Tehelka Sexual Assault – opinion

I have spent a lot of time in the last twenty four hours following the news and comments on the tehelka sexual harassment case. (Here is a link: http://www.firstpost.com/india/sexual-assault-case-tehelka-must-stand-by-victim-not-tejpal-1242119.html) Various journalists and writers and activists have critiqued not just the case but also the commentary on the topic, and in very clear, firm voices. The discourse on this incident has been very, very enlightening for me but it has also left me feeling very despondent.

I feel despondent because I find myself questioning whether the same people I really admire would have made those comments if it had been their paper/magazine/website in the middle of such a controversy. Maybe they would have thought it, but would they have made it? I hope for a yes but I fear a no. I know that if it had been a different paper, then Tehelka would have been making the same statements and arguments. So, what is good and who is ‘bad’?

Maybe it doesn’t matter as long as we all learn from it but the day has left me feeling more cynical than ever.

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1 chilly pork (dry)

I had the most delicious dish of pork today. My friend, Indrani, introduced me to Tibetan food around ten years ago, at Majnu ka tilla. It was quite a trek to go there but nevertheless, we did. Indrani and I used to live accross the street from each other. We would wake up early-ish for our MKT outings. We would take the bus from Chittaranjan Park to Connaught Place and then take the metro from Rajiv Chowk to Delhi University. From the metro station, we’d take a cycle rikshaw to majnu ka tilla. It would take us upto two hours to get there, but those days, we had really had nowhere else to be. Indrani had a regular place to eat there: TeeDee’s. All the years of visiting Majnu ka tilla and TeeDee’s is still the only restaurant I have ever been to.

Sure we tried different things every time we went there but actually, no, we didn’t. Beef momos (fried), chilly pork (dry), chicken thukpa, 2 tingmos and 2 cokes with lemon juice. That was our order. Even for two girls who could really eat, this was quite a lot. We never learned and invariably after each visit, we’d struggle to get out of our chairs and down the stairs but it would always be worth it. The chilly pork (dry) was my favorite. They did not believe in trimming the fat and I loved them for it.

I am in McLeodganj now, which is home to a large Tibetan refugee population. The town is peppered with Tibetan restaurants. Which brings me to the pork dish I had today. Now, the people at TeeDee’s changed their chilly pork recipe and let me tell you, it was a huge mistake. Their original recipe was to cook sliced pork in its own fat with chillies, onions, capsicums and tomatoes. With the new recipe, they batter fried the pork and made it with a chilly sauce, the kind you’d find in most Indian-Chinese restaurants. I don’t have anything against that sauce but it was just not the same. I am telling you, you had to be there. I went to TeeDee’s twice after they changed their recipe. This new chilly pork just felt wrong.

When I came to McLeodganj, I did not realize I was on a mission. That realization came soon though, especially after I started looking for chilly pork in every restaruant I stepped into. After two days in the small town, I finally walked into the right restaurant. It is called Cholsum. My friend and I went in for lunch and I ordered chilly pork (dry) with tingmo. I checked if they used sliced pork and they did. Even while waiting for my food to come, I was braced for disappointment. No way could it come close to the awesome pork I used to have at TeeDee’s and I probably remember it better than what it must have been. My lunch arrived and I was disappointed by how it looked. It looked bland with no color on it. I clearly remembered the pork being brown at TeeDee’s and this was colorless, almost white. I sighed to myself and took the first bite and was utterly and completely blown away. The pork was soft as butter, the pork fat even more so and the taste absolutely perfect. The seasoning was magical. My favorite part was by far the untrimmed pork fat, doused in the salty, oily, pork juice. Soft as butter. I cleaned my plate and sopped the last of the pork juice with the last of my tinmgo and had one of the best meals of my life. I was quite prepared to have a heart attack but I’d have died happy. So happy.

Chilly pork (dry) at Cholsum

Should you ever find yourself in McLeodganj, and hankering for a good pork dish, look for Cholsum. It is one shop away from the Cafe Coffee Day near the chowk. They also make other nice things.

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Also, I have made myself hungry again but good thing it is time for lunch.

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Sweet Dogs

The neighborhood kids found Snowy when he was a puppy. It must have been around seven years ago. I don’t quite remember how or when. He had a white coat and so they named him Snowy. They could have done better but what do I care. Snowy was a good puppy, I suppose. The kids loved playing with him. He didn’t have a mother so some of the neighbors made sure he was fed. Snowy started getting bigger and his excitement started becoming too much to handle. The same children who earlier played with him started getting scared of him. He would chase them, climb onto them, wait outside their houses and quite literally, hound them. My best friend loved Snowy. That lasted till he started chasing her whenever he saw her approaching even from a distance. He would wait outside her house and follow her around to her tuition classes. She would be so scared of being bitten that she would take longer, roundabout routes to avoid running into Snowy. He must have been heartbroken, that poor dog. One day, she saw from afar that Snowy had some bugs in his fur. I am not sure what they were and I am pretty sure, neither did she. She was still scared of Snowy but she felt like she had to do something. She diluted Dettol with water, climbed into her father’s car and waited for him. Once he came close, she splashed his fur with the mix, hoping – thinking – it would help. I thought she was crazy. I was always a little scared of Snowy so I never even petted him. But he knew I was one of the area people and occasionally followed me around too. Snowy kept getting friskier and soon the security guard would have to threaten him, and on occasions, even hit him with a stick to stop him from running after people. One day, the municipality guys came to get him. They returned him after a couple of days but he was never quite the same again. His fur dulled and he stopped harassing people. It was like something in him had died. Who knows. Things became better with time though. He started getting his energy back and has started giving in to chases now and then. Now, again, the postmen are afraid of delivering letters to our homes.

Elena and Bozo were born near my house. (It must have been around three years ago because I remember that it was around the same time my grandfather died.) They were very cute, like all puppies are meant to be. Their mother died soon after they were born. She got hit by a car. It was sad. She left behind these two beautiful puppies. Bozo was brown in color; Elena had a white coat with brown patches. I really don’t know who comes up with these names but like I said, I don’t really care. Elena and Bozo were a lot calmer than Snowy. They were a very playful brother sister pair but they had unique personalities. Bozo was the submissive one, letting his sister dominate him. But they were always together. Fighting, or playing, or ignoring each other, they were stuck to each other. My grandmother would put out food for them at certain times of the day, and sure enough, they would turn up together, usually looking like they were squabbling. Elena always had first dibs on food and water but there was always enough left for Bozo. She made sure he was fed.

Elena and Bozo grew up in the neighborhood just like Snowy had. We thought there might be trouble but Snowy stayed away from the younger dogs. One day, Bozo got really sick. Some neighbors theorized that the municipality guys had poisoned him. One of our neighbors even took him to the vet but there was nothing the vet could do. Bozo died soon after that. It was all very sudden and Elena seemed lost without her brother. Some time later, Snowy and Elena formed a strange friendship. Maybe not too strange but it was definitely unusual. They started hanging out together all the time. I was glad because Snowy finally had a friend and Elena was not alone without her brother.

My sister has a strange affection for these strays. She feeds them and makes sure they have water and talks to them. I don’t even want to know what those conversations are about. She obviously has a lot of patience. But sometimes, when I come home, they think I am her. They start barking the moment they spot me and jump around me, sniffing me, with their tails wagging swiftly. Elena always gets her muddy paws on my clothes while Snowy circles me and barks at me. Sometimes I pet them and talk to them so they won’t feel rejected. They are sweet dogs who live in front of my gate.

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There is no easy way to say this

I love animals and I really want a pet someday. People say that before you have a baby, you should try keeping a plant. What? People don’t say that? Well, they very well should. So, since I wanted a pet, I decided to get a plant (if you read slowly, this makes total sense). I moved into an amazing house a few months ago where I have a huge balcony, with lots of sunlight, fresh air, and depending on time of the year, an occasional firecracker. After weeks, no, actually, months of planning to go to the nursery to pick up some plants, I finally did. I should have taken a picture because the nursery was beautiful. Lots of flowering and non flowering plants of various colors and sizes. So I thought that I will start with one plant, see how it goes with it and gradually get more. After a long time of internal debating about what to get and what not to get, I finally picked a sturdy looking tomato plant and a baby chilli plant. Why? I just wanted to make a good salsa!
Very excited, I brought the plants to my balcony, already dreaming about all the amazing chillies and tomatoes I was going to grow. I forgot about them for three whole days. I think that should have been my first hint of things to come. I don’t think those plants ever quite forgot those three dry, waterless days. However, it was a wake up call for me and I was up to the task now and I started watering them (very) regularly, checking on them all the time and even praying for good things to happen. One day, while I was checking for fruits/flowers/new leaves/any sign, I noticed that the tomato plant was wilting and there was dandruff type thing on my chilli plant! I was absolutely shocked and started looking for help immediately. Google told me to talk to plants so I did. Hollywood movies told me to sing to my plants and I did that too. Come to think of it, maybe that was the final straw (ha ha) and soon after, one day, both of them just…died. Now, it is not like plants have a pulse but I could tell.
I waited patiently, still watering them, still singing to my dead plants, and just being pathetic in general, and one day, as if in a movie, a strong wind came and just blew away all the dry leaves sticking to the stems and I had to let them go. Now I know I tend to get dramatic but I felt like a killer, a murderer. I threw them out with the trash the next day and learnt a very important lesson and there is no easy way to say this. Living things are really tough not to kill.
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Thank you, Adam

I went on a holiday recently and couldn’t take my car with me. These low cost airlines are stingy with their baggage allowance and I had already made a very difficult choice between a pair of golden slippers and my MCP (most comfortable pair) of shoes which might look like an animal but is comfortable enough to sleep in.

So I left my car at home, inwardly thankful that I would not have to drive twenty kilometers each day for the next ten days. Even more thankful that I would not have to watch my life flash in front of my eyes every time a bus would locomote to my left side. In my head, the bus driver is a very, very angry man and he has no time for little girls in red cars and he would just love to quash me and Adam (named after the apple) with one sweeping move to the right. The whole life in a flashback routine gets really boring after the first few times. I would definitely not miss the suicidal pedestrians, who just love crossing streets and don’t even get me started about the car behind mine, honking like its dickie was on fire. So off I went for ten days, ten really long days which got over too soon.

The first thing I did once I got back was check if Adam had been stolen while I was away. Actually, that’s not true. Once I got back home, I showered, changed clothes, went to work in an auto, came back home in another auto, watched the first half of the third part of the LOTR and then realized that I had not checked if my car had been stolen while I had been away. I went to the basement parking to ensure that Adam was still there and there he was, in all his broken tail light glory (one fine day, I accidentally backed Adam into a wall and have been wanting to get it fixed but Adam insists that it is a war wound that makes him feel manly and hardcore.)

I woke up the next day and sleepily went through my morning routine. The holiday was definitely over. My car key hides itself every morning and hunting for it is not a lot of fun if you are not a morning person. I am not. I found it though and left for work. I unlocked Adam and slid inside. Wait, that’s not true either. I haven’t slid anywhere in a really long time. So I sucked my stomach in, wrestled with the steering wheel and inserted myself into the driver’s seat, leaving out grace for another time. I pulled the seat forward so my feet could reach the brakes and all those other controls down there. Unfortunately, my stomach reached the steering wheel first but at least I had my big shoes on. I cleverly maneuvered out of the empty parking lot and drove out of the lane I live on, and up The Mountain. The Mountain is a very, very steep stretch of road that I would usually have to walk up if I didn’t have Adam. However, I did have Adam and in a matter of few minutes, I had conquered The Mountain. I was not out of breath and there was no burning sensation in my shins. I said,” Thank you, Adam.” I turned left and I was out on the main road. And then the weirdest thing happened. All the pedestrians stopped moving. No, seriously, everybody was just standing still. I really don’t think keeping my hand on the horn had anything to do with it.

I was getting into this whole driving thing now, changing gears, flying over speed breakers at 100km/hr, braking suddenly, honking like my dickie was on fire, when suddenly it started raining. I said,” Oh no, rain!” and then Adam said,” Relax, honey!” and the wipers were turned on. I was feeling quite happy because my feet were dry and my hair was not going to be ruined because I was in the warm and dry shelter of Adam. Then I saw a woman on the street, struggling with an umbrella, carrying on lengthy negotiations with an auto-wallah and she reminded me of me. The moment was bittersweet. I slowed down so I would not splash her and I said,” Thank you, Adam.”

Posted in Adam, Driving, Hyderabad | 11 Comments

How not to make dinner

I love cooking and am never shy of letting people know exactly how much. So, when it was time for me to move into a new city, away from home, I insisted that I was extremely excited at the prospect of having a kitchen to myself. No mother to “advise” me, no grandmother to tell me not to waste the skins. Food was always ready and delicious, and thus, by principle, I had refused to cook for many years (three).

Now, hunger is a constant companion, but today, it was just more demanding than usual. Post lunch, I ignored work and tried coming up with dinner ideas but with no result. Soon it was late evening, and I was walking down my street, into my apartment building, weak with hunger and irritated because I still had no idea what I was going to do for food. I opened the front door and threw my slippers to the left and my rather large bag to the right. Both my flat-mates were still at work, thank God. I entered the kitchen with very strong focused determination. The fridge was well stocked with lots of (a few) vegetables, and there was chicken and eggs and bread and rice and pasta. What could I do? I decided to make pasta.

The first thing I did was to take the chicken out of the freezer so it could thaw. I didn’t want to be in that situation again where the masala is hot and ready on the gas and I am trying to melt pieces of frozen chicken by vigorously massaging them between my palms. (I don’t have a microwave). It’s really quite painful. I also put on some water to boil because boiling water is always an auspicious start. As I stood in front of the fridge, enjoying the cold waves wafting out, I wondered what to add to my sauce. I picked some tomatoes, a big fat carrot, a couple of sticks of spring onion, mint leaves, mushrooms and onions. I know that onions are not meant to be put in the fridge but I had not put them there. I should also mention the fit of rage I experience at the sight of the carrot, not because it was fat, but because a few days earlier, I had tried to cook a carrot by stir frying it and apparently you can’t actually stir fry carrots. Who would have known? I had spent an hour slaving over the hot pan with no result. ”Not this time, carrot”, I thought to myself and gripped the carrot hard in my left hand. With a vengeance, I washed the carrot and with more vengeance, I washed the peeler and then with the remaining leftover vengeance, I peeled the carrot, making sure it knew who the boss was (me). I took a few deep breaths and decided that it was time to move on. Moving on, I added three fine looking tomatoes to the boiling water so I could blanch them for the sauce. Once the carrot was cut, I started chopping the other vegetables. Because the onion was cold, my eyes did not tear up, so you should try freezing your onions too. I was still without a plan, but I figured that I could stop cooking and start eating at almost any point now. Once the skin on the tomatoes started splitting, I tried to get the tomatoes out of the hot water without being in hot water myself. It was not easy but I got the job done with the help of a very helpful fork. As I let the tomatoes cool, I decided to boil the chicken in the same water. Boiling chicken is always fun because it means I can start eating. As the chicken boiled, I was almost done with the fun job of washing vegetables and chopping them and I thanked God that it was over. But I said my thanks too soon as a friend I was talking to reminded me of the existence of the stinky but very wonderful thing called garlic. I sighed and grabbed a few cloves, and peeled them and chopped them and crushed them. It was time to puree the cooled tomatoes, but of course, I didn’t have a grinder. I used a knife, a fork, two bowls and a grater  almost everything in the kitchen to achieve the goal, and I eventually had a pulpy tomato mass which would just have to do for this time.

I turned on the stove, placed the pan on the flame and poured oil into the pan. My hand slipped and I poured even more oil into the pan. Once the oil was hot, I added the chopped onions to it. Then some salt, and then kept stirring for what seemed like an eternity. The heavenly smell of frying onions made up for the mundane nature of the task. As the onions finally showed signs of turning golden brown, I added the crushed garlic and there was some seriously sexy sizzling. I added the mushrooms, the spring onions and the chopped mint. I stirred some more and added the chicken. Almost everything was in the pan now and I thought that I could have easily made scrambled eggs and toast or popcorn or just about anything that did not take so bloody long. I stirred some more and hoped that the stirring was toning my arms. I was really hot and there was sweat crawling down my back. There was certainly no joy in my cooking. I poked at the vegetables again and added the poor excuse for tomato puree into the pan. I breathed a sigh of relief and thought that maybe now I could wrap this show and get something to eat. I put on water to boil (again), and added a lot of pasta and a lot of salt to it. I kept checking on it to make sure it did not overcook because no one likes boiled mush. I kept sampling it till the pasta was finally boiled to a perfect softness. I did not have a strainer so I drained off the water as cavemen drained their pastas.

I was exhausted and smelling of garlic but there was finally food to be had. Even if it was of doubtful taste, at least it was hot and fresh. I heaped pasta on my plate and added my “sauce” to it. Just as I was carrying my dinner out to the dining table, I saw a flash of red out of the corner of my eye. It was the carrot and I had forgotten to put in my sauce. I hate carrots (it’s nothing personal) but decided to eat this one by dipping it in my sauce. My sauce was good. The mint and garlic gave it a very unique flavor and I decided I liked it.

After cooking for an hour and a half, I sat down to eat. I cleaned the the plate within ten minutes. The joy of eating.

Posted in Cooking, Hyderabad | 13 Comments

Filter Coffee Murder

Since my walk to and from the cafeteria is pretty much the only exercise I get, today I decided to take the stairs for my first visit of the day. Even as I was slightly out of breath from the exertion of crawling down two flights of stairs, I made a beeline for the filter
coffee counter. I was thinking to myself, NO SUGAR TODAY.

Now, this filter coffee guy knows me. Of course he knows me. I have turned up at his counter everyday, twice a day, for the past month, begging for coffee and chanting, “More strong, more strong” while he makes it. Of late, he has started to make my coffee the moment he spies me from afar, even as I enter the cafeteria. I don’t even get
the opportunity to complain about how sleepy I am, how much work I have to get done and how terrible it is to try to catch an autorikshaw around this place. My coffee is ready and waiting before I can even utter a single word. I am quite suspicious of this and even a little
hurt. Doesn’t he want to talk to me? Does he think I am… boring? Hmm.

So today, once again after finding myself at my work desk after waking up from a deep relaxing sleep, I knew what I needed.  As I made my way across the cafeteria, bumping into chairs and jumping across tables, my hand already outstretched and ready for the small steel glass of Filter Coffee, I found it piping hot and awaiting consumption.  “Extra
strong, no sugar”, he said but I ignored it and took a really big sip. Immediately, my head exploded. Blood squirted all over other people’s food. Jesus Christ, that was some lethal coffee that I had just been served. As the dots, circles and birds in front of my eyes faded away and my body successfully adjusted to the dangerously high caffeine level in my blood, I smiled my thanks at the filter coffee guy. He was staring at me with his jaw still hanging. I could read the disbelief in his face. He was flabbergasted that I was still standing, apparently unaffected by his poison. How can she still be standing here? What is she? WHY IS SHE SMILING AT ME CREEPILY?

With my eyes, I dared him to try harder next time. I paid him, my hands steady and coolly sauntered away, praying to God that he was not in cahoots with the Sambhar Vada guy.  I don’t really remember what happened next.

Posted in Filter Coffee, Hyderabad, Murder | 17 Comments