Sunday, March 25, 2007

Smells like Home

The sound of a pressure cooker whistling and sputtering out is one of the most reassuring, familiar, homey sounds in the world to me. It reminds me of Sunday afternoons lazing at home, in the warmth of family all around. It reminds me of hyperactive evenings with a houseful of friends and relatives as my mother went into overdrive in the kitchen, feeding them all, tired but proud not to have failed everyone's expectation of her as a good cook! It reminds me of walking back from the bus stop on hot summer afternoons, sticky school uniform, a test coming up the next day, and then, as I walked down the corridor towards our flat, the sound of a pressure cooker...Ma's at home, she's cooking.....mutton!!!

I have always prefered to eat than to cook. Ma would occasionally start telling me the process of cooking something when I wandered unsuspectingly into the kitchen to steal a bite of what was cooking. Next thing I knew, I'd be standing there shelling peas as I let her recipe float over my head, paying minimum attention, just enough to make all the right sounds!

But now, with a kitchen to myself, (it's a hot plate, and it's on the left in a small passage on the way to the rest of the room we call home while we live it up (?) in Dubai), I seem to have discovered the joys of cooking! It's a delight to go shopping. It's an even greater delight when I come across a recipe on Sandeepa's page that seems to need all those ingredients I don't know what to do with. And when, in an impulse attempt to cook Chicken 65, I race out to buy karhi patta (curry leaves), I hurry over hot roads in the desert sun, past sights and sounds and foreign cars that remind me that I am far from home, and go looking for those familiar leaves among overstocked shelves with a sense of anticipation and impatience. I glimpse a tightly shrinkwrapped bunch, and raise them to my nose to check and, I am home in that moment, in that smell.

Trying to be content with brief phone conversations with family, when I splutter jeera in the pan prior to cooking aloo gobhi, I close my eyes and breathe in that aroma that always meant that dinner was ready and that daal, with fresh tadka and dhania leaves, was going to be on the table, golden and tempting.

Smells are so much more evocative of memories than anything else. Just like books, they can help you travel, and take you places you loved and treasured, settling you firmly among all that was special, all that was home.

Dreams in their Eyes

What motivates people through life? I'm in Dubai nowadays and I see lots of Asians all around me, working quietly backstage to keep the Emirate running smoothly. Sweepers, waiters, porters, construction workers, hotel housekeeping staff, chefs, taxi drivers, airport bathroom cleaners, they're all Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Afghans (Okay, lots of Filipinos too). They struggle everyday, living in terrible conditions, sharing bathrooms and bedspace with 8-10 other equally desperate people, eating simple food day in day out, and all this without the comfort of home around them. All this, knowing that the country they are in is just exploiting their terrible need for money. Money to send back home, money to fund marriages for an endless line of dependents, money to educate the children so they go further and higher than their fathers, money so that people back home can live a life that is denied to them otherwise.

I met an Afghan who has been here for 25 years and has slept in a tour company's desert camp every night for the last 10 years, so that he can finance his family's survival back in a war-ravaged homeland. A taxi driver who has been here for 30 years and is now being forced to quit his job, probably in the government's bid to give jobs to locals (this country will fall apart!). A Mallu cab-driver who spews angst in everything he says about his employers. A Pakistani (who pretended to be from Bombay, should I have believed him?) who has slept on the floor of a 10 square-foot room with 8 others for the last 11 years and sees no improvement in sight. A Goan who cleans my hotel room and dreams of returning to India and working in a call center.

Dreams...these are what have kept all these people going. There are those who dream big, and those who dream small. A dream is the eternal carrot, making us all run, lame though we may be, though we know we can never run back to where we started from, though we know that the carrot may elude us always, we still run.

On KBC, it is interesting to watch people following their dreams to the hot seat. There they sit, in front of a quiz master who has everything he wants, and in the nervous excitement of the game they are about to begin, where they could win it all, they confess their dreams to him. Someone wants to fund surgery for an ailing mother, someone wants to buy a house, someone wants to start a charity organisation, someone wants to vacation on an island with JLo. They spill their desires and dreams to the whole world, with stars in their eyes, and keep quizzing.

Dreams are crushed everyday. The construction worker trapped in an unsafe building will never send money home again. The soldier killed in action will never march home again. The teenager who jumped off a building with a broken heart will never smile again.

And then, someone wins the lottery, or you read someone's rags-to-riches story, and you start to dream, again. And when you look at the world with stars in your eyes, everything looks beautiful, and much can be achieved.

Friday, March 02, 2007


I was just trawling through the dictionary (don't ask why, I have this weird curiosity about words and where they come from and how some words are connected with others) and I happened to find the definition of feather.
Now, feathers are soft, gentle, light, tickling devices. They give birds wings. They are the basic units that allow flight. They used to decorate pens in Shakespeare's time. They can be seen on exotic, colorful costumes. Don't they have this soft association to them?
But here's how the dictionary defined it! And it is so unromantic I just thought I'd share it as trivia:
Main Entry: 1feath·er

Pronunciation: 'fe-[th]&r

Function: noun

Etymology: Middle English fether, from Old English; akin to Old High German federa wing, Latin petere to go to, seek, Greek petesthai to fly, piptein to fall, pteron wing

1 a : any of the light horny epidermal outgrowths that form the external covering of the body of birds and that consist of a shaft bearing on each side a series of barbs which bear barbules which in turn bear barbicels commonly ending in hooked hamuli and interlocking with the barbules of an adjacent barb to link the barbs into a continuous vane.


Thursday, March 01, 2007

Coffee Kicks

I think the smell of coffee is one of the bestest things in the world! Give me coffee over tea any time. Primarily because just that smell starts to work its magic on you while the cup is still making its way towards your eagerly waiting mouth. If tea has such a powerful olfactory impact, I am not aware of it and I don't really care. Because the coffee scent just makes me go mmmmmmm! :)

A sudden sleep attack made me slump over the keyboard as I worked. Miraculously, a cup of steaming coffee swam into my blurry vision. Goodbye inertia! I was up in a jiffy, made myself that cup of coffee and as I swallowed the dregs with a mix of pleasure and regret, I realised I was wide awake again. (This does not work on me at night if I want to stay up for a deadline!)

I am not a coffee addict. In fact, I can go days without drinking coffee. It's usually a social pleasure to snuggle up on a Starbucks/Barista/CCD sofa with a cup of coffee. Or to down a cold cold cold coffee on a hot hot hot Delhi/Bombay day. But coffee can really make me happy! And it can wake me up.

So here's to coffee, and coffee shops, and friends to drink it with...