Thursday, August 15, 2013

Monsoon raga


scent of
night-blooming jasmine
words get
in the way

...makes way for this:

slow rain —
losing myself in
birdbath circles

It has been an uncommonly persistent rainy season – many long days of incessant, slow rain, many days when the washing hasn’t dried at all, many occasions when we haven’t seen the sun in two or three days altogether... I’ve found kambli poochis (Red hairy caterpillars) on my curtains, virulent-green crawlies in the wash basin, and all the world seems to be thriving on this nourishment.

So Ann K Schwader’s haiku that so hauntingly captures the monsoon mood.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Some samosas?

It's almost two in the afternoon, and I had a less-than-usually-heavy breakfast and the hunger begins to set in already. But I still have my surya namaskars to do, which I can only do by 3 pm, so it'll be some time before I can snack.

It seems the right moment to be thinking of food and while I'm doing that, I may as well do it thoroughly. Some time ago, I mentioned in the passing a fabulous samosa I had had. Then I got thinking of all the wonderful/memorable samosas I've ever eaten and well... let me just bring you the results. In random order, because I can't do hierarchies with these.

  • It was in a cantonment in North India. I was staying with friends and, in turn, got invited to tea by Lt General A and his family, the first family of the community, so to speak. Now, M reported directly to the Lt Gen, and besides my friends were sticklers for proper army etiquette and managed to alarm me quite thoroughly about adhering to the mode in all respects. I was not to address the Lt. Gen. as 'Sir', we were to make sure not be late by so much as three minutes, we were going to spend just this much time, laugh at all their jokes and so on. I was in a tizzy before we got there. But the hosts were charming and glad of outside society. I ate moderately with one nervous eye on my friend's husband, and then only those foods I was sure I could manage with dainty grace. The samosas looked inviting, but was I allowed to eat them with my fingers? I wasn't sure, so I passed over them entirely. However the Lt Gen was keeping an eye on my plate and pushed the bowl forward: "You must try these, Sheetal, they're fabulous." They looked it and, now how to refuse, so I helped myself to one. Small samosas, amuse-bouche-sized, filled with delicately flavoured, perfectly cooked peas. I THINK, or hope that I took another. A third, I am quite certain, I did not permit myself - already M was glaring at me. But the memory of it lingers, mon amis, it lingers. 

  • Cinema-hall samosas are nothing to rave about usually but the erstwhile Anand Cinema in Secunderabad was an exception. The aloo masala was always nicely flavoured with a hint-but-no-more of tang and sprinkled with coarsely crushed coriander seeds. But the real winner was the pastry dough - not maida but wheat. In its final years, Anand gave us some truly horrible film-viewing experiences and it was pulled down to general relief but I miss those samosas. 

  • Now these matar samosas I'd had in the the Kangra Valley haunted me and it gave me great joy to discover them again. It was in Delhi, in a shop called Bengal Sweets, in the same market block as our office in Safdarjung Enclave. This restaurant supplied us with lunch when we hadn't packed any, gol gappas whenever we felt like it, and in the winter months, batches of fresh green pea samosas. Not as delicately made as those ones but good enough and plus you see, I could devour as many of them as I wished. 

  • Since I live in Hyderabad, Irani samosas - crisply fried, sharp golden triangles filled with thin strips of onion - are easily procured. There have been some amazing confections over the years. In the Charminar area, in university canteens, in people's homes with adrak chai... but one of my favourites is the Corner Shop, that is to say, just round the corner from where I live. My dad brings them wrapped up in newspaper but the smell reaches us even as he enters the house. No one can have just one.

  • The Hong Kong wala. My companions had been suffering the lack of desi chai for nearly a week. On the last day, there were just two of us, wandering the fascinating lanes of Wan Chai. We came to a small store called Kathmandu Store and here we could see was where the sub-continent community could come for products of Home. Hajmola, Kurkure, Maggi, MTR packets, namkeens, mehndi cones, bindis, DVDs with movies and music - it was a kirana shop, essentially. Plus, small tables and stools for those wanting to sit. Samosas were available. He whisked them out of the kadai, served them with a nice spicy mint chutney... the aloo filling was benignly spiced and we had to temper our haste with caution for the steam still rose from the pastry. Then 'milk tea' to wash it down. It was perfect. 
Honourable Mentions:
  • A small samosa filled with sweet corn that I recently had at Nishu's. Store-bought, I think they said, but excellent!
  • On a river cruise on the Zambezi (full story here), we stopped to picnic on an island in the middle of the river. They laid out the contents of the picnic basket and... samosas! It was a nice feeling.
  • A teensy Irani samosa that is sold on the Sabari Express on the return journey towards Hyderabad. The seller gets on the train at Bhonghir, I think, and gives us something like eight for Rs 20. Since this is always around noon, I'm in a dilemma every time - eat now and ruin lunch that's waiting at home or indulge and let later take care of itself?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Old friends

Something odd is happening.
"______ has shared a link" is a common enough statement to encounter on facebook. There is no reason for me to have read that, at first glance, as "______ has severed a link."
No reason at all.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Been there, done that

The comforts of habit. The solace of ruts. The seemingly inexorable juggernaut of inertia.
I make an effort to change a pattern, clear a space of old compulsions, but then I lose no time at all at filling the gap with another comfortable thing to 'do'. Human doings. Humans doing. Doing all the time.