Saturday, 29 January 2011

Chicken Chulbuli

The wife has just left me. Again, for the nth time. This time, for being with Daughter II. At the time of leaving, she had cooked and kept a lot of food which sustained me for a full three and a half days. Now, that stock is exhausted and i am finding it very difficult to fend for myself.

I have always found that cooking is a very boring task very unlike eating which I find is a great and enjoyable job! I find that even re-heating the food prepared and kept for me by her, is a boring and tedious job, be it using the microwave oven or the gas stove. Cooking is a trying job which tests my patience. And i do not have adequate patience to go through the long and arduous process.

Cooking is basically considered a woman’s job. Almost all girls pick up some cooking skills soon after crossing their childhood. Yet all the great chefs of almost all Star Hotels are men!

I had read about 4 bachelors staying together who tried their hand at cooking, with the help of a cookbook. They selected a recipe which they thought was the easiest. They purchased the ingredients, read the cookbook carefully again and again, and started cooking. One of them appointed himself as the Master Chef, held the book and called out the steps one by one for others to follow and do the job. After finishing the process, they sat down to enjoy the fruits of their hard labour. They did not relish it; something was missing; and everything was hard to chew. They read the cookbook once again and tried and tried to find out what exactly went wrong. They failed. At this point, the maid servant came to clean the utensils. They sought her expert opinion to find out what was wrong with their cooking. One look at the table and she burst out laughing. Everything was raw! They had followed each step of the book meticulously but had not lighted the stove! That was because the book had not mentioned one small step: light the stove!!!

About 15 years ago, when the wife was to be away for an unavoidable reason, leaving me to take care of not only my poor soul, but also of our then small daughters, I had tried to cook a dish which, I told the children, was ‘Chicken Chulbuli’. I put the pieces of chicken, a little salt, some haldi (turmeric), spices, some oil and some water in the pressure cooker and put it on the lighted stove. When I opened it after the scheduled time, I discovered that the quantity of water was much more than required, the haldi powder put by me was a little more than needed and that I had not properly stirred the mix. So the haldi had stuck at some spots in a semi-solid state on the chicken pieces. In any case, I tried to save the situation (and save my face!) by pouring out the excess water and offering it to the children as chicken soup! What they did with the yellowish liquid is another matter. And here,discretion being the better of valour, i shall also refrain from telling you about what happened to the main dish!

My forays into cooking at that time inspired Daughter II to compose a poem which was published in the ‘Creative Corner’ of The Times of India, Patna.

The poem is reproduced below:

Dad in Kitchen

Our kitchen is a kitchen, when Mom is cooking food;
But Dad in the kitchen? That doesn’t sound too good.
Yet he is there since Mom is away;
Why did I let him enter? I repent to this day.

He won’t even let me make a sandwich with bread and jam;
“Leave all this,” he exclaims, “Think of your Board Exam."
“I can make sandwiches; you let me do this, dear;
And go back to your books, for you don’t belong here.”

In spite of his terrible dishes, he thinks he is a great cook;
“An expert cook” , he says, “who doesn’t need a cookbook!”
And when he is in charge, nothing remains the same;
Each appliance starts working, contrary to its name!

For, every edible thing sticks, to the non-stick pan;
We are left exhausted, in spite of the exhaust fan.
The toaster doesn’t toast, it evenly chars the bread;
The pressure-cooker has no pressure, the rice is hard as lead.

“For growing children like you, omelettes are good.”, he says;
But never in one piece, his omelette stays.
“Look out Dad”, I groan, “The omelette’s is in shreds, oh, no!”
“Who’s making omelettes?” he grins, “It’s scrambled eggs, you know.”

He has set a new record, for breaking glasses, I bet;
Now six different glasses, in our house, make a set.
Since Mom has been away, the house is upside down;
And the worst part is – Dad smiles while I frown.

I tried to clean up one day, the mess that he had made;
“No, just leave everything as it is”, he said.
“When Mom returns, she should feel that she has been missed, deep and true;
Seeing all this, she'll know - we're saying ‘We love you’.”

Was he right? I stood silent for a moment or two;
Pondered over his words, and felt, indeed his words were true.
So now I too help him, in messing up everything;
And patiently we wait, to hear the door-bell ring.

Some might think that we
Have gone utterly mad;
But we’re just missing Mom,
Poor old me, and my dear Dad.

- - -

No one needs to award high grades to my culinary expertise but I am sure, nobody will disagree with my way of saying, ‘Dear Wife,I missed you.’ :)))))))))))))))

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Karna Veda, Kalinga War and Child Hanuman

About 10 days ago we got an opportunity to attend a semi-mass bratopnayana (thread ceremony) of boys and karna veda (piercing of ear-lobes) of girls. (Traditionally, ear-lobes of girls are pierced in their childhood, to enable them to wear ear-rings.) In all, there were 4 boys and 5 girls. The youngest boy and girl were below ten and the oldest boy and girl were in their teens.

These children and their parents, who are first cousins (our relatives), live in the USA. They decided to perform the ceremonies at one go, flew down to India did the job and dashed back after one week.

The venue was a resort in sylvan surroundings on the beach just off Puri.

There was a large colourful tent under which there was one main mandap and 4 smaller mandaps, all festively-decorated. The 4 boys were seated in their respective mandaps. Their heads were tonsured and they wore saffron-coloured loincloths like sanyasis. Seeing them, the wife commented, “They look like Ram, Lakshman, Bharat and Shatrughna.” The rituals were a long-drawn affair stretching over almost the whole day. At the end, each boy, dressed like a sanyasi and wearing the sacred thread and carrying a small palm-leaf chhatri (umbrella) over his tiny head, went around soliciting bhikshya (alms).

Compared to this, the rituals for the girls were rather short and brief. In the beginning, all the 5 girls were seated on the main mandap, puja was performed and in the second phase, each girl was called to the mandap separately.

In the morning, while driving from Bhubaneswar to Puri, we crossed the river Daya. This is the historical river on the sands of which the famous Kalinga war was fought in which Ashoka vanquished the mighty Kalinga Sena. It is said that so many people were killed in it that the water of the river became red with blood and streams of blood flowed on the bed of the river. The sight of so much bloodshed completely transformed Ashoka. From Chandashoka (the violent Ashoka), he became Dharmashoka (the spiritual Ashoka). He vowed to shun violence and embraced Buddhism. The story has been beautifully picturised in the Hindi movie ‘Asoka’, with Shah Rukh Khan in the title role.

The venue was on the confluence of the river Bhargavi and Bay of Bengal. The river merges into the sea at this point. We observed that in the morning, the water of the river was flowing into the sea and in the afternoon, the reverse tides were pushing up the water of the river. I was reminded that in literature, a woman is compared to a river and a man, to the sea. Just as river-water ultimately becomes one with the sea, in the same way, it is said, a woman reaches her fullness on becoming one with her man!

We stayed overnight and early next morning, I went to the beach to watch the sunrise. As usual, it was a fascinating sight. I have always been enchanted by sunrise and sunset. Even when in my house, I watch the sunrise whenever possible. In the late afternoons, slow and progressive disappearance of the sun behind the hills and trees is particularly very attractive.

I had read in my childhood that once the child Hanuman felt attracted by the rising sun and thinking the crimson ball to be a ripe fruit, prepared himself to leap towards it and gobble it up. He could have done it easily! His mother Anjana, realizing what disaster the disappearance of the sun would cause to the Creation, dissuaded him from doing so, with great difficulty!

It was a very enjoyable trip.ItalicItalic


The price of onions in India has touched the sky. From the normal rate of Rs. 12 a kg, it has jumped to Rs. 70-80. Here is the reaction of Bachi Karkaria, my favourite wordsmith:

“Dish of the Day: Chicken No Pyaza”


Later I read from a source that bratopanayan is the ceremonial taking the children (both boys and girls) of all varnas to the gurukul for commencement of his/her education ( a form of the modern day school-admission). It is mentioned in Yajurveda. The process is prescribed in Manusmruti. Later, when the status of women in society was gradually belittled, the ceremony came to be performed only for boys. Still later, the ceremony was slowly diluted. With establishment of formal schools, gurukuls disappeared and bratopanayan became a formal ceremony, bereft of its original spirit and sanctity. Gradually, the ceremony became confined to brahmins and kshatriyas. It became an expensive affair. Merely to comply with the social requirement, some kshtriya families started organising it just before the marrige of the boy, to cut down the expense.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Death Shall Die

Recently, an old relative of mine, in her nineties, expired. She had a fall which caused brain hemorrhage. She was hospitalised for about 2 weeks and then breathed her last. She was cremated at Puri. The cremation area is called Swargadwar (gateway to heaven) and is adjacent to the sea. It is believed that the soul of the departed gets peace if the cremation takes place at Swargadwar.
I had accompanied the body and participated in the rites.
The cremation area is subdivided into several quadrangles and several bodies can be cremated in each quadrangle at the same time. When we reached the spot, several pyres were burning. Fresh bodies were being brought in and registered for cremation. The atmosphere makes one philosophical; it is serene and very humbling. 
When we were waiting for completion of the formalities, i looked around at the other pyres. Some were being lit, some were burning with full flames leaping towards the sky, consuming the bodies and some were almost extinguished. On a few spots only a pile of ashes remained. It reminded me of the saying 'From dust unto dust.'
One particular pyre attracted my attention. It had just been lit. A pair of feet was clearly visible from out of the pile of wood, the other parts of the body being fully covered. The feet had alta (lac-dye, a red-coloured liquid applied by women and girls on their feet as a beauty-aid) neatly applied on them. Alta is worn by married women whose husbands are alive, as well as by unmarried girls. Hindu custom does not permit widows to apply alta on their feet or vermilion on the parting of their hair. When a woman dies during the life-time of her husband, her body, before being taken out for cremation, is dressed up just like a bride, in a colourful new saree, new glass bangles, alta, vermilion and all other accessories used by women whose husbands are alive. Thus, it was evident that this lady was a ‘suhagin’, a ‘sadhaba’ (a woman whose husband is there). In olden days, women yearned to die as suhagin and not as widows. When a married women bows before an elder, the latter would bless her, “Sada suhagin raho” (Remain ever a Suhagin), "Let you wear vermilion in your gray hair." and “Let your bangles be like vajra (the strong and unbreakable weapon of Lord Indra).” The allusion is to the custom of breaking the glass bangles of a woman on the death of her husband. By custom, widows do not wear glass bangles. In earlier times, a woman who died during the life-time of her husband, was considered lucky. This was because the condition of widows was miserable and their social status was low. Even now widows are not permitted to participate in certain auspicious customs.
The alta on the feet of this body made me somber and i could not take my eyes off it. It was a poignant feeling.One of my cousin-sisters loved to apply alta on her feet daily. Last year her husband expired. He was in his sixties at the time of his death. My cousin-sister no longer applies alta. Whenever i meet her, my eyes instinctively travel to her feet at first and the sight makes me sad.:((((((
I came back to my group. The son of the deceased old lady was about to lit the pyre. This is called giving mukhagni. The son, or in his absence the next member, (preferably male), of the family closest in relation to the deceased, puts agni (fire) to the mukh (face) of the body. It is believed that only when the person dearest to the deceased sets fire to face, the spirit of the deceased finally leaves the body. Setting fire to somebody’s face is the most undesirable act and when this happens, the deceased person truly gives up all attachments and his/her spirit finally leaves the body. When somebody harms another, the victim may react by saying, "Have I put fire on your face, so you are doing this to me?"
It is said that in life two things cannot be avoided; death and taxes.
Deaths occur so that life can continue. In a garden, old flowers must wilt and fall so that new flowers can bloom and take their place.
Raymond Tallis, the famous British savant-scientist in Hippocratic Oaths: Medicines and Its Discontents says, "However death is postponed and palliated - by means of medicines, public health, technology and social reforms - birth remains a one-way ticket to the grave."
Shakespeare says in Hamlet:
Though know'st 'tis common;
All lives must die;
Passing through nature to eternity.
Indian tradition looks upon Death as the greatest teacher of the secrets of life. In Kathopanishad, when Nachiketa finally meets Yama, the God of Death, the latter tries to bribe Nachiketa who seeks the supreme secret by trying to fob him off but when Nachiketa stands firm, Yama discloses the dichotomy of paths leading to shreyas and preyas, to blessedness and sensory satisfaction. Yama says: Choose what is ultimately real and not what appears to be immediately valuable.
Here is a video-representation of their conversation:

In my college days, i had read the poem ‘Death Be Not Proud’ by John Donne, which is reproduced below:
Death be not proud, some caleed thee,
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think’st thou overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet can'st thou kill mee,
From rest and sleepe, which but thy picture bee.
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sickness dwell,
And poppie, or charmes, can make us sleepe as well.
And better than thy stroake: why swell’st thou then?
One short sleepe past, we wake eternally.
And death shall be no more; death, thou shall die.
(The spelling of the words is as prevailed at that time.)
Death has been called the great leveler. A king loses his power upon death; a poor man no longer remains in poverty after death. All return to dust after death.


It was perhps Mark Twain who had said, "Rumours about my death are highly exagerrated."
In India, it is believed that if rumours about a person's death turns out to be false, it adds years to his/her life!
A question arises : If if death is certain and we don't forget or ignore it, then what is the use of living? One may as well commit suicide! However, death is only one side of the coin. The other side is life is just as inevitable. So live it fully and in a worthwhile way.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

New year Brings Nothing New?


Let 2011 bring you good health and bliss to you and your family!

Here is a related extract from The Economic Times:

"January is the month of good beginnings. This month of good resolutions is presided over by Janus, the liminal god of thresholds. A liminal or a transitional state is one in which one traverses from the old to the new, from the familiar to the unknown, even from an unconscious to the conscious state metaphysically.


"January can thus be looked upon as the month of possibilities, where one resolves to discard old habits to embrace new ones.

"Lord Ganesh, the god of auspicious beginnings, is a liminal deity in Indian tradition.

"Ganesh was created by his mother to guard the threshold. May he grant all your wishes in the New Year."

During College days, i had read the poem ‘New Year- 1918’ by the British poet Rose Macanllen, written against the backdrop of the disasters of the World War I. Its first line was that the New Year brings nothing new. The theme of the poem was that the world moves but does not progress.

Do you agree?