The exercise was to write about your favourite food using 5 senses.
The amber liquid
And the tinkling sound
The peaty flavour
So smooth it goes down
The aroma of nectar
Single malt I’ll be bound
#humour #KitchenFisasco #BachelorsLife #WhyPigsHaveWings #DifferentTruths
Here’s an interesting account by Soumya, a humourist, on cooking. We are introducing his humour column, beginning this week, on Tuesdays, exclusively on Different Truths. I am a foodie. My girth hints at it. I take a keen interest in the creative process of cooking too, but all strictly theoretical. I also enjoy cooking as a spectator sport. The glamorous cooks on television make it look so sexy. [ 933 more words ]
I was in my final year in the University. I had virtually dropped out, not attending classes, and doing everything else possible in those laissez faire days of Delhi University.
By a stroke of good fortune, a classmate, a minor Dada or Don at the University, had decided to mentor me not only in nefarious activities, but also in had through his unique logic persuaded me into taking a few competitive exams. He in fact paid the fees, as I had spent all my allowance in less productive activities, and even woke me up and dropped me to the exam centres. I will write about him in a separate story.
Having taken these exams without preparation and barely awake, I had little hope of clearing any. But I did get interview calls, but having previous experience of how I tend to offend the interviewers with my general appearance and attitude, I had no expectations. I was certain I was unemployable and that I would fail my exams too.
But on my return from a crazy adventure in a forest, about which I have written earlier, in Close encounters of the Wild Kind, I found an appointment letter waiting for me.
Receiving the appointment letter was a godsend. My concerns regarding a bleak future of unemployment and poverty being allayed, celebrations started on a serious note. The relevance of the final examinations thus becoming negligible, I gave up all pretence of studying.
My colourful friend, unconventional philosopher and extreme lifestyle guide, who, as I said earlier, was instrumental in getting me employed, was also selected by the same organisation, and posted to my hometown, Calcutta. I was posted to Madras as it was then known, in the Deep South.
The joining date was a few days after the final exams, and it was a two day journey across the length of the country by train. In order to avoid confrontation with my going to be disappointed parents, who wanted me to study further and prepare for the IAS, I decided to join first and inform them later.
Now that my creditworthiness was established, as I was about to become a class one officer in a government organisation with what seemed in their impoverished state a princely salary, I jointly with my friend threw a party involving crates of bliss which lasted through the weekend. This merged into another farewell party that our friends threw for us, and a few very hazy days later, my friends uploaded me, barely awake, on the South bound train along with my Spartan possessions in a rucksack.
When I finally woke up the train had reached the badlands of Chambal, and the deep gorges and ravines and steep banks took me straight to the stories of the Wild West that had fired my imagination as a schoolboy. The men around me had spectacular moustaches and colourful pugrees, and the women wore brightly hued sarees with thick silver jewellery and veils pulled over their face. A number of men carried muskets. They spoke Hindi with an unfamiliar lilt.
Next morning I woke up to a new world. My co passengers had changed and everyone around was speaking in a strange incomprehensible guttural tongue. There also was an unusual smell, which I later identified as a mixture of coconut oil, jasmine and camphor. The women wore long skirts and had flowers in their hair. The men wore white lungis. The calls of “chai, garam chai “ was replaced by “kaffee, kaffee”. The vendors sold coffee, and tea was nowhere in sight. The breakfast or tiffin being served was in banana leaves, and newspapers in an unfamiliar script, and consisted of idlis, vadas and curd rice.
This was the first time that I had ventured South of the Vindiyas. It was almost like being in a new country. I could not communicate with my neighbours except through sign language.
Early next morning the train rolled into Madras. I was bewildered and lost in a sea of humanity whom I could not understand, and was being solicited by a mob of touts shouting “Hotel! Taxi!” and a string of incomprehensible words.
Suddenly out of the gloom there emerged a beacon of joy, in the shape of a man in white uniform and chauffeurs cap carrying a banner “Welcome Mr Mukherjee”
This completely unexpected angel of mercy guided me to a white Ambassador car, with white seat covers, which a very grimy boy, covered in two days worth of the dust of the nation, was afraid to soil. This scruffy untidy unwashed being in much stained tees was thus bourn regally to a hotel in Maylapore, my home to be for the next six months.
The novelty of being in a hotel, getting a wakeup call with tea served in the room along with the morning newspaper, proper meals served buffet style with plenty to eat in a proper restaurant, seemed like a dream, just out of my university hostel.
A telegram home informed my parents of my latest whereabouts and career choice. Two thousand kilometres protected me from their displeasure.
I got used to waking to the strains of ladies practicing Carnatik music in the neighbourhood, and the sound of temple bells. I got used to men in white with foreheads streaked with holy ash. I got used to demure women with jasmine in their hair. I got used to polite people in buses, who would not sit in a ladies seat even if it was empty, in sharp contrast to the uncouth louts in my earlier city.
I discovered a new country, the Deep South
Cooking my Goose
I am a foodie. My girth hints at it. I take a keen interest in the creative process of cooking too, but all strictly theoretical. I also enjoy cooking as a spectator sport. The glamorous cooks on television make it look so sexy. However, the actual mechanics of it have eluded me so far.
Having grown up in the strictly feudal atmosphere of a Bengali Bhadralok family, I learnt to appreciate fine food, without ever wondering about the process that creates it. Our kitchen was presided over by a family heirloom, the venerable Maharaj from a neighbouring state, who dished out delectable repasts ala Anatole of Blandings fame but jealously guarded his domain, where even my mother was denied entry.
When I finally left the comfortable cocoon of home and later hostel to venture out into the big bad world to forage for the daily bhat mach or pizza, this shortcoming became a problem.
I moved into a Barsati with some friends, a typical bachelor dig. Those of you who have seen Chasme Baddoor will get the idea even if you have not lived it.
For economies sake, for we were impecunious bachelors, we decided to try cooking at home. The onus of providing dinner came by turns. When my turn came I thought that khichuri will be a simple enough dish, as you could add rice dal vegetables eggs sausages spices and everything one could think of in the pot with ghee and add water and boil and it’s done. The subtleties of proportion and timing and controlled heat escaped me.
The net result was that the mix turned black and started emitting a foul smelling smoke. Adding more water in a desperate bid to salvage my creation turned it into a thick black liquid broth. I dared not taste it.
I tried calling my creation Hungarian Goulash and try it out on our most gullible roommate, but even he saw through it. I was demoted to procurer of ingredients, leaving the creative side to my more skilled roomies
When I lost my single status and my partner moved in, my roommates moved out. My wife was a superb cook, and my attempts to help out were quashed on the grounds of slowing down the process and leaving a mess in the kitchen. My guilt regarding my inability forcing her to do two difficult tasks, cooking the books at the workplace, and a multicourse Bengali Punjabi fusion cuisine at home continued to niggle, and we arrived at a compromise solution of hiring help in the kitchen, supervised by the LOH.
In due course, kids appeared on the scene, made life a delicious blur, and the years whirred past. Soon I had three militant feminists, who had allergic reactions to my feudal mores, running my life.
The fallout was that it was decreed that all of us would be self sufficient, and at least make our own breakfasts.
Gone were the days of stuffed parathas in the morning, with generous dollops of white butter, which transformed me from the svelte youth to the rotund old man. The dictum was that everyone had to prepare their own breakfast.
The obvious answer was cereal with milk and toast and fried eggs. This I concluded would be well within my limited capabilities. Pouring the cereal in the bowl and pouring the milk on top was done without a hitch. The toaster popped up the toasts unaided, and spreading the butter was the toughest task so far, but I managed it without mishap. The first few days, I stuck to bread and jam, buttered toasts, sandwiches made from sandwich spreads and cereals soaked in milk for breakfast.
Now I came to the real test. I was attempting eggs, sunny side up. I waited till I was alone at home. It looked so easy on screen. The pan is placed on the stove. A dollop of butter is plonked in, and starts sizzling and bubbling. Now with one smooth movement of the hand, the egg was to be cracked on the edge of the pan, and the egg neatly drops in and magically turns into a golden smiley face. It looked so easy, elegant and stylish. The hand holding the egg swooped in. Contact was made with the edge. So far everything was going as per script. But now deviations set in. The pan leapt off the stove, the hot butter splattered me, and the smashed egg was all over the floor.
While I soaked under the tap and danced about in pain, my faithful Labrador cleared up the floor of the mess, shells and all, even cleaning the pan.
Undaunted, I geared up for attempt number two. I tried a less flamboyant method now. Pan, butter all in place, I held the egg over the pan and tried to crack it with a knife, to let the stuff plonk into the pan. It looked really simple on screen. But no, here too, things did not run as per script. The egg smashed and fell in the pan, shells and all.
After faithful Labrador removed all tell tale evidence of crime once again, a third attempt was planned. Robert Bruce tried seven times before defeating England we have learnt, but I had only six tries, limited by number of eggs in the fridge.
This time egg was broken into a separate bowl. After fishing out as many of the shells as I could, the egg was successfully poured into the pan. But the result wasn’t the golden center ringed by a white beach as advertised, but a yellowish white amoeba, brown around the edges, with bits of shell hidden inside.
I have discovered that ordering a takeout is the best for anything more ambitious than bread and jam.
Wild Part 1, chapter 14 of Memory, a novella
Written for Nanowrimo
Copyright(c) Soumya Mukherjee
The tourists spotted some movement in the grass and a flash of colour. Alerted by their excitement, the forest ranger focused his binoculars. To his alarm, he noticed some people hiding in the grass. The tourists’ initial disappointment that it wasn’t a big cat gave way to renewed excitement at witnessing the capture of some poachers at first hand. The ranger sent a wireless message to his colleagues, and soon a posse of guards started giving chase to the unauthorised humans in the tiger reserve.
The interlopers being chased were actually four college kids, having an extraordinary and highly unlawful travel adventure. The fugitives were Ron from Shillong, the crazy guy who was game for anything; Desi from Mumbai, who was the wildlife expert and an extremely law abiding citizen until recently; Jo from Australia who was trying to travel the world on a bicycle; and Boy, the originator of all such harebrained schemes.
It all started a few days back in Delhi, when they were planning to go backpacking in Goa, when Desi wanted to join them, to have an adventure before starting his career in government. He also had some camping gear. So Boy borrowed his sleeping bags and backpacks and promising to show him the real India AND bring him back safely, took off in the Bombay Mail. Being low on funds, they dispensed with buying tickets, and huddled on the floor of the general compartment, where the vast majority of our countrymen travel gratis, being too poor to buy tickets, and not much concerned with legalities. Few ticket checkers brave those crowds to catch offenders.
On the way, Desi spoke of the Ranthambore Tiger reserve, which he hadn’t been to, and which was not far from Sawai Madhopur, a station they were passing through. So a toss of coin decided that they get off there, and continue their journey after a detour in this forest. From Sawai Madhopur, they hitched a lift on a tractor up to the village at Rantambore. While waiting for a lift, Boy met Jo and his bicycle, with a fund of stories of cycling around the heart of India. Fascinated, he promptly co-opted him in their team, and dragged him along.
Utter disappointment awaited them at Rantambore. There was no budget accommodation, and to enter the forest they needed a permit,which was available at Sawai Madhopur.
Dejected, Boy decided to explore the ancient ruins and temple in the nearby hill and look for some food and shelter in the tiny hamlet there.
Here the warm embrace of Bharat awaited Boy.. Not knowing the dialect, and Desi the only one with passable Hindi, they mimicked eating and sleeping to the ladies in all encompassing ghunghat, who seemed the only people there. They were invited into one of the homes, and fed what seemed to be large lumps of roasted dough with ghee and tall brass tumblers of buttermilk. This was Boy’s first introduction to the famed Dal Bati and Chach. The giggling ladies whose faces remained firmly behind veils found everything about them extremely amusing; Their lack of appetite, when they couldn’t consume the mountains of food offered, not knowing the language, seeking shelter in the village, and desire to explore the forest on foot. Falling over each other in laughter, they laid some charpoys in their courtyard and directed them to take a siesta, which they gratefully accepted
Refreshed, they explored the ruins and visited the ancient temple, where a Rana was said to have offered his own head as a sacrifice to Shiva, and been suitably rewarded. They bathed and swam in the ancient tank by the temple, then got scared off by the resident turtles, which they took to be crocodiles, plenty of which they had seen by the lake.
In the evening, the men folk returned, and over communal chillums they promised to take Boy to the forest the next day, along with them when they go to illegally graze their cattle and collect firewood and other forest produce, which the law denies them but tradition promises them. Thrilled, Boy politely declined further hospitality, and went to sleep in the ruins, with many warnings from our hosts to never let the fire go out at night, or else.
So they decided to take turns to stay up and tend the fire, and ate bajre ka rotis and achar and gur which the villagers had packed for them, made tea in Jo’s billycan, without which all Australians are incomplete, and slept off in the deep silent forest, among ancient ruins where people offer heads to Gods, after sharing a companionable chillum. Jo’s cycle was kept in the village.
Boy was woken up early in the morning by their hosts and strongly admonished, for they were all sleeping soundly, the fire was off, which was good, for they could at most have been eaten by predators, but an untended fire can cause a forest fire and do untold damage. Duly chastened, Boy meekly followed them into the core area, in the spirit of civil disobedience. After a thrilling trek, where every bush seemed to hide lurking beasts, but spotting nothing more ominous than the herds of cheetal and neelgai, and packs of langoors and numerous birds, especially peacocks, they were escorted to a cave, said to be occupied by a sadhu, the sole human resident of the forest, who was to be their host that night, the villagers shared a meal and the communal chillum with them and left rations of chana and gur, telling them not to stray, stay out of sight, away from tourist jeep routes, animal paths, and forest guards, who in their view were more to be feared than the resident animals. They were also shown the escape route if spotted, as the guards had no jurisdiction outside the boundaries, and the nearest police station was Sawai Madhopur. Boy’s offer of monetary compensation was turned down with hurt pride. He apologized and parted friends.
They bathed in the stream by the cave, and settled down in the coming dusk, waiting for the Sadhu in his cave, listening to the myriad forest sounds.
He came in silently, unsurprised by strangers in his abode, and taught Boy how to make rotis on bare rock among small flames, and curry from some wild roots and berries and the right way to fill, light and smoke a chillum. He spoke of his life and the reasons for this solitary life, his philosophy, the forest, and living in harmony. But that will be another story
.Thus started the second night in the forest, deep inside, but not pitch dark, as stars twinkled and moonlight filtered in through the trees, and not silent either, as the forest sounds from the stream, wind, trees and unseen creatures filled the night. The herbal stimuli were making Boy’s minds see animals at every shadow, and the unaccustomed diet was making his stomach rumble. Fear prevented Boy from moving out to the bushes to relieve the rumblings, and his companions prevented him from polluting the environment near the cave.
As to how this was resolved, and further encounters with wild animals and wilder guards, and how they survived to tell the tale, will come in episode two, as I am tired from typing and you from reading if in fact you have reached so far…
See you later, alligator, quite literally….. wait for part two