The Girl Who Read a lot of Books

A Story for my daughter…


This is a story that happened a long time ago. so long that no one really remembers where this story happened, or who told it for the first time, or if this is a story or something that really happened.


In a small town, by a small lake, next to a tiny hill and a very large valley, there used to live a little girl called Anaya. Anaya, loved reading books. Really, she was so fond of reading books that sometimes she would forget to eat, sleep, bathe or play when she had a story to finish. Everyone would call out, “Anaya hurry up, you will miss the school bus!”, or they would shout, “Anaya hurry up and eat, your food is getting cold”, or “Anaya come outside and play, we are all waiting for you in the garden”…. But Anaya would barely hear them. She would find a quiet corner in house and read. Sometimes she read under the stair-case, sometimes she read on her parent’s bed, sometimes she read in her grandfather’s room and sometimes she would just sit on a chair in the balcony and read.


Everyone thought that she was a bit crazy. Which kid would rather read a book than watch TV? Or play? Or Eat? But Anaya did not care what others thought. She was the happiest when she was left alone with a book. Sometimes she would read books that had pictures in them. Colourful pictures that were smooth and cold to touch and when you opened the book for the first time, they smelt nice. Sometimes she would read the story books that she and her mom got from the library. These books were old, their pages usually had pencil marks and words circled by those who had read them before… and the pages, they were not so smooth but were soft and pale. It did not matter if the books were new or old, if they had a story to tell, Anaya had to give them a chance to tell it !


So Anaya and her books, happily spent time together. She would spend time in the ‘Enchanted Woods’, catch criminals with the ‘Famous Five’, train animals at “Mr. Galliano’s Circus” and travel all over the place in her “Wishing Chair”. It was a busy day for her everyday doing all this ! Yet everyone used to think that Anaya is just doing one thing ! Reading books !


Anaya did not understand what they were saying. Did they not understand how much work one has to do when you read a story? Anaya first had to imagine what the characters of the story looked like, she had to imagine how they spoke, what they wore and what they smelt like. Sometimes she decided that she did not really like a character at all. But then, she still had to imagine everything about the character before she could decide that. However, her friends really thought reading books was a boring affair and if Anaya really liked her books so much, she might as well be with them by herself.


One day, Anaya was invited to a birthday party. She was not very keen to go as she wanted to stay home and read a book. She asked her mother,” Mom is it ok if I don’t go to Navya’s birthday party?”. Her mother said, “No Anaya, Navya would really like it if you went to her party, after-all, she is younger than you and treats you like her elder sister.”.


“OK Mom, I will go. Can I at least take a book with me to read in case I get bored?”


Her mom rolled her eyes and sighed, “Yes, I guess you can take a book to read”.


So Anaya wore her favourite dress, took a story book and went to the birthday party. She did not know many of the kids there so she found a chair in the corner and started to read. A little while later, Navya’s mother gathered everyone around and said, we will now play some party games. Everyone cheered; Anaya was a bit bored. She had never been in a quiz before and just wanted to read her book.


“We will now play a quiz”, explained Navya’s Mom. “ I will ask a question, and the kid who knows the right answer gets a lollipop!”


“So here is the first question; What is a Big Top?”


Everyone was quiet in the room. Suddenly a voice said from the back of the room “It is a large tent where the circus performs”.


Everyone turned to see who said it, and Anaya was standing there, a bit surprised that she knew the answer. She had just read about it in the circus stories.


“It is the right answer ! Here is your Lollipop!”; everyone cheered for Anaya.


“OK, here is the next question: Peru lies in which continent?”


“ South America “ Said Anaya before anyone else could respond. How could she not, after all Paddington the bear was from Peru.


“Very good Anaya !”


And so it went on, Anaya answered many of the questions in the quiz correctly and everyone thought she was a very good quizzer. All she was really doing was she was recalling answers from the stories she had read! Everyone asked her,” Do you study a lot? Do you prepare for quizzes all the time?”; little Anaya just shrugged and said, “I don’t know, I just read books !”




Mutton Mughlai Dum Biryani

About a year ago, I wrote a post on this blog announcing my intent to catalog recipes that have existed in my family for generations… and like most hopeful outbursts of good intent… I never really did much about it. Yes I did end up noting down a recipe for Vanilla cake… a post that still draws a surprising number of google hits… but that was pretty much it.

However, like good karma… a recipe for Biryani as fabulous as the one I recently managed to lay my hands on is of no value unless it is shared with the world.

You see… the mothers in my family, were exemplary cooks ( just like most mothers in most families I guess). As long as they were around, most of us were happier enjoying the fruits of their labor rather than worry about noting down the ingredients in their various proportions…

Thus, when you come to know that a sister somewhere knows exactly how the family biryani is made… you thank high heavens and give her a call and beseech her to share the recipe…

And share she did…. Thank You So Much Sona Didi !

So here it is… A Mutton Mughlai Dum Biryani made in our traditional north Indian kayastha way…The recipe that follows has been written by Sona Didi ! This biryani is influenced by the two cities our family is deeply connected with.. Lucknow and Allahabad.

Mutton Mughlai Dum Biryani

This biryani is prepared by cooking rice and meat separately till they are nearly done and then finally assembling them in layers before being put on ‘Dum’.

Ingredients for meat:
1 kg Mutton
3/4 medium sized onion, finely chopped;
4 tbsp ginger/garlic paste;
1½ tsp coriander powder;
chilly powder, salt (as per taste);
2 teaspoon garam masala powder;
1 teaspoon whole garam masala (green cardamoms, black cardamoms, black pepper, cinnamon and mace);
3 tablespoon oil

And here is what they look like together… nice !

Ingredients for Rice
1 kg rice (can reduce it to 750 gms also)
Some whole green cardamoms, black pepper, clove and star anise
4 medium sized onion thinly sliced
½ tsp saffron soaked in water or milk with ½ tsp of kewra essence

Method for cooking meat:
Heat oil, splutter whole garam masala, add finely chopped onions, fry them till golden in colour like so…

Now add all the other ingredients , except garam masala powder, along with the meat.
This is what the meat should look like at this point…

Pressure cook it till almost done (this takes about 20 minutes under pressure). After opening the cooker bhuno the it till it is almost dry. In case the meet is fork tender already and you still have a lot of liquid in the curry, fish out the meat pieces and simmer the liquid till most of the water is gone. This is what it should look like…

Method for cooking rice:
Fry thinly sliced onions till they are brown and crispy. Take time while doing so… cooking the onions on low heat makes them very crispy.

Place the fried onions on a paper towel/newspaper ( I used both) to drain the excess oil…

Soak rice for at least ½ an hour (take good quality long grain basmati rice). In a large container boil 2½ ltrs of water with two heaped tsp of salt, few peppercorns, staranise, clove & green cardamom. Add a tablespoon of oil to prevent rice from sticking. When water starts boiling add soaked rice & let it cook till the rice is ¾ th cooked. Strain the rice in a strainer and immediately put cold water over it to stop cooking.

Layering the biryani:
Take a thick bottomed pan smear some ghee, now spread a layer of rice, on top of it put 1/3 part of cooked meat, some fried onions, few drops of soaked saffron with some kewra essence or orange food color diluted with some water and kewra essence, one tbsp of ghee, repeat this process two times.

You do not need too much food color, a few drops in the milk should suffice…

Top layer should be of rice and before closing the lid put some fried onions and few drops of kewra-colour mixture. This is what the layer should look like…

To seal the container you can use atta dough or you can also use aluminum foil. Put the biryani on very low heat and cook it for at least ½ an hour.

Once the biryani has been cooked, open the pot and give it a good stir. Your Biryani is ready !

This recipe makes enough biryani to feed half a dozen people or more…

A Sunflower in a Coriander patch…( A story)

I found my way to the verandah and sat on the footsteps leading into the house. The sun was bright and sunny, the warmth of the sunshine embraced me as I emerged from the shady interiors of our house. Three bedrooms, one kitchen, one hall and a verandah…all wrapped together by a piece of land we called our garden … vegetables planted in the back and flowers grown out front.

Sometimes, Sunflower seedlings would sprout amongst the coriander sprigs at the back…

“They are shy” Amma used to say,” They do not like to be seen by everyone but only the family, if you take good care of them, water them everyday, they will flower soon”

And believing her I would take special care to water the shy ones, the ones who were resplendent in private, whose beauty was known to only those who were allowed to walk over all the way to the back of the house…who managed to get past the hall filled with heavy wooden furniture, the living quarters strewn with rumpled bed sheets and text books covered with brown paper and a kitchen fragrant with spices of a meal in the offing…

A sunflower in a coriander patch… how incongruous, how endearing…

“Can you come back to Kanpur tomorrow? Beta, mummy is not well. Beta, just come”, said my father before breaking down over the phone…
I had to call my uncle to get the sordid details… an internal infection, a high fever, a sudden failure of the body organs, and suddenly, my home seemed so far away from Mumbai….

A frantic search for available flights and a flurry of calls later, I found myself aboard a 3.5 hour long flight back to Kanpur…

How many times have you said goodbye to your mother?

Each day, each morning, she would drop whatever she was doing to see me to the door as I left for school. I waved back too… am sure I did. Or did I? A thousand inconsequential farewells…

And then there was the day I left for my engineering college… my parents dropped me at the college and helped me complete the mountains of paperwork colleges in India demand before you are given a room in a hostel and a roll number for the next 4 years. I was scared as my parents waited for the cab to take them back to the railway station. She turned and gave me a big hug and held me till I squirmed with embarrassment. Her face covered in tears she went away, waving from the window…

I missed my family terribly for the first few months at college, writing long winding letters and making anxious call home each weekend… I cannot really pin-point when was it that I moved on from being home sick to falling in love with my college life.

“Can’t you get a job in Delhi, its closer to Kanpur? Why Mumbai?” She had asked, just once. I was too filled with pride at my newly acquired job to notice the hint of sadness in her question. I packed away my stuff making sure that I carried some of my favorite books along. She helped me clear up my book cases, absent mindedly flipping the pages of some books that she had bought with me together over the years.

They waved as I entered the airport… standing next to our old family car… and I waved goodbye never to look back.

The flight was now circling over Kanpur… I could see the blue crescent of the Yamuna river as it sliced the city into two…

“This is where I come from” I thought to myself, “And this is where they remained”

The cab ride to the hospital was a blur… The entrance to her private room was crowded with friends and family…

“Your father is inside, they just brought her from the ICU” Someone said between hugs and greetings and somber smiles…

I found him sitting by his side. My burly father seemed even larger sitting by her tiny frame. She seemed asleep, and he was talking to her, in a voice so filled with love that I nearly cried. He turned towards me and looked at me with eyes rimmed with tears. My own eyes stung as I bent down to touch his feet, and in a voice not completely my own I said

“Don’t worry Papa, everything will be fine”

We sat by her side through the night… the medical equipment blinked and beeped and her breath rattled in her chest as it strained its way through her tired body. The needles and tubes running in her body, her matted hair against the pillow, and eyes slightly clenched as she slept. In the morning, after a spell of disturbed breathing, she passed away.

The next few days were a blur of ceremonies and rituals… all I remember are snatches of conversations, grieving faces, all of us pouring a blend of ingredients into a holy fire. Amongst all of this, I found myself tearing up each time I saw her picture laden with garlands.

That picture, is now hanging in the hall. Next to the oil painting she painted years ago… facing the window. “This is a good location for hanging my paintings” She used to say, “The sun light makes everything in the picture glow”

I lit up a cigarette and breathed in the smoke, and smiled wryly as I remembered how much she hated my smoking. Well, some things are hard to let go of I guess. I walked all the way round to the back of the house… our vegetable garden needed to be weeded. I could almost see her bent over the rows of plants, using tools improvised with kitchen utensils to hoe the soil, uproot the weeds and trim the dry branches…making space for the fruits to grow… making sure that the fallen leaves, did not hold back the young saplings.

I treaded carefully amongst the rows of plants, trying not to get too much mud on my leather loafers… and then I saw it, nestled amongst the sprigs of coriander, a tiny sunflower seedling.

“What is that?”, I turned to find my six year old nephew standing beside me…

I pointed a finger and said, “That’s a sunflower plant”

“But it does not have any flowers !”

“It will flower if you water them”, I smiled as I stubbed my cigarette..

“Trust me….they always flower. ”


Those who know me know that I have a serious weakness for Broadway shows… musicals to be more specific. Today I saw a show called ‘Memphis’, and no I will not mention the incredible energy of the performers, or the pretty African American ladies with voices as powerful as express trains… those are things that you in a way expect in a Broadway show. What moves me is the ability of a society to look back at a difficult past and put it to music. The subtext of racialism in the USA comes out beautifully in ‘Memphis’. And it also left me admiring, a country willing to accept differences…again. Here is something I felt like writing after the show… perhaps a blog post I want to write in the year 2050 !


Hey kiddo, come sit with me a while. And let your old grandfather talk to you a bit. Listen while you can, I wont be here for long!

Do you know, that there was a time when India almost broke up into pieces? I know its hard to imagine, but do you know that just 40 years ago, Indians still used language as a barrier to move across states, not like today, when knowing languages other than English and your regional language is considered not only cool but the only way to be.

No, I do not know the regional languages of all the states I have lived in… not something I am proud of.

I still remember, there were talks of using the army against insurgency within the country. Don’t shake your heads, the glittering memorials to development you see along the eastern coast of India came at a very high price. Its easy for you to forget how much our country has had to change to be what it is now. We were still a country with poor on the streets and problems in the hinterland. Yes, there was hope that things will change… but you know what? There were places where even hope was in a very short supply.
They even tried to turn the wheel backwards and do a caste based census 50 years after independence.

Caste? Well its kind of difficult for me to explain it to you… but lets put it this way. Caste was the elephant in the room of our times… no one talked about it, but practiced it in private. It was ingrained in our children as they grew up to understand what caste meant, and how in a way it made them different and in some cases superior from others.

Yeah I know… it was a bad idea, but it took us so long to realize something then that even a kid like you can recognize as being extremely stupid today ! There is much to learn from history…. Even an imperfect past makes a great bad example.

Yes you are right, your grandmother is from a different caste. Yeah it was a big deal for some people. Thankfully your grand mother is stronger than she appears to be, there is some strength behind that pretty face, trust me on that one. Was she pretty then? What do you mean? She is still the prettiest girl I know!

I find it extremely comforting to see an India where marrying a person from a different community is seen not as a social catastrophe but a cultural opportunity. Do you know people used to be killed sometimes because they got married to some one who worshipped a different God? No India was never a part of Africa… really. Yes, we had a middle class then too, and people had just started creating high end industries in our cities. But yeah, we still killed people for offences such as falling in love, being from a different state, or religion, or well, just being different.

No, no one from my family, or your grandmother’s threatened to kill us for marrying each other.
At least none did so publicly.

Do you remember getting a ticket for littering the road yesterday? You complained for the entire day after that. Well, you know all those year ago you could throw crap wherever you wanted and no body would give a damn. How cool is that?

But thankfully, we did give a damn when we realized that as a country we were on fast track to disaster. When our new found industrial pride took a ding when all the car manufactures started shifting base to cheaper and more peaceful joint Korea. Or when the engines of our IT industry sounded hollow when business started moving to the eastern bloc countries. Yes, the same countries that are now the ones you want to go vacation in this summer.

Imagine, just 40 years after being in a bloody world war, those countries had managed to share the same currency across Europe. While we were still trying to decide whether a train derailment is a state or federal subject.

So how did it change? I don’t know…

I find myself wondering how the hell did we get where we are now… perhaps it was the fact that economic prosperity lead to better education… the kind where people actually learnt something rather than collecting degrees. Or perhaps, with a controlled population, we finally struck a balance between what we had and what we wanted. Or just maybe, we matured and realized how we had been screwing away our freedom.
But yes, you are lucky. You have the luxury of pointing out the mistakes of my generation. Oh yeah, we did make a lot of them I and I make no bones about it. But then, isn’t each great nation built on the mistakes of its founders? We were no different. We took our time to find our way, but goddamn it, we eventually did a fine job of it.

So the next time you shake your head at some of the darkest episodes of Indian history, thank your stars that we managed to pull through. Smile at the way the Maharashtrian Vada Pav is now sold on Delhi streets… or the tandoori grills of northern India that are now big in Kerala. And can you imagine, the beautiful noodle bowls of the north east that you eat for lunch every day? No one knew about them in the 2010 !

And that is why I wanted to tell you all this… the more we understand differences, the more complete we become ourselves…

Yes my child, you grandfather has come a long way. From being born in a socialist country struggling with its own interpretations of freedom to being in one where you can be whatever you want and are capable of being…

It was a bumpy ride at times…. but trust me kid, this old man would not have had it any other way…

The one about a hotel and unlikely friendships…

I have been known to write some rather self indulgent posts out here.. about me and the honorable myself. And however hard it may be for me to admit it, some of the finest moments of my life have been ones that would have remained forever incomplete had it not been for the kindness and generosity of the people I have known. Let me tell you a story, a real one at that. It’s a story about a van filled with people from Vietnam, India and the USA. No, I am not about to narrate a thoroughly racist joke… promise.

This winter, I found myself in snow-swept Pennsylvania for 3 weeks for an assignment… and the living arrangements at my hotel included the use of a hotel shuttle for commuting to work. So each day early morning, a bunch of us homeless souls would trudge into the hotel lobby, powered solely by the excellent dark coffee that the hotel liberally plied on us. And there we stood, a rather sullen group. People did not talk much, preoccupied with the day at work that lay ahead, or just grumpy about being out in the cold when they hotel bed had been more than welcoming. So like kids waiting for a school bus by the road side, we waited in the hotel lobby waiting for Lonnie to bring the shuttle around.

Lonnie ! The driver of the shuttle; he instantly became our new best friend. Greeting us with a smile that seemed for a while to warm up the frigid winter cold. The shuttle, well it was a rather huge van. Large , comfortable, nice, warm.. much like Lonnie himself !

The shuttle was our oasis of warmth as we were driven through snow, sleet, rain, black ice or whatever else the Pennsylvania weather had to throw our way… making a stop every so often to drop someone at their destination before moving on to another. I would play loud music in my ear phones to while away the half hour or so that was my commute…. Lost in my own world of familiar notes and melodies…

Come to think of it, hotels like airports, form the backdrops of a million untold stories. People live a part of their lives in impersonal hotel rooms, perhaps come to decisions that alter their professional or personal lives, rejoice and celebrate… and as soon as they move on, every sign of their presence from the very space they occupied is removed diligently.

Empty glasses, crumpled bed sheets and sachets of coffee… cleaned, removed and replaced. The air refreshed and wilting flowers removed from cut glass vases…

Hotels… offer the most personalized service by removing every sign of the personalities of those who spend time in them ! Not that I would have it any differently ! Imagine spending time in a hotel room with the last occupant’s tooth brush still lying by the wash basin !

So there were some lucky people who visited Valley Forge Pennsylvania for a day or two in the middle of winters… some rather unfortunate souls who spent an entire weekend there. And there were those like me who were probably getting drunk somewhere when their quota of luck was being allocated… we stayed for weeks together. Each day I boarded the shuttle with a group of folks from Vietnam… exchanged sympathetic comments with each other and reminisced about our warm countries while Lonnie drove us through the snow. We were noticeably more cheerful and talkative when the shuttle did its rounds in the evenings picking us up once again to take us back to the hotel where food and drinks awaited us.

Tung was the first guy from Vietnam I made friends with. Meeting him made me realize rather guiltily how little I knew about Vietnam. Each evening, once we were back at the hotel, we had our dinner together, full of questions about the countries we were from. How strange it is, Vietnam is so close to India in terms of geography and culture, but I seem to know more about the US and Europe. I wonder why the collective eye of the Indian population seldom turns eastwards… it’s a world lot closer to home and equally fascinating. I spent many a night after having met my new friends from Vietnam reading up about their country… at least the next time I meet a guy from Vietnam I will have more to discuss with him other than music…

Music !

Tung is an accomplished musician. Perhaps the best guitarist I have had the pleasure of having heard in front of me. I wonder what is it with me and friends with guitars…. be it Dwarahat, Hyderabad, Milwaukee, Chicago, New York or now Valley Forge! In each city I have made friends with some one or the other who played the guitar. One day, late at night, Tung arrived at my hotel room with a guitar in hand… I mixed a few drinks and Tung played his music. It was by far one of the most enjoyable evenings in a long long time.

Come to think of it… a guy from India, mixing American Bourbons, for a guy from Vietnam playing an electric guitar manufactured in Japan, singing Simon & Garfunkel songs we had both heard at college !

Sometimes, the world seems so much smaller, and simpler…Thank You for the music Tung.

Our trips in the hotel shuttle were now full of chatter. We told each other of where were from, and what awaited us when we went back. To some it was family, or perhaps a girlfriend and a job or whatever else we had chosen to call home. Lonnie took the role of the grand old man (which he is ) and gently admonished the recklessness of some of us younger ones.

I never had to plug in my ear phones during my commutes again…

Thank you Lonnie, it was good to feel cared for in a foreign land.

And then, we all went back home eventually. I returned to India, and the folks from Vietnam left Valley Forge in the space of the next one month. Will we ever meet again? Who knows… it’s a funny world. We all stay in touch via the internet… and being in IT we will probably end up in the same spot on the globe again sooner or later. And Lonnie? Well he is still at Valley Forge… genially smiling as he usually does, sheparding folks from one place to another, being friendly the way he is…. that is when he is not writing on walls in Facebook !

Who says hotels are only home of the transient… memories of the friends I made at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania will probably last me a lifetime…

A new beginning…

I have often written here about my struggle with cholesterol and our fascination with running. I have created a new blog that I hope to use to chronicle how I am trying to combine the two. And am also intend to use the new blog as a very public reminder to myself that I need to complete the half marathon at Mumbai in 2011.

Ashishandradhika will continue the way it has always been, a shared space for me and Radhika to write about whatever we feel like, the new blog though, will hopefully be far more focused on topics related to health, nutrition and exercise.

If you feel like taking a look, here is ‘Running to Save My Life’!

An ode to my cubicle…

A few days ago, for a while, I thought life could not have been more miserable…. I counted myself among the most unfortunate souls in the world who were so confined by their constraints that they were being cheated out of the eventual greatness they were meant to achieve. I mean come on.. remember what they sang 25 years ago? No ? Well … We were the world! We were the children, and together, We were supposed to make the world a brighter place…. And just see what we ended up with.

But well, that was a few days ago, and now its today. And I am back to being the normal cheerful beacon of optimism to all those around me. So I pretty much smile away the rueful stares in the morning from my wife when I get out of bed at 8 in the morning and ask for tea which she might as well have kept ready since she is usually up bright and early at 6 AM. And I graciously chat away with dad even when he does not respond since he is sulking from an argument we had last evening. And I even politely thank my maid when she serves me tea (which my wife refused to do) with a scowl since she knows we are looking around for another maid.
So all in all, a perfect start to a glorious day. The sun shines right up there with sincerity reminiscent of a new management trainee in an organization… over enthusiastic, totally correct and completely unnecessary.
The traffic on the road seems like family… vast, somewhat stifling, and no one really wants to be a part of it but hardly has any choice in the matter. Which brings me to the one thing that has consistently been the same for me all these years. It does not matter which country I am in or which organization I work for, I pretty much end up spending at least 8 hours in a fabric covered cubicle.

It feels more like home than home itself. There is something about panels covered in beige covered cloth that spell comfort and ennui. And just like a car is supposed to indicate your status in life ( please don’t ask me what I drive).. a cubicle pretty much nails it where you stand in the organization.

If you are the one that has the shaded cube in the corner that is cleaned by the janitor once a quarter, you are probably a guy who lives life on his or her own terms…. Simply because no one else is really bothered with what you with your effing life!You are probably the one who has a calendar of 2007 displayed importantly on your cubicle wall and last week’s paper-cups of coffee still piled up in your trash can… ( I kind of identify with you if you know what I mean). In the words of someone else, even though you are a file pusher for anyone who cares to notice, in your own mind you really are an adventurer sailing the high seas…

However, if you are the one who sits in a cube in the center of the hall surrounded by a sea of other cubicles… you are the one who is still figuring out where you stand in the world. You are not far enough in the corner to merit the tag of a rebel, nor are you close enough to the boss’s cabin to be really considered a shining star in the company. You are pretty much the guy who brings packed lunches, has pictures of his son on the cubicle walls, smiles at everyone and goes home at six each day. You are also the guy who probably gets most of the work done out there…

And… if you are the guy who sits in the cube facing the boss’s cabin, you are probably the one hated by everyone else. In all probability, you are one of those oily brown noses we all love to detest. You probably work the longest hours and seldom get anything done. You ensure that you never leave before the big boss has switched off lights in his cabin. You have your certifications, and degrees framed and prominently displayed. You are also the one who probably organizes office parties with silly party games to up the team morale and laughs the loudest at jokes cracked by anyone senior than you. You will probably end up managing the other cubicle dwellers sooner than we all know…. And would be rewarded with a glass walled cabin so that you can safely monitor the going ons in your office without being contaminated yourself or infecting others with whatever you may be carrying….

And well if you are the one who sits in that glass walled cabin, you are at the top of the food chain obviously. You are the one with a list of graphs on your cabin walls and a series of activities on a white board at least half of which have been importantly crossed out.

I love my cube… with its drawers empty with arrogant disdain and my water bottle sitting in solitary splendor on an artificial veneer surface.

And with the cubicles come neighbors… at my first job, I made friends with a Telugu girl who was a whiz at programming and knew the scores for all cricket matches over the last decade or so. Then there was the Bengali chap who is now expanding his brood somewhere in small town America… we used to crib about our boss together you see. And then there was the beautiful African-American lady in the mid-west, who said that ‘The best thing about coming to work is that you get to dress up in the morning’ …. or the guy and the girl who were secretly pursuing a love affair over cafeteria lunches…I think they became parents last year….after getting married of course.

So here it is… a toast to my own personal fabric covered space in the world…I have grieved here and celebrated victories… listened to my favorite music and eaten pizza…. said goodbyes to friends and welcomed new ones.

There are very few places in the world that carry my name on them. That proclaim to all and sundry that this portion of this wonderful universe is dedicated to the celebration of the cerebral output of this magnificent genius mind.… and if a beige colored cubicle has to be one of them, then so be it…

PS: Adding a song from ages ago. A fantastic parody of You’re Beautiful. Its called the ‘Cubicle Song’ !’

Cafe’ Espresso’

There is a café called Espresso’ at Terminal 5 at Heathrow London. It’s a pretty little place, beautifully lit up. And they play soothing music and serve breakfast and wonderful coffee irrespective of the time of the day you find yourself stranded at the airport.

What are the chances of my being there for two consecutive Valentine’s Days with a lonely cup of coffee? Pretty slim I believe, since this café happens to be around 2 continents away from my apartment.
Last year, same day, same time, I ordered an Americano sitting over here and thinking how lovely it would be to here with Radhika. I remember ordering the coffee… and have pictures to prove it !
This place is exactly ‘our’ kind… those who know us would have no trouble understanding what that means…Soft music, dim lights, quiet, soothing, slow, excellent music and people minding their own business.

Interesting, the kind of things that Radhika and I share a love for. Trust me, the two of us are possibly among the two most differently opinionated couples you will come across. Some people have told us that we need to be more civil to each other… maybe they are right, but I would not have our relationship any other way than the way it is now. I mean, who needs a simpering wife who agrees with everything you have to say (ok ok, so you get it… I am usually not heard out around my house).
But yes, getting back to the things that we have in common…

We have exactly the same kind of ideas around what makes for a good time… and we like the same kind of books…and we love Broadway, and we love Goa, and really really love New York… and we positively detest it when either of us is not around to argue with. My job has a tendency to keep us apart more often than I would want to. And at the grand old age nearing thirty one, it does seem rather silly to tell my boss that I really don’t want to travel so much anymore since I miss my wife !

But miss her I do.

And in tune with this rather unabashedly sentimental embarrassing tribute to my wife, here is wishing you were here with me, Radhika. At this quaint little café with its little yellow lamps… with Norah Jones playing in the background and a pot of tea at our table. I know you would have loved it.

From a completely frozen over Heathrow airport…Happy Valentine’s Day all of you…

The seventh year itch…

Dinner was long over and the dishes put away. The television switched off and lamps cast yellow pools of light on the floor. The house was filled with the quiet sounds of people drifting off to sleep. The night outside was cold and glimmering in the silver moonlight.

She came to sit beside him as he sat listening to the muted sounds of a radio playing songs from the 60s.The dark living room was a welcome refuge after a day filled with the random chaos of everyday existence. Meal menus, laundry, medical tests, bosses and unruly finances faded away…gradually. They sat together in a comfortable silence, relaxing in the pleasure of just being and not doing anything in particular.

“Lets go out for a drive…”

The doors were quietly opened and closed, feet shuffled into the nearest available footwear, shawls and jackets draped and cell phones left behind. The car ignition sounded unnaturally loud at that silent hour… as if pointing fingers at two people escaping the world for a moment alone.

The roads were empty, the shops were closed. The city had gathered around its kin and was drifting off to sleep. The headlights glided around corners and pierced the misty air with stubborn straight edged beams. They sat in the car, playing songs from their college years on the car stereo, and randomly taking any road that caught their fancy. It’s a beautiful city at night. The anger and the dust of the day is quenched by the dew of the evening, and the night blossoms of the trees lining the road gradually cleanse the air with their fragrance.

It had been a rather cold January evening then at Pune, six years ago, when he asked her out for a walk they were to remember for a lifetime.

They were now beginning their seventh year of being together, time for the fabled itch to strike!

In six years, they created careers, got married, built a home and nursed relationships. And they found it in themselves to accept each other, imperfections and all. So while they still nag each other relentlessly about things they shouldn’t , they still wouldn’t trade their worlds for a million dollars. OK, I was exaggerating… about the million dollars I mean.

Maybe it is time for things to change, in the time honored tradition of the seven year cycle… and change they will. How many relationships do you know that have remained static for years together ?

In the next seven years, they might raise a brood of kids, or remain happily child free ! Buy a farmhouse or maybe sell off even their existing apartment and hop around in rentals for the rest of their lives…create a lasting thoughtful career in the fields of their choice, or just maybe, open that rickety restaurant on a Goan beach someday.

From the innocent blinding trust of new love, they moved to a shared understanding of each other’s imperfections…
Once being in love meant sending mushy text messages on the cell phone, today the most loving thing to be done is an understanding smile at the end of a hard day…
For a while, all they had to defend was their decision to get married defying all common sense, today, standing up for the choices made by their partner is what defines their relationship…

And they used to hold on to what had been… wary of the unknown tomorrow; today they face the future with a shared confidence, assured by experience, that together they usually end up doing pretty well…

Yes, things will change…. and the two of them will change together.

And for the coming seven years, and all the seven year cycles they are meant to see together, they will still nag each other about stuff they really should not be talking about in the first place.

The clock on the dashboard indicated it was past midnight. He glanced at her and smiled as he turned the car around.

It was time to go home

About beginnings…

Sometimes we just don’t know what we are waiting for…’waiting to exhale’ as the song goes. Scrimping, saving and investing for God knows what. As the year cruises to an end tomorrow, I have found myself with time enough to pause and ponder. To me this has been a year of consolidation. The previous year had been a year of changes… 2009 stabilized us again.

It is fascinating how beginnings have been woven into our collective narratives over centuries. New Year celebrations, birthdays, anniversaries… a new government, a new car, an opening night of a movie, a first trip to a beach hidden by coconut palms, our first drink or that first date…or perhaps just a brand new day. Everything new is tinged with the hope of something better to come.

What was the most fascinating beginning you have had in your life? Was it your first day at a new college? Or was it the day you got married? Or perhaps, the day you became a parent?

Allow me to talk about one of my favorite beginnings. Yes there are more than one…and some of them have been written about on this blog over the years… So I will skirt the topic of my years at college..or how me and Radhika decided to take the plunge so many years ago… or when we moved into the first apartment either of us owned ever.

( If you are interested though please check out the following links: )

Let me tell you about how I ended up falling in love with baking. Our mother was a fantastic baker. While growing up, I and my brother would lay out specific shapes of the cakes we wanted for our birthdays. So if my rather serious elder brother preferred a rather plain round cake, I found shapes like a teddy bear or a butterfly to challenge my mother. And she would end up laboring for hours and used a thoroughly unreliable 9” electric oven to create cakes that could rival the best of the bakeries.

My mother may have left us earlier than anticipated, but she did leave behind a vibrant bouquet of aromas and flavors that my family has treasured till date. What she also left behind was a crumbling old diary with a black cover and a logo emblazoned in gold. This is where she recorded the best of her recipes across the years…. Instructions garnered from magazines, newspapers and aging grandmothers. Some recipes were christened after the person who parted with them…. Mutton Stew ‘Amma style’ anyone?

I often found myself scouring her diaries for traces of her presence whenever I felt lonely, browsing through recipes and well, even grocery lists from 1984 ! One day I had a craving for the rather crusty layered cakes my mother used to make for us. The recipe was found on a page in her diary, slightly thumbed with grease and fading with age. On a slow weekend afternoon at Pune I assembled the rather unremarkable ingredients for a basic cake on the kitchen counter..flour, eggs, milk, sugar, butter.. you get the idea. So I ground up the sugar, and beat the egg whites till they formed voluminous stiff peaks. I beat the sugar and butter till a pearl sized drop of the mix floated in a bowl of water… sifted flour and baking powder and gradually folded everything together. Added a spike of vanilla and inhaled an aroma that seemed remarkably close to the cake mixes my mother made on our dining table back in Lucknow. A greased roti container acted as the baking tin, and around forty minutes after I started preparing the batter, my cake went into the oven. Forty minutes later, a wet toothpick inserted in the center told me that the cake was done. A while later, I gingerly unmolded the cake, and broke into a grin as I saw its perfect shape. It was still hot, but I could not resist tasting it. I had officially baked my first cake ever.. and it was bloody good !

Flavors from our childhood become all the more enticing as we age. The very dishes that our mother forced us to eat against our express wishes, come back to haunt us when there is no one around to create them. Baking and cooking became my way of remembering a bit of what my mother’s cooking used to taste like.

Recipes in a family, should never be lost. They are a part of the common tradition we share with the next generation. The flavors become our identity, while the recipe becomes a family ritual.
Writing about beginnings, I have decided to initiate something new on this blog. Talk about New Year resolutions….

I will be putting up online all the family recipes that we have, so you may anticipate a mish-mash of northern and southern Indian cuisine out here over the next 12 months. Radhika once gifted me a binder of recipes handwritten by our family members on my birthday. So there will be a Kebab ‘bade dada style’ and a lasagna recipe the way my sister makes it. Some of these recipes would also be ours, after all, the story on can never really be complete till we chime in our two cents.

So here it is, a new flavorful beginning for the Year 2010. May the coming year be the beginning of the best years of your life. And yes, as you toast the new year, just recall the flavors of your childhood, and smile as you get ready to savor the new ones.

Cheers & A Very Happy New Year !