King Retains Throne; Panthers Flee

The place: Kulu Manali

The time: Two years ago

The post dinner walk found us looking contented and laughing like jack-a–es as loudly as possible to frighten the panthers that were rumoured to be there. We settled down to sleep with an unsettled question hanging over our heads. Damocles could have slept better with that sword of his hanging over his head. Was the panther really there? The night was dark and slightly chill. It must have been around 1 a.m. when a growl woke me up. I shrugged it off and tried to get back to sleep, but before long the growl grew to a full fledged ROAR. I sat upright in bed and tried to wake the husband. He wasn’t there. Another roar erupted – this time much louder than the previous one.

I was alarmed to hear it from the bathroom. Could a panther really have come in? I nudged forward with a hard-bound book in my hand. (Something tells me that I would have thrown the book and run like a screaming banshee if a panther had emerged, but still)

I’d like to think the panther came and got frightened away by the husband’s bravery. He slunk back into the shadows at the roar of a greater master. The G.master, in the meanwhile, was not in a good shape.

The events above happened when we tempted the Gastro-Gods. It all started with some one extolling the virtues of street food. Apparently, the essence of good food comes from a chef who doesn’t waste his time washing hands and utensils. So off we went looking for a ‘Dhaba’ after getting some yogurt and rice for the kids from the resort. We walked down a steep hill(this is Kulu Manali remember), past some bridge of some sort and in a quaint grassy place was nestled the shabbiest shack with some garden chairs. We were given glowing reviews about the food by the receptionist at the resort. We Namaste-Bhai-ed him and settled down.

I still remember the dinner:

  • Egg Curry
  • Butter Naan (The butter was taken with a spoon lovingly dipped in hot dirty water and slathered on. I could not see a refrigerator on the premise, but then, if they could have a fridge, they would have put up a few more garden chairs to ‘expand business’)
  • Paneer butter masala
  • Buttermilk
  • Butter shahi mushroom (Duh! Clearly, he can’t store the butter without a fridge)

One cannot say whether the butter was the culprit or the oil or the eggs. But what did happen was a violent upheaval that frightened panthers. The husband had a combination of several things going on – diarrhea and dysentery and vomiting prominent among them.

Two years later, stomach flu hit the family. It started with the daughter, and then the son. Since they both insisted on staying close to me in their moments of distress, I joined their party. We all merrily used the bathroom and threw up freely on sheets and pillow covers. The washing machine groaned its way through the pile, but we got by.

The husband clearly forgot about his brave days of frightening the prowling panther away and said he was strong, and that was why he was unaffected. I don’t think there is such a thing as a jinx, but if there was, this was surely it. Panthers and mountain lions were seen packing their bags in fright when the husband’s stomach heaved.

We all got better, but he remains the king of stomach upsets. Why did I think of all this?  I just read this article about this NY Times correspondent getting the goods from an innocent looking mango and could not help thinking of our own gastro-adventures.

Handler in trouble?

The world is agog with the fact that His Royal Highness Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales( otherwise known as Prince Harry .. er .. erred.

I have no problems with Prince Harry making a public spectacle of himself. If that is what he wants, so be it. The man is 27 years old and if he chooses to dance naked in front of some girls in Las Vegas when they have their cell-phones out for clicking pictures in the middle of the night, so be it.

My problem is that his ‘handlers’ are in trouble for this indiscretion. Does a 27 year old need a ‘handler’ to tell him that imitating inebriated babboons is not a good idea.

Even a prince should get that. Right?

Why my Father can’t go on a Picnic and other Issues

The father is in mourning. Why? Because he can’t go on a picnic if he wants to. That’s why.

You see, the parents moved to a new home and an unnamed fear gripped me – that would mean that all the junk stored in the lofts of the current home would just move to the new home. That has been the modus operandi for years. This is also the reason the house looks like this:

Obviously, the siblings had been harboring the same misgivings for they swooped in and convinced them that they would help out with the move.

The parents’ home has clutter mostly of the educational variety. There is enough material for anyone wanting to give a speech on any topic. Do you want to refer to a newspaper article that appeared in 1983 where the education minister’s credentials were questioned? No problem. The Father has it cut and stored somewhere. Do you want to know the speech that Jawaharlal Nehru gave in 1952? No problem, the cuttings are there in one of the 53 boxes with boxed clippings on the loft behind the typewriter somewhere. When questioned, he claims that that is the secret behind his stellar speeches, and also why schools still come to him to deliver speeches long after he has retired. That is also how the clutter built up over the years.

The problem during the shifting arose due to the differences in philosophy between the children and the parents. If the Father’s mantra was ‘When in doubt, store it in the loft’, ours was When in doubt, throw it away!’

I called a few days later and the father moaned into the phone. I asked him what the matter was, and he said, “What is the point? Everything is gone ma! Your brother and sister threw everything away!”

We had expected a certain heartache for his missing collectables.”Yes appa I know! Enjoy a clutter free house!” I said with a trifle too much optimism.

“You don’t know ma! I can’t even go on a picnic.”

I had no idea that de-cluttering could derail picnicking plans like this.

“They threw away a fantastic tiffin carrier. A stainless steel one. It had 7 compartments and could hold sambhar, rasam, curry, kootu, appalam, rice and payasam!”

Why one would carry a full fledged South Indian meal full of diluted curries that run all over your plate on a picnic was beyond me, but I shelved the q for a moment and asked him to tell me more. I remember the ghastly thing – it was the height of a small tree and had 7 boxes placed one on top of the other.

“When was the last time you took the tiffin carrier on a picnic appa?”

“That is the not the point, I could have.”

“Yes appa – are you planning on going on a picnic?”

“That is not the point! And why would I go for a picnic with your mother now?”


“But the tiffin carrier was a solid one.”

I felt sorry for the man. We had, after all, thrown out all but a few of his shirts and pants. So, I told him, “You know what? If you really need a tiffin carrier, go and buy yourself one and go on a picnic.”

“That is not the point!”

When a phrase like that pops up 3 times in 4 sentences, one questions the point.
“Okay – what is the point then?”

“The point is, if I had that tiffin carrier, I could have gone on a picnic with a splendid meal! And now, I can’t.”

I had to agree with his impeccable logic.

“Yes appa and you could have sat by the shade of a tree and listened to that old Gramaphone record while reading ‘Discovery of India’ by Jawaharlal Nehru”

“Discovery of India -ooooh!” and he went off to moan about the loss of the splendid book.

Frothing Filter Coffee

Ask any South Indian Brahmin who loves his coffee about Filter Coffee and you will catch him at his explanatory best. The rambling man starts his coffee train with enthusiasm and stops at no stations – no Sir! Not till he has exhausted his considerable coffee knowledge can he stop. Then, there are those who love the coffee but not really the talking type: the Grunters – these men have produced nothing but grunts as responses all their life, but the filter kaapi makes them blossom. They love it and will show you what grunt love is. I don’t suppose anyone has spent any time studying Grunt quotients (they should), but if they did, they’d notice some grunts have a certain amiability to it, while others are clearly signalling you to shup up. I digress to the topic of Grunters when in fact I want to talk about Filter Kaapi.

Point being that I am married to a coffee lover. While he does not insist on his cuppa in the morning, I can see the joy he gets when he spots a steel tumbler full of the frothing filter coffee.

I don’t blame the process. It is designed to titillate the nostrils and get even the non-coffee lovers to get just a little interested. That is why I put up with it. The coffee filter I mean. I will say this though – That blasted bit of twisted metal is designed to test the limits of patience on Gautama Buddha.

Before I get him the coffee frothing at the top like this:

I am frothing at the mouth like a bear whose honey comb just bit him:

By the time the coffee made its way to his mouth, I have only sustained the following injuries:
1) Slopped burning water over at least one finger
2) Spoilt my dress with a teeny bit of the mucky mixture that is coffee powder and chicory and boiling water.
3) Burnt my fingers while trying to dislodge the top portion of the coffee filter with the bottom portion
4) Bruised my ego with the fact that I can’t make coffee without making the kitchen counter look like a war zone when I can pull off whole meals with half the mess.

Here is the process: (For those interested :
1) Wiggle nose at coffee powder
2) Take a bit of coffee powder and put it in the top portion of the filter.
3) To be truly successful, one must never be complacent and so it is with the coffee filter. If it sits smugly on the bottom, it won’t drip. So, it has to ‘sit on one butt’
4) Then take scalding water and slop it down over the top and half close the filter. Fully close, and the top part may get comfortable. Make sure that the lid will get some of the mucky mixture to spill over (onto your finger holding the filter preferably).
6) Gently tap a number of times with a spoon till you hear the steady drip-drip from within. If you don’t hear the drip-drip sound, holler at anyone talking in the near vicinity to keep quiet and try again.
7) The flaming coffee decoction is now ready. You can now use the liquid in the bottom to make coffee. But before that, you have to surmount the task of holding the insanely hot filter with a deathly grip and twisting the top and bottom portions.
8) If you are sufficiently undamaged after this, just pour this and some milk to prepare coffee.
9) Wipe that grimace from the face and give coffee.

I like Tea.

Olympic Jazz

Olympic Jazz

The general boasting of nations in the Olympic arena was too much for me. Not to mention that every single interview underlines the age. ‘Only 16 and so poised’
‘Barely 17 and already making the world sit up’

What’s the point of all this? Makes me feel like an aging rhinoceres whose rampage is slowing and hair is graying.

So, I turned to Music – I have been listening to Jazz on the radio. I am no Music Maestro (Apart from my performing on All India Radio a couple of times: I have no credentials in the Music department. Yet, the Jazz spurred me to heights I hadn’t imagined. I would listen to a random song played by a Brazilian or a Spanish artist I hadn’t heard of earlier and words would leap into my mouth. There I was singing of Love and Life and Heartbreak with perfectly fitting words.

It was too good to be true. And then I realised what was going on. Everytime I had one of those flashes, some brilliant music director in India had already whacked the tune. All the old brain was doing was retrieving the cached data from the rusted corners and belting them out again. For some shining moments, I had envisioned my creative side flowing and A.R.Rahman coming to me for lyrics and tips. Sigh…

So, in the absence of seeing myself as the shining beacon to the music world, I have decided to devote my talents to analyzing our recent performance in the Olympics.

Some folks have come up analysis such as Medals per billion people, Medals ranked by GDP etc. (the bubbles at the bottom of the chart represent India) is a pretty interesting place to while away your time with stats and graphs by the way.

But nobody sees the bucking pace that India is setting.
This is US’s performance in the Olympics over the past 20 years:

THIS is India’s:

Look at that graph and wipe the Usain Bolts and Michael Phelpses from your mind and tell me India is going the right way. (0-4 in 20 years, but nobody can deny that that trend is what we are looking for)

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