Category Archives: Food

Pasta in pesto sauce

While growing up in a sleepy town called Bhubaneswar, Sunday morning luxury was all about my father packing a breakfast of idli, masala dosa and sambar  from a small restaurant. These were earliest memories of pushing the creative boundaries of my palate. Having a South Indian breakfast is what we looked forward to. The same happened when I shifted to Delhi to pursue my higher studies. On some Sundays, the hostel mess used to serve masala dosa and coffee. And if I remember correctly, the girls from UP, Bihar, Orissa (then) and West Bengal were more excited to have the so called exotic Southern breakfast more than anybody else. The same emotion was recently shared by my Gujarati friend’s 80 year old mother. She told me, “I used to feel pampered and loved when my husband ordered a meal of butter naan, paneer butter masala and kaali dal in a restaurant. It was a refreshing change from the roti, shaak and khichdi at home.”

It’s a different story now in urban India.  Many of us probably took the 10 year rule of UPA government with a remote control in Sonia Gandhi’s hand too seriously. Suddenly, pasta became omnipresent. Every neighbourhood kirana shops started stocking pasta packets in different size and shape. With great difficulty, he gives you a list of Fusilli, Penne. From chicken tikka masala and paneer butter masala, urban India has graduated to pasta in pesto sauce, nachos and Mexican hotpot. Suddenly you see restaurants showing signboards displaying proudly, “Punjabi, Chinese, Italian, Mexican.” If you happen to stay in Ahmedabad (as yours truly), you will get a Jain version of everything. From Punjabi, Chinese, Italian and Mexican. You will always have a choice of Jain pizza in Ahmedabad. Please don’t ask me how it’s as I have never tasted it.

three different pieces of macaronis on top of black surface

If you thought that Bollywood with its all jazz and item songs is minting money, then hold on  the food industry is ahead of the film industry.  The all consuming ‘eating out economy’ is on a roll. According to a FICCI report, the restaurant industry is expected to contribute about 2.1 per cent to the total GDP of India by 2021. Eating out is big business in India. If you have not booked a table on Sunday, you will be condemned to stand in queue for hours and count the stars in the sky (if you are lucky to spot them).  In developed Gujarat, if you walk on the road on a Sunday, you might think that there’s a Kumbh Mela waiting to start soon. You have to push through forever hungry men, women and kids to find your own way in between cries of ‘one veg manchurain, one fried rice, double cheese pizza (whatever this means),’ The roads are chock-a-block with milling crowds waiting to have their share of world on their platter.
There’s a gourmet revolution happening in India. Post-liberalised India is on a platter high. And everybody is in a race to be cool. So cool that he finds it uncool to have anything other than Italian and Mexican. So, the uber cool stylish new ‘kids’ on the block are pastas, pizzas, cookies, garlic bread and hold on how can I ever forget ‘cupcakes.’  Few days ago, a colleague bought a box of cup cakes to celebrate her birthday at work. Yes, I did bite into it and wished her very warmly.  But by evening, my sweet craving was so intense that I did run to the nearest mithai shop to have my sinful share of ‘jalebi with rabri.’  Hot jalebis literally soaked in rabri. I could have died of happiness. You can call me ‘desi gal’, I will take no offence.
Yes, food needs to be celebrated and I see no harm food being looked at boundaries. After all, aren’t we living in an age of globalisation? With every other person turning into a food blogger or food photographer, I can see the winds of change sweeping our platter. There’s a glasnost happening there. Modi’s much talked about ‘acche din aayenge’ actually arrived on our plates some years ago.
It’s not just that people are tasting different cuisines at restaurants. But there’s a silent revolution happening on the kitchen shelves. The refrigerator is also witnessing a revolution. The ‘maharaj’ (the man who cooks and takes a salary) needs to be on his toes to master the perfect art of making the pesto sauce. He has to be a globe-trotter in the kitchen, otherwise there is every chance that he might become another Lehman Brothers employee in late 2008.
But I am still unable to understand why urban India is in a rush to prove its CQ (Cool Quotient) only by having pasta, nachos and garlic bread? It’s fashionable definitely. But to link your CQ to your platter might not a very great idea. Or so do I think. But you need not agree with me. India is all about having thousand opinions.

P S: Eons ago when I was working in Delhi, there was a colleague who used to come and share his breakfast menu. To be fair, I used to ask him also to derive some unexplainable pleasure. Rolling his attractive eyes, he used to say, “Oh, normal…bread, butter, omelette, bacon and orange juice.” Poor me used to go green with envy as I was munching my so very ordinary veg puff available in the canteen.
Once he fell ill and didn’t come to office for few days. Out of concern, I made a call to his home (there were no mobile phones then) and his mother picked up the phone. And we had a nice chat and in between she told me, “Beta (She was a Punjabi. As you must have realised Punjabis are capable of addressing their enemy as ‘beta’), please tell him to have his food. Before he had this fever, he used to eat a hearty meal of roti, gobi/tinda ke sabzi in breakfast and go to office.” The moment I heard this, my mind went back to my friend’s talk of ‘eggs, bread, bacon with orange juice.’ Well, the irony called life.
Should I have pasta in pesto sauce for dinner tonight? Let me think.


Of love Notes, samosas and jalebis

It’s a sudden realization. For the last three weeks, I have been only talking or listening about money. I am also reading quite a lot about money.

I am tired. Don’t get me wrong. I love money. For all the temporary possibilities money offers.

Late last night, I listened to Ravish Kumar’s wonderful talk titled ‘Love in the time of Note Bandi’ in Timeslitfest, New Delhi. The house was deep in slumber. I was the only one sitting in front of a flickering laptop, enjoying the words of Ravish Kumar.

Delhi suddenly felt near, intimate. Geography seemed irrelevant. Airports felt meaningless. Memory and desire felt warm in the heart and veins too. So also the huge, dark gulab jamuns of Aggarwal Sweets in Munrika. The piping hot jalebis of Moonlight. The jalebis felt complete with samosas, they made a happy couple with their sweet-salty combination. Life’s XL pleasures. Managed with little money.

Why do I still remember the taste of those jalebis, gulab jamuns and samosas? Why is it so difficult to let go of young, delicious memories?

jalebi             samosa.jpg

I am thinking of love. Young love. Adult love. Aching love, smiling love, happy love, teary love.

Some loves are so intense and organic that they actually don’t need much money to survive, to flourish. These love stories are wrapped in richness. They don’t need pumping of money to look or feel rich.

These love stories don’t need diamonds, birthday celebrations in swanky five star hotels, Louis Phillipe shirts or LV handbags. They are just rich by their very nature.

On November 9, 2016 morning, some love felt like Rs 100.  And some felt like Rs 1000.

Who knows what lies ahead?

Bur I feel like sitting down one Sunday and counting the chillar (coins) in my little piggy bank. I have a feeling we can still buy a nice meal for both of us with that money.

Let them talk about cashless India, debit cards, credit cards, netbanking, paytm, this and that.

My India is still safe in my little piggy bank.

I want my fingers to be messy with the syrup of jalebis. I love my fingers, I love his fingers. I love it more when our fingers are intertwined. There’s certain mellowness about lovers and their fingers.

I want to run my fingers through his hair. Like I used to do when I was 22.

Neither of us need to be rich to do that.

It is complimentary

There were 11 of us on a trip to Udaipur, the beautiful city of lakes. We were staying in the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) hotel. In the morning, me and my friend went to the cafeteria for a cup of tea. As we were waiting for our tea to arrive on the table, the restaurant manager told us, “You are staying here, na. The breakfast is complementary.”

I immediately called up one of my fellow travellers on his mobile phone to share this good news. The ‘hangover man’ sleepily answered his mobile phone. “Breakfast… no. I want to sleep till late. I just don’t feel hungry.”  I told him, “The breakfast is complimentary.” With that magical sentence, everything changed.

In less then 10 minutes, the ‘hangover man’ along with many ‘birds of same feather’ arrived in the restaurant with a big grin on the face. Ready to savor the complimentary breakfast. Did anybody utter the word, ‘Sleep-deprived?’ Or ‘just not hungry.’

Well, the story did not end there. The breakfast buffet had an array of parathas, upma, poha and bataka vada. They filled up the plates with generous helpings. And suddenly one of them discovered that ‘The omelettes were also complimentary.” In no minutes, they were all queuing  for  omelettes. The parathas, upmas, pohas were abandoned in no time.

P S : Some days ago, I had gone to a restaurant. The chicken sizzler came with a cola pitcher. I told the waiter, “I don’t drink colas.” He gave me one of those looks and said, “It’s complimentary.” I told, ‘Well, I don’t drink colas.” He again told, “It’s complimentary.” I let the cola to grow hot till he realized the seriousness of my refusal.

I wish the sizzler was complimentary.



Almost home

(When your parents are there (and if you share a happy relationship with them), you talk to them, write long letters in your curved hand-writing. You call them may be six times in a day and then laugh telling, “Just because I am calling you again doesn’t mean I am not busy’. In between phone calls, both of you recognize love. But it’s not all sugar syrup too. You get angry with them, shut doors, throw tantrums, use your secret weapon of refusing to eat. But the dust always settles in the end. And when you miss them so much that you can’t wait and you book a train or flight ticket to arrive home. To collapse in happiness. To recharge yourself. To fill your senses and soul with lip-smacking home cooked food.

What do you do when they are gone? If you can weave memories into words, you write. Writing is sacred. Like the way your parents love you or you love your parents)

It’s exactly two years since my mother left us on October 18, 2013. Today, I sit in front of my sleek beautiful black qwerty keyboard and let it all flow. The sound of the keyboard feels like music to me. )

I remember coming back to work in less than two weeks after I lost my mother. I walked into my office and they all huddled around me. Somebody told me with all sincerity, “It was good that she passed away (My mother fought a bitter battle against cancer).” The timing of that sentence was wrong. I wanted to cry. I love my work. I love my office. This vibrant work space in the dusty city of Ahmedabad has given me four really close friends and a soccer-loving, guitar playing cool Godson. But that day, I felt like a stranger in my familiar world.

Somebody asked me to check a page, we needed a better headline (my junior colleagues now call me as ‘headline queen’), I was so hurt. How could I check a page and give a peppy headline when all that I wanted to do was cry? I thought of the memory of cutting a delicious kiwi cake in my office to celebrate my mother’s birthday just three months back. I had asked the baker to carve ‘The cub wishes her Tiger Mom’ on the cake and everybody had a good laugh as I cut the cake. I was a happy cub then. The space is the same. My desk looks the same. But I was feeling so wounded remembering that cake cutting act.
Half way through the painful day, I made a call to my mother-in-law to tell her that I was feeling very tired and I wanted to sleep. I wanted to be with her in her bedroom. I was wanting to be with people who are far more older to me. That gave me a sense of comfort. Strangely it still does.

The world of strict deadlines doesn’t allow to you to grieve generously. Speed matters in my work world. We are all always in a hurry. But I wanted to linger, to go slow. I wanted to linger, pause and look back at the memories I weaved with my mother. I did not want to move then because moving meant leaving Ma behind. I didn’t want to leave her. I wanted her to be with me. The world around me was impatient. ‘Move on’ was the silent command from the world around me.

Looking back, I think 2014 was the darkest year of my life. Even though I bought a house for myself (Banks should call it House loans not Home loans, you don’t buy a home (Home is not a commodity), I had lost all sense of my own self and home. I had no sense of home.

We are living in aggressive times. We all want to give it back, hit back, score a point. Always in a rush to surge ahead.  At the same time, when loss hits us hard, all we need is tenderness. There are very few who will allow you to grieve, to let you be in that ‘still’ mode of grieving.

After my mom’s death, I lost something which was sacred within me. I was desperate, I was not kind to myself. I became the person I have always hated.  I had hit the rock bottom. I had moved away from being a generous person. I neglected my home, both real and virtual (this blog is my virtual home which lets me to express myself. I love being here.) I had stacks of books on my table yet I managed to read only Chetan Bhagat’s Half Girlfriend for most part of 2014. I was reduced to pulp. I was just fleeting in and out. Aimlessly. Too desperate, too eager, too mediocre to fit in everywhere and anywhere. Just opposite of what I am.

I have learnt my lessons. Loss/ Grief/pain is like a dish cooked over slow fire throughout the night. Grief is not a two minute instant noodle. Grief is not even your so called gourmet dish ‘Pasta in pesto sauce.’ Grief takes its time. Let grief sit on the fire, don’t be in a hurry. What it will offer you in the end will simple purify you and your soul.  After days of intense darkness, you will arrive at light. May be you will be all alone to revel in the joy of light, but it will be soul-elevating.

I am arriving there. I am almost home. I have started falling in love with my home once again. I look forward to being at home in the evening. I am not waiting for somebody to rescue me and hand me over a slice of fleeting happiness that has all the potential to destroy my soul, my essence. I am just happy being home. Home doesn’t eat me up as it used to. Home loves me now. I love my home. I look at my home with tenderness now. I read, I write, I look for light and shadow inside my home, outside my home to capture it in my camera. I write innumerable notes on my laptop, on my phone. On India, identity, Hindus, Muslims, Gandhi, loneliness, isolation, dissent, love, longing. I write, I just write. I have found the words. The words have found me. We are happy to be together.

Just few days back , I opened my eyes to beautiful sun rays streaming through my curtains.  I put on my music, made a cup of Earl Grey tea and then got into the act of cleaning my kitchen pantry. It almost felt like prayer. My mother was the queen of her kitchen. She loved that space. Being in the kitchen now brings her closer to me. I cook the food she once cooked for me. On many occasions, I used to call her up to check the recipe while cooking. It’s a luxury, I miss now terribly. But sometimes when I finish the dish, I just look at it and say to myself, “It exactly looks like Ma’s dish.” I put emphasis on the word ‘exactly’. I know it from the color, from the smell. From the texture. There comes a time in life when you don’t look forward to travel far. You just want to sit in the comforts of your home. You feel content. Everything you have loved/love is all within you. The world calls it memory.

All you who are grieving for someone you have loved intensely and lost (a parent, child, lover, companion, sibling, friend, pet), just hold on. Don’t be in a rush.  There’s no end to grief, there’s no end to love. A day will come when your love will be merged with grief. And the other way too. And you will be home then. You will love more, better. This love will make you feel beautiful from within.
Today I am at work. I’ m wearing my mother’s beautiful black and white ikkat sari. This sari was bought by my father some 40 years ago. In this sari, both my parents’ lives are intertwined. I wrap myself in their journey of togetherness. The sari is actually three of us. I eat the same food which my mother cooked for me, I am essentially the same story teller they had encouraged me to be. My food comes from the way they brought me up with their values, the education they gave me and their willingness and kindness to let me fly.

I am almost home. I am a better lover now. I can be strong and fragile too. Without worrying much about whether I am fitting into the image the world has created for me. “I am my mother’s daughter”, I told my colleague with a hint of pride when she complimented me for looking so elegant in a sari.

Yes, I’ m my mother’s daughter. I AM. Almost home.

Mummy is getting old

Mummy (my mother-in-law) is getting old. My heart is not ready to accept it. After my mother lost her battle to cancer, I sat down quietly in Ma’s bedroom and prayed, “Now I have lost Ma. But God, please let mummy live a healthy and active life for minimum 20 years.” I am wonderfully lucky to receive love from both Ma and Mummy.

Mummy, the happy-go-lucky rock star of mine, is getting old. I have saved her number now as ‘Mummy Missed call.’ She says as she’s now a senior citizen, she’s entitled to ‘free calls’. As the government is not making any concession about free outgoing calls facility for senior citizens, her daughter-in-law must do this. So, all that she can do is to give me a missed call and I have to drop everything that moment and call her back. My colleagues laugh when they see this name flashing on my mobile screen.

Now, my morning ritual is about making a phone call to her. And I give her a call once I reach home in the evening. I called her today morning to tell “I will see you in the evening.” I ask her, “What do you want?” She tells, “Tea cakes.” And then she adds in the same breath, “I read in the newspaper that when people get old, they develop a sweet tooth.” I tease her, “Mummy, didn’t you always have a sweet tooth? I have seen you eating ice-cream, ladoo and what not at one go.” She dismisses me, “No, no. Nothing like that. I am getting old.”

I say, “But I don’t want you to get old.” She says philosophically, “Beta, I am getting old.”

Majaa Ma …. a love note

Adalaj ni vav

(The beautiful step wells are so very unique to Gujarat. Every visit to Adalaj ni vav leaves me mesmerized)

For most of my adolescence, Gujarat existed only in my school geography books. Even when I shifted to Delhi from Bhubaneswar to pursue my higher studies, Gujarat didn’t really figure in the mini India classroom of JNU. Looking back, I can recollect now that I had a Gujarati classmate. But her identity as an alumni of Stella Maris (Chennai) mattered more to us than her being a Gujarati. Gujarat figured in my life only when I got married to a Gomulu (Mallu born and brought up in Gujarat). Of course, my quest for bread and butter (orange marmalade too) brought me to Ahmedabad. I have been here for many many years now. As Gujarat celebrates its Formation Day on May 1, here’s a love note (need not be all sugary) to this fascinating land.

Sunny side up:  It’s my belief that there’s a Sun and then there’s ‘The Gujarati Sun’. The sun is really over-active in this part of India. And the summer here seems like one never-ending Punjabi wedding or a Bollywood pot-boiler. You don’t have to go out here to get a sun stroke. You can get it sitting in your house (if it’s not air-conditioned). I still can’t understand why there are so many ‘glass’ buildings in Ahmedabad even though you have sizzling sun burning bright for almost eight months in a year. Not that Odisha has Switzerland like weather. But even in the peak of summer, Odisha receives nice, mint-fresh spells of rain and thunderstorms. No such good luck, here.

Food for thought: To celebrate the Gujarat Day, I cooked giloda nu shaak (Coccinia Grandis). My Gomulu hubby loves it having it with Gujarati khatti mithi dal. In my wildest dream, I never thought that one day willingly I would pack this sabzi in my lunch-box. I am not a great lover of Gujarati food. I can only have it once in a while. I am more of a rice, chicken curry, gobi alu or biryani person. But, I am improving every day. At the moment, I can perfectly recognise dhokla, khandvi, khaman even from a distance of 500 metres. But I still can’t bring myself to eat ‘dal dhokli’ or ‘sev tamatar.’ When I see somebody having ‘aam ras’, I gently turn my face away.

And I fail to understand why street food is so expensive here in Ahmedabad. I was born in a ‘poor’ state and I am used to having lipsmacking, absolutely inexpensive street food in Odisha. But then we don’t have Mercs lining up to have dalwada from a street vendor (like it happens in Gujarat). And, being largely a vegetarian state, you can’t buy eggs as easily as you can in the Eastern parts of India. In Odisha, most paan shops also keep a crate of eggs. I miss that luxury here.

Honey, it’s all about money: There’s a saying in Odisha that Lakshmi and Saraswati can’t stay in one home. So, without having much choice, we celebrate Goddess Saraswati in Odisha. For us, Basant Panchami is a big festival. On the other hand, Lakshmi really rules in Gujarat. But I must say, Gujaratis work hard to earn the blessings of the Goddess of Wealth. I remember one particular incident some years back during a visit to Odisha. When I asked a cycle rickshawallah to take me to my aunt’s house, he promptly asked somebody else to do it. Coz he was busy in a game of cards and generally having a good time. Money can wait, pleasure can’t. It’s almost impossible to find a plumber and electrician in Odisha who will give you a wonderful service on time. The standard answer is ‘aasuchchi’ (I am coming). Even God can’t predict his arrival. The service industry really sucks there. I have wonderful experiences here in Gujarat so far as the service sector is concerned.To earn money, you got to respect the labour that goes behind it (to earn it). On this account, Gujarat scores very high. Talk of innovative business ideas, Gujaratis win hands down. Entrepreneurship is in its soil.

Mind your spelling: Move over all those comedy capers on television.The real entertainment industry is the signboards in Gujarat. So, ‘Bangle shop’ becomes ‘Bengal shop.’ ‘Pant’ is ‘Pent’. ‘Chinese food’ becomes ‘Chenese/ Chineez’.  And not to miss ‘Go slow: Accident porn area.’  ‘Paneer capsicum’ in a restaurant menu becomes ‘Paneer Kepsikam’ (it can’t get more innovative). The list is endless. Just keep your eyes open and enjoy the show.

B for Ben/ Bhai :  For the receptionists in my earlier offices, I was Deepika Madam. For friends, outsiders I was plain Deepika. Now, suddenly I became Deepikaben after coming to Ahmedabad which was too hard for me digest. In the initial years, I kept on insisting over the phone that “I am only Deepika…” Interestingly, the other voice always kept on forcefully calling me “Deepikaben”. All letters from local people addressed me as Deepikaben Sahu. And those who knew my husband’s name addressed me as Deepikaben Murlibhai Sahu… (Oh God!) (how I dreaded those letters not for the content but for this never-ending name only). Interestingly, there are some who still ask me  “How’s Mr Sahu?” And when I say “No, he’s Mr Menon”, they find it hard to digest. When I was applying for my passport, I went through hell cause I have still retained my maiden name. To top it all, I get many invitation cards which say “Deepikben Shah.” For almost three years, I got my mobile bills in the name of Deepakbhai Shah (till I threatened them with dire consequences as I couldn’t accept the gender reversal). But, with time, I have learnt to pick up the phone and say “Yes, Deepikaben speaking.”

Falling raindrops and flooded streets:  Rice, fish curry, mashed potato with a dash of mustard oil and pouring rains —  that’s early childhood memories. Sitting for hours near a window and seeing the rains lashing against the lamp post back at home in Odisha always comes naturally to me. Rains bring back smells of wet earth of a land I left years back. They bring back memories which come and kiss on the cheeks but then gently go back again to the never-ending paddy fields of a verdant earth. Rains falling on the roof of my house lulled me into sleep in those carefree days. They were not just falling rain drops they were like God singing lullaby in the middle of an otherwise silent night. Rains bring back images of Ma waiting with a towel as I returned from school all drenched. Rains bring back memories of me and my younger sister dancing away to glory in the garden just as the clouds became darker and darker. I miss that lashing rains in Ahmedabad. Give me wet clothes, umbrellas, soaked walls  but give me Odisha’s almost magical monsoon. And I am longing for that sentence to hear — “There’s a low pressure today.”  Being in Gujarat for more than a decade has killed my tender romantic image of rains. I long for rains in this dry, arid land. Yet, the trauma of wading through flooded streets takes away the sheer joy of soaking in the rains. I wish, someday real ‘development’ will happen. The streets will be as ‘dry’ as the state is on paper. I will enjoy the rains without worrying about ‘how to reach home.’ Mr Modi, I hope you will listen to this ‘Make in India’ request.

PS : I must add in the end that I live in a posh locality in Ahmedabad because I have a Hindu name and surname. So, my birth in a Hindu family has been a privilege. 2002 still brings back memories of deep pain, anguish. It’s also true that Gujarat has given me mobility even in the middle of night (unthinkable in many parts of India). As a working woman, I enjoy being here in Ahmedabad. Roaming around the city at odd hours. Without any fear or pressure. This land has given me much love, warmth, affection, support in critical moments and priceless friendships. Above all, it has given me a home. I will be always grateful to this land.