Cruising into the Terrifying 30s

This last week, the last day of last year, I turned 30. I dreaded that day since I entered the late 20s. Why does this have to happen to me? When I turned 29, I wanted to fill every form possible so that I could fill the “age section” with the coveted 20-something. “Never ask a woman her age” became my most beloved saying. It felt like the visa to remain crazy was in a nonrenewable zone after I cross the border of 29.

While all conversations with friends in the same age bracket turned towards this serious life crisis, some thought it to be a nonevent, many were freaking out, others thought it was going to be a game changer. And I thought, oh that poor little number; how we treat it with disdain and fear! We are such, if I may say, age-ists.

Age is a number – yes. It’s all in the mind -yes. But it will slow down metabolism, it will get the biological clock ticking a beat faster. However, on other levels, age shouldn’t define us, we should define it. It’s not like we are Cinderella carriages that have turned into pumpkins. We can do what we want – with our careers, with our love lives, with our dreams. So all those in my shoes, stop mourning over those “15 things you must do/travel to/wear in your 20s” articles and blogs. One can age gracefully; let’s have the remote control of what this number defines for us, and for heaven’s sake, let’s leave that much-tortured number alone!

The journey from 11:59 at age 29 to 00:00 when I turned 30 was the slowest and I wished it could be slower. But now that it’s here, I am going to embrace it with oomph and style! Here’s to the Dirty Thirty!

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Ek News pe Ek Sensation Free!

Consumers – we are built to believe that any “offer” is a good offer. We like the end-of-season sales even if it means buying not-of-season clothes, we love buying that iced tea just because it has a free shaker and not because we need it. That’s us. And this consumerism has spilled on to the Indian media on a heavy-duty basis. Long time ago. Our dear darling media loves taking one issue and trying to fit as many issues – related or not – that can latch on to it. And now we are one step ahead, we have gone international!

While watching the coverage on the Scottish referendum here in UK, I remember saying in jest to my husband how the reporting back home would have so much more masala and high-pitch sensation on an Indian channel. As if to prove my point, Rajdeep Sardesai did what he did, just when I thought he couldn’t out do himself.

Hang on. I know many are infuriated by the “heckling” at Madison Square. If no one else, I would have been the first to support him. I grew up admiring this guy and my journalistic aspirations were catalyzed every time I saw him reporting passionately. This adulation dwindled over time. But that’s another story.

When I first saw a partial clip of the incident outside Madison Square, I thought surely the crowd must have instigated him enough to make him get physical and use abusive language. He is human after all and is bound to react. I was tempted to post my opinion on social media – but I wasn’t getting a full picture anywhere. Clipped vidoes, one-sided opinions, first-hand witnesses – all spoke from one angle. No complete picture till I saw the videos posted by guruprasad.net. And then it all made sense. And caused shame.

Let’s think logically – if you are at Madison Square to cover Narendra Modi’s address, what would you typically ask the crowds outside? Top of my mind, I am thinking “What would you like Mr.Modi to address in his speech today?”, “Do you follow Indian politics as an NRI?”, “Do you think the Modi government will deliver what they promise?” or “As a person of Indian origin, do you see yourself going back to India or doing something for India?” Instead, what came in is a barrage of crassly framed questions and quotes from an economist on the pooja culture of Indians in America and how they want to pose in front of cameras but don’t do anything for their country. Now, now, now. You can ask the crowd anything and you are allowed to have an opinion. But if you were so concerned about the contribution of NRIs towards India, hire a studio in US/UK/Australia, call people from different industries and cities, and ask them whatever you desire and quote whoever you wish to unabashedly. Instead, you try to maximize out of an event by asking unrelated questions to a crowd and instigate them unnecessarily. Crass but well played on TRP and social media!

I don’t know if this was orchestrated by sections of the media, I don’t know if the people got into a mob frenzy. All I know is that I wanted to hear what Mr.Modi  wanted to say to the people in America, but I got my doze of unwanted masala free!

Of Food and Fear – I

Fear. It grips us in the most vicious way. It envelopes the mind and clouds judgment. It behaves like a superior race; gloating over the beads of sweat it brings onto our foreheads, trickling slowly into our souls and becoming a fixture. It is upon us to overrule its command and break out of the shackles.

I am not getting philosophical here. Nor is the title of the blog in any way suggesting nexus between the two F words. Always wanted to write something that sounded like the narration right out of a TV Drama – this seems close enough. However, this isn’t some random rambling – it is a sensing associated with my recent trip to Manali.

Manali – such a picturesque place. Why would one want to associate the word ‘fear’ with it? All thanks to my acrophobia. More on that later. First – predictably about my food journeys whilst on the trip.

This was an outing with mom and neighbors who are equivalent to family. A tranquil few days I was really looking forward to – escaping from daily routine and in some ways from reality. Since time was an affordable luxury, we wandered through the uphill roads in sheer abandon.

While on a holiday, I look forward most to the king of meals – breakfast. Not so much for citations on health magazines but more so because vacays promise elaborate and leisurely breakfasts unlike the everyday customary ‘chug-a-mug, gobble-a-mouthful’. We particularly enjoyed breakfast on our first day at Johnson’s Lodge – fluffy omlettes, crispety crisp hash browns and crunchy dressed veggies. The only other breakfast which stays on the mind was at Café Amigo’s. Actually, the preparations were disappointing but I loved the multi-grain bread. Enjoyed the baked goodness of the crusty bread without any dressing/spread – a sheer rarity.

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Three places I thoroughly enjoyed food at – English Dinner at Jimmy Johnson’s, much awaited meal at Mom’s Kitchen, chulha cooked Himachali lunch by Jana Falls. Jimmy Johnson’s is an old café serving some classy trout platters and is recognized for it. Visit this place and enjoy some yummy garlic grilled trout. For someone like me who doesn’t enjoy fish much, the Chicken Roast Platter is a delight – peppery with a thick sauce. I must add, the vegetarians don’t have much choice beside some wood-fired pizzas which aren’t great – I have eaten way better.

We could taste food at Mom’s Kitchen by sheer Divine Intervention – at least my mother claims it was her prayers that led to the before prior-to-season opening of Mom’s Kitchen 🙂 The place is run by an old couple in their 70s. It can seat not more than 12 persons at a time. The USP – fresh food prepared after the order is placed and made with Mom’s own twist to otherwise traditional recipes. My friend Jashan ordered the Chicken in Mom’s Special Sauce. One bite into a platter and I wanted to keep the plate for myself. I had the Ajwaini Roti with Chicken which was pretty good. Suggest visiting this place not for the richness of the food but for – richness in the care with which the food is prepared, for the interesting conversations with the 75 year old ex-surgeon who humbly serves the guests since 20 years, for the thought that goes into packing the poori-bhaji you ordered for your journey with some complimentary pudine ki chutney because you told them that you loved the way they made it.

On our second day at Manali, we visited the Roerich Art Gallery. After seeing glimpses in the lifetime of this Russian Master of the Mountains and his wife, the legendary and spectacular Devika Rani, we were greeted with chilly showers on our way back from this hilly memorial. With the rains came the appetite and the imperial recollections were balanced out by the earthy meal we ate by Jana Falls on that rainy afternoon. Nothing bigger than a kiosk, this place is run by Himachalis and serves authentic food – rajma, chawal, kaddi, makai ki roti, saag, siddu, mirch ki chutney. The cooking was done on a slow wooden fire under mud walls, the greens were minced over a grinding stone, the flour was farm fresh. Oh just one more thing, the food was served with a bowl hot ghee which threatened to freeze if not doused into the meal quickly. Anything more I say will dilute the charm of the food. Forget the spoons and forks, roll up your sleeves and enjoy the flavors of the mountains.

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The evenings were mostly spent strolling by the shops lined up in the market area. The cold weather demanded a good appetite which meant gorging on steamy Momos. The kiosk outside Adarsh restaurant was particularly good, especially the tongue-smacking chilli sauce – something most places cannot nail.

The advantage and disadvantage of our trip was that we visited in off-season period. Advantage – it did not feel like ‘the great human migration’ during which tourists flock hill stations not so much to beat the heat but for bachon ka vacation. Disadvantage – lean period = most restaurants take a breather = we missed out on a few awesome food experiences.

Another experience we missed on was visiting Rohtang Pass – climatic hazard. Anyway, we did get to visit its winter counterpart Solang Valley. That’s where the adventure lay.

Since this blog is inspired by tele-drama, I am going to keep the suspense hanging and let the blog roll over to Part II.

Watch this space for more 😉

The Local Sabzi Waala

I hate shopping at the sabzi mandi. Take me to a conditioned supermarket with trolleys in tow and fancily arranged vegetables any day; even if it means struggling for parking space and standing in endless queues while looking at the candy bars perked pretty on the confectionary stand that seduce me to pick them and cheat on dear diet. I will go to the supermarket and pay above average prices for below average stuff wrapped in shiny cling wrap so that I can help XYZ Retail Inc. justify their costs of occupying real estate in my expensive city. But God forbid if I have to pay the sabzi waala even one extra paisa! I am going to make sure the trip justifies every dime by extracting that ‘thoda extra kaddipatta aur mirchi’ (some extra curry leaves and chillies) from him even if he is giving me fresh veggies.

The ‘I’ in the above paragraph depicts not just me but several urban Indians whose buying patterns have altered as supermarkets scrupulously take over from the sabzi waala bhaiyyas.

This is not an ‘organized retail hai-hai’ blog. It is just that I find the quality in the markets/hawker carts far better than the refrigerated sorts and yet we subject our gastric journeys to mediocrity.

The inspiration to write about this comes from a recent visit to the Matunga Vegetable Market, Mumbai. I have been there several times with my parents who, when in India, come to buy some exotic or South Indian produce that is not available in our area. It is one of the popular markets and also one of the first few places in the days of yore where one could find baby corn, iceberg lettuce, fresh Italian herbs, kiwis, etc. Several women frequent the place, fervently making purchases from the hawkers while lugging around several bags loaded with fruits and veggies.

As a child, I always sat in the car and waited for my folks while flipping through the heaps of comics that dad bought me from the kiosk outside Matunga station. This time however, my mother forced me to accompany her into the market – sheer horror I imagined. I do not like moist, narrow spaces and particularly avoid such scenarios. I reluctantly followed her and was surprised that it wasn’t all that bad. The array of shops actually made an appealing picture with the colourful and green sabziyan such that I couldn’t resist a few clicks. Glossy purple brinjals, bright peppers, slender winter carrots, crunchy beans, Cinderella carriage-like pumpkins – I wish eating them was as delightful as looking at them!

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I have always looked at buying vegetables as a boring chore. Turns out going inside the market gave me a glimpse to a side of me I totally wasn’t aware of – enjoying veggie shopping!

Travel needn’t just be about trips to far away locales. There are also those pit stops on our everyday routes that provide invaluable experiences – like the Matunga Market was for me. As my fellow blogger Wandering iPhone recently mentioned on an FB note, ‘You never know where inspiration and light is gonna come from and you don’t have to travel to find it. It’s right here, every day.’ I have believed in that for the longest time now and at times recall the smaller delights in the form of these jauntlets (mini jaunts =>;;;; jauntlets :)).

So, next time do try and make a little trip to the local mandi or an organic fair. You may not get loyalty reward points but you will definitely get a fresher platter of greens.

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Glossary (for the Hindi words)

Sabzi (pl. sabziyan) = Vegetable(s)

Sabzi Waala = Vegetable Vendor

Mandi = Market

Bhaiyya = literally means Brother. In this context – a term used to address vendors, hawkers, drivers, etc.

Hai-Hai = Booing

A Wintery Rickshaw Ride

After what seemed like my nth meeting for the day, I hurried into an Italian café and grabbed a takeaway portion of freshly baked garlic bread and some steaming Oolong tea. Stepping out into the unusually crisp winter evening of Mumbai, I was glad to find a rickshaw without any frantic waving. It was a respite on what had been a long day at work. I couldn’t wait to get home but the previous passenger in the rickshaw held me up as she fumbled with her purse for money and spoke on the phone simultaneously. While I waited impatiently, I caught hold of scratches of her phone conversation – ‘jab main galat nahi hoon to main kyun bardasht karoon mummy’ (Mum, why should I tolerate this when I am not wrong?).

As she finally emerged out of the rick, I noticed her kohl smudged eyes and constant sniffing – clear indication that she was crying. I wanted to ask if she was okay but decided otherwise as it would seem too intrusive. It was probably just a heart-to-heart conversation with her mum about office politics. I put the sight behind me and started nibbling on the hot bread while the rickshaw weaved through the traffic.

When we stopped at a signal, the rickshaw waala spit out some paan (betel leaf preparation) and remarked, ‘Yehi hota hai jab maa-baap ki marzi ke khilaaf shaadi karo’ (This is what happens when one marries against the wishes of their parents). I ignored his comment, continuing with my nibbles, assuming he was talking on the hands-free like I find most auto and taxi waalas doing these days. Probably disappointed at not garnering a response, he turned his head to glance at me and repeated, ‘Maine kaha, yehi hota hai jab maa-baap ke marzi ki khilaaf shaadi karo’ (I said this is what happens when one marries against the wishes of their parents). He was definitely not referring to me. Then who was he talking about? Turned out the previous passenger had blurted her entire story over the phone through her journey from Andheri to Bandra and Mr. Eavesdropper had strained and hung to every word he could catch. He told me about how the lady’s husband had hit her the previous day which also happened to be their wedding anniversary. Before he could go on, I pretended to be very busy on the phone and cut him short.

I cut him short not just because it seemed inappropriate to listen to some stranger’s saga, but more so because at that moment I realized that some of my whiny/gossipy personal conversations while plying through the city must have become hot shot topics of conversation for many a driver. Strangers who I would mostly never meet, but nevertheless, the thought is a tad bit intimidating.

As we moved on to the highway, I noticed several police vans at regular intervals. Not realizing that some steps were actually taken in our city (which will last for how long remains to be seen) in wake of the Delhi Rape/Murder case, I inquired with the auto waala if he knew the reason behind so much bandobast (security) on the roads. To which he snorted, ‘wahi Delhi ka hua na abhi’ (The Delhi incident which happened recently). He took this as a cue to preach once again, ‘Sirf ladkon ki galati bhi nahi hai. Ladkiyon ko dekho, boyfriend ke saath ghumne jaate hain aur ghar pe bolte hain traffic mein phas gayi hoon. Rape nahi to aur kya hoga?’ (It’s not just boys who are at fault. Look at girls, they gallivant with their boyfriend and say at home that they are stuck in traffic. Obviously they are going to get raped). This enlightenment of girls lying, going with boyfriends, etc. must have also been sourced from his various fares through the years. He looked young – mid-twenties. But his thoughts I could not put in an age bracket. They were scary for a person who represented young India. I was tempted to give him a piece of mind but getting into an argument with this person in the middle of the highway (especially when my mother had warned me not to travel by rick!) did not seem smart. I chose to keep my mouth shut and ignore his smart ass comments.

On most occasions I am used to the drivers crib, crib and crib. Give them a chance and they can go on about their ‘chutte ka problem’, ‘ulta padne waala raastas’, ‘waiting’ or any other woe of the typical taxi/auto driver. But this guy was very accommodating – when I needed to hunt for an ATM, when I had to make him wait to get change. He also knew his manners, thanking me when I paid him the fare.

I don’t want to judge him. I have had many interesting conversations with the taxi/auto waalas. The thought of journaling it had however never struck. A journey by itself, that remains as a foggy memory of that wintery night.

Imageimage source: dribbble.com