Go Saints!

I'm off to a friend's house for an all-girl's Saturday. Nibbles, wine, cute apartment, warm hostess and watching my second Footy Grand Final this year. Last year's finalist, Geelong Cats are up for the cup this year too. Standing against them are the St Kilda Angels.

I barrack for the Essendon Bombers, however, given that they aren't in the finals -- we'll be there soon -- I'm hoping the Saints take the cup home. I do enjoy footy. A lot. Have a fun weekend y'all.
PS: Did I ever mention that initially -- and sometimes even now -- I find footy similar to Quidditch?! Partner thinks it's a blasphemy and I'm nuts. Shrug.


Dead children? Ha, ha

I really don't understand 'political correctness'. An immediate example is the whole Shashi Tharoor and the cattle-class non-issue. Now apparently the minister has apologised (for being witty?). Since much has already been said -- both the politically correct and incorrect -- I'll desist from adding more. However, I want to know: Who decides the correctness of things?

Who decided that 'slumdog' is appropriate description/definition of the slum dwellers in India? If there is a logic to that nomenclature, can we refer to the moneyed, jet-set as Billionaire Bitches?
Perhaps Mr Boyle's 'slumdog' reference was merely for the protagonist of his film and was not a description of the 61.8 million (2001 census figures) Indians who live in slums.

However, for all purposes, 'slumdogs' is now being used to describe all slum dwellers. Television Channel 7, for instance has been advertising this episode of it's series, The World's Strictest Parents with the words, "...when they see how the slumdogs live..." When did Channel 7 decide that people who live in slums are slumdogs? Are they being politically correct? Chic even?

One of my father's favourite Dad-always-says-this lines comes up whenever we are watching Sholay. It's the scene where dacoit Gabbar Singh kills the Thakur's family. If you see the movie (or remember it), while the directors show Gabbar killing all adults, he does not show the child being shot. The camera gives us a close-up of the gun, the boy's perplexed face and moves away. Each time that scene comes up, my Dad says, "See, that's sensitive. You NEVER show a child dying, it's in bad taste." At least my Dad seems to have his ideas clear, not so with everyone.

Recently a popular Aussie TV series, ABC's satirical programme, The Chasers War on Everything got into trouble for making jokes about terminally-ill children. In an episode that's a spoof on the Make-A-Wish-Foundation, one of the Chasers host visits a childrens' cancer ward and concludes the episode with, "Why go to any trouble, when they're only gonna die anyway".

I realise that Chasers is satirical, much like South Park is deliberately blasphemous about everything. But do we draw the line somewhere? As I wrote earlier, who decides what's politically (in)correct?

Often when discussing this issue, people roll their eyes and say, "Oh we get sensitive about everything. It's a joke, we should stop taking ourselves so seriously." To be honest, I do agree with them that at times we get unnecessarily sensitive about stupid things. Like Tharoor and the cattle class. (While slumdogs goes unchallenged) At other times though, I have serious doubts and do think that this particular sense of humour -- more thoughtless than insensitive -- is rather overrated.

Like last evening, when watching an episode of animated series American Dad -- described as "...satirical, usually directed at the United States Government, the media or current affairs" -- the alien character Roger says, "...we will make your Dad cry like an African woman who cries when all are her children are blown up with a scatter/cluster bomb." (not exact quote)

Was that funny or did I miss the point? And if it's funny, can someone please explain the joke and let me know who's it aimed at?

Photo credits: Stanford uni (Tharoor), Sydney Morning Herald (Chasers) & TV Shows on DVD (American Dad)


Happy Pujo!

And on this Durga pujo I realise that Mohammad was always meant to go to the mountain. Always, even if it meant on youtube.com. Almost three years after an emotionally distraught denouncement of Durga, this Mohammad came crawling back... or trawling back. It was a friend's status update on Facebook, "That time of the year, waiting for the sound of the dhak," that got me by the gut and twisted so hard, I had to hear the dhak for myself.

I've never had the padha (colony/street) experience when growing up. Never been part of a 'cultural committee' that puts together the Durga pujo, of kids who participate in the evenings' entertainment, of young girls who help their mothers prepare stuff. I've always been the 'only visiting' variety. I've pandal-hopped with my parents, bowed and prayed before various idols and gone home. I've also never been in Calcutta/Kolkata for a pujo.

The most spectacular pujo and Ma-er mukh* I remember is from a pandal in west Delhi's Nivedita Colony. I was perhaps 12 years old and she was beautiful. We also had the most amazing kosha mangsho. What had captivated me though was the dhunuchi dancers and the trance inducing beats of the dhak they danced to. The girls were older, perhaps 18, amazingly graceful in their wide-padh sarees and they danced with so much rhythm, so much beauty... I wanted to join them. We didn't watch to see the whole thing because... for various reasons.

Ever since -- at different ages -- I've had a favourite dream sequence of doing a kickass dhunuchi dance, in a lost temple by myself with the most-beautiful Durga idol, huge torches on the walls and the biggest, loudest dhaks ever. I am in a white-sari-with-lal-border, a huge bindi, lots of kajal, hair open, sheathed in perspiration and I don't have a care in the world or awareness of anyone or anything else. And no one can stop me, laugh at me, ask me to go back home and I have no inhibitions about how I look or how my body moves. I'm aware only of the dhak that leads me. And I dance and jump and twirl and leap and collapse in a heap. I'm forgiven. Very filmi but I am very filmi and I love it and I love the dream and each time I hear the dhak, I know I'm going to dream again. (grin)
(Click for details about pujo in Melbourne --->)
The Nivedita Colony pujo is the last 'proper' pujo I remember. The next was in Kalimpong, me 14 in 'love' with a Bengali boy of the same age. And we all met at the pandal, he met my parents too and I hoped in my heart that he would be the man I marry. Ha ha, so silly, so innocent. Of course soon after I found out he was chasing a girl two years older, very beautiful, very fair etc. I don't recollect being heartbroken, I was definitely furious.

The subsequent Durga pujos are fuzzy, the ones in Amritsar involved going to the Army-arranged pujo, nothing spectacular, but the bhog as usual was delicious. Then I was in Delhi, the first year without my parents, in 'love' again, 21-years-old, standing before Ma's idol in Chittaranjan Park with much-older boyfriend, me a two-year-old journalist, dreaming of making a difference and happy I had a man and a career. The boyfriend had his wallet pickpocketed. And of course the relationship ended with much learning and serious heartbreak.

Repeat that story -- without the pickpocketing -- over five more years till 2006. The earth moved, I had many experiences I'd never intended having and my personal resume read of things that had earlier been on the list of bad things that could happen to me. Strangely -- and almost scripted -- the culmination was around Pujo time. So I told myself (and Durga), I wouldn't see her face again. Ever. I didn't go for pushpanjali. Didn't return phonecalls or 'happy pujo' wishes and avoided Durga. I tried sneaking a peek at her in newspapers yet eerily enough and despite the usual coverage in the media, I couldn't see her face that year. Not even a picture.

2007, due to stranger circumstances I was back at the Chit Park pandal. And I ran away. And life changed drastically and put me in Melbourne before the next year's pujo. I cried a lot last year. Didn't do anything on pujo, sat at home, blogged (of course) and cursed my stupidity at various levels. It was same with every other Indian festival in 2008. But I did promise not to repeat it in 2009. I might have left India but I don't want to leave India behind me.

I am not ashamed of my country. I am not confused about who I am and I know what I want. If those experiences will not just 'happen' to me, I shall seek them out. So this year, I should be at Oakleigh Street on October 4th. And maybe, I'll have a little dance with the dhak.

Happy Pujo all of you, particularly the ones outside India. Warm hugs and good wishes. And see this video, it is so, so beautiful. Many thanks to the creators.
*Ma-er mukh: Mother's face, reference to the face of Durga
PS: For the over-enlightened, non-Indians who'd wonder why Indians pray to gods with many arms, it's the same reason why say, Catholics pray to someone who turned water into wine.


An Indian in Melbourne

They all sit and discuss what they're working on.

The big man with his big voice and bigger smile was right there outside Melbourne Central, selling The Big Issue. He is standing before a poster of a model in a pair of slimming jeans. The model looks expectant, hoping someone would rip the jeans off. "Too skinny, not that pretty and has no tits," agreed two boys with so many pimples you couldn't make out the rest of their face.

The young couple passes them. The Japanese girl huddled into herself, shielding her chest from the biting wind. Her super legs erupted into pointed goose-bumps as her tiny denim shorts rode up her butt curve. She led her cute boyfriend who couldn't see clearly. His super-shiny, super-straight hair in that shaggy cut kept getting into his eyes. They run and cross the road, laughing, oblivious to the tram driver who looks furious. Love gives a fuck.

The Chinese woman nearly knocked over the magazine stand. It's a slope there and her little trolley was so heavy. Full of groceries for her daughter-in-law who allows her to live with them. She has the garage and she loves it. It's much better than the old age home.

The Indian girl walks by, sashaying in her dark green knee-high boots. She takes the perfect steps, toe before the heel and her butt moves seductively. There's so much make-up, it's almost like camouflage. Some Indian boys distributing pamphlets stop her, extending their hands to hand her one. She refuses and the vigorous shake of her head spoils her choreography. Her heel gets stuck in a pavement crack, she stumbles. "I am from Maldives, not interested," she says as they ask her if she needs help.

The Pakistani girl, all beautiful skin and lovely eyes and lovelier hair rages about the inequity of the legal system. Of how she needs to go back. On how she needs to change things. Her partner, chain smoking the fifth cigarette, advises her not to get killed. She declares she is not stupid.

The other Indian girl watches, realising that if she breathes she won't be able to pull her tummy in. Cursing that the wind will make her hair look all dry. Wondering if any story, particularly her story, matters to anyone. Then she spots a sign that smiles, "Hot hash browns", it says. She thanks god that food loves her and tries a chocolate she's never eaten before.

They all sit and discuss what they're working on. She says she wants to write about women's issues and equality. Another rolls her eyes and says, "We have voting rights and can wear what we want to. Feminism is so boring."


Palak paneer

Today's recipe is the very healthy and very tasty palak paneer, cottage cheese (can use ricotta or tofu as well) in a wholesome spinach gravy. The recipe uses only 1 TBS oil, no cream and with some garlic thrown in, it's good for just about anyone. Even if you hate spinach... Read story or Try the recipe


Things I have to do

Recently we saw Pixar's latest animated feature, Up. It was the second time I was watching a movie in 3D, the first being Spy Kids-Game Over. As a 3D and movie-watching experience, Up beat Game Over hands down.

Better effects, much better storyline, absolutely adorable characters and complete involvement for me as the audience. I really loved Up. It's a bit strange since when I had first seen the trailer -- before the screening of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds -- my reaction had been "Duh, who wants to see a movie about a 70-year-old widower?" I am really glad that I was proven absolutely wrong.

I've always had a soft-spot for animated movies and those that are dubbed kiddie-flicks. What I enjoy about these movies is the lack of pretense. They all want to entertain you... Yes, there are messages in the movie, but I appreciate it that the messages are woven into the stories much better than those in 'adult' movies. Up is a total entertainer, whether you watch it alone, with your partner or with the entire family. It had me bawling -- but I bawl easily in movies -- in the first 10 minutes and then completely took me along for a laugh ride soon after. Even Partner, who is not always up for 'kiddie' movies (he refused go for Coraline), was smiling through Up and came out of the theatre happy as well. Other than the antics of the characters, the sheer brilliance of the 3D effects and the all the action in the movie, I related to some bits of Up in a really, personal way.

A week or so back I wrote a post on how I'm feeling that there's something big about to happen but I have no idea what... I've been stewing over it for a fair while now. When I stew, I get grumpy with people, feel unmotivated and I'm generally unpleasant. In other words, I'm not the best of company. Browsing through websites yesterday, I came across Up again. The message hit home.
Up talks about having a big adventure in life. Rather how we all wait for that something big to strike, to exhilirate and thrill us and to change our lives. I know I'm waiting. Waiting for a number of things to happen before I can say, "Yes, I'm happy now." And while I wait... I stew and I ignore all the little things around me.

Will I be truly happy only if I get a book published? I think I do a good job of keeping my house beautiful, I'm good with plants, getting better with cooking... But I often forget to be happy about those things because I am waiting for THE break. Will I be truly happy if I get married? And yet, I often forget to appreciate that I have a truly loving relationship, in fact, almost what I'd visusalised a "happy" relationship to be.

Will I be truly happy if I get a job? Of course that would mean earning money of my own... but to do what? Rather, what is it that I can't do now? A job would perhaps mean a sense of personal ratification, of putting a 'value' to my self worth in dollars. But am I not worth anything if I don't have a job or can't get one? Hmm. Ok, honestly, before making a big statement on that one, perhaps I need to sort out issues of self-worth within my head. :)

The point being -- and the message in Up -- is that we get so caught up in defining the big things that define happiness that we completely overlook the smaller things. We don't even notice them. I don't want to do that. I want to be constantly happy. Whether it means a sense of satisfaction when I sow the seeds and the first portulaca saplings burst out of my pots. Or swimming in the heavenly aroma of baked muffins that have turned out well. Or basking in the peace that spreads on Partner's face when he comes back to a comfortable, clean home. Or even enjoying the few, but treasured comments/conversation that I have on this blog.

I don't want to die regretting the things that I didn't do or didn't happen. I want to remember and cherish and enjoy the things -- however small -- that I have.

There are days I will forget and bemoan the lack of the big stuff, there are days I'm sure you will too. But here's hoping we both remember. That while we wait for the big stuff, we remember to look at the small ones and be happy about them. It will be emancipation in a way...

PS: Please do watch Up. You will not be disappointed.



So Patrick Swayze passes away, aged 57, after two years of combating pancreatic cancer. One of the Aussie TV channels here showed a clip from his last interview (by Barbara Walters, ABC) where the interviewer asks his wife Lisa, "Have you thought of life without him?" Lisa tried to answer but choked up.

That question disturbed me a little. Scared me. Has any of us thought of life without the ones we love? There are those who lose people to sudden death. Then there are those like Lisa, who know someone they love is dying. Is it easier when you know?


Writers Festival Blog

This might not be that big, but it feels good nonetheless. Emancipation of Eve finds a teensy mention -- along with a host of other blogs -- on the Melbourne Writers Festival blog. :) Check it out and check out the other blogs/bloggers as well here.

Thanks to the organisers for giving us a mention.


I am feeling it

Ever get the feeling something BIG is about to happen...but you have no bloody idea what? That sense of suspense is running so thick through my blood, it's coagulating now. What? When? Good, bad or brilliant? Bad but manageable? Argh.

Good things that could happen:
1. Land a job in my line of work
2. Land a book deal, with heaps of advance, maybe two because they love me so much
3. Get sponsorship to open a cafe/restaurant/take-away
4. Get a baby... like without doing anything, like gift wrapped (er)


Killer sardar and Delhi roundup

First up, there's an excellent photo exhibition starting in Delhi. The exhibition is titled 'Juvinilia Juxtaposed' and features some really good photographers like Udit Kulshrestha, Sephi Bergerson and Bandeep Singh. For details about the exhibition, mail galleryragini@gmail.com or for those in Delhi, call 011-29522077.

For all those who have not heard of the revolution... here goes to this song and to mera Bharat mahaan. Pass on to all those who would appreciate it.

Aloo poshto: Potatoes in sesame seed paste

Poppy seeds* -- or poshto in Bengali and khus-khus in Hindi/Punjabi/Marathi -- have been used as an ingredient in cooking and herbal treatment for long. A little research revealed an interesting history behind the use, which you can read here.
For me, aloo-poshto has been part of the standard vegetarian meals that Ma served. Partnered with dhal/daal (from red lentils) served with slit green chillies and a dash of lime, and very tasty begun bhaaja (thick slices of eggplant, deep fried in mustard oil); this was usually a Sunday lunch. Given that the daal-aloo-poshto-bhaaja combo was usually followed by a tasty mutton dish -- Pa couldn't do without his meat -- aloo-poshto has always been a highlight for me.
The first time I made this dish in Australia, many wondered if, "Poppy seeds! Oh my god, opium...does this make you high?" The answer, (un)fortunately is, no it doesn't. Apparently it's only the 'natural' poppy seeds that give you a buzz if ingested. However, there are discussion threads on the Internet on how eating poppy seeds can give you a negative blood test (opiates found in the blood) and there have also been news reports on people getting addicted to poppy seed tea. Rest assured though, this dish does not give you a high -- only a gastronomical one -- and trust me on that, I've tried. ;)
My first experiment with cooking poshto was a disaster. Unless using on a bagel or in cakes/pastries, Indian cooking usually involves the poppy seeds to be finely grinded. And let me tell you the bloody things are very resistant to blenders/mixers. I learnt it the hard way when the first time I cooked aloo-poshto, it neither looked nor tasted anything like Ma's. No matter what the class or quality of your blender at home, keep a mortar-pestle ready to grind these seeds to get a perfect dish. The rest of it is fairly simple.
* Can be bought at any Indian specialty store, or most supermarkets also stock it
**The poppy seeds in India are white, while in Australia, I'm using the black ones; works the same way.

Serves: 4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes, on low heat, covered
Try this with: Steamed rice or hot chapatis
Poppy seeds 4 TBS
Green chillies 4-6, depending on how hot you want it; 2 should be slit lengthwise
Potatoes 5-6 medium sized, diced small
Kalonji or onion seeds 1/2 TSP
Mustard/vegetable oil 2 TBS
Sugar 1/2 TSP
Turmeric poweder 1/2 TSP
Salt to taste

  1. As mentioned, poppy seeds are tough to grind into a fine paste. Prior to grinding, soak the seeds in hot water for 30 minutes. Keep a couple tablespoons of the water aside, drain the rest. In your blender, grind the seeds along with four of the green chillies. Take the resulting paste out and hand-grind them again in the mortar-pestle. The paste should be as fine as possible and should be slightly frothy.
  2. In case you prefer to dice the potatoes earlier, place them in salted water to prevent them from blackening (happens due to oxidising). When cooking, drain them well before adding to the hot oil; water in hot oil splutters a lot.
  1. Heat the mustard oil in a wok/frying pan till it smokes.
  2. Add the onion seeds/kalaunji and fry for 2 minutes till the seeds pop.
  3. Add the diced potatoes and fry for 5-8 minutes. You need to stir intermittently to avoid the potatoes sticking to the sides of the pan. The spuds are ready once they are browned and somewhat softer.
  4. Now add the poppy seed-chilli paste with half a cup of water and mix well to coat all the potatoes with the paste.
  5. Add salt, sugar and turmeric, mix well and fry for another 3 minutes.
  6. Cover the wok/pan and cook over low heat till the potatoes are done (should be soft).
  7. While you cook the spuds, keep checking and scraping the paste off the sides as it can get somewhat sticky.
  8. Once the potatoes soften, cook uncovered to dry out any water and scrape off the paste from the sides.
Serve hot with the JB special daal/dhal and steamed rice. And yes, I do look forward to your comment and food stories, so please keep them coming. If you try this and like it, leave a testimonial...if something goes wrong, feel free to ask. If you have aloo-poshto stories, I'd love to hear them! Share people...


Opium in your food?

The first time I made this dish in Australia, many wondered if, "Poppy seeds! Oh my god, opium...does this make you high?" The answer...? There have been news reports on people getting addicted to poppy seed tea.... Read story Try recipe



As far as I can remember, Amul chocolates were perhaps the first ones to cash in on the whole "gift for someone you love" idea in India, much before Archies and Hallmark came about and created a thousand reasons to buy cards, pendants, cassettes and a whole plethora of gift items.

I was considered one of the uncool ones in school, I didn't believe in Valentine's Day. According to the Valentine's Day myth, if you 'proposed' someone, they had to say yes. The idea had terrified me, more so because a) I didn't have that many suitors and b) I was rather shy then (!). After much resistance I decided it was worth the effort of making a Valentine's Day card... Only to learn I was still uncool because who wanted a hand-made card? Archies had much better options. So I scraped money to buy one only to be told there was a Rose Day and a Chocolate Day card -- and a rose and chocolate respectively -- to be bought as well...

Then suddenly there was Friendship Day, quickly followed by Teachers Day (strangely, Independence Day cards never really sold...) I didn't get a whole lot of pocket money and therefore the most prudent thing to do was not participate in any of it. It didn't do much to my popularity and till date, the record stands that I've never received a Valentine's Day card. In fact, for some unusual reason -- there's a research on that somewhere -- come 14 Feb, I've usually ended relationships/associations.

Somewhere in my late teen years, there started the whole thing about Mother's Day, quickly followed by Father's Day and Save the Dolphin Day or the belated versions of all these cards and days or a Sorry card to well, say sorry if you missed any of the days...

The cards I've treasured and went to some lengths to make were the birthday and anniversary cards, mostly hand-made. I was one of those kids who are very good at copying stuff. I was a pro at 'making' Garfield, Donald Duck and other cartoon figures and had quite a flair with water colours... For at least 8-10 years, my parents have received various versions of cartoon couples for their anniversary, which changed to various water colour flowers as I grew up.

My family knew I liked funny cards and those were the ones I got for my birthday. The most treasured cards though -- I still have them -- were the ones made by my little brother (who's now a foot taller than me and in his first job! Yay!) Like this particular one that said 'The World's Greatest Sister' -- made from an A4 'register' sheet, folded into a card, a mug cut out from one side of the sheet, coloured with crayons and stuck on the other side with a cotton ball under it. The card was magical, the spellings were perfect (heh, he was 6/7 years old) and it had a 3D effect... Now I don't make cards, neither does my brother and in fact after many years we managed to be together for his birthday this year when I was visiting India.

In Australia, it's a big thing to celebrate the 18th, followed by the 21st, then 25th and then 30th and so on... Maybe because we shifted cities so much, or because our father was strict or whatever, we never really had any memorable teenage birthdays. Rather they involved only the four of us. This year, in June, we went out, Partner, Brother, me, Dee and another Aussie-friend-in-India... and had a blast. Later in the hotel room, my now-grown-up brother said, "Dibhai, this was my best birthday ever." He turned 25, oh I love him. I am also digressing...

Increasingly today I find that wedding couples, engagement couples, expectant mothers, birthday candidates... Everyone prefers cash instead of a gift. Those who have to give gifts are relieved they don't have to think much, those receiving are relieved because at least they can use the cash instead of getting something they don't want or already have.

In fact in Australia, there is a list of gift items to select from at weddings. So as an invited guest, you see the list and pick what you want to 'gift'. Some weddings even tell you the store the couple would like the gift from. I find it quite amusing and somewhat depressing. Aren't gifts supposed to be thought out? Something that shows you know the person you're giving it to and have put some effort thinking about it? Is it still a 'gift' if you're asking for it? If there is a demand list? Or is all just a scam?

Now there are advertisements everywhere for what to buy your Mom or Dad for Mothers and Fathers day respectively. It's all the same stuff. While I've never had trouble buying mom something, buying gifts for Dad was always a challenge. It seems it's the same thing the world over...I wonder if they too would prefer cash.

What's the best gift you've received or gave that the other side really liked?
Pic courtesy: edupics
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