Saturday, January 31, 2009

Spinning Yarns

I learned knitting way back in school, in MHS, in class VII. I remember picking up the nuances of the craft quite easily and enthusiastically. A little too enthusiastic perhaps. We were all asked to knit a set of clothes for a newborn baby, as per instructions, to create a sleeveless woollen vest (the sleeveless part has always struck me as absurd), a bonnet and a pair of booties (socks). Mine eventually translated into one that when cheerfully displayed to our needlework teacher, Mrs Srivastav, struck her speechless with amusement. After her recovery from a bout of inane toothing, she managed a benign grin and said she was quite pleased with my performance but I needn't really have exerted myself to such an extent. Apparently, my creations were big enough to apparel a six-month old baby quite effortlessly. I packed my bags after the class, hurling imprecations against the world in general for not having offered me any opportunity to develop the slightest idea of the relative difference in size between a newborn and a six-month old baby. No wonder Siddhant struck me as miniscule in terms of magnitude a few months back.

There was a particular reason for my disgust. Salt Lake was almost an island in those days, in terms of transportation options. It did not help that my father is a doctor by profession, too busy to lavish much attention on our arts-and-crafts-related (and therefore entirely optional and futile, according to him) needs. Ma, though extremely street-smart and intelligent, was only courageous enough to venture bravely into the New Market shopping territory. Salt Lake itself suffered from a gigantic dearth of shopping destinations. Hence, procuring all needlework etc related raw materials was really an issue of sorts. After several sharp reprimands in needlework classes for my failure to produce the necessary knitting paraphernalia, I ultimately effected a showdown back home, threatening to boycott education until my needlework needs were taken seriously. Results were prompt. After considerable gnashing of teeth and directing of choice expletives against my hallowed academic environs, Baba took a trip to Gauranga Bastralaya in Gariahat and returned with wool in the brightest, gaudiest shade of chrome yellow imaginable. Even now I shudder when I care to imagine any newborn or even six-months' old baby being attired in clothes of that colour. I wouldn't want this type of misfortune to befall even the child of my worst detractor.

Well. That is my point. Baba excused his colour-blindness by citing the inability to procure so many yarns of such a ply simultaneously at the aforementioned store except in this garish hue. Mrs Srivastav's matter-of-factness therefore had every potential of triggering off any latent hysteria in me. To undergo such histrionics for all that knitting and then its being considered as superfluous. Well, no wonder I've been short tempered since.

Why return to knitting at such a belated stage of life, you're obviously wondering, when it's evident I've unresolved neuroses regarding this area in my unconscious. Turns out Tanima inspired me to re-tread dreaded territory with a very sacred purpose to fulfil this time. Namely, a muffler for K. I wished to gift him something that incorporated my signature and which, he would therefore, treasure for years to come. Maybe he'd show it to our children some day with a glow in his eye, reflecting all the warmth that it bestowed on him and the sense of his worth it distilled. So, though with quite some trepidation, I did buy some wool at Walmart and left him to shortlist the multicoloured yarn he wanted spun into a muffler. It wasn't the typical Libran indecision that he battled this time. The place does offer you exquisite colour combinations and left to me, I might have ended up purchasing more than what figured on my initial agenda. I called up Tanima and verified that I was getting the right raw materials. The needles did scare me a bit, being miles long (not literally, silly) and of Christmas tree ball hues: gold, purple and deep blue. I settled on purple (predictably).

On Monday, after K left for office, I downloaded a couple of DIY (Do It Yourself) knitting videos on YouTube and set about charging my knitting batteries. It took me a day to gain courage and finally embark on the decided project. When I did, I don't mind confessing that I had to unravel the entire thing thrice. The first time, I took too many stitches and then realised that I wanted a muffler, not a shawl. The second mishap was occasioned by my discovery that I was not doing the 'purl' correctly, forgetting to bring the yarn towards the front every time I changed from 'knit' to 'purl'. The third (and fortunately the final) setback was owing to my flipping through a couple of webpages and determining that what I actually wanted was the ribbed look for the muffler. Happily, I still had enough motivation to allow me to proceed. Even after all these unhappy incidents. Only goes to show how badly I wanted to get this gift going. For our sake.

Here's how it looks at this moment. Wish me luck (and no more mishaps) with the rest of it !

P.S. Here is the link to the 2 knitting videos that caused me to sally forth on this voyage, in case you too are stranded in deep waters and need immediate aid.

Btw, I discovered I'm not alone in knitting related fears. Check out this one, if you don't believe me.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Trailing Clouds of Glory Do We Come...

I just woke up from a deep and refreshing nap, glancing around sleepily, tantalised by what seemed rather pleasantly different about today. I sat up and wondered. All of a sudden, a wave of happiness swept over me, washing out all pains and pinpricks from my past. I felt young and light-hearted, frivolous and frolicky, cheerful and tender. And then I realised the source of the subtle change that had been wrought in my mood. I had opened my eyes not to coldness and darkness but rather warmth and wistfulness...suddenly it seemed summer again and I was the self I had loved and proud to have owned possession to in the early days of college, in the early days of school, in the early days of my life when spring and summer seemed the only seasons of life and autumn or winter myths that existed only in a book.

What had happened to me in between ? The pressures to perform upto the expectations of my peers ? The wilful wisdom that had been imposed upon me by marriage and its myriad implications ? The troubles I had brought on myself by brooding over too many relations gone wrong, too many tensions not worth the terror of self-mortification over ? My vain notions of achieving valour, Atlas style, in too many circumstances that were beyond my destiny and strength to set straight or reverse the course of ? Maybe one of them ? Maybe all ?

Who cares ? Who indeed ? So long as I believe I tried my best to choose the correct path at each crossroad, I can go to sleep with a guiltless conscience knowing I've always been consciously conscientous ; I shall still hope to see, as I did today, another bright bold flash of gold as the sun disappears along the breathless horizon, breathing benedictions on all those who blessed its way and even for those unfortunate enough to have stayed on napping and missed the clouds of glory that trailed alongside, timeless and tearless, in its infinite, iridescent trajectory.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


When we want to have a quiet and cosy evening together, sit back and basically just feel relaxed and refreshed, K and I instinctively reach out to the Rabindrasangeet available online. Quite a few are available on YouTube, mostly sourced from old and recent Bengali films and telefilms or private albums by professional singers but sadly enough, too few to pick and choose from. Once I spent some time searching for a few of my favourite Tagore compositions online and was appalled at the limited number of websites that showed up on Google. That made me ponder. I would have thought that I'd be spoilt for choice as it usually happens when I'm googling anything else on that omnipotent search engine. I have to waste a whole lot of time just making random hits and hoping I'll find something that approximates my target. Rabindrasangeet alas seems to be a rarity of sorts online. And yet, folks back home tell me that there's been a boom in the e-media of late.

Anyway, all this means that we lament our not having foresight enough to carry some Rabindrasangeet CDs with us to the USA. Both of us are to blame, since music forms a very notable part of our everyday lives. Our tastes are markedly different when it comes to English music, where I'm notoriously fickle, moving from Tchaikovsky to Enrique to Dido to Philip Yon to the Beatles in one clean sweep, leaving K breathless in his effort to keep up with my tastes. He is more into multi-genre rock and Pink Floyd. However, we manage to embrace considerable similarity when it comes to Bengali and Hindi music, where we are both heavily into anything Kishore or A.R.Rahman, Sonu Nigam or Debabrata Biswas, Lata or Asha, Shreya Ghoshal or Sraboni Sen. And Rabindrasangeet is like our refuge. When we want comfort and cheer, trust us to curl up on our cushions with Rabindrasangeet and coffee (er well, tea for K).

It's startling, the effect Rabindrasangeet has on us. The long drawn out enunciation most professional singers sport is soothing, almost as slurred at points as it would take a teetotaller after a couple of pegs to come up with or even me, when the mercury drops sharply to minus 10 and below. We laugh at the drawling and affected accents when we are in the mood for jest and banter, but when you're far from home like us and sometimes, just nothing seems to work except perhaps tears (easy for me, tough for K) or deep sleep (escape from reality itself), Rabindrasangeet provides unimaginable relief. Just musing on the words, brooding on their meaning can lift you effortlessly to a plane of pure pleasure, when each nerve thrills to the melody and the spirit yearns to become one with the flesh.

I personally think my greatest influence in writing poetry has been Rabindranath. The blending of love and worship, pain and pleasure, word and meaning, wisdom and worth...why else would I learn to write each word as if I felt it walk my heart each step, arriving at a climax as one would stand ecstatic at the door of heaven, straining to reach for a few drops of peace from what little 'punyo' (godliness) I have gained from striving to please others on each day, in each poem.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sheer Poetry

All those of you who have a poem, a passion, a song, a painting, a story, a desire haunting you to set itself free, to flow out in words, tears, music, colours or maybe just silence, go visit this might feel like thanking me later. But it doesn't really matter. Just read it, for my sake. That'll be thanks enough.

Blueberry Vanilla Cake

My latest concoction...specially for K, who adores blueberry muffins...I thought, ok, I'd bake him a whole cake with blueberries in it. He's elated, naturally.

Every ounce of credit for the recipe goes to Moumita, who also inspired confidence in a very cooking-diffident me, to go right ahead and embark on the adventure that is baking. She was always on the phone to provide any other advice, suggestions or solutions throughout the experimental endeavour.

A great big thanks to Tanima, who told me to simply 'go for it' and also helped me out with another recipe and a photo from far-off Calgary (Canada), so that I would receive some visual motivation too !

For friends and family (just to name a few : Rashi, Abir, Priyanka, Banu & Debarati, Bor-Di) drooling over the photo at home, not to worry. I'll bake you all the cakes you want, in any flavour you desire, the moment I'm back. Ok well, not the moment perhaps, literally. But as soon as I finish unpacking !

Friday, January 16, 2009

"I Walk Alone"

I'm not the only one. It seems there are are so many more others. And much more musical ones, when you come to think of it, after watching the following...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Back to basics

Check out this one, all you ex-JUDEs ... Kudos to Rimi Di who ventured into unconquered territory and set us all a worthy example ! (And Tintin Da's indignant comment on this post...of course, his disgust is quite justified.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Poetry on my Mind

I've just discovered two new poets : Maya Angelou and Shel Silverstein . The former reminded me of Plath (consider, for instance, Still I Rise) and the latter of Yeats (compare Where The SideWalk Ends and The Lake Isle of Innisfree)....

But I was stirred and shaken by this a bullet, it struck straight at my heart........I wouldn' t care for its ever being extracted......


Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

--- Langston Hughes


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Allergy Woes

I have known for quite some time that I'm allergic to seafood, of which the most common instance would be prawns. The realisation dawned on me after allergy attacks on four very disparate occasions, among which the only common factor had been prawns. On the first occasion it had been my maternal uncle's daughter's marriage reception at Behala, on the second it had been at my father's friend's niece's reception at ITC Sonar Bangla near Science City, on the third it was a dinner with my prospective husband and in-laws at Marco Polo in China at Park Street and the final one again with my in-laws at a friends' family function in GC Block, Salt Lake. Four times seems too many to be a coincidence. Especially since each of the dishes containing prawn happened to be cooked in very different ways at each of these places. Weirdly enough,the ones we call kucho chingri (miniscule/tiny prawn) don't seem to affect me in a similar way. But I had such an alarm after the aforementioned occasions, when I had been rushing to the toilet almost every ten minutes to either throw up or throw down the unacceptable remains of the prawns in my body or writhing on the bed, clutching onto my stomach which would send out spasms of acute pain every few minutes that .... well....I've given up seafood for good. The very sight of prawns, whatever be their size or however exotic the dish, causes me to just look the other way. Even the ads of 'Red Lobster' on TV here, in fact, make me feel sick. Very sick.

However there seem to be other nasty surprises in store for me. I found out in a very painful way recently, that I'm allergic to other untried variants of seafood as well. The latest on the list has been tuna. I was heading for a whale of an allergy attack last Sunday night, which I stalled just in time by popping two LevoCetirizines and an anti-spasmodic pill. But there was too much discomfort and gastro-intestinal pain even after that to partake of any dinner. I went to bed hungry. I'm scared stiff right now. Don't think I'll be doing any sort of experimentation in the seafood domain for a long, long time to come.

Snowfall @ Brookside

There's been incessant snowfall throughout New Jersey and quite heavily at Somerville throughout the last weekend......naturally, the cold's been benumbing since...we had fun cleaning the flaky and soft snow off our car on Saturday noon , before we could drive to our nearest grocery, dressed to immobility in our thickest coats, caps and socks...I was scolded by K for using my gloves and hands instead of the shovel-brush to scatter the snow...I always love watching the snow while it falls, especially if K is at home, when I can share it with him but on Saturday night, it looked particularly fairytale like after the snow had stopped for an hour or so...if I hadn't already known where we were, I could quite have tricked myself into believing we were living by a beach !
Here's a few photos :




A real spectacle, isn't it ?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Healthy Food

K experienced a sudden and urgent desire to have fruit salad on Tue evening, after coming home from office. But he was very tired at that point of time. So he took off on a nap for an hour or so, while I did a quick begun-bandhakopi-tomato-yellow capsicum curry which btw, turned out to be a surprise success (it seems I'm the one most surprised when one of my dishes actually work out well ). After that, we dashed off to Stop N Shop, which mercifully remains open till midnight on weekdays. We picked up a tub of plain non-fat yogurt, one of non-fat vanilla yogurt, two tubs of low-fat icecream (French Vanilla and Chocolate), a can of condensed milk, cherry flavoured dried cranberries and bananas. K dished up, with the additional help of refrigerated apples, pears, blackberries and some salted nuts an awesome dessert. And a healthy, guiltless one. He looked immensely satisfied at this feat. Cheers !

Yesterday, we bravely tried out a new tilapia fish recipe, baking it instead of the usual cooking-on-gas with either tomato-onion-ginger or chilli-soya-vinegar sauces-and-capsicum varieties. Sorry I forgot to take a photo, it did look very picturesque indeed when done...well, next time perhaps ! It tasted exactly like fish kebabs, healthy and amazingly subtle. Here's the recipe :

Tilapia with Garlic Butter

Cook Time: 20 minutes

2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
dash pepper
dash salt
pinch dried dill or parsley
dash paprika
4 tilapia fillets

In a saucepan/non-stick frying pan, combine butter, garlic, pepper, salt, dill, and paprika. Heat over low heat until butter is melted and starts simmering. Remove from heat. Brush a little of the butter mixture in the bottom of a shallow baking dish (line baking dish with foil, if desired) then place tilapia fillets on the buttered area. Brush top of each tilapia fillet with the seasoned butter mixture. Bake at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes, until tilapia flakes easily with a fork.
Serves 2.

Note : I didn't have dill, so I used plain old cilantro (dhonepata) instead. Don't know how it would have tasted with dill, but the dhonepata sure worked wonders for us !

P.S. K is quite indignant. I took the liberty of informing him that his snoring resembles fireworks.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Mr India: Comic Book

Just managed to locate this on the net, endless thanks to Beth who left the link on her site for us lazybones. Go have a look. I loved the film and now I love its comic book version too !

Chicken Biriyani

K ventured into the territory of Mughlai cooking recently. After he heard that Sush, Kakima (Sush's mother) and RonyDa had all tried their hand at biriyani, he saw no reason why he shouldn't follow suit. He was so excited about the whole thing that it was kind of infectious, even going to the extent of overlooking any attempt to locate the recipe on the net (which would have characterised me any day) and instead, discussed the whole recipe over the phone with Sush, taking notes as he did so. His explanation would probably be that he wanted to introduce a personal touch into an impersonal dish. I rather suspect that he wanted to get the recipe first-hand from a person whose culinary skills were an established fact and whose efforts at the said dish had been voted a huge success by friends and critics alike (in short, his immediate family).

Anyway, the very next day, we went shopping for biriyani ingredients. We had a hard time doing the same in the local 'Desi Bazaar' (where we usually buy our Indian cooking raw material from) which is in any case, ill-stocked nowadays, after its proprietor, a big fat fair lady with great hair and a stentorian voice (K's nickname for her is quite understandably, 'jolohosti'), either took a break or resigned. Certain ingredients like star aniseed, mace, black cardamom, shahi jeera are used in so few and such particular dishes that it would have been a brighter idea perhaps to try out the recipes at home, where these are more commonly available. But then that's the irony. We want to make them here and now. Whereas when we want to have biriyani at home, we just call up Shiraz or Bedouin and order some. Or go to Southern Aminia or Rehmania and eat there. Life !

I digress. The point is that we were beginning to feel rather irritated at the dearth of many of the much-needed condiments in the store and I was on the verge of elaborating to K the virtues of patience, so that we could drop in at 'Patel's Cash & Carry' at Somerset (bang opposite SabyaDa-Moumita's place) the next weekend and get everything we were despairing of ever finding here. Suddenly I located a packet of biriyani masala. I read the list of contents with trepidation and was suitably rewarded. It contained most of the rarities we had hitherto been unable to find. After that, things looked brighter. We managed to find the shahi jeera and the kewra water and came home, a happy couple. Earlier, we had also dropped in at the 'Planet Dollar' at Raritan Mall and picked up a huge aluminium foil style tray and its lid for the final stage of cooking the biriyani (usually achieved at home in a huge dekchi/hnari, the mouth of which is sealed with flour.)

K marinated the chicken as soon as he got home but left the rest for evening. In due time, he followed Sush's instructions verbatim and managed to complete the first few stages of cooking more or less uneventfully.I helped him to strain the starch from the huge skillet in which the rice had been boiling, using an equally large strainer (that too happened to be a biriyani-specific purchase). The chicken had already been cooked. After that, we left the rice to dry while K called up Sush and sorted out a few biriyani-related queries that had meanwhile occurred to him. Things were proceeding quite well till the point when K had finished lining the aluminium foil tray with ghee and layering it meticulously with rice, onions, chicken,rice, onions,chicken and so on. It suddenly dawned on us that the tray was simply too enormous to fit into the oven and shut the oven door on it.

Well......that was a setback. We were stumped, looking helplessly at each other for quite some time. This was unexpected, to say the least. Not only had we wasted $2 on a tray that we wouldn't be able to utilise in any other way, at 9.40 pm it was also too late to go to any store and pick up a smaller one. We had no back-up dinner options. Things looked bleak.

But then, as I always say, I'm a versatile Gemini ginni . I managed to produce a couple of old (and smaller) aluminium trays which we had earlier used to keep food in when we had entertained the last time and which I had safely stowed the away, contemplating dire catastrophes. (Of course, I hadn't expected one so soon.) That came in handy now. The only problem now to consider was that of transferring the contents from one tray to another, since it was evidently impossible to keep the arrangement of rice, onions and chicken intact any longer. With a huge sigh, K began to transfer the contents manually, trying to salvage the situation as best as possible under the given circumstances. That done, he sprinkled kewra water over the mixture, placed it carefully in the oven, set the temperature as instructed and recorded the time. After which, we watched TV, waiting for 30 mins in extreme anxiety for the end product.

It was a success. Thank goodness.


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