Friday, January 28, 2005

Food Fetish :P~~

I'm crazy about good food. Usually, i'm met by raised eyebrows and other such facial contortions when I say that beacuse, well, I'm a kilo or so underweight. But I adore food, even if I'm not a heavy eater, I like the concept of eating. So to say, I live to eat.
I never wanted to learn cooking- coz it was projected as a very feminine thing and at the age of 15, when feminism is at its peak, you only want to rebel. That led to me wanting to marry a French chef. French beacuse I'd read somewhere that the French are the most romantic, also because I'd always wanted to go to France. Chef because, like I said before, I didnt want to cook.
A picture of Eiffel on my desk, French perfume in the air and French fries on the side. My dream was complete. As luck would have it, about 5 years later, I did go to France. And ironically had to learn cooking to even survive there.
An Indian would never call France the food capital. For me the meat was nauseating, the wines all tasted the same and the baguettes resembled weapons. And French men werent too inviting either ( maybe it was my brilliant French knowledge). I was forced into the kitchen armed with packets of home packed masalas and a few pages of recipes.
Frankly, I turned out to be quite good at it. For the records there was not a single dish which was inedible that i had cooked. Cooking slowly began to delight me- I'd cook when I was lonely or depressed , when I wanted to surprise my tired roommate or simply when I felt creative. Our menus were always simple, chocolate croissants microwaved for exactly 12 seconds for breakfast. Rice/bread/ tortillas with sardine or mushroom curry for dinner. Sometimes we would feel guilty of devouring so many members of the sea kingdom and make some vegetables.

Sundays were days of experimentation. We would cook sambar and rasam ( from the recipe booklet) and try out different recipes from internet printouts- which we would faithfully use the office resources for. There were several nice discoveries on our journey-Chicken 75, coconut mushroom sambal and woodchop ( a very unique frozen dessert). One total disaster was Gobi manchurian. Well, to put it nicely we couldve supplied some to replenish the dwindling glue supplies at our local post office. when I left France, my friends gifted me a lovely book on 'Desserts'. I flip through it very often- to drool at the pictures.

Back in India, when i was working in Chennai, i got back to the cooking routine, but things changed because there was no microwave and ofcourse no sardine tins. So I turned into a veggie at home and my cooking turned less experimentative. Though there is one particular session my theatre pals love to remeber even today.
It was a pot luck dinner and me and my roommate decided to take Gulab jamuns. We bought the mix, and set out with making the dough. We rolled it out into small cute balls with all the experience of doing the same for chappatis. We fried them and made the sugar syrup. Heated the syrup till it became a little viscous and dropped the jamuns into it. We then waited for a while and put it into the fridge. We mustve gone wrong somehwre coz in a few minutes the syrup had crystallised. we took the dish out and analysed the situation. Maybe the syrup had become too thick. We started digging out the jamun. Well, it was really digging beacuse there had been a fair amount of solidification. The jamuns came out with sugary deposits all around it.. so we, ummmm... well.... washed each with tap water. May I remind you here that tap water in Chennai is as salty as sea water. Now to offset the salty taste we dropped the jamun balls in mineral water. And carried it to the party. What followed at the party ranged from wild shrieks of laughter to discussions on how our poor jamuns could be used as ammunition. Last I heard was that my play director was describing my jamuns to some Slovenian friends of his- almost 2 yrs after the incident.
Over the last few years I've tasted many cuisines ranging from Mexican, Lebanese, Italian, German, French, Chinese, Thai, Malay, Baba nyonya ( a very special Malaysian variety), Turkish, Pakistani and many others. The following are some of my all time favorite foods- in random order. Also includes some which I have tasted just once.
*Raw mango with chilli powder
*Belgian chocolates
*Pal Payasam
*Matthi Fish fry
*Thin crust pizzas in Italy
*Satay in Malaysia
*Kela Rabdi in BITS
*Chicken Biriyani at a Bhai's shop in Coimbatore
*Fish tikka in most restaurants
*Elaiada- a mallu sweet dish
*Hot doughnuts
*KFC chicken
*Dahi vada in BITS IC
*Hot 'n' Sour chicken soup at a Chinese restaurant in Coimbatore
*Mom's egg rice
*Chilly paneer at C'not, BITS
*Mango Ice cream
*Bread sandwich with ' kaya' - the coconut jam
*Chendol in Malacca
*Cakes with icecream in the centre and on the top
*Tub Tim siam (sweetsoaked chestnuts in coconut milk) at Benjarong, Chennai
*Danish butter biscuits in round blue tins
*Sardine curry
*Little onion samosas
*Curd rice

Hmm, I'm going rumbley in the tumbley...
Till next time...

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The cutest babies I've ever set eyes on. The little devils, my twin cousins, Akhilesh and Avaneesh Posted by Hello

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

And more...

I had thought a lot about taking my camera for relief work that day. For one thing, I felt it might look like I was being insensitive. I'm not really sure why I felt that way but I guess if I were in that position I wouldve stoned any camera wielder within a 100 metre radius. Besides my camera is quite big and conspicuous and not something you can hide under a dupatta or stuff into a pocket. So my camera stayed at home but instead the organization's camera landed in our hands and we were entrusted to take pictures of the relief work. We took some pictures like I mentioned before but I have no clue to where they are now.
While we were out there talking to the fisherfolks, a white man stopped his motorcycle, and not moving even a step forward he takes out his camera and clicks pictures. While all of us stare, the affected, the unaffected and the stunned. What in the good heavens is he thinking?
Anyway, we scoot back to the 'Home of kits' and get our act going. We form little assembly lines to the push-cart so that we neednt walk with the rice bags. After heaving the blankets and most of the kits on to the cart, we walk to the distribution centre where a crowd has alreday gathered.
We sneaked in and met some of the women's club members who then had almost taken what they thought was full control of the situation. But , well, it was quite some chaos with everyone screaming around. So we brought about some order. Instructed two of the women to sit at the front to collect coupons, so that they feel important. Two more of them to hand us the vessels to fo with each kit , so that their contribution is noticed and appreciated. The rest of us stood in line handing out each a blanket, the food kit, the packet of clothes, the rice bag and then the water sachets.
The ladies in front collected the coupons, cross checked and we helped hand over the material. The men and women came in different lines and for each man, two women in the queue were attended to. The women with children (somehow not one man came with a kid!) were given packs of Cerelac and kid's clothes to go with it.
After about 100 people were dispensed aid stuff, the queue reduced to none and brutally shocked us. All the stories about people fighting for kits, faking coupons, looting packets and barging into the booths had sunk in so well that this lack of recipients of aid just couldnt be digested. But as if to console us, after about 15 minutes, the queue started to form again. apparently the time lag was because many of the workers had just got back from work.
Trouble started when some of the ladies got back to us with complaints. Our fears had come true and unfortunately for us, the fag-end kits with more biscuit packets and no detergents and oil had reached some of them and having compared kits with their neighbours, they were back to demand justice. We politely calmed them down, explained how we were just doing voluntary work and couldnt really find enough of all provisions for each family. We also told them how some families got no clothes, no vessels and no rice packets either and how lucky they were to get atleast those intact. They seemed to understand and retreated but I think all of us wouldve been more happy if the kits had been all similar.
As dusk neared, the queue again dwindled and some women approached us saying that their homes hadnt been covered by the survey. The women's club members were quite reluctant to give them the kits but then , what the heck, it was close to 3 hours since we had been distributing stuff and if the coupon holders still didnt want to collect them, here were more deserving people.
We sneaked them all sorts of stuff which didnt fit into the 200 kits, lotsa clothes, tiger biscuits, the remaining infant food, Lifebouy sachets and all.
As the rations grew increasingly scarce .. we grew increasingly tired. Its really not an easy job. But the satisfaction of even an hour's work with these people is mind blowing. I'm sad i could only contribute so much. The next day I was down with a viral fever I had contracted. Nevertheless, temperature withstanding, the time at relief work was a real eyeopener. An experience I'd love to recount and remember for long. Giving money is 'giving'. Giving time is 'giving and getting'.

Sunday, January 23, 2005


I've never really been in a place like this ever before. We've passed by villages and waved at kids from the train but this is quite a different experience. Once they know you are there from an aid organization everyone is really friendly. But the elders there advise against going close to the huts where the affected live coz they could turn unruly. We really dont believe them but because we had enough work to do with the making of kits and so on, we decided not to go meet them till the next day.
I know its quite odd to say this but our group had quite some fun getting things done. My co-helpers were from a local college and one guy from a software company, also in Chennai. This chap had actually come staright from office- in formals with even the identity card tag hanging around his neck. It was a pleasant sight seeing him with folded up sleeves wishing that he could miss his work and join us the next day too.
We bought 200 plastic bags of all sizes and made kits, containing one piece or particlar measures of each item. Toward the end when rations werent enough we compensated with extra biscuit packets which were in abundance, hoping that the people who got thee kits wouldnt feel so bad.
The most entertaining was the sorting of clothes. To bring in some colour and joy to the otherwise sombre process, we decided to match the boxes of salwar kameezes and also sarees with blouses. Surprisingly the men seemed to be quite good at the task, even hunting for similar coloured dupattas to go with it. We discarded so much of stuff which we thought wouldnt be quite appropriate- terribly torn clothes, pieces of underwear, disco wear and an old negligee with well, not much of cloth in it. We also put the kids wear in diffrently coloured plastic bags depending on the age and sex of the kid. We were quite dissappointed that the distribution couldnt be done the same day. The social workers briefed us on how there couldnt be any sort of aid distribution without a survey and how tokens had to be distributed earlier to each deserving family else the havoc and chaos would be uncontrollable. They recounted how they once took 200 'kudams' in a lorry and on reaching there found just 80. On a curve, the people had very skillfully managed to snatch quite a number of them.
We had done all the kit-sorting in a house there .. when we left, their little home was filled with all colours of plastic bags in all rooms. They seemed quite happy we had chosen to do the work in their house. And finally what the social workers made sense. When we had wondered why we werent doing the sorting at the godown itself, they had told us that the community there wants to get involved, even if it only means watching us.
The next day we all met at around 11 am. Today we had no transport and had to go by the public bus service. It meant taking two buses but we were accompanied by the same sweet ladies so we werent too worried about getting lost. The Chennai heat made the travelling quite tiresome but the little onion samosas, the cucumber with chilly powder and the rest of the lovely sights at the bus stop lift your spirits.
We went to the same cute little house. The baby there was crying quite loudly and wasnt really pacified by the five of us walking into his crawling territory. We checked our supplies, caught hold of a local guy and instructed him to take us to the seaside.
He walked us through mazes of huts. He told us how the surveys to find the families who were really affected had happenned a few days earlier and how a bunch of them had distributed tokens this morning. The people had been instructed to come at around 4.30 and we still had about an hour to visit the place, transfer the kits and set up shop.
Walking through the little huts, you can feel the sea nearing.. the blankness in the sky and the light smell of the Bay of bengal. As we walked closer, a woman came out and pulled at my hand. She asked me in Tamil if I'd come to give coupons to their 'kuppam' or hamlet. I replied saying that I was just here to see the place and that the coupon-givers would be coming a bit later. I wasnt really sure of what I was saying but the stories of the chaos and fights had truly scared me a bit.
From hearing to seeing- we quite literally ran into one of those. One of the area's women's club ladies was there giving coupons on our behalf. Actually they were joining with us to give away vessels. There was a huge crowd around her and we could only see her waving hands. Women were screaming at each other about how the lady who just got the coupon was not one of the affected. " How would you know?" retorted the one clutching the pink coupon.
An excited man pointed at my camera and asked us if we were from the press. 'They take pictures and we never get any help' he said. And with that he made it easy for us. A sprighty young lady led us to the site. We could see thatches lying all over the place. All flattenned out as if they were out for drying. Mangled in it were clothes, books, pieces of metal and memories of a peaceful fishing hamlet. The woman then ran across the thatches and posed, waiting for us to take snaps of her. The men around her instructed her to stand timidly, like someone who has been affected. We didnt want to dissappoint them and took pictures of all of it. These are for our personal use, we told them. But you will be on our list today, we assured them. Everyone was eager to tell us what had happenned. There used to be enough sand for kids to play cricket. And now the sea lashes angrily against a few rocks, having come closer by a few feet.
We can see a few rafts against the sun. some trying to get into the mood for fishing, some trying to get the fish into the mood. The women are still fighting. But there is some hope. The lad with us tells us about Sundarapuram, where the community sense is overwhelming. Every bit of aid inflow is equally divided among all the familes that have been affected. So when we told them we could give 30 kits to their hamlet, they tell us to give all the material for the 30 kits and that they would share them all.
Even in times of despair and disaster, the brawls sadden you. There is a story of a man who sold the 5 kg rice given to him as relief. Stories of the hut-owners parading as the affected while the actual tenants get nothing. In times like this the tales of Sundarapuram give hope.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Notes from my day at Tsunami relief work

I wasnt quite sure of what to expect when i called up Aid India . They told me to just come over and pitch in with whatever help I could offer. I entered what looked like a typical household.. only you couldnt really see the walls of the house coz they were stacked up with all sorts of aid from all corners of the world. Medicine boxes formed most of it while there were also sacks and sacks of what I thot were old clothes.
The organization on the first floor was a flurry of activity and everybody seemed to be too busy to notice there were strangers. I guess that's because when you are together for a reason you simply cannot be a stranger. We were allotted the task of going to Thiruvotriyur and distributing aid. What sounds like a simple job was actually a two day issue. Thiruvotriyur is about 40 minutes away from the office and we had to first proceed to the godown to collect the aid material. Accompanying us were three ladies, chirpy ladies quick to put a smile on your face- all social workers except one , an elderly teacher.
The godown was in a part of Chennai, I'd not even heard about, leave alone pass by. Some philanthropist had donated the use of the godown for a month and it was being used as much as it could be. There were even higher stacks.. and this time the walls alongside it were labelled Oil, biscuits, sarees, mens clothes, kids clothes, rice, dal, washing soap and so on. At the entrance, like a fort wall steel 'kudams' were stacked. We got to work- first checking the list of stuff that needed to be loaded. There were 200 families who had to be helped and enuff material to last them for atleast 2-3 weeks. So we loaded them into a big lorry - packs and packs of Tiger biscuits , Sunola, Rin, Lifebuoy, boxes of sarees and thotfully, a box of donated blouses and inskirts, shirts and pants, baby clothes and to go with it a carton of cerelac and nestum packs. Some mindless soul had given a tin of baby food which had expired 4 years back and had rust all over it. God , give them some brains and knowledge how to use it.
There was a pretty young girl who was sealing packets of rice and dal. She had come all the way from Hyderabad to help out, missing one week of college. When she does it all alone, with no company, you know she doesnt consider this an outing. We then proceeded in the minivan with the lorry following us to the 'affected area' . Only thing, it didnt look so 'affected'.
There is one great thing about Indians. We learn to forget. It was barely 2 weeks since the disaster and here were people moving around like nothing had ever happenned. Or maybe it's just that after seeing so much of video coverage we expect thinsg to be just the same. With people screaming and running, tear-dried faces and saree tents, blaming and cursing the sea gods for their misfortune. But it just wasnt. It probably in our blood to learn to move on. Oy maybe it's just that disasters have become a way of life for us. We had Bhopal and Bombay and Latur and Gujarat and now this. Too soon after each other to let us remeber the older one. Too numbing. We see other countries.. for even a smal percentage of the lives lost here, there is such a huge uproar. Documentries, wars, ground zeroes and memorials. Every year the whole world is forced to remeber 9/11 . Do you remember when the Latur earthquake was? Never mind. Neither do I.

Well, I'm back from the sooper long vacation and one of my new year resolutions is to blog. For those who know me well it must be quite a surprise to learn that I havent blogged yet, but well, well you cant be first all the time ;) Posted by Hello

Im still trying to figure out what im doing Posted by Hello