Sunday, November 30, 2008

Point & shoot

The standard Indian explanation of terrorism by the way of pointing fingers toward Pakistan seems rather shallow at this point. Even if it is true, we still cannot justify the failure of our intelligence, police & the general rise of civil unrest in the country based on religious grounds which includes Hindus, Muslims & Christians alike - the difference being one of degree. This is a moot point, however.

Nothing that I know of tells me that the Pakistani government has even an iota of control over a lot of these home-grown terrorists. Pakistan is as much a victim of the situation as we are. Their military & intelligence are way outside government control. So by lobbying against the Pakistani government, if government is the right term for the the structure in place in Pakistan right now, I do not see how we are taking any measures of consequence in solving the problem.

One of the aspects of this closed, parochial mentality is epitomised in the failure of SAARC as a political organization, as opposed to the EU - which, in spite of its many internal disagreements, has been able to structure an organization which gives it clarity & definition as a body of nations united for many geo-political purposes.

If India does not understand & act upon the notion that the idea of national peace & prosperity in a region of economic, societal & political distress is just banana oil, this kind of thing will continue to happen. And acting in the regional interest is something that each country has to evolve a consensus & a mentality for. And their respective citizens will need to have the voice & purpose to do this.I can't imagine that the solution to any of this, whatever the solution is, will come from & involve just one country in the region.

South Asia is in tatters. India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka - all of us battling endlessly against internal strife based on a variety of factors. South Asia has not really had any kind of a movement resembling the Renaissance, but we're sure not going to stop ourselves from slipping into our own "Dark Age". So lets go ahead & pull that trigger - an eye for an eye, right?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Being Rahul Dravid

Rahul Dravid is struggling to score runs. And he has been struggling for a while. Whether he decides to quit the game or not is his own call & his place in the side regardless of his personal decision is a question for the BCCI. For me, though, looking at Dravid as just a number 3 batsman in India colours is violently reductionist - it is tantamount to saying that Edmund Hilary was mountaineer from New Zealand & Abraham Lincoln was the President of United States around 1860.

A while back a guy called Kapil Dev took 400 or so wickets - only to be surpassed plentiful times since his times. Kapil's 400 wickets, though, are more than a record - what was more important that it made a nation believe that it can bowl fast. The lot of Indian bowling stars/starlets owe it Kapil that conceiving a cricketing career as a pace bowler was no longer construed as utterly ridiculous.

In the same vain, Rahul Dravid is more than the sum of all his runs. He is the crouching wicket-keeper who keeps for 50 overs & comes out to bat at #3. He is the master technician who shakes his head in dissapointment if the ball he sent to the boundary hit his bat 3 cms to the right of the meat of his bat. He is the guy who gave up captaincy, in a power hungry country, so he could just bat.

If Dravid does not recover his form, no one, in their right minds, can say it was because he did not try, or because he was pre-occupied with things other than scoring runs. Being Rahul Dravid also means merciless introspection, as Menon writes here; & the continual scrutiny of his game, in good times as well as bad, toward continuous improvement. It means the restoration of method & practice as legitimate means to cricketing achievement, in sharp contrast to the wizardry weilding hand-eye coordination method of some of our popular & equally successful batsmen.

And that is precisely why Dravid is more than a crickter. A fat lot of help hand-eye coordination is if you do markerting, or keep accounts. But whether you have a rock-band, or write software programmes - you can apply method & practice. You can demand the best of yourself if you practise law, or design a set. In medicine as in the hotel business, there is always something that you need to learn & relearn.

Dravid's legacy, then, is an old-fashioned, incredibly middle-class, relook at the art of the possible - not by the blessed magical sparks of talent & twists of luck, but in spite of these. His legacy is the extra thought you put in, the additional hour you invest, & when you strive instead of trying.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Expanding your....ummm...horizons!

So I'm stuck again in a hotel room for the rest of this year. I'd have to say that the weather in Alpharetta, Georgia is not quite inclement this time of the year - in sharp contrast to the bally snowstorms in Minneapolis earlier this year.

Well, it felt like snowstorms anyway. What do you think I am - an eskimo? Or is it an igloo?

So you may be inclined to ruminate about my sharp social encounters in chatty pubs, or me catching up with the stage - of the acting variety, I hasten to emphasize -, or taking trips along the rather beautiful, I suspect, country sides of Southern USA. And you'd be wrong.

I sit here at my desk in the hotel & read the news. I'm tired of making egg noodles oddly flavored with orange capsicums & broccoli. CNN thinks that there is no event even worthy of an occasional mention, whether in the USA or the petty little world outside the States, if it has nothing to do with the Presidential elections.

So as you can tell, I'm expanding my horizons & my waistline. And all this without any aid of any alcoholic beverage. So please be kind & show some approval.

From being a top 20, 000 reviewer (yippie!) in Amazon for over a year, I've slipped. As much of this is due to the fact that I am reading the kind of stuff most people in civil society would not want to associate with, I still want to emphasize that by virtue of being a friend of mine, you do not really consistently qualify as a member of the civil society.

So please, click this link & vote. And make your opinion count.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Pasta, faster

A easy quick meaty meal to fix yourself when you're short of time, drunk, & hungry:

Fettuccine with Italian Sausage:

Serves one person:

  • Onion - 1 medium size, finely chopped.
  • Tomato - 2 small or 1.5 medium sized; coarse chunky pieces.
  • Italian Sausage - Chunky pieces;Cut 1 sausage into 4-5 pieces.
  • Bacon (optional) - Nothing like cooking in animal fat
  • Fettuccine - A little less than enough for one person.
  • Mozzarella (optional) - You're not calorie conscious, are you?
  • Salt, Pepper, & cooking oil.
Preparing the pasta:
  • Simply heat the fettuccine in boiling water. Add a little salt to avoid sticking. Taste a strand or two & set aside when its not fully cooked, but cooked enough so you can eat it if you had to. So about 90% cooked.
Preparing the Sausage:
  • Heat about 1.5 tablespoons of oil in a flat saucepan. Turn the heat to low.
  • Saute the chopped onions until they are sort-of, kind-of brownish.
  • Add the chunky tomatoes, bacon, & sausages.
  • Stir to mix everything well, cover the pan, & cook for about 8-10 minutes.
  • Put the Fettuccine into the mix & stir well. Cover the pan & let it sit for 3-4 minutes. Stir from time to time to avoid sticking.
Sprinkle a little cheese, throw in a little salt to taste, & enamour with some pepper.

Your pasta is ready to eat, so hope you have some beer stocked up .


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Carbon footprint

Of all the ways we perceive, & change according to, the world around us, one of the important measures to know & care about is your carbon footprint. It is all very well to know about global warming, though I'm personally unsure how much of the global warming debate is driven by scientists as opposed to activists (or alarmists...), however, I think that it is important to know how much each one of us contributes to carbon dioxide content, & see if there are ways to reduce it.

The good thing about reducing carbon footprint is that it is not not only an environment friendly thing to do, but it is also good economics. So if you use CFL in your households, you're at the same time saving money & energy. Unlike many other problems we face today, reducing carbon footprint means a saving of money & not a spending of it. So much so that the CFL commercials just talk about how much you'll save on your energy bill, without saying how much more efficient it is compared to incandescents. This is the implicit however; but I think it'll help to emphasize this.

Again, car pooling/mass transport is good economics (Kilometers per passenger, fuel litres per passenger), good for the traffic, & good for the environment. That is why trains are so much better than flights - though you could argue the macro-economic costs of business travel over rails are enough to offset any gains in reduced spending.

In any case, since a society is after all an assimilation of people that live in it, it will help to know what your carbon footprint is & see what you can do, if you want to, to reduce is. Here is a carbon footprint calculator.

The breakneck pace of India's global ambitions should, I feel, be equally complimented by the sensitivity & awareness of her people - people who are driving this growth, the income appreciation, & probably looking to drive the latest Sports Utility Vehicles, & the gradually replacing once manual chores to appliances as much as they can.

I do not know what the right balance to all of this is, but a start is probably more important than the right strategy.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Deep thoughts on food

Usha has tagged me to do a post on questions pertaining to food & the like. While I prefer eating food more than writing about it, I'll do this post regardless, because like Anatole, aunt Dahlia's cook, " I am cool as a few cucumbers." :)

What’s your favourite table?
Ok, I know that I'm not very smart, but is that a trick question? It simply does not matter as long as what is on it is good. I like tables with tableclothes on them, but that is about as much attention as I pay to tables. Furniture...haah!

What would you have for your last supper?
This is why knowing the future is such a bad idea. If I knew this was my last supper, I won't feel a whole lot like eating. So I guess I'll have a jittery Hilsa, a shaky Hefeweizen, & a nerve-wracking Black Forest gateau. Or at least those are the things I could think of in my panic-stricken state.

What’s your poison?
Usha says tea; I'd say the same. Though I'd probably have the second flush Darjeeling with a nonchalant spot of milk, & a few friends with a little conversation for sweetener.

Name your three desert island ingredients.
1. Water
2. Very sudden & strong beginnings of faith in an almighty God.
3. Can I take my wife, or no other animals are allowed?

What would you put in Room 101?
Apologies, but could you ask that question in English again? Apologies again, I was born like this.

Which book gets you cooking?
It is rather hard to get me cooking. But one time I did read a book & got cooking & made, I believe, one of the the better biriyanis that I have had during my short but colourful career as a carnivore. Those of you who do not read my Amazon reviews should go & check out Lizzie Collingham's "Curry: A tale of cooks & conquerors". It has the biriyani recipe right from Akbar's kitchen. What a great king was he, nahin? :)

What’s your dream dinner party line-up?
Lambs, swines, wines, tobacco, dashes of garlic & pepper. Serving sizes, apart from the wine, should be rather frugal. The wine would preferably be heavy, dry, & red. The furniture should be cherry, & the people on the table should be chatty & funny.

What was your childhood teatime treat?
At the risk of losing your society forever - though it is rather pompous to presume that I had that privilege in the first place - I loved drinking raw eggs as a child. I don't know if i had a specific teatime treat.

What was your most memorable meal?
Even for a philistine like me, it is difficult to reduce the evenings I spent at Asha's to just food. They were memorable everything, meals inclusive, & free. :)

What was your biggest food disaster?
Back in Sangam, I made poha that you could hear yourself chewing.

What’s the worst meal you’ve ever had?
In Shanghai, we had an evening out to dine at the day time museum & the night time restaurant - some kind of an office of the erstwhile British empire. They served us certain organs of an octupus, I did not know octopuses had. It wasn't probably the worst meal ever, but certainly the biggest disappointment given the occasion.

Who’s your food hero/food villain?
No food villains, anti-heroes at the most. My wife & my father are among my favorite cooks.

Nigella or Delia?
Err... what?

Vegetarians: genius or madness?
If ever there was a rhetoric question...sigh...

Fast food or fresh food?
You crazy sexist; you had to ask a question showcasing gender-bias. Fast food, of course!

Who would you most like to cook for?
I promised baba that I'll make him the Akbari biriyani I mentioned above. But the emprire would not have been what it is if it kept its promises, right Usha?

What would you cook to impress a date?
I would not cook to impress a date. Success & failure are equally fraught with risks.

Make a wish.
I wish that people would experience their worlds with the same duality of intensity & serenity with which I experience a bratwurst.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Music & lights

Well, this again is Bangalore. It has been exactly 2 months since I was here last. And I'm here for just a week before I fly back to Minneapolis again for about 5 weeks - hopefully gorgeous as it can be.

Homecoming never loses its potency even if you're traveling all the time. A total of 6 or so months in the last 24 months in Bangalore still means Sangam Reunions - now with expanded families comprising spouses & children - still somehow awkwardly suspended between the Sangam years & the present. Homecoming means a return to a familiar routine & squabbles - nothing exceptionally celebratory, yet like an idiosyncratic way that you could not really do without. It means watching a little cricket on television, it means speaking an abominable mix of languages in one sentence, it is the juicy expletive you throw out at the auto rickshaw passing you by inches from your car, it is the dirt on your collars & cuffs, the phone you answer by saying "haan re".

It is a tall lamp in your living room; & a little jazz in the air. It is the uplifting strumming of an unknown raga, unshapely rotis & something delectable about the potatoes.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The ends of love - Dance Drama

The Ends of love is a dance drama commissioned by the the Stuat Pimsler Dance & Theater group. Staged at The Ritz, across the Mississippi, on University & 13th Ave NE, what amused me to start with was the composition of the audience. With the exception of me, it was all white. And there were two distinct age groups in there. One, college students. And the other, elderly people. You could count the number the people between ages 25 to 45 on your fingers.

Having said that, the performers were actually a wonderful mix of people - mostly white, but it did have a couple black artists, & a Brazilian. The story, if you do not follow the theater scene to all its nuances, is broadly about the various aspects of being in & out of love - rejection, possession, tiffs, battle-of-the-sexes & all such ways that love manifests in. Nothing all that new there. What really made the show worth the time & money (22 USD, general seating), were the dances, & the trifle arrhythmic & somehow still temporal music.

If you're interested in the aesthetics of human movement, you'll not be disappointed. Some of the movements were absolutely feline, some a byword on levitation, a reversals of roles where women carried the men, a climbing upon some two silken apparels that hung from the ceiling, tangling & disentangling, & then a fall back to the stage - with the two strands of silken apparel twining around the falling man.

The separation of men & women & the futile attempts to become again a part of a cogent whole was probably the best piece of the show. It goes from a classic one man show to a frenzy of arms, legs & bodies- together but not united; they each had their own singular focus, they all moved together, they all moved the same way but they could not form a communion - & the consequent pain of not being part of a more meaningful whole came across wonderfully.

It is a very difficult medium to tell a story, & my own cultural distance made it even more difficult to grab the nuances; however, the wonderful thing about all of this is that across the world the broad commonalities of expression & feeling are about the same - & a dance, more than text, falls back on such shared & very basic commonalities.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Listening to NPR - Indra Nooyi

I heard the interview of Indra Nooyi on NPR yesterday. It was a replay of a BBC interview recorded earlier. Engaging as it was, there were many fascinating things Nooyi said that do not quite ring true to my ears. She was insistent on how everybody across the world, India included, has always loved America & continues to do so. She alluded briefly to how people are able to separate people from policies & while American policies were not something she was going to discuss as the CEO of Pepsi, she had no doubt that this was indeed the case.

The incredible interest in the American Presidential elections internationally does not take away from the fact that the Muslim world, by & large, is alienated by America. The erstwhile soviet block I do not think was ever a great fan. The economies of Latin America have been known to suffer from disastrous policy recommendations from the World Bank & the IMF - very much under American scrutiny. So who is this everybody Nooyi is talking about?

I'd have to agree that it is the right thing to do to separate people from policies. My own travels to the US have taught me a lot against blatant generalizations around this. However, I do not think that such a distinction is made by people whose experience of America is not first hand. I frequently argue against such generalizations & the frequency of such talk points to the fact that a country is pretty much perceived by the news it makes - not by how its people may be like.

Nooyi's first 23 years in India have shaped her accent, & this has not changed. In many ways, she came across as very corporate, very confident, & wonderfully articulate. The story she related about her daughter having to take an appointment to meet her is amusing & sad at the same time.

She declined the challenge to tell Pepsi from Coke - citing reasons around how European Pepsi is different from American Pepsi. She further eulogized about how Pepsi was the chosen cola drink of great wine connoisseurs, & talked about tones of this & that in Pepsi. She did not say which of the many geographically-specific Pepsis she was talking about, though.

Her business acumen, I'm sure, is a byword. Her enthusiasm, energy & passion are incredible. She spoke very keenly on obesity & corporate & personal responsibilities for fighting obesity. I can only say that she did a less-than-perfect job of delinking America from Pepsi, & perhaps, even, tried a little too hard.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Swining in Minneapolis - Gasthof

Gasthof zur gemutlichkeit, which roughly means the inn of coziness or comfort, is a Bavarian restaurant on the University Ave NE in Minneapolis. From our many visits to Bavarian restaurants in Munich last year, I noticed a few similarities & dissimilarities

Bavarian food is earthy, chunky, & goes down like knife through butter, in Munich & in Minneapolis. It makes you give up pretenses of any higher purpose in your life. If only Hitler had unleashed chefs on Europe instead of soldiers, he probably would have had more success.

The restaurants, in Munich as in Minneapolis, have chequered tableclothes.The waitresses typically wear the Bavarian peasant dress for women which more or less amounts to an apron over a white blouse; beer is always sold by half or one liter mugs of bonhomie. The Hefeweizen, in Gasthof was served with two cuts of lemon. I can't remember if this was the case in Bavaria or even at Gordon Biersch in Washington DC. Lemon or no lemon, a yellow cloudy wheat beer is always exactly the right thing to be seen with.

In Gasthof, as in Munich, the menu did not have chicken. Perhaps eating fowl is considered bad form. Of course, there is ample beef, pork, fish (the local Minnesota walleye), bratwurst, & even venison available at the Gasthof. The schintzel is the speciality. Of course! And Gasthof also prides itself on a meter-long bratwurst - & if you eat it, you get a certificate!

Strangely, or may be its my abysmal memory, I was give a delectable salad in Gasthof as part of my order. And a chunk of bread & ample butter. The bread resembled a shot-put - only it was fluffy & bready in colour. This humongous bread was served with about 8 sachets of butter of which I ate two - half the shot-put. The bread took a while coming as it was being baked as I ordered, & I think that while I'm drooling & writing odes on German food, I just cannot emphasize how good this bread generally was & the breads generally were in Munich. Hitler could have gotten the Poland etc on bread alone!

The quantity, I'm sorry to say, was enormous. I was typically able to finish my plate in Munich. With half that shot-put & the all the salad inside of me, I could not eat even a quarter of what looked like a portion of the happiest, fattest swine to have ever said whatever pigs say to each other on bright Sunday Minneapolis mornings. That roasted porcine thing was the anti-thesis of any semblance of civilization & moderation, a throw-back to our lives in the woods & farms when the sight of a pig waddling through the marshes would light up our eyes & set our saliva production to overdrive.

In Gasthof, there were a couple of accordion players who sang ballad like songs in English for anybody who'd care to listen. I recognized "Happy Birthday" & the perennial favorite from "The Sound of Music" - Doe, a deer....

And here is the parody of of Doe a deer that they sang as well... (I've put in my own words for the bits I've forgotten)

Doe - a beer, a mexican beer
Ray - the guy standing by the bar
Me - I drink in the name of God
Far - a good long way to the bar

so - so I think I'll have some more beer
la - la, la, la, la, la
tea - no thanks, I'll have some beer


Sunday, March 09, 2008

Being Purushottam

As far as I know, Lord Ram had a rather trying training as a child - living in jungles & reading deep, fat books when other children his age were playing cricket. He had the abysmal bad luck of running into Parashuram once as well. And then he gets himself exiled, has to start living in the woods, gets his wife kidnapped by some weirdo, uncool king & manages to befriend a few apes for conversation & tea in the evening.

I mean, that's not so great.

And yet, as far as I know, notwithstanding his treatment of his wife later in the epic, he was a rather nice chap. In his time, there were actually just wars - which he fought & won, & reinstated the right rulers for the kingdom. He ruled his kingdom well & apparently people could go to the nightclubs without locking their houses. He was the original proponent of the 'no-first-strike' policy & there was no collateral damage in the wars he fought. Rather a sophisticated bloke, I am not sure that he ever said even so much as "oh shit!" once.

And we forget all this & forget that the Ram Setu was built on perseverance & strife, that Lord Ram was more about building bridges, forging friendships & getting things done right.

What are you doing about Purushottam's legacy?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Indian food in Minneapolis

Well, this post could also be called "how not to have a life". Yes, it is incredibly cold in Minneapolis & I do not want to know exactly how cold it is for the fear of slipping into depression, & I do not have a whole lot to do - except work - & assorted & repetitive disillusionments on the treadmill.

Minneapolis has a thriving cultural scene including great music, theater & opera. I'll probably go to all of them in time. Right now, the only non-professional reason to get out of my hotel room is the animal desire to eat. Ghastly, right?

And though I like to believe that I belch with equal appreciation be it a Biriyani or a burger with fries, lately I've been stuck to the Taste of India. I've heard from many people here that it is the best Indian restaurant in these parts. That may indeed be so; in fact, the daal is not bad at all, though the mutton & chicken curries are bathed in fats a lot more than I'd like.

You can imagine my lifelessness when I say that I usually pack myself a carry out; however, I like to wait at the restaurant while they prepare my food & never call in advance. What do I have to do with my time anyway (except writing nonsensical posts like this)? In the process, I look at the waiters & the flood of Caucasian & homesick brownies like me at the restaurant. And I read & re-read the menu.

It turns that the menu boasts of 'Kashmiri scallops'. Hullo! Scallops in Kashmir? And Banarasi Biriyani - yes, that may be close to Lukhnow (erstwhile oudh ) but isn't Varanasi more about the Kachauri gali as you listen to the bells in the Vishwanaath temple & the cows burping? What in the world is a Chicken Josh - Rogan Josh made with chicken - as you might have guessed. And Madrasi mutton - if ever there was an oxymoron...While Chennai provides ample delectable & mouth-watering recipes, I have never quite thought that mutton was one of them.

While these sharp & rather parochial differences melt away in spite of the snow in chilly Minneapolis, food-in-general is complete banana oil. No two chutneys are alike, & nobody quite makes khichdi like you do.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

This I believe

This I believe is a show on NPR. National Public radio is one of the best parts of being in the US. While we extrapolate an anti-Bush & anti-aggressive-foreign-policy stance to anti-America in general, NPR is one of the many glorious contradictions to such generalizations. While you may read my thoughts on NPR here, I took on the subject of one of it's programs to say this:

"How we behave in unmanned traffic signals says a lot about who we are."

- This I believe

Sunday, February 10, 2008

That song in your head

Remember that song in your head that you cannot rid of?

I recently read Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. I've only started recently reading on Neurology, & as a book, I perhaps rate "Phantoms in the brain" slightly higher than this one by Sacks only because I understood a lot more & a lot more was explained. However, the sheer variety of ways in which we appreciate music is quite unfathomable as are the number of minuscule ways in which this fine balance can be upset. And this is particularly why this book is closer to our lives while "Phantoms" - while still about the human brain - does not quite connect at the same level.

If you've ever wondered about music, like it or dislike it, but cannot ignore it, this is the book to read to find out a lot more about how & why it affects us.

I cannot listen to music while doing something else. It is good to know that this is 'NOT' a condition. :)