. the custard should not be runny).
  • For the strawberry reduction, chop the strawberries into small pieces. Add the sugar in 2-3 tbsp water and heat it on the gas till the sugar dissolves. Add the strawberries and cook for 2-3 mins, stirring continuously. You will get this lovely thick strawberry sauce with small chunks of strawberries. 2-3 mins would be enough as strawberries soften easily.
  • Pour the custard on to a slice of pound cake or chocolate cake if you like the combination of chocolate & strawberry. Garnish with a generous helping of the strawberry sauce.
I did take pictures with my Blackberry but the lighting was really bad, so the pictures didn't do justice to the dish. So I'm putting pictures of what the end product would look like.



Picture courtesy: http://www.recipetips.com/, http://myrecipes.com/

Friday, December 3, 2010

License to Cook?

Since we are in a food zone, let me draw your attention to this article (courtesy The Knife).

Olive Bar & Kitchen in Bandra was never one of my favorite places to eat out in Mumbai inspite of it being the place to be seen at or its proximity to my house. I much preferred its neighbor, Out of the Blue, with its laid-back ambience, mouth-watering pastas, baked cheesecakes and live music on Sunday afternoons.

I've been watching a number of food based shows of late, and I've developed a strong admiration for Western chefs. Their cooking techniques are so evolved, their knowledge of flavors that will and won't work together so strong, and they can conjure up dishes that Indian chefs would probably not even have heard of!

But that's because developed countries have a much more evolved food scene as compared to India. Chefs are valued, celebrated even. There are proper culinary schools to train them in the techniques as well as the art of cooking, followed by an internship under a professional chef.



Reading this article kind of shocked me and was also painful at some level because it confirms what I suspected about Indian restaurants but hoped would be untrue - that the cooks working in restaurant kitchens in India are untrained. In fact, they can't be called chefs at all.

This article talks about how these cooks do not undergo any formal training in cooking. They are barely taught about food. Their training consists merely of showing them pictures of various dishes and leaving them to learn on their own, often by watching the head chef at work.

The proof of such shoddy training lies in the gruel that we are served at most restaurants in India, including fine-dining ones. Oily, over-spiced Indian food, Chinese dishes that are dunked in sauces, pastas floating in cheese. Any Western chef worth his salt will scrunch up his nose at such monstrosities, forget serving them to his customers.

The background of Indian chefs is equally to blame for the quality of food they dish out. Spices dominate the food cooked in Indian homes and vegetables are cooked till they become almost gloopy. The oven is the most under-utilized gadget in Indian kitchens. This is how the cooks grow up watching their mothers/grandmothers cook, and since no one bothers to train them otherwise, this becomes their general notion of food.

Watch a Western chef at his job and you'll learn to appreciate the beauty of food. They let the ingredients do the talking. Spices and seasoning are used just for flavor. And texture, which they get from using different kinds of side ingredients apart from the core one, is as important as flavor. They cook the vegetables only upto a point that it's tender enough to eat so it retains most of its flavor. Poaching, oven-roasting and grilling are also widely used techniques to cook meat to enhance its flavor. Not everything is fried or cooked directly on the flame.


My other pet peeve at restaurants is being served food that's made with ready-to-use sauces & marinades available in the market. I would like a chef to make his sauces & marinades from scratch because a) all the ingredients that go into Italian/Asian/Mexican sauces are available in India now, and b) if I wanted to eat something made with ready-to-use sauces, I could have cooked it at home! People don't pay for shortcuts at restaurants.

But then, it is our inherent tendency as a people to take short-cuts and dupe customers. An Indian businessman will try to cheat his customers to make a quick buck whenever he can find an opportunity. Restaurants are no exception.

Maybe I need to stop watching food-based shows? They're going to ruin my eating out experiences for life! I will never find any restaurant good enough :(



Photographs Courtesy: http://www.masterchef.com.au/

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Cute Little Love Story

There are some memories that will always stay with you because they fill your heart with warmth every time you think of them.

I was 18 and had just moved to the US for college. He was 18 too and had moved to the UK. We had e-mail but for some strange reason we'd write each other letters. On those blue inland letters (remember?).

I honestly don't remember why we wrote letters but there was a certain kind of intimacy in receiving a letter from the person you loved and who loved you. Or make that lots of letters because he wrote lots! I think he wrote every other day because I'd receive 2-3 letters every week!

I'd rush back from class with huge anticipation. The first thing I'd do once back to my dorm was to run to my mailbox and check for his letters. I'd be elated when I found one. I'd read and re-read the letter until the next one came along. I'd be a little sad on days I had an empty mailbox. I think I'll always love him for that - for making my day countless number of times. Then I'd trudge to the post-office on campus, buy an inland letter myself and write back.

For all the writing to each other that happened then, we aren't even in touch now. Life changes and how! I'm vaguely aware of what's going on in his life thanks to mutual friends but I haven't seen him or spoken to him in ten years and sometimes I really miss him. There's something about 'first love' that you just can't shake off no matter how much you try. It just never lets go of you.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Envy

A massive rock for engagement, a mansion in London & a holy friggin' cricket team as a wedding present, honeymoon in the Caribbean, and a flat in the tallest building in the world as a first anniversary present (just because you saw the building and wished aloud that it would be nice to have a house there!). Next is what....a private island off the coast of France? A personal jet?

Who needs love when marrying for money can be so much more rewarding?

Guess it's time to re-think my priorities!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Saturday Night Horror

One of my pet peeves at a restaurant - and I mean something that turns me off completely and seals the deal as far as going back to the restaurant is concerned - is poor service. Service at a restaurant is as important for me as the food. It's 50-50. Unless I'm going to a low-end restaurant of course.

There's a new restaurant in town that's been advertizing pretty heavily in the papers of late. It's called 'Harvey's World Cuisine'.

Now, good "world cuisine" is something not readily available in this city outside of 5-star hotels. In fact, the phrase "world cuisine" is kind of a misnomer in itself as it stands mainly for Indian, Chinese and maybe Continental, if the owners of the restaurant are brave. The same holds true for Harvey's, except they have a couple of Thai and Mexican dishes thrown in as well to justify the "world cuisine" claim. The focus seems to be on Indian and Chinese though, as we weren't given the Continental menu till we asked for it, and most of the Continental dishes on the menu were not being served on the day we went. It was a Saturday night. Go figure.

Coming back to the point of this post - the service at Harvey's was pathetic.

Now, I'm not crazy. I don't expect 5-star level service at a non-5 star restaurant. But there are some basic things that I do expect such as a clean floor, plates without a layer of dust on them, water glasses being refilled without having to call out to the waiters everytime, appetizers being brought out before (and not after) the main course, hot food and desserts that are not burnt. Waiters who know their menu would also be nice. Harvey's failed to deliver on all of these counts.

The decor was really nice with white, wood and glass dominating the interiors but the entire floor was dirty. No one bothered to clean it up. The plates on our table had a layer of dust (!!) on them. The waiters didn't know their menu, didn't know if a dish was served with or without rice, and wouldn't refill our glasses with water unless we called out to them.

Since we were having Asian food, I requested our waiter to check with the chef if the sauteed vegetables that came with my dish could be replaced with stir fried vegetables (since when is Japanese food served with sauteed vegetables anyway?). He refused to even check!

And guess what they did after that?

They brought out our main course before the appetizer!!!!

If that's not a faux pas at a restaurant, blunder rather, I don't know what is. We told them to take the main course back and bring it after they'd served our starter. They did but they didn't bother to heat the dishes before bringing them back out. We were served cold chicken teriyaki and stir-fried prawns (that weren't stir-fried but doused in Chinese sauces). By then we were pretty pissed off to ask them to take the food back and heat it. That's not something I want to ask a restaurant to do! We didn't finish our meal and thought we'd make up for it with dessert. Once again, half the things mentioned on the dessert menu weren't available, so I ordered a brownie.

Now, how wrong can you go with a brownie?

Very wrong apparently, if you're Harvey's. The brownie was hard as rock. I couldn't cut it even with a knife. So I broke off a piece to check what it tasted like. It was burnt.

We complained to the manager. He apologized but didn't look sorry. We asked for the bill. They had charged us for bottled water which we never ordered. But that's a mistake I'm willing to forgive. I don't expect to have to check my bill at a restaurant, but I've been billed wrongly so many times that I don't mind checking.

There's no excuse for such pathetic levels of service though. Especially given that Harvey's is not exactly a low-end restaurant. A meal for two consisting of a starter, two main course dishes and a dessert cost us Rs 1000. Dirty floor, dusty plates, cold food, rock hard brownies and dumb waiters were complimentary. Needless to say I'm not going back. Neither am I recommending the place to anyone.

Saying 'No' to Jeans

Sometimes you read/watch/hear people spouting such crap that you really wonder what the fuck is wrong with them!

First there was Aishwarya Rai on the season's opening episode of Koffee With Karan. Apart from giggling away to glory and talking in an accent she seems to have acquired on a trip to Mars, she was desperately trying to sound cool by trying to talk about her sex life - or the lack thereof - on TV.

I say 'lack thereof' b/c if she's anything in the bedroom like she is in front of the camera - read cold and plastic - there's not much sex that would be happening inside the bedroom.

Why would someone who comes across as icy in all her interviews and rebuffs all attempts by journalists to pry into her personal life, suddenly ask Karan Johar if she should disclose how she & her husband make out, in print? And then, when K Jo asks her which men, apart from her husband, she finds attractive, she looks horrified and wonders how she could even be asked something like that, as if answering the question would've resulted in her dying on the spot and burning in hell. Because, you know, she's a Bhartiya nari who cannot dream of any man save her husband in her wildest, wettest dreams!

For God's sake she wasn't asked to name the men, apart from her husband, that she'd jump or even consider sleeping with. She was only asked who she found attractive, and if she truly isn't attracted to any other man, she surely is frigid.

Then there was Deepika Padukone on the same show, tearing her ex-boyfriend apart b/c he cheated on her repeatedly. She went to the extent of saying that he should endorse condoms b/c he loves to use them. While her intention quite clearly was to hang him to dry in the media, what she overlooked was the possibility that by discussing his sexual escapades in public she was also shedding enough light on her sexual life, and also on the fact that she's a slow learner if not a complete dimwit.

Any woman with half a brain would know that if a man cheats on her once, he'll do so again. You forgive him once, you forgive him a second time, but if you keep taking him back again & again, it's not he who's the one with issues here - it's quite clearly you. Because you haven't learnt your lesson.

Then there's the granddaddy of all 'what the fucks' - Mr Subhash Ghai. He thinks that youngsters should not wear jeans anymore b/c jeans corrupt them.



You read it right.

Jeans. Corrupt. Youngsters.

This is the same Subhash Ghai who showed Sridevi in a swim suit in 'Karma' and Madhuri Dixit heaving her generous bosom in a barely-there choli in 'Khalnayak'. The same Subhash Ghai who raised the most profound question ever asked of Indians - choli ke peeche kya hai (what's under the blouse?).

I'm sure according to him the answer was Indian family values.

I can understand why Subhash Ghai has lost it though. If you made movies like 'Good Boy, Bad Boy', 'Apna Sapna Money Money' and 'Yuvraj' that tanked faster than the Titanic, you'd be losing it too. And thinking that a nation's character gets eroded by the kind of pants that its citizens choose to wear.

Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with these people?

Or maybe they're tripping on some really good stuff!!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

BBC's Top 100 Books

Tagged by Moonshine. This is a list of the top 100 books published by BBC. According to them, an average reader has read 6 of these. I've highlighted the ones I've read. Let's count!

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald

24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams

27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma -Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Inferno - Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare (In school)
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

That's 30!!! Wow...I'm impressed with myself.

Which ones have you read?

And I'm tagging Bluestocking and Supernova. And anyone else who wants to take it up. Just let me know when you're done :)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Of Rotten Luck & Conspiring Forces

So I've been bitten by the cooking bug big time. My mom almost did a flip when she heard this because, you know, until a few months ago I never ventured near the kitchen unless it was to make tea, Maggi or scrambled eggs. I was always the kind of person that thought cooking is literally burning your time away. I thought cooking was for women who had mothers-in-law from hell and chauvinist husbands who believed that a woman's true position is in the kitchen. Cooking wasn't for liberated, independent women like me. I was meant for take-outs & ordering-in.

And then I met The Knife! Well, started reading his blog to be precise. He got me interested in food. And then I started watching shows by Nigella, Rachel Allen & Curtis Stone. And then came Masterchef Australia and I was hooked...on to food. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined such a day would come. But here it is, well and truly. And The Boy has been asking why I spend time watching such shows when I don't learn anything from them. All very good-naturedly, of course.

So I've been intending to cook some gourmet kind of thing (yeah right!) since three weekends now. I have elaborate plans to cook an appetizer, a main course and dessert. And I've been dying to cook Asian food - one of those light, springy, sweet & salty chicken dishes. You know, something with a light broth...or some fancy reduction...or jus! But each weekend my plans go for a toss.

The first time around I didn't get the time to look up a recipe in advance and by the time the weekend came, I had too many errands to run and couldn't get around to looking something up. The second weekend, I got so tired after gymming on Saturday, I spent a major part of the day sleeping! Sunday passed in the excitement of watching Harry Potter (yes, we belong to that group of people, lovingly, or disparangingly, depending on which side of the fence you're on, called Pottermaniacs that get excited about the Potter books & movies). And this weekend, just as I sat down to find a recipe, my internet crashed! It's up & running now but it's too late to go shopping for ingredients.

Rotten luck and conspiring forces, I tell you. And it pervades through life. For the same reason, I haven't even been able to blog in a week now! There are so many topics doing the hampster dance in my head...Masterchef Australia, 'The Social Network', 'Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows', Big Boss, Koffee with Karan and a tag by Moonshine. But I've been swamped with work and haven't had the time to write. Such injustice! But now my head is above water and I'm going to get back to blogging with a vengeance. Eat that, you work monster!

Till then, enjoy your Saturday guys. And please send me some positive vibes to counter the conspiring forces. And may the Force be with you too!

Friday, November 19, 2010

The 500th Post

So here it is.....the 500th post!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I thought a lot about all that I could write to make this post special - what blogging has come to mean to me, the way I've changed, and in certain aspects grown, over the past three years that I've been blogging etc. But then I realized that the best thing blogging has given me is FRIENDS!

No, I'm not one of those people who live their lives online and therefore, have more virtual friends than real ones. But blogging has given me some new friends, such as The Knife, and helped cement my friendship with some others, such as Moonshine. Then there are some who I don't know personally but enjoy reading immensely, such as Mumbai Diva, Mommie & Saltwater Blues (he's goddamn funny!).

Of course, there are the two people that I need to thank for getting me started - Serendipity who doesn't blog half as much as I'd like her to and Staarin' who doesn't blog at all (or at least at a location I know of!).

To all of you reading this, thank you much for reading my blog. I hope you've had a good time. And here comes the best part, for me at least - if you read my blog and I don't know you do, SAY HI!! :)

Give the girl a pat on her back for reaching 500 posts, won't you? ;-)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

We're Expanding!!!!

I hope you guys had a very happy Diwali!

I just realized that this is my 499th post on this blog. Which means that my next post will be my 500th!!!!

Phew!!!!

It's a little hard to believe that I've sustained at blogging for so long (3 years). I guess that's because blogging acts as a big release for me. Whenever I feel the need to take a break from work or generally switch-off for a bit, I blog! Which is why my posts are almost always random and sometimes funny. I try to stay away from writing about serious issues unless it's something I strongly feel about. So let's see what I come up with for my 500th post. I don't have any ideas...all I know is that I've got to make it special, haven't I? :)

You know what I also realized? I've gained 4 kgs over the past 3 months!!!!!! Someone KILL.ME.NOW.

Honestly, I've no one to blame for this except myself. I haven't been to the gym in a month & a half and I've been eating out 2-3 times in a week. That's not all, I've been gobbling up all forms of desserts like the world's about to face a sugar crisis. Gobble gobble gobble...someone stop me!!

Unfortunately, I also realize that THAT someone will have to be me. Poor me :(

So I've decided that I'm going to apply emergency breaks on my eating habits and haul my ass to the gym, starting this weekend. Here's what I plan to do:

  1. I'm going to stick to my rule of 5-6 small meals a day rather than 3 big meals, but I'm going to put more thought into what I snack on in between my main meals. Though I'm generally healthy about this - I snack on carrots and fruits rather than fried stuff or junk food - there are times when I give in to temptation. THAT IS GOING TO STOP. I'm going to include more protein in my snacks such as nuts and yogurt.

  2. Contrary to what my physical trainer suggests, I can't call the chef out and talk to him everytime I visit a restaurant. I don't want to be "that" freak-show and I'd also rather not have all sorts of pots & pans hurled at me in a public situation. So I'm going to do the next best thing - I'm going to cut down on eating out. I get bored of home food very easily and end up eating out 2-3 times a week. This is one of my major major weaknesses and I really need to get a handle on it. I'm going to eat out only once a week.

  3. I'm going to cut down on desserts. I'll have them only when I'm having a real craving. There's always some - okay, alright, a lot - of chocolate sitting in my fridge. The idea was to get reverse psychology kicking in. If you have chocolate handy at all times, you know it's there when you want to have some, so you don't get cravings and you hardly end up eating any. This was my 'smartypants' logic. The problem was that this reverse psychology worked for a couple of months only. Now I pop in a mini-Bounty or mini-Snickers almost everyday!

  4. I'm going to eat my breakfast within an hour of waking up. I think I have a reasonably balanced breakfast consisting of toast, a boiled egg (without the yolk) and fruit juice, or a bowl of muesli with milk and fruit juice. The problem is I generally eat it 2 hours after waking up. I really need to get my metabolism kicking sooner than that.

  5. I'm going to stop my carb intake after 6pm. That means no rotis for dinner, only protein and produce.

  6. I'm going to try and keep a food diary and enter everything I eat into it religiously. That way I can keep track of how good I've been through the week and feel mortified whenever the fattening/junk food intake starts to spiral. Now I just need to whip up the discipline to do this!
  7. I will go to the gym regularly. I will go to the gym regularly. Repeat. If I don't, I'll become a butterball that can roll all the way from Ludhiana to Cochin with a single push, my clothes won't fit me anymore, I would need to be lifted with a crane, I won't get through doors without bringing the wall down and I'll need to ask the airhostess for an extra seat belt while flying! Oh, the horror!

Right, so 7 simple steps and hopefully the pounds will melt away, my jeans will clasp without me having to wrestle with them, my button-downs won't gape, and I won't have to take refuge in salwar-kameezes at work. And maybe, if I'm lucky, I'll also end up with a body like Bipasha Basu's!!

Now, that's something I'm willing to grovel for.

PS: I also just realized that I missed the 3rd birthday of my blog! I started blogging on October 31st three years ago. Happy Belated Birthday to 'Just Can't Get Enough' :)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Indian Hypocrisy Shines Through Yet Again

Just what is wrong if Mr Obama is against outsourcing jobs to India?

He is the President of the United States, it's his responsibility to worry about the rising unemployment levels and protect jobs in his country.

The United States government is doing what a good government is supposed to do - care for its citizens and ensure their well-being. It's OUR problem if our economy is so heavily dependent on outsourcing, not theirs.

There really is no reason for Indians to criticize him. How would we react if people from other Third World countries start emigrating to India for better jobs? We can't even tolerate people from UP & Bihar moving to Mumbai to work!

I can understand politicians jumping on to the anti-Obama wagon - they are populists. But why is the media and other educated thought leaders criticizing Obama for his anti-outsourcing stance? Why are we so eager to show to the world time & again what hypocrites we really are?

Don't Work. Avoid Telling the Truth. Be Hated. Love Someone.

This is a speech by Adrian Tan, author of 'The Teenage Textbook' (1988), that he made to the graduating class of 2008 at a university in Singapore. I found it interesting, so putting it up here. You may not agree with it but do let me know your reactions!

Note: I've taken the liberty to highlight parts that I particularly agreed with or that struck a chord.

-------

I must say thank you to the faculty and staff of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information for inviting me to give your convocation address. It’s a wonderful honour and a privilege for me to speak here for ten minutes without fear of contradiction, defamation or retaliation. I say this as a Singaporean and more so as a husband.

My wife is a wonderful person and perfect in every way except one. She is the editor of a magazine. She corrects people for a living. She has honed her expert skills over a quarter of a century, mostly by practising at home during conversations between her and me.

On the other hand, I am a litigator. Essentially, I spend my day telling people how wrong they are. I make my living being disagreeable.

Nevertheless, there is perfect harmony in our matrimonial home. That is because when an editor and a litigator have an argument, the one who triumphs is always the wife.

And so I want to start by giving one piece of advice to the men: when you’ve already won her heart, you don’t need to win every argument.

Marriage is considered one milestone of life. Some of you may already be married. Some of you may never be married. Some of you will be married. Some of you will enjoy the experience so much, you will be married many, many times. Good for you.

The next big milestone in your life is today: your graduation. The end of education. You’re done learning.

You’ve probably been told the big lie that “Learning is a lifelong process” and that therefore you will continue studying and taking masters’ degrees and doctorates and professorships and so on. You know the sort of people who tell you that? Teachers. Don’t you think there is some measure of conflict of interest? They are in the business of learning, after all. Where would they be without you? They need you to be repeat customers.

The good news is that they’re wrong.

The bad news is that you don’t need further education because your entire life is over. It is gone. That may come as a shock to some of you. You’re in your teens or early twenties. People may tell you that you will live to be 70, 80, 90 years old. That is your life expectancy.

I love that term: life expectancy. We all understand the term to mean the average life span of a group of people. But I’m here to talk about a bigger idea, which is what you expect from your life.

You may be very happy to know that Singapore is currently ranked as the country with the third highest life expectancy. We are behind Andorra and Japan, and tied with San Marino. It seems quite clear why people in those countries, and ours, live so long. We share one thing in common: our football teams are all hopeless. There’s very little danger of any of our citizens having their pulses raised by watching us play in the World Cup. Spectators are more likely to be lulled into a gentle and restful nap.

Singaporeans have a life expectancy of 81.8 years. Singapore men live to an average of 79.21 years, while Singapore women live more than five years longer, probably to take into account the additional time they need to spend in the bathroom.

So here you are, in your twenties, thinking that you’ll have another 40 years to go. Four decades in which to live long and prosper.

Bad news. Read the papers. There are people dropping dead when they’re 50, 40, 30 years old. Or quite possibly just after finishing their convocation. They would be very disappointed that they didn’t meet their life expectancy.

I’m here to tell you this. Forget about your life expectancy.

After all, it’s calculated based on an average. And you never, ever want to expect being average.

Revisit those expectations. You might be looking forward to working, falling in love, marrying, raising a family. You are told that, as graduates, you should expect to find a job paying so much, where your hours are so much, where your responsibilities are so much.

That is what is expected of you. And if you live up to it, it will be an awful waste.

If you expect that, you will be limiting yourself. You will be living your life according to boundaries set by average people. I have nothing against average people. But no one should aspire to be them. And you don’t need years of education by the best minds in Singapore to prepare you to be average.

What you should prepare for is mess. Life’s a mess. You are not entitled to expect anything from it. Life is not fair. Everything does not balance out in the end. Life happens, and you have no control over it. Good and bad things happen to you day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. Your degree is a poor armour against fate.

Don’t expect anything. Erase all life expectancies. Just live. Your life is over as of today. At this point in time, you have grown as tall as you will ever be, you are physically the fittest you will ever be in your entire life and you are probably looking the best that you will ever look. This is as good as it gets. It is all downhill from here. Or up. No one knows.

What does this mean for you? It is good that your life is over.

Since your life is over, you are free. Let me tell you the many wonderful things that you can do when you are free.

The most important is this: do not work.

Work is anything that you are compelled to do. By its very nature, it is undesirable.

Work kills. The Japanese have a term “Karoshi”, which means death from overwork. That’s the most dramatic form of how work can kill. But it can also kill you in more subtle ways. If you work, then day by day, bit by bit, your soul is chipped away, disintegrating until there’s nothing left. A rock has been ground into sand and dust.

There’s a common misconception that work is necessary. You will meet people working at miserable jobs. They tell you they are “making a living”. No, they’re not. They’re dying, frittering away their fast-extinguishing lives doing things which are, at best, meaningless and, at worst, harmful.

People will tell you that work ennobles you, that work lends you a certain dignity. Work makes you free. The slogan “Arbeit macht frei” was placed at the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps. Utter nonsense.

Do not waste the vast majority of your life doing something you hate so that you can spend the small remainder sliver of your life in modest comfort. You may never reach that end anyway.

Resist the temptation to get a job. Instead, play. Find something you enjoy doing. Do it. Over and over again. You will become good at it for two reasons: you like it, and you do it often. Soon, that will have value in itself.

I like arguing, and I love language. So, I became a litigator. I enjoy it and I would do it for free. If I didn’t do that, I would’ve been in some other type of work that still involved writing fiction – probably a sports journalist.

So what should you do? You will find your own niche. I don’t imagine you will need to look very hard. By this time in your life, you will have a very good idea of what you will want to do. In fact, I’ll go further and say the ideal situation would be that you will not be able to stop yourself pursuing your passions. By this time you should know what your obsessions are. If you enjoy showing off your knowledge and feeling superior, you might become a teacher.

Find that pursuit that will energise you, consume you, become an obsession. Each day, you must rise with a restless enthusiasm. If you don’t, you are working.

Most of you will end up in activities which involve communication. To those of you I have a second message: be wary of the truth. I’m not asking you to speak it, or write it, for there are times when it is dangerous or impossible to do those things. The truth has a great capacity to offend and injure, and you will find that the closer you are to someone, the more care you must take to disguise or even conceal the truth. Often, there is great virtue in being evasive, or equivocating. There is also great skill. Any child can blurt out the truth, without thought to the consequences. It takes great maturity to appreciate the value of silence.

In order to be wary of the truth, you must first know it. That requires great frankness to yourself. Never fool the person in the mirror.

I have told you that your life is over, that you should not work, and that you should avoid telling the truth. I now say this to you: be hated.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. Do you know anyone who hates you? Yet every great figure who has contributed to the human race has been hated, not just by one person, but often by a great many. That hatred is so strong it has caused those great figures to be shunned, abused, murdered and in one famous instance, nailed to a cross.

One does not have to be evil to be hated. In fact, it’s often the case that one is hated precisely because one is trying to do right by one’s own convictions. It is far too easy to be liked, one merely has to be accommodating and hold no strong convictions. Then one will gravitate towards the centre and settle into the average. That cannot be your role. There are a great many bad people in the world, and if you are not offending them, you must be bad yourself. Popularity is a sure sign that you are doing something wrong.

The other side of the coin is this: fall in love.

I didn’t say “be loved”. That requires too much compromise. If one changes one’s looks, personality and values, one can be loved by anyone.

Rather, I exhort you to love another human being. It may seem odd for me to tell you this. You may expect it to happen naturally, without deliberation. That is false. Modern society is anti-love. We’ve taken a microscope to everyone to bring out their flaws and shortcomings. It far easier to find a reason not to love someone, than otherwise. Rejection requires only one reason. Love requires complete acceptance. It is hard work – the only kind of work that I find palatable.

Loving someone has great benefits. There is admiration, learning, attraction and something which, for the want of a better word, we call happiness. In loving someone, we become inspired to better ourselves in every way. We learn the true worthlessness of material things. We celebrate being human. Loving is good for the soul.

Loving someone is therefore very important, and it is also important to choose the right person. Despite popular culture, love doesn’t happen by chance, at first sight, across a crowded dance floor. It grows slowly, sinking roots first before branching and blossoming. It is not a silly weed, but a mighty tree that weathers every storm.

You will find, that when you have someone to love, that the face is less important than the brain, and the body is less important than the heart.

You will also find that it is no great tragedy if your love is not reciprocated. You are not doing it to be loved back. Its value is to inspire you.

Finally, you will find that there is no half-measure when it comes to loving someone. You either don’t, or you do with every cell in your body, completely and utterly, without reservation or apology. It consumes you, and you are reborn, all the better for it.

Don’t work. Avoid telling the truth. Be hated. Love someone.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

When Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

Hanging out with girls can be the most fun. Boys can simply never match up :)

I went for a karaoke night with two of my girl friends yesterday at this new pub/lounge in town. I must admit I expected a great deal out of it, but that's b/c I'd recently been to an awesome karaoke night in Bangalore.

Well, what can I say except that I should've known better. As it turned out, our DJ, who incidentally came from Bangalore, claimed to be the "best karaoke DJ in India" and went by the tagline of "software engineer turned heartware entrepreneur" had left his flash drive with all his English songs somewhere. So what we were left with were really sad Bollywood songs such as 'raat kali ek khwab mein aayi' and 'pyaar deewana hota hai', which are great songs to hear when you want to have a quiet evening at home but not stuff you want to sing at karaokes. But we had no choice other than to make the most of what we had since we'd already paid a rather high cover charge.

The three of us started singing songs on stage. To put things in perspective, I never sing at karaokes b/c I can't sing to save my life. I don't even sing in the bathroom! But there was no other way to enjoy our evening. We sang songs such as 'tu tu hai wahi', 'roop tera mastana', 'kajrare' and 'desi girls'. I'm sure the other people there thought we were tripping on some really good stuff b/c we were volunteering to sing the most number of songs! But sometimes things can be so bad that they become fun in their own way. And we did end up having a great time, inspite of the DJ who kept snatching our mike away in the middle of songs to sing himself. Thank God for the unlimited alcohol!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Opus

There's a pub in Bangalore that you should check out if you're visiting the city (or live there but haven't been to it yet). It's called Opus and is run by Carlton Braganza, a Goan. I don't need to tell you much about the place - you can check it out yourself as they have their own website, blog and how cool is this - their own 24x7 internet radio!

Opus is a laid-back pub. The layout is very Goan and resembles a beach setting - open air, pebbled floor, low stone tables with floor cushions, white color scheme. The music can range from hip hop to rock to retro to reggae to pretty much anything, depending on public demand.

I went there on a Sunday evening with Moonshine & her husband. It was karaoke night and I was surprised to see how full the place was! Most people were singing really well. I was then informed that many of those people were regulars at Opus' karaoke nights. Of course, there were croakers too, but nobody cared because everyone was having such a good time singing along (the lyrics are flashed on a screen).

The start to the evening was a little mellow but nice. Then someone sang 'I've got a feeling' and everyone was on their toes. The party just kept getting wilder after that. I didn't know karaoke could be so much fun!

It's not only music that Opus has to offer though. They stage plays, have quiz nights and regular music nights as well (Friday & Saturday I believe?). You can check out their calender here. The food is mainly Goan with a couple of Chinese & continental dishes thrown in, and is lip-smacking. The drinks are good too.

Talking of partying, one of the funny things age does to you is that it kind of turns you off partying. You know, the kind where you just want to get drunk and dance till your feet can't support you any longer. I haven't indulged in that kind of partying in over 3 years now, and to think that I always thought I'd be one of those rare people who'd party even when she was in her 40s! I much prefer "lounging" now; I like to hang out with friends at lounge bars with a couple of drinks and music that I like in the background (not the overpowering kinds that doesn't let you make conversation). Or a langurous dinner.

There was of course a time when I used to party 2-3 nights a week. I was in college then. Once I started working the frequency dwindled and now as I said, I haven't partied in more than 3 years! But, I'm about to break that jinx this weekend with my small gang of girl friends. We're having a girls' night out where there will be alcohol and there'll be music and there'll be dancing till our stilletoes...or the city cops...allow us to!

Monday, November 1, 2010

It's Diwali Week!


This week (Diwali week) is one of my favorite weeks of the year, the other being the week leading up to Christmas. I love Diwali, really do. Just like Christmas engulfs one with warmth, Diwali brings me happiness - the uncomparable happiness of being with family. That the entire city is lit up and homes are aglow with candles/diyas only adds to the festivities.

This year though, I won't be with family over Diwali :( I'll be on my lonesome onesome, but that hasn't stopped me from lighting up my house. Yes, the lights are up in my house! They make the ambience so festive. And in the spirit of the festival, I've decided that I'll try to wear saris to work as many days as I can this week. It's very unlike me, I know, but the fact is that I really do need to get comfortable in a sari and the festivities around are giving me a good reason to wear them!

Seriously though, I see women gliding in saris all around me. They wear it so gracefully and carry it with such ease, you'd think they were born wearing it. I, on the other hand, cannot wear it for eight hours without getting murderous thoughts in my mind. Saris are annoying. First of all, there's so much cloth around you. I'm not used to so much cloth. Secondly, it's loose everywhere so you're constantly fretting about whether it's ballooning and making you look like a butterball or coming out from different sides. And third, it's so bloody difficult to climb in & out of a car wearing a sari. I somehow manage to clamber in and tumble out.

Saris may not be fun but Diwalis definitely are. So if I don't see you lovely people before Diwali on this space, you have yourselves a very Happy Diwali and a big truckload of happiness :)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It's That Damned Day Again

Today is Karva Chauth. Married women will go without food or water the entire day, supposedly for the longevity and well-being of their husbands. Regular readers of this blog would know just what I feel about such "festivals" - regressive and sexist doesn't even begin to cover it.

No argument in this world can justify Karva Chauth to me. Some might argue that fasting is a healthy thing to do anyway, as it de-toxifies your system. My counter-argument would be : fast any other day then. Why this day in particular?

Others might argue that they fast b/c it's expected of them by their in-laws and it's a small price to pay to keep everyone happy. My question to them would be - why should it be the woman's happiness that must be sacrificed for the happiness of others?

Yet others might say that their husbands too fast with them, so it's only fair. To them I would say - no, it's still not fair. A husband that really cares about you will put his foot down and make it clear to his family that his wife will not suffer in such manner.

Really, Karva Chauth is another one of those ancient Hindu traditions that were introduced into society to ensure that women remain second to men. And this is no feminist's argument - this is what any rational mind would argue. Diefying men ensured that women would remain servile and wouldn't become a threat to them (men). Isn't it about time we stood up for ourselves and said 'No' to such non-sensical traditions?

If you really wish your husband to have a long and healthy life, reduce the amount of fat and cholestrol you feed him everyday. Send him on walks/jogs regularly so he can get rid of his pot belly. Make him do things around the house rather than vegetating on the couch with the remote in his hand all evening. Have sex more often - it's good for your health and your marriage! And if you're still insistent on celebrating this day, do it in a different way - round up a gang of girlfriends and have a day of fun. Watch a chick flick, gossip, bitch, eat good food, shop, go to the spa together...because women tend to forget to care for themselves once they get married.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Masterchef India : The Verdict

Masterchef is a one of its kind cookery-based reality show where amateur cooks who have no food industry experience but a passion for cooking, fight for the title of ‘the best cook of the country’, a.k.a. Masterchef. The show has been running super successfully in the U.K. and Australia and has now started airing in India.

The format has been adapted to the Indian market which means that the show is going to have liberal doses of emotions and melodrama. Because, you know, India is a land of excessively emotional people who need melodrama in everything. Drama constitutes a large part of our daily diet. Or so the channel airing the show and the show's producers would like us to believe. So, if you're expecting Masterchef India to be anything like Masterchef Australia, which is currently being aired on Star World, you're in for a major disappointment. As I was :(

For one, India is the only country in the world where Masterchef is hosted by a Bollywood actor. Now, by no means is AK a food connoissuer. He may have worked briefly as a chef in Thailand (that too was decades ago, mind you) but he would not have the kind of culinary expertise that continuing professional chefs would have. The two chefs on the show - Ajay Chopra of Goa Marriott & Kunal Kapoor of Leela Gurgaon - are merely there to save face, so the show can "legally" claim to have stuck to the Masterchef format if ever taken to court by the owners of the format. The chefs are completely sidelined - most of the challenges are thrown and judged by AK. In fact, in one of the episodes AK was even described as "the most talented chef in India". What a joke!

There is a lot of emotion, drama and religion on the show because, you know, this is India. Participants on MC Australia rarely shed tears except when they've been eliminated. The judges don't kiss or hug them either when they make something delicious. Neither do they run to the pantry with contestants.

While the judges of MC Australia criticize each dish specifically mentioning it's flaws/strengths, all AK does is mouth cheesy lines such as 'meri kamiyabi ki buniyad cooking hai' (really now?), 'khana nahi, jeena aur marna ban jayega', 'jung maidan mein ho ya kitchen mein, chahiye himmat', 'aapke husband show dekh rahe honge, aap unse kuch kehna chahengi?' Puke.

Then there is the compulsory dose of religion that must feature in every Indian reality show. A lot of “wahe guru” happened on the first weekend, and one aspirant put a napkin over her head and prayed when she arrived before the jury. Tons of punjabi bonding happens as well. Aunties say things like 'yeh apron meri izzat hai'. More gag.

The participants on MC India 'ooh' and 'aah' every time AK appears, as if he and not cooking is the reason they are there. Thank God AK sticks to the script, rather than obliging fawning star-struck fans.

Finally, given the quality and background of contestants on the show, I seriously doubt we'll be seeing any world/international cuisine being cooked. Unlike in MC Australia where invention tests often revolve around Japanese, Indian, Spanish, American, British, Mexican, Asian or French cuisine, I have a feeling MC India will revolve around Indian cuisine only.

Clearly, the makers of Masterchef India are confused as to which direction they want to steer the show in. Or are they? Read this quote by Anupam Vasudev, executive vice-president, STAR Plus, "MasterChef India is not a cookery show. It is a competitive game show with cookery happening in the background." (Source: http://www.afaqs.com/)

That says it all about MC India. It kind of seals the fate of the show, at least as far as I am concerned.

As far as I know, Masterchef Australia never claims to be anything but a cookery show, and it definitely doesn't attempt to put cooking in the background. Cooking and chefs are the mainstay as well as the backbone of the show. Kind of goes to prove how Indian channel heads misuse the right to "adapt" a show to the Indian context.

A Serious Post After a Long Time

That's b/c I recently encountered two serious issues and I must write about them.

Someone I know recently got married and moved countries to live with her husband. They had been dating for 4-5 years before they got married. The guy used to mistreat her even before marriage - he would always talk down to her, wave her off whenever she tried to say something, and would make it abundantly clear that her opinions or what she thought about an issue didn't count. He did it in public frequently, so I'm assuming he did it in private as well.

I hear this has gotten worse after marriage, with him going to the extent of saying that things will happen the way he wants since he's the one bringing home the bacon (she has recently moved on a dependant visa and hasn't been able to find a job there yet).

Given, the guy is a jerk. He's an egotist and is used to being the center of attention in his family. His parents have lovingly overlooked his mistakes and issues, even as serious as drug addiction. His friends, more often than not, indulge him when he throws tantrums. He wants the universe to revolve around him. But I think a large part of the blame lies with the girl. It's not like her husband started mistreating her after marriage. That's how he's been speaking to her since the 2 years I've seen them together. More often than not, she'd accept it without a whimper. Sometimes she would object and they'd have a fight but things would go back to how they were. She got married to him knowing this was a serious issue in their lives - and it is an issue given that she cribs about it to people and has called mutual friends to help sort out the fights quite a few times. So my question is - shouldn't she have thought long and hard about whether he was the guy she wanted to marry? And made it abundantly clear to him right at the beginning of the relationship that she wouldn't be treated like a rag?

I think in situations where the man doesn't know how to treat his partner, it's up to the woman to make it clear how she expects to be treated. If she's taken shit lying down all her life, she has no right to complain later.

Many times, we end up marrying someone inspite of obvious issues in the relationship b/c we don't want to rock the boat, we dread being single, we think we won't find anyone ever again and we think it's too much of an effort to have to start from scratch with another person. What we don't realize is that the boat will get rocked sooner or later, and it will be that much more difficult to get off.

The second issue I want to talk about stems from something I saw at a doctor's clinic recently. A couple walked in with a severely asthmatic 8 year old child. The child had a terrible asthma attack and the parents had no clue how to give her first aid or stabilize her till the doctor saw her. According to them, she had been asthmatic since she was 1 year old, so it was shocking for me to see how clueless they were.

Asthma is a debilitating condition. There can be many triggers and medical aid may not always be available - for instance when you're traveling. It is imperative that parents of asthmatic children know how to administer first aid to their child to stabilize him/her a little bit at least till help arrives.

I'm not a doctor but one of the first things I've seen people do to asthmatics is to ask him/her to relax. When breathing problems start, we start panicking. Panic worsens the condition. Calming down will help alleviate it a little bit. If the doctor has prescribed an inhaler, carry it with you at all times (or put it in the child's bag is he/she is unaccompanied) and administer it as soon as you can. And please for Christ's sake know how to administer an inhaler correctly! The mouth has to be closed around the inhaler, not open. The parents of the child I saw at the clinic were pumping in the inhaler into the child's open mouth. Doesn't help. Inhalers come with a leaflet with pictorial instructions on how to use them. Read it. Or ask your doctor to demonstrate how to inhale correctly.

If you are a parent of an asthmatic child or know someone who is, please ensure that you/they can administer first aid to your/their child in case of an asthma attack. Shedding tears saying you don't know what to do is not going to help.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Foreboding

Of course, just when you're at the verge of a long weekend you must feel the sniffles coming on. The throat scratching. The head getting heavy. The body aching and begging to be left alone curled up in one corner of the bed.

You can feel the mercury rising within you.

You go down to the tea shop below your office for a steaming cup of ginger tea (because office serves gruel in the name of coffee). You can imagine the ginger in the tea soothing your itchy-scratchy throat and infusing some life into you. But the shop lady is out of tea!

You ask her for a slice of bread with butter & sugar sprinkled on top and guess what...she didn't get her supply of bread today!

You ask her if she has a pack of spicy potato chips. She has one left. You open it and the chips are all soggy.

You take your money back and walk back to office morosely. You can see your plans of getting a head massage, pedicure and foot reflexology over the weekend melt away. All you want to do is crawl into bed and go off to sleep. And you have a dirty feeling that's all you're gonna be doing throughout the long weekend.

So long my long weekend. You COULD have been. Alas, the universe has a sad sense of humor.