Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Keep Calm or I’ll Feed You Mishti

Also published on Huffington Post India 

The furore over the imposition of meat ban in several states in consideration of the Jain festival Paryushan made me realise what a peace loving community we Bengalis are. We don’t care that nobody cares for our religious sentiments. During festivals like Durga Puja, we are so engrossed checking out each other’s saris and ingesting copious quantities of biryani and kabiraji cutlet that we don’t get time to demand bans. Rather, we go for a self-imposed ban on vegetables during those days. True, the bhog of ‘khichudi and labda’ is vegetarian but we more than make up for it in the evening by having protein and bhajabhuji (Bengali-pioneered junk food, way before the West could think) on behalf of the entire nation.

We Bengalis are a contented lot as long as others acknowledge our intellectual superiority, rich kaalchaar and don’t serve us a vegetarian meal. I know of instances where a particular Bengali family was put in deep freeze for a lifetime of indifference because they dared to serve only one non-vegetarian dish on their daughter’s wedding. My Ma-in-law has yet to get over the horrific ordeal of being invited for a meal by our Punjabi neighbour in Delhi and made to eat just rajmah chawal. How can someone invite you over for lunch and serve just one dish and that too rajmah!

I know Punjabis are passionate about chhole and rajmah, but for us it’s cattle feed till generous quantities of keema have been added to it. Our love for maachh is as legendary as our lust for mangsho. My husband often recalls with glee the recipe for dumoorer chop on a TV show that asked for two teaspoons of dumoor (raw fig) to be added to half a kilo of minced mutton. In fact, true blue bongs equate “non-veg” with only mangsho. Fish (phish) is a daily comestible that borders on being “veg”. If your Bengali friend has invited you over for a bhegetarian laanch, you are forewarned that the daal could have a fish head looking dolefully at you and the humble lauki, Baba Ramdev’s favourite vegetable, will have a crunchy splattering of shrimps. We don’t like vegetables to feel lonely.

It’s not as if we do not like vegetarian fare. In fact the things we do to the much loathed karela will put a lover claiming expertise in seduction to shame. We marry it with shuktos, sizzle it to a golden brown and serve as a garnish to daal, knead it to a soft pulp with boiled potatoes and have it with ghee and rice. In a Bengali meal, teeta (bitter) is as important as mishti (sweet). While the former begins the meal, the latter completes it.

In fact, the sure-shot way to hurt our religious sentiments is to pronounce roshogolla as rasgulla and claim you have no idea what nolen gur is. Winter is synonymous with nolen gur (date palm jaggery). We wait the entire year for this seasonal delicacy to make an appearance. When it does, we behave like a thirst crazed traveller who has just discovered an oasis in the desert.

If you hear loud voices from your Bengali neighbour’s apartment, they’re most likely engaged in a bitter debate on which moira (sweetmaker) is the final word on a given mishti! “Sen Mahasay is the best for mishti doi”. “Chhi, they are useless, they mix Dalda! Have you even tried Mallar Chaak? You can hold the bhaar upside down and the doi will not fall.”

Our meals don’t end on a sweet note. They end on many sweet notes of chutneys, mishti doi and an assortment of mishtis, fried and steamed. We may be on the verge of losing the GI war over roshogolla to Odisha (perish the thought) but we can safely lay claim to be the birthplace of diabetes.

As a child, our trips to Kolkata (Calcutta, then) would send a shiver of excitement down my gullet. A visit to a relative meant being served platefuls of just rajbhogs in every conceivable colour. What’s more, I could finish them all on my own without reproachful glances from my Mom. Too bad I did not show the same enthusiasm when the hopeful groom, now my husband, demolished the entire plate of desserts and savouries served to him. He couldn’t care less for Delhi etiquette that demands, as a guest, you display extreme aversion to food and reluctantly break dainty pieces of the mithai only after your host threatens to shoot you.

Mishti for us is not an occasional kuchh meetha ho jaaye. We have it with meals, in between meals, when we get emotional (which is always) or we have some time to spare. Traditional Bengali households will venture where no man has gone before and fearlessly serve mishti doi with Nescoffee. Why, I’ve even had roshogolla with noodles!

When I visit my Mom, she makes it a point to ask me ‘mishti khaabe’ every 10 minutes till I finally break down and say, sure, why not!

I think I know why. Once you’ve bitten through the almost powdery, lightly sweetened kheer of the kheer-kodom and your mouth fills with the sticky sugary syrup of the roshogolla inside, a strange calm descends upon you. The world seems like a much better place and you no longer feel like arguing with your Mom over nasty things she’d said to you 25 years back.

Now you know why a Bengali finds everything including a herd of noisy sheep ‘kee mishti’ and expresses annoyance with a mere ‘uff, kee dushtu’!

But dare you confuse gulab-jamun with pantua, brace yourself for the narrowed eyes, I-can’t-believe-you-just-said-this look and take a deep breath. You are about to be kneaded to a fine paste, fried and throw in a cauldron of boiling syrup of indignation.

Eesh, even bacteria is more kaalchaared than you are!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Moved to Tears


I have discovered the key to everlasting excitement – a life that refuses to settle down and keeps you constantly on your toes making you adjust to a new normal. Much like the commitment-phobic bad boy who women choose over the nice guy.

Eleven years back when we finally moved to our new apartment, I did a happy little jig and said to myself, yay, no more packing and unpacking of mountains of cartons! No more submitting piles of ID’s where we resemble doped convicts and filling forms in triplicate, giving proof of our birth and a forecast of our estimated death – so that we could get our address changed. We’ll grow old and crumble with this apartment. This will be our happily ever after. Yay again!

Truth be told, my yay lasted for quite some time. In fact it felt like a marriage that has lasted long enough to reach a stage when the halo dims, reality sinks in and we start taking each other for granted. It’s no fun to be wrapped in a comfortable cocoon of predictability. You get bored of being bored and soon enough you start itching for change.

The fun fact about change is, everybody wants it. But when it’s finally at our doorstep threatening to knock us out of complacency, we throw a fit like a kid being dragged to school for the first time.

Three years back when we moved to Brisbane in Australia, I welcomed the change. True, it took me a few months to adapt to a new way of living. But once I got past the trauma of being my own cleaning lady, presswali, cook rolled into one, I cherished the freedom I got doing my own stuff on my terms.

What I did not know was this was just the beginning of an unending cycle of settling and unsettling.

Barely a year after moving back from Australia to apartment no. 1 in Gurgaon and then to another apartment, we are getting ready for the tedious process of moving again. Our packers and movers have become an extension of our family. I now call them by their first names.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Why a Ban on Porn is the best thing to have happened to India

Google images

United Nations has warned that India's population will rise faster than expected and beat China by 2022. Since our government is always in a hurry to achieve the unachievable, it promptly went ahead and banned over 800 porn sites. With so much spare time in hand, men and women will be forced to procreate to pass time and India will breach the target sooner than expected.

Thanks to their initiative, all of India, including the ones who never watched porn, now have a comprehensive list of 857 sites where they can watch porn.

30% Indian women, who according to a study watch porn online, are heartbroken. BJP spokesperson Hard Kaur Prawn Khanna has announced that the government will soon be coming up with a rehabilitation scheme for these women. An undisclosed source has claimed that it’ll involve watching a skimpily clad Baba Ramdev trying to kiss his own butt in a loop. Once satisfied, women will no longer be forced to ogle at hungry for attention men in shorts and tight shirts.

Now that Ministry of human resource and development is claiming Kamasutra is a book on Geometry since all it talks about is tryangles, youngsters will now have to rely on Chetan Bhagat books to educate them about sex.

Even though a majority has strongly condemned this ban that has deprived them of not only of achhe din but achhi raatein as well, all I see is the bright side. With no porn to watch, terabytes of data will be freed. Service providers like Airtel won’t have to hang their head in shame while claiming to offer broadband services. Teens will no longer be compelled to wait for their parents to go to sleep before they can switch on their laptop and log on to YouPorn. Parents can now walk into their progeny’s room fearlessly. Aunties can take a break from being every horny manboy’s fantasy and go back to their mundane existence. And men searching for Bong babes in sleeveless blouses can start visiting my blog again.

The government will not have to Google for 1001 flimsy excuses other than crop failure for farmer suicides. They can coolly blame the absence of porn.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Vacation Ritual

picture courtesy -  kulverablog.net

We all need a break from being busy. So, we take vacations. Where we get even busier and return exhausted. If I have travelled thousands of miles, braved airline food, wailing babies and co-passengers with smelly feet, I might as well squeeze in as many activities as I can till I am ready to drop dead. Your vacation is futile till you can’t tell Babli – your neighbour who bragged non-stop about her heavenly stay in a 5-star resort in Krabi – that you also did paragliding, swam with dolphins, fought off a shark and discovered a hidden island. That should see her turn green as fungus.

A vacation has four stages – when, where, I can’t believe I am here, and phew I’m so glad to be home.


Deciding when to take a break is governed by a lot of factors. If you have school and college going kids who are still not embarrassed to be seen with their parents, you plan your getaway to coincide with their holidays. But only after they have attended summer camps designed to turn them into moon-walking, karate-chopping Einsteins and coaching classes for entrance exams to courses they have no interest in.

But if you are foot-loose and fancy-free, you wait for the symptoms to show up. These include restlessness, driving your colleagues insane with ‘I could so do with a break’ whining and extreme envy as you browse through the 692 pics that your ‘just-returned-from-Leh’ friend has posted on Facebook.


This is usually dictated by ‘10 places you must visit before you die of boredom’ listicles that you love reading while pretending to work at office. Alongside vacation pictures shared on FB or Instagram by friends you’ve never met. And a long hard look at your bank balance and all the outstanding bills you have piled on your table. Gone are those days when people could throw darts on the world atlas to decide their next holiday. The passionately patriotic Indian these days keenly follows prime ministerial itineraries to draw inspiration for new destinations.

And nations oblige. Mongolia, flummoxed by the influx of eager Indian tourists, is all set to start a chain of Jain vegetarian restaurants in their country. A Swiss escape to Mount Titlis with pics of Sonali Bendre and Aishwarya Rai in their restaurants is so out of date.

The preparation phase of a vacation is exciting. It takes considerable creativity to imagine everything that might go wrong while travelling (snowfall in summer, loosies on board, sudden craving for theplas in Heidelberg) before deciding what to stuff in your suitcases. Many women spend days cleaning and polishing windowpanes and scrubbing their bathrooms clean before she heads out, so that she can come back to a considerably less dirty house after her sojourn in distant lands.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Finally, The Writing is No Longer Clear on the Wall

As a young girl I yearned to wear glasses. Perhaps I thought it would lend gravitas to my ten year old frame. Unfortunately for me, I had no fairy godmother who could wave her magic wand and make my eyesight weak. So, I had no choice but to be self-reliant. First I had to convince myself and then my parents that the writing on the wall was far from clear till I didn’t get to wear spectacles. I’m not sure how genuine my headaches were. But every time I’d open a textbook, especially Math, I’d be seized with a debilitating headache. It took a considerable number of re-enactments, each with increasing intensity to convince my parents to take me to the doctor. The doctor only too happy to treat a phantom ailment sent me for X-Rays and check-ups with fancy names. I had the unique distinction of going for medical check-ups with a spring in my step, a song in my heart, only to return home crestfallen when the reports said everything was more than okay. I would curse my normal eyesight and console my nose-bridge that her specmate was gracing the wall of some store, waiting to unite with her and vindicate her lonely existence.

I can’t quite recollect what came first. My headaches that gave up on me after many failed attempts to convince the world that my eyesight was as weak as my math. Or me resigning myself to my 20x20 vision that would be the first one to read bus numbers while waiting at the stop. All I know is, when I landed my first job that required me to work long hours on the computer, I promptly got myself a stylish pair claiming to be anti-glare glasses. My younger brother didn’t waste much time in losing them while trying to impress girlkind at large with his newly borrowed intellectual look and I never found out if my anti-glares were as good as its claims.

But one thing was clear, I could now blame my genes for this innate need to impress others with intellect without uttering a single word while peering solemnly from behind the glasses.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Death by Fashion

Image courtesy - Google images

Recently a Melbourne based woman collapsed in her skinnies because it had cut off the blood supply to her calf muscles. What took me by surprise was the flurry of headlines decrying the fad of skinny jeans being bad for health. It’s pretty obvious these ignorant fools haven’t had the pleasure of wriggling themselves in jeans two sizes too small and experienced its health benefits. It’s only after you’ve spent 20 minutes huffing and puffing, trying to stuff your curves inside these drainpipes designed for women sans a butt and thighs, that you experience its cardio benefits. Not only do you burn calories, you also get to spend the rest of the day standing because you feel stiff as a stick. Since your jeans have also managed the commendable feat of bringing your stomach closer to your heart, you also end up eating almost nothing.

Breathlessness is but a small price for looking breathtaking.

Most of us would rather die than be seen in loose and comfortable clothing. Just the other day when I draped myself in a sack and tied my hair in a tight bun for an Iftaar foodwalk at Jama Masjid, I refused to get myself clicked. And when someone did manage some candid clicks, I promptly disowned myself.

We are willing to brave back problems, bunions, fall flat on our faces as we totter on impossibly high heels. We’ll gladly walk half step at a time in pencil skirts, give up breathing in corset dresses, all for the sake of looking fabulous. So, when a woman lies sprawled on the floor, unable to move her legs because her skinnies sucked the life out of them, she has rightfully earned herself the label of a martyr and definitely not ‘aww, poor thing’!

If people can give up their lives fighting for justice and freedom, why can’t we give up comfort, maybe a limb or two, carbs, sugary treats, peace of mind for the sake of looking hip and fashionable? People die all the time, don’t they? Rather die trying to look gorgeous.

Women, who dress in skin-tight jeans in the searing heat and wear the skimpiest of outfits in freezing temperature, while ordinary mortals choose to shiver in layers of woollies, are the ones who have truly achieved Nirvana. It is they who have understood the concept of Maya and have readily discarded bodily comforts for the greater good of mankind.

Only an evolved soul will go through unimaginable pain getting rid of hair, layers of fat, frown lines and all that they have deemed ugly only because their beauty makes others happy. Yet, we choose to call them fashion victims!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Yoga-to Be Flexible To Salute The Sun

Image Courtesy - Google

Ever since Narendra Modi took oath as PM, he’s been jet-setting, trying to convince the world that India and selfies is the best thing to have happened since sliced bread. In an attempt to promote India’s ancient cultural heritage, Modi persuaded United Nations to embrace Yoga, India's biggest contribution to mankind since zero. 21st June will now be observed as International Baba Ramdev Day thanks to his initiative.

While BJP and its sibling outfits are vigorously practising ‘hasahasana’ and rubbing their palms in glee, celebrating this as yet another assertion of Hindu superiority, minority religious groups have planted their feet firmly on the ground in Tadasana, opposing its compulsory imposition in schools.

Some Muslim Groups have expressed anxiety that saluting the sun (one of the asanas to be included in the mass drill) will turn them into beef-hating Hindus. Their fears were further fuelled by BJP veteran Murli Manohar Joshi, who declared that Muslims do yoga five times a day and that the Prophet had been a great yogi.

These Muslim Groups have now renamed themselves as Ray Ban and can be spotted wearing burqas to protect themselves from the un-Islamic rays of the sun.

This has sent ripples of fear in the US, one of the first countries to adopt Bikram and his hot variant of Yoga. They are now attributing their new-found love for vegetarianism to Yoga and its ghar wapasi after-effects. The beef lobby is urging New Yorkers to boycott Yoga guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s session to be held at Times Square. They are afraid that the asanas will trigger a craving for paneer and make the participants shun beef.

Jersey Cows association has welcomed International Yoga Day with much enthusiasm and are hoping that Mother’s Day will now be observed as a day to honour their valuable contribution to increasing American girths. India TV in its 65th breaking news of the day has reported that a Texan farmer refused to butcher his cow, insisting he could hear his dead Mom’s voice in her mooing.


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