Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sigh... I'm back.

Goa and Kings

Baga at Sunset

Getting onto that bus to Bombay was amongst the most depressing things I've ever done. The elder sibling assures me that despite going to Goa five times a year, the depression never fails to come a'calling. Staring at my screen instead of a Goan sunset, feni in my glass, and crumb-fried prawns on my plate feels so incredibly wrong... Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Mensis Mirabilis

I have an odd mix of accomplishments to list here today and it seems impossible to not smile about either one.

Today is one year since I quit smoking. After ten years. I quit in a fit of pride; didn't like being told the stick was stronger than me, don't you know. The first few weeks were a little miserable, what with people all over the country trying to tempt me back. But you know that you've really and truly quit when in the biting, early-morning January Delhi cold, you can detachedly hold a cigarette and watch it burn down to the filter and NOT WANT to take a drag. I think I'll always miss the "after a great meal" smoke and the solitary, contemplative smoke but for the biggest part, I'm just glad I quit.

Secondly, I can now stop saying "I am the only 27 year-old in Bombay who can say that it's been 23 years since I last went to Goa." Yup, yup. Am finally in Goa. Under a blazing hot sun. Soaking up the susegad. Eating like it's my last week on Earth. Drinking alcohol in lieu of water. Exploring the smaller stuff. Falling back in love with my life. Rediscovering my photographic eye. Finally having my Dil Chahata Hai moment.

More when I'm back. There will be, I am sure, since I'm with the ex-reviewer. Like a good child, I am being harassed into writing, complete with drafting and polishing, every day. :-)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

In Search of Ramazan

The November of 2001. For the first time, Ramazan up close, and personal.

It began slowly, with S fasting during exams and going off to pray in the middle of evening tea. A little later came the small dabbas that S's mother sent back to the hostel. Three of us would huddle around a light blue box, drowning in the rich and varied tastes of her home, jostling each other's fingers for favourite bits. Still later was the feast that the entire family brought to campus in time for Iftar. Baskets of egg samosas and assorted kababs, each dabba within filled with some of the most incredible food I've ever had the pleasure of.

And yet, nothing could have prepared me for the delights of the Old City. This particular jaunt was a few nights from going home for the winter. Well past midnight by the time we got past the purana pul but with the screaming waiters outside each little shop, the lights, the traffic, you'd be convinced otherwise. Even the sleepy textile shops that usually shut by 7:30 p.m. were still loudly displaying their garish wares. Come to think of it, it's the only time I've ever seen Hyderabad on the go!

That night, from the chaos of Charminar came one of the most brilliant gastronomic experiences of my life.

Haleem. That most delightful of the riches of Ramazan. I've never eaten something like it and I don't think I will either. No idea what I'm frothing at mouth about? Well, it's broken wheat, meat (usually mutton), some dal, spices, and whole lot of ghee, slow-cooked the entire day in a bhatti, ready in time for Iftar. The resultant gooey, gelatinous, porridge-like mouthfuls, topped with fried onion and a wedge of lime, are amongst the closest one can get to culinary nirvana... ever. Nayab at Pathargatti, Miskin and Shadaab in the Old City proper - there are absolutely no better places for haleem. I know - I tried them all!

From the rosy hues of memory, haleem stands strongest and most beloved. But in fairness, there was some other fantastic food too. The nahari and warm sheermal at Miskin, behind Medina Hotel, is the best I've ever had. Miskin also serves a delicious paya. A novel and perhaps surprising experience, because I saw trotters in the paya for the first time. Actually hanging out of the ladle in the handi. Certainly, I was laughed at - amid choking laughter and polite sniggers, I was asked "Why else would it be called paya then?" How would I know?! In Bombay, it's just the greasy soup, thank you very much!

It's been six years since I was last in Hyderabad for Ramazan. Six years since the taste of paradise upon my lips. Six years, I assure you, is a long, long time. So after reading the last issue of Time Out Mumbai and its piece on the feasts of Ramazan, Bombay style, AND where to get haleem in this city, I plan to set out adventuring in Mahim and Mohammed Ali Road. Tonight.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Buried in Books

There is definitely, certainly, and incontrovertibly no such thing as being too broke for books.

In my position right now though, you'd think there was. I haven't worked for nearly three months now. I got paid till about two and a half ago. I spend a part of my time figuring out how to make this break last. For the other, I count my pennies and try not to spend them. Especially since I want to travel a fair bit and I want to meet friends elsewhere. So, I now do what I haven't in 3 years I take buses, I eat cheap, and I drink cheap. I'm doing my best, see. But as usual, the best laid plans of this woman often go awry when any kind of book store is in sight. Especially when the book store's Landmark and their annual sale is on.

It's pathetic, really, my lack of self-restraint. I don't even bother resisting. Right till the door I'm worrying about how I just can't afford another book. What's more, my mum is going to throw me out of the house because we have truly and officially run out of space for books one of us needs to move out now! But the minute I step in, it all goes to hell. Suddenly there are all these lovely, interesting books all of which I must read and own. Suddenly the financial problems, of a few small countries, which were dancing on my head a moment ago are all gone. You know what makes it worse? That bloody restraint is one the meanings of my name?!

And while I may have dug an unnecessary hole into my pocket, some of these books have to be seen to be believed. I picked up the illustrated film script of Neil Gaiman's MirrorMask at a mere 150. The original price of this gorgeously produced and exquisitely crafted coffee-table-sized book, I must gloat, is 1513! I bought an absolutely wonderful book on music Back to the Miracle Factory: Rock etc. 1990's for a mere 99! And it gets only better. For between 149 and 199, I picked up I'm a Born Liar: A Fellini Lexicon, a Diana Wynne Jones, the children's edition of MirrorMask, and I Hated, Hated, Hated this Movie.

If it had ended there, I wouldn't have felt quite as guilty as I do now. You see, in other impoverishing incidents, that almost silly book store, Crossword, has also had its annual sale. Unfortunately, I found nothing very exciting save for the brilliantly produced and gorgeous Phoenix Poetry series at throwaway prices. And so, the selected works of Ovid, Donne, Byron, Coleridge, Tennyson, and Baudelaire have made their way into my home and my mother's ire.

Ah well. Excuse me while I meander back to bed and read my guilt away.

P.S. On the off chance you thought I was back to my normal derelict ways, allow me to correct that happy mistake. It's been close to a month of hacking like an old crone, watching the world through the haze of my steamer, and dealing with a bad, tender tummy. I'm much better now, thanks very much. :-)