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


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.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy...Na Ja Na Ja Na Ja

I just had to have some fun with the title. But more on that in a little bit :)

I'm back to base after an almost two week vacation in which I went to the hills, saw wild elephants, stayed in British era cottages with a functioning fireplace (please be jealous :), met a dear friend after two & a half years, lusted over the wooden flooring in her house, visited my parents, had yummy food and did the only thing I wish I wouldn't have had to do - participate in the Durga Puja at home. But then it's all about respecting your parents' sentiments, isn't it?

The highlight of the trip was that I got the opportunity to do what I thought could only have been done in the world of Jane Austen and Emily Bronte - sitting in front of a burning fireplace with a book and a mug of hot chocolate. BLISSSSS! :)

Talking of Durga Puja, no one celebrates the festival quite the way Calcutta does. I've come to realize that I share a love-hate relationship with Calcutta. The city is dirty and mindblowingly polluted, yet it exudes an old-world charm. At times I love the fact that Calcuttans have held on tightly to their culture be it music, literature, language, cinema or food. At other times, I detest the same thing - they can get so possessive about their culture/language that they look down upon other cultures and languages. They're also not very open to new cuisines and experiences.

I love that life in Calcutta is not as hectic as in Bombay (though I do like the pace and vibe of Bombay), but it's also extremely laidback. There's no initiative to get things done. Two & a half years later, it still bothers me.

Then there are some things I'm grateful for - life is very convenient in this city and more importantly, Calcutta is safe for women.

Anyway, coming back to the title of the post and to Jimmy. Jimmy was a Parsi contestant on Masterchef Australia, my current favorite show on TV. But before I talk about Jimmy, I want to say that I absolutely love the hosts of the show - George Canalis, Gary Mehigan & Matt Preston. George is a cutie pie, Gary is suave and fatherly at the same time, and Matt is hilarious in his sometimes-yellow-sometimes-red pants. And though they are not experts in Indian cuisine, they can jolly well tell the difference between Mangalorean and Chettinad style of cooking! R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

So, yesterday Jimmy got eliminated after a very tough challenge where they had to replicate a celebrity chef's seafood platter within 2 hours. A number of sea animals (is that what they're called?) had to be cooked simultaneously, including something called 'sea urchins' that I saw for the first time and whose roe is ironically a delicacy is Japanese cuisine. None of the fish could be under/over cooked.

To be honest, Jimmy wasn't Masterchef material though he did come quite far in the competition. He was good with Indian food but often stumbled in invention tests that revolved around cuisines of other countries. In fact, though he was the only Indian-born of the lot, he was beaten by an Australian (Jonathan) in the Indian invention test!

Yet, there was something endearing about Jimmy. He was always smiling and though he'd get stressed easily, I never saw him break down, unlike a lot of other contestants.

My assessment of him aside, the fact that he got so far on the show (he was among the last 13 or so) and got in to an elimination challenge only twice must mean that he is a good cook. But then, elimination challenges in MC Australia are totally unpredictable - it's about that one invention test/team challenge day. It's about whether you're having a good day. Some of the best cooks in there have found themselves staring at an elimination challenge multiple times.

It was sad to see Jimmy leave but I thought he got the best advice he could get from the judges of the show. They asked him to focus on this strength - spices. I guess he took the advice to heart as he's now developing his own range of simmering sauces and marinades. I bet they're going to be Indian influenced. Good on you, Jimmy.