Saturday, July 19, 2014

Black Beauty - #WhatTheBlack

What does Black signify to you?
Something to be afraid of or something desirable?

In some cultures black is considered inauspicious, fair skin is prized over dark skin, so can black really be beautiful? and desirable?

I think it can. For the following reasons

1. Chocolate - Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, bitter chocolate - they all come in various shades of black and each one is more delicious than the other.

2. The LBD - most women would know that Coco Chanel said that a "Little Black Dress" is a must-have in any woman's wardrobe. Just look at Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's". A Little Red Dress, can never make as much impact as a Little Black Dress.

3. DSLR cameras - While some companies, do offer a couple of colour variants, most DSLR cameras and their lenses are black. Each of those lenses are such sleek pieces of technology and have grace in functionality.

4. Kajal - which Indian woman, ignores Kajal in her make up routine, even our harried mothers, who had no time for make-up wore kajal. On Diwali day the soot collected from the Holy Diya is applied on the inner eyelids of everyone (male or female) in the family.

5. Teak Wood Furniture - Whenever I think of the fun times we have had at my grandparents house, I also remember the beautiful dark solid teakwood furniture. It withstood all childhood pranks and seemed as steady and solid as my grandparents. Even today when my grandparents are no more, their solid black furniture still stands.

This post is a part of #WhatTheBlack activity at

A Zestful Life

When you are on the wrong side of 30 and have siblings on the right side and you see their energy and enthusiasm, its easy to wonder if you are growing old, but there area few things that reinforce my zest for life.

5. Travel : Every travel experience of ours is an adventure. I have lived in 16 cities in 4 countries and have relocated many more times. Our lifestyle itself is Nomadic and we throw in plenty of additional travel too. Whether it is a 50 km drive or a trip to a different continent, each trip comes with its own challenges and new experiences, which helps bring us in touch with new people, learn about new cultures and traditions and of course sample lovely food.

4. Food : Whether it is cooking up a new dish at home or enjoying a meal by a passionate chef or a traditional homemade meal by a friends mom (or dad), food is an excitement not just for our palates but also for our mind. And the quest for good food always keeps our energy levels high.

3. Our Cat - Ms Bacardi Baj-Pais : Our cat finds the strangest things to get excited about, it could be a pigeon outside the window, or an ant crawling up the wall. I don't even have to mention about laser pointers and shadows, for people who have had experience with cats. Her enthusiasm is infectious and after any interaction with her, we realise how it is easy to find excitement in even the simple things in life. She is often happier chasing after a rolled up ball of discarded aluminum foil or a ball of scrap paper, than in an expensive imported cat toy, which is a clear indication that something doesn't have to be expensive to provide excitement or pleasure.

2. My Siblings : They are all younger than me and one of them is younger by over a decade. They keep me abreast of what is going on in the world of technology, social media, music, movies and I often go to them for advice on which phone to buy or to discover a new recording artist for a particular mood. They make me feel younger and give me a pulse of the younger and zestier generation.

1. My Husband : We have known each other for almost 15 years and been married for around 10. We can talk about anything (although when he talks about sports, I only listen without having anything to contribute and when I talk about English music, he often has no clue what I'm talking about) We never tire of each others company, and are comfortable enough with each other, that when on a trip to Montreal, he can go watch a Rogers Cup Tennis match, while I wander around local Farmers markets and then go visit museums and churches together.We share a love of travel, history, good food, books, theater and movies. And we feed off each others energies and passions.

Also each one of these, is an incentive for me to keep living my life the best way that I can, with energy, enthusiasm and a constant zest for life

This post is a part of the #ZestUpYourLife activity in association with TATA Zest and

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Book Review: Random House's Kama Kahani series

Kama Kahani is a new series by Random house for Historical Romantic Fiction set in India. Growing up, I wasn't much of a Mills & Boon Reader - a phase most girls go through (for some the phase just lasts longer than others), but I did enjoy the Georgette Heyer novels.

I now realise that I relished Heyer's books because they took me to another time and place. They helped me explore a different era - bringing it to life more vividly than any hostory textbook could. It coloured my imagination. The description of the dresses, the gardens, the tea parties, the societal structure, the place of women in that society, the tricks the women employed to exert influence on events all these made very interesting reading for me.

Mills and Boon on the other hand were like Romantic Hollywood movies. Straightforward and repetitive in the linearity of their stories. So the news of Milan Luthria becoming the first Indian woman to pen a Mills & Boon wasn't very exciting to me and didn't make me rush out to buy her book.

However while I was browsing flipkart the other day, I chanced upon the half price on flipkart section and this offered up 2 titles from this Kama Kahani series at 75Rs. The series has been around for almost 2 years, but this was the first I had heard of it (I admit, I just walk past the Romance sections in bookshops)

The Kama Kahani in the title intrigued me enough to click on the link which detailed Was the first man you fell for a brooding desert prince? Or better still, a cruelly handsome feudal lord? Are you a spirited beauty, your fire contained—but only just—by the clinging brocade of your lehenga’s choli? A delicious Kama Kahani is sure to strike your fancy.

150Rs seemed negligible to check out if I could find the Indian answer to Georgette Heyer. Of the 4 titles :
Kama Kahani: Passion in the Punjab
Kama Kahani: Ghazal in the Moonlight
Kama Kahani: The Zaminder's Forbidden Love
Kama Kahani: Mistress to the Yuvraj
Ghazal in the Moonlight and Mistress to the Yuvraj were the most heavily discounted (50%), so those were the books I started with.

They arrived in 2 days and I finished them both in a couple of hours. These purdah-jhadoka romances (as they are called inhouse)  are definitely easy reads except for a few unfamilair terms regarding their clothes like poshaak, odhna etc. Not terms that a non-native Hindi speaker is familiar with.

On googling the books I learnt that the brief to the authors was to set a Romantic novel in ‘Jodhaa-Akbar’ Rajasthan, Parineeta-era Bengal, White Mughal Lucknow and Ranjit Singh’s Punjab.

While I am no expert on history, the books did have a historic feel to them. As to how historically accurate they are in the details, I am not sure. Some of the food/feast details in Mistress to the Yuvraj did not seem right to me, given that the setting was Rajasthan with connections to Himanchal. For eg: the Rogan Josh is Kashmiri in origin - I'm not sure if it would have been on a Rajasthani menu in Jodhaa Akbar era Rajasthan.

The dialogs especially in Mistress to the Yuvraj between Devika and her mother and the women of Rajasthan behind their latticed screens is not what I would have expected for that era, but what do I know? :) It does make for interesting reading though.

Other than these minor quibbles, the books are easy reads and interesting in their novelty. Only 4 have been published so far and I'm not sure if there are plans for any more in this series. Pick these up for a change, you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Book Review : Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree Series

I was recently invited for a little girls birthday and remembering the lovely time I had reading the Faraway Tree series as a child, I decided to get all 3 books for this little girl.

By a strange set of circumstances, I could not make it to the party and the books were waiting to be gift wrapped, so I decided to quickly re-read them myself. Oh what fun it was, I was promptly transported back to my childhood. Of finishing up homework quickly so I could read the next chapter of Joe, Beth & Frannies adventures. Of checking to see which land would arrive atop the Faraway tree next.

In the Enchanted Wood, the children move to the country where their house borders a wood which seems strange and exciting. They soon realise that there is magic in that wood and at the centre of it is the Faraway Tree with its strange inhabitants and the new lands in the clouds that periodically appear at the top of the tree. While some lands are fun and exciting, some are more trouble than they bargained for.

Moonface, Silky the Fairy, the Angry Pixie, the Saucepanman, Mr Whatzizname, Mr Whiskers, Dame Washalot are all characters that are just so much fun.

In the The Magic Faraway Tree cousin Rick comes to visit and share in their adventures. (This book was voted No 66, in BBC's Big Read 2003) and in The Folk of Faraway Tree the daughter of their mother's friend - Connie comes to visit.

So while its fun to read all 3 books as a series, you can even pick out just one from the series because each book covers the basics.

The tales are quite fantastical in the fantasies that they create, I can't think of anyone who will read these books and not long to visit the land of toys, the birthday land, land of take-what-you-want, land of do-as-you please. There are also moral lessons to be learnt. Actions have consequences. Rudeness and destructive mischief will be punished and good behavior has its own rewards. I also really wish, I could cook some of the goodies that they enjoy in these books: goggle buns, Pop cakes, toffee shocks and the like.

Enid Blyton has had to face a lot of flak in recent times about being politically incorrect and gender stereotyping (racist and sexist are the terms used for her writing). But there's also a lot of nostalgia attached to her books and I'm most clearly in the 2nd category. I loved the books as a child, they took me and my imagination to far off places and re-reading them as an adult transports me back to my childhood.

Here's to many more Enid Blytons/Mary Pollocks.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Book Review: Following Fish

Following Fish: Travels around the Indian Coast is Samanth Subramanian's debut novel and what a debut! Samanth is a journalist by profession and  he uses the narrative version of journalism to full efect in "Following Fish"

India is a country with a long and diverse coastline and as the author says Fish inhabit the heart of many worlds - food of course, but also culture, commerce, sport, history and society" The author travels to 7 locations spread across the Indian coast (+ Hyderabad which is landlocked), interacts with locals, investigates a story special and specific to that location and then pens it down for our reading pleasure.

Any book which covers an aspect of my hometown Mangalore favourably, will definitely be recommended by me. :) But "Following Fish" offers 8 more reasons (chapters) for me to recommend it!

Starting with West Bengal, where he sets off in search of the perfect Hilsa ("If Bengali cuisine were Wimbledon, hilsa would always play on centre court"), he is initiated into the differences between Bangladeshi & Bengali hilsa as he traipses across Howrah fish market & Kolaghat market and eats at places as diverse as The Park in Kolkatta, Oh Calcutta, an eatery on Mirza Ghalib Road and a shack in Diamond Harbour. He does throw in a few recipes from Chef Vasanthi of The Park (Warning" most of them don't mention any quantities) for good measure.

In Hyderabad, he visits the Bathini Goud family - dispensers of the annual "Goud fish treatment" for asthamatics. Exploring the history of the treatment and the myths around its origin, as a good journalist, he also investigates the naysayers theories and facts and chronicles the entire event from the initial pooja at the ancestral Goud house to the public dispensary at the Exhibition grounds in Nampally.

In Manapadu in Tamil Nadu (TN), Samanth researches the dynamics of social relationships between Parava Catholics and Kayalar Muslims since the 16th century, how historical Hindu customs are still followed by the Paravas with a Catholic veneer and the declining importance of the Jathi Thalaivan in society. It is here that the author encounters Aruni - a researcher of fish as a food in TN who introduces him to fish podi - a dried fish powder peculiar to that part of the country.

His quest to discover Kerala through its toddy (local alcohol) shops is delightful. "We stumbled onto the most ideal method (to root out the best toddy shop in town) by chance - commandeer an auto rickshaw and solicit its drivers guidance.  The driver will be so struck by appearance of people after his own heart - people who will get out of an early morning train, exit the station & ask for a toddy shop - that he may even forget to inflate his rate." The cuisine of toddy shops in Kerala has a style, nature and flavour of its own, normally consisting of extremely spicy fried food which would necessiate the consumption of even more toddy. While the Karimeen/Pearlspot is the most famous fish in Kerala, there are a lot of other varieties on offer too.

In Mangalore, he initially flounders in his quest for the perfect Manglorean fish curry, but soon with the help of friends he discovers eateries that are hidden gems, known to the locals and discovers tawa fried fish, rawa fry and other delicacies too. His encounter with Vasudev Boloor (President of multiple fishermens associations) leads to an impromptu meal of home cooked Manglorean fish curry which any Manglorean would know is infinitely better than anything that a restaurant can ever serve.

In Mumbai, he meets with anglers Baptista & Danny Moses. He joins Baptista & his adult nephews on a fishing trip to their favourite ocean spot in quest of the elusive and highly spirited sailfish. He also interacts with the original settlers of Mumbai - the Koli fisherfolk who are more weloming of "outsiders" than the more violent political parties of this age. The kolis also initiate him into the subtle differences between Koli, Gomantak & Malvani styles of cooking.

In Goa, he encounters different kinds of fishermen - those who indulge in it purely as a hobby, (angling is a Goan pastime) and those dependent on it for their livelihood. His conversations with the locals only seems to emphasise that the governments greed and inefficiency is completely destroying the fisherman's habitat.

The boat builders of Mangrol and Veraval in Gujarat are his last stop.Their long history of boat design is even suspected to extend to the Indus Valley civilisation. While the principles of boat building appear unchanged, modern technologies have been put to good use to help speed up some of the processes while others like caulking the boat for water tightness have remained unchanged for hundreds of years..

Samanth Subramanian has a wonderful, distinctive style of writing with a wry sense of humour and an eye for detail. There is an investigative depth to his research and a passion for the subject he covers.

This book is an easy read but don't let that mislead you into dismissing it lightly. It contains a wealth of useful information for the foodie traveller and a cook who is comfortable with grandma style recipes (a pinch of this, a dash of that etc)

If you love food or travel or reading about food or travel, this is a book you will thoroughly enjoy and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I look forward to more books from him.

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