It’s world women’s day today and it’s time to celebrate the women in my own world.
Not high-achievers, headline-grabbers and celebrities, but real women.
Women who are the unsung heroines that have made me who I am.
My Mother: For bringing me to this world and being the most selfless, sacrificing person ever.
My sister: For being my true companion,my partner in crime, my best friend, my 2 am friend, my agony aunt.
My grandmothers: For being the genetic pool from which I derive strengths [ and weaknesses] that I had no idea about.
My female cousins: For being my source of worldly knowledge, from the birds and the bees… to food to celeb fashion to just random yakkity-yak.
My female teachers: The ones who thought I could be something in life as well the ones who thought I was rubbish. Thank you for challenging me and bringing out my potential. The ones who bullied, tormented me and tried to pull me down- thank you as well, because you showed me what the real world is like and it only made me more determined to prove you wrong.
My friends: For making me laugh and laughing with me. For celebrating life with me. For hearing me out even when I made no sense. For being there for me even when you are thousands of miles away- you know who you are 🙂
My female bosses: For believing in me and guiding me, holding my hand and pushing me when needed. Also, thanks to the one who didn’t believe in me- it only made me work harder until you were compelled to eat your words.
My mother-in-law: For showing me that a ‘Saas’ can be a friend too.
My daughter: For unconditionally loving an imperfect parent such as me.
Why celebrate these women only once a year when they light up your life every single day?
I was looking at some old photographs of my youth. Friends and me posing for photographs at various strategic ‘cool’ locations of the time. Of course we looked different 25 years ago, minus wrinkles and grey hair, but other than that , we looked different because we were dressed in what we thought of as fashionable. It makes me cringe to see some of those fashions, but some of those styles make me nostalgic for an era which was the most hip and happening time in our lives- the 80s/ early 90s.
Here are some of the styles we wore with aplomb, some of the ‘looks’ which were ‘in’ at the time and some of the hot favourites.
French plaits:Yes, women of a certain age will remember the time we all went crazy for French plaits. We learnt to tie other girls’ hair into these lovely, woven braids and then we practised on ourselves in front of the mirror until we got it just right. You started at the top of your head and progressed along the back of the head, until you reached the nape and then just tied it off, leaving a long ponytail loose. You could do it even with neck length hair and we were such experts, we could do them in the dark!
Aashiqi ribbon: This was a classic of the times. The film Aashiqi was a super hit.Mind you this was Aashiqi part I with Rahul Roy with his long hair, which was a novelty for the time and of course Anu Agarwal of pouting lips fame. Long before Bollywood heroines started injecting their lips with fillers, Anu had practised pouting and taken it to a new level. She had a permanent pout , wore her hair in a French plait often and in the film, wore a frilly, chiffon/georgette, hair tie. It was a cross between a ribbon and something that looked like bird feathers, but made of brightly coloured cloth. Now we adored this fashion and sure enough, it was the thing to be spotted wearing an ‘Aashiqi’ ribbon. Those who have never heard of this were either not born in that era or were simply not fashionable enough! Note: Many a time it matched exactly with the dress, made out of the same cloth.
Power-dressing with padded shoulders[ not quite]!: our fashions followed Bollywood, which in turn followed Hollywood. Power dressing was in- women in the west were wearing padded shoulders. Now we in India did not wear power suits. But we wore salwar kameezes or churidars. So the next thing we knew, our heroines were wearing these clothes with shoulders extended at least 3 inches beyond the actual shoulders.The tailor very cleverly made huge puffs at the beginning of the sleeves to mimic shoulder pads. There were no pads , only bellowing fabric ruched together and poking outward from the shoulders on either side. Think Madhuri and Juhi in their hit films and you will see what I mean. Of course we imitated the heroines and our tailors were very much in tune with all things Bollywood. There we were with broad shoulders on our kameez or our midis[ another fashion of that era] and sleeves that tapered to the wrist.
Bermudas: only the hip crowd wore these longish,knee length, very loose, shorts with a thick white cord [nada] and elastic at the waist. We bought them off the roadside vendors and they were usually unisex, but made mostly for men. One vendor had labelled them ‘Burma Das’….his version of this fashion statement garment!
Pedal -pushers: another fashion that was never seen again. Pants that extended to the calves and which had a draw string were very popular in my late school years. It was the ultimate thing to own a pair.
Baggy pants:This fashion was a reinvention of the 60s. Really loose at the bum, with pleats at the front,then tapering to the ankles, this fashion was the rage when we were in college.
Diana cut: It was the 80s, Lady Di was the craze….we had watched her wedding on Tv and of course we all wanted to look like her….even if we didn’t look like her one bit. So all we did was ask the beauty parlour lady for a Diana cut and she knew exactly what to do. Imagine us Indian girls,trying hard to look like clones of Lady Di.
Don’t know what this hairstyle is called : Funnily , in the 80s, we all looked the same- boys and girls and a haircut that was short at the top of the head with the hair puffing up, the sides had little hair, but just behind the ears the hair suddenly got long and extended in tufts to the nape of neck or even longer to the shoulders. Think Anil Kapoor, Madhuri Dixit, Hollywood popstars- we all looked like clones of each other.
Banana clips: This fruit shaped hair clip was meant for bunching together all the hair into one long sweeping mane of hair that made even the shortest, thinnest head of hair convert into a luxurious ponytail. The trend was to keep taking it apart in public and redo the ponytail, all the while flaunting the silkiness of the hair and trying to make an even longer ponytail with every new attempt. ‘Higher, longer, fluffier’ was the mantra for a great banana clip ponytail
Perms: Only the really adventurous ones got this done. One day you had straight hair and the next you had a hair of curls. We wondered what some of these girls had had done. Not for the faint-hearted this one.
Balleys/ballees/ bellys: these were pumps, that were something new in India. Up until then we only wore chappals or sandals or proper laced up sports shoes. Or school shoes. But ‘Ballees ‘were a new fashion. Nobody knows why they were called that…..think it was Bally shoes, Bally being an international brand name in such shoes[ i just found that out]. In India we happily called them Ballees and you could bargain for them at roadside shops. I remember buying Ballees bargained to Rs 10, which were all cardboard and cloth and magically lasted at least a year!
Long sleeved blouses: Somewhere in the early 90s, for some inexplicable reason, long sleeved saree blouses came on the scene. We had either a red or black one sewn and one had to wear it with saree draped in Gujarati fashion. We liberally borrowed and lended our blouses among friends for a bit of variety.
Multiple ear piercings:This was the epitome of all our fashion efforts. As if one wasn’t enough, we got an extra couple of holes in our ear lobes and studded them with all sorts of earrings- oxidised silver ones being the most popular!
Dhoti pant: Been there done that- worn a dhoti in public and not felt embarrassed. It was the thing to wear a dhoti pant as the bottom half of salwar kameez. Teamed with a shortish top, we were ready to take on the world. After all Madhuri our fashion icon carried it off with such grace!
Stone washed /Acid washed jeans : Wearing jeans was for the really fashionable ones.‘Gin pant’ could be acid or stone washed if you preferred.We also wore knee length pinstriped denim skirts which were actually really nice. But after a certain age, these were banned …pity!
Pathani dress: Eeks to think that this could actually be a female apparel. Typically a man’s dress, this fashion came on the scene briefly and exited just as quickly. So even before we had a chance to get it stitched from the tailor, it was gone. Thank goodness. It was taking power dressing to new heights!
Churi sleeves: One day i pulled out a really old kameez[ Indian top] from the past. Horror of horrors the kameez was for someone 5 Ft 3 inches, but what happened to the sleeves? They were for an Amazonian woman of at least 7 foot 2 inches! But even more horror of horrors, I remember wearing this kameez and rocking it at a wedding some 25 years ago! Now how could that be possible? Well, these sleeves were supposed to pulled up the arm, to the elbow, until you got lots of creases like multiple bangles [ churis] . Much like the churidar[ Bottom half of a salwar-kameez set] except a hundred times impractical and weird.What were we thinking? No wonder it took ages to dress up and get the damn thing off! A definite fashion faux pas,unlikely to make a comeback.
This was a time when there were no malls, no sizing[ yes, one size fits all….lucky if you were 5 Ft 3 inches and 48 kg.] Most of us were size zero thanks to living in a hostel and being malnourished. But we loved wearing abnormally loose clothes. In fact we wore comfy tents that could accommodate another human. We used lipstick on our eyelids and cheek bones. We used eyeliner on eyelids and to draw eyeliner bindis.
We rocked those days. Those were certainly the wonder years!
Round white tables with wooden chairs, transparent glass tumblers with steaming chai, steel glasses for water, memorabilia from the 70s and 80s on the wall, signs in Hindi all over the place, chequered black and white floor and even a ‘nimbu-mirchi’ strung together to ward off the evil eye!
There is a word for finding something when you least expect it:SERENDIPITY……I think I found something I was looking for.
The menu offered delights that reminded of an era gone by, in a country far away. The Irani fare promised to recreate memories of eating in the most basic eateries found in India- the Irani cafes.
Waiting for the order was no problem- the prints on the walls provided enough amusement-old, old covers of Eve’s weekly[ you have to be old enough to even remember this magazine], cheeky signs at the door, old black and white photographs of families from the 70s, nostalgia evoking advertisements from the past-including one about a grooming school for ladies, posters of unheard of Bollywood films……
Soon our plate of delicious Keema pau came to the table. The Brittania berry biryani with raita and black daal followed. In between mouthfuls, a slug of masala chai [or Baileys chai, if you preferred], warmed the soul as cold fingers gripped the familiar ‘cutting chai’ glass for comfort.
Spotted a wada pav at another table.[ but being eaten with a fork and knife, by an Indian!]. Salivated at fresh roomali rotis being spun about in the open plan kitchen and promised to try a Frankie next time. That will be the real test because to me Tibbs frankie is the only Frankie.
I always judge a place by its toilet. A clean toilet speaks volumes for the general hygiene of the place.
So of course, a visit to the loo was a must and I wasn’t disappointed.In fact, made 2 visits so I could take pictures of the absolutely hilarious decor. In each toilet which had a number in Hindi on the door[!], there was a glass cabinet with toiletries of a certain vintage on display- all kinds of balms, ointments, creams, lotions, potions, laxatives evoking memories of childhood in India came rushing back. There was even a plastic bathing mug. In the ladies’ was a huge poster with 2 hunky lads from the distant past.
All in all a brilliant concept and a wonderful ode to what is a dying tradition in India- the humble Irani cafe- presented in a not so humble avatar. In fact a glamourous twist to what is a essentially a no frills, down to earth eatery.
Nope, I did not get paid or fed to write this, but genuinely felt elated on eating at this place, which by the way seems as popular with Indians as it is with non-Indians. The queue to get in was long and well worth it.
Hmmm…. just realised, I’ve got more photos of the decor than of the food!
Bollywood has it’s own ideas of illness, and all things related to medicine.
Filmy illnesses have their own special signs and symptoms.
Take for example, someone who has had an accident.Every other film/serial has one such victim.
Whether it’s a car crash or a street fight, when someone gets a head injury they always end up on a clean, comfy hospital bed, in a private room of course. Note how they they never get admitted to a communal ward, although nobody knows who they are or who will pay the private room bill!. A neat little bandage adorns the forehead and the only dramatic wound is a circular, red dot on one side of the forehead- never two dots, just one.How they always manage to hurt themselves so precisely is a mystery. Of course many head injuries are accompanied by the obligatory and predicatable amnesia- loss of memory. The only way the amnesia is cured is the person having another 2nd accident of course, complete with a head injury! Wow! This method of treatment must be researched by doctors- it works all the time in our filmy stories!
Anybody wondered how come the accident victim always gets a head injury but never a facial injury at the same time. Never! The face is intact- no cuts, no jaw fractures, no bruises[ unless it’s a street fight, where the hero/villain ends up with a macho swollen eye. That is acceptable]. But the heroine always escapes unscathed, with a few hair out of place and face scrubbed clean of makeup[ or so we think].
The only time these filmy sorts ever hurt their face is when they hurt it so badly that there is nothing left of it and they need a face transplant to sort it out.
Long before the first face transplant was done in real life, our Bollywood types were getting them done and not only that but along with a new face, they got a new voice[ thanks to a larynx transplant], brand new hair[yup, advanced hair follicle transpant] and a brand new body to go with the new face. But mind you, with all this happening, their brain remained intact- no amnesia etc. Whew! Neurologists, plastic surgeons eat your heart out and take a lesson or two!
The most bizarre medical scenarios are floated by Bollywood.
When a very ill patient is in bed, all there is in the posh, clean hospital room is an IV saline bottle hanging on a pole. If more lucky, the ill person gets a heart monitor of some sort. Yup and all of us know when the filmy person is dead, because Bollywood had made sure over the years that we get trained in reading an ECG……..when we see that flat line in a filmi monitor we know it’s all OVER!!
Oh and sometimes, only sometimes can they please connect the oxygen mask to something and not just leave it over the ill person’s face??? It needs to be actually attached to an oxygen cylinder somewhere, even if it is a fake one.
Oh and when they do surgery in our films, please can the surgeon stop fiddling with his face mask using his gloved, bloodied hands? That is a definite no-no.Also can he/she please tie it around at the top and bottom, behind the head, as it is is meant to be? Many times, they just leave the ‘nadas’ at the bottom untied and the bottom half of the mask is just hanging like a curtain with two cords on either side. Which surgeon in real life does this?
In the film, MajorSaab, there is an abosultely hilarious scene when a ‘doctor’ of the filmi sort tries to save person’s life in the operation theatre. He performs his special version of CPR[cardiopulmonary resuscitation]. The way he jumps on the patient’s chest and pumps is a lesson in how NOT to do CPR- this has to be seen to be fully appreciated. The enthusiasm of the filmy doctor had to commended because it does indeed at least give people a rough [ very rough] idea that there is something called CPR – just that this is not the way to do it. They say laughter is the best medicine and I have a feeling that the laughter from the audience is what helped the dying patient to get well soon, certainly not the doctor’s antics.
Now, I cannot help but think of a scene from a Bollywood film[ cannot remember the name] , where someone needs a blood transfusion. One must remember that blood transfusion is one of Bollywood’s specialities.
So yes, this person needs blood and these other people come in from various corners of the city to give blood. Guess what! They also turn out to be this person’s long lost brothers and mother as well! Wow, what luck, what destiny!
And then of course they all have the same blood group, because filmy families always do. So there they lie on beds next to each other and donate generously to their new found brethren. Wish such miracles happened in real life, but thanks Bollywood, for advocating a noble cause like blood donation.
There was another movie in which the director was probably hell bent on showing how blood is the same, no matter what religion you belong to. So another noble thought, although, I don’t think the director meant same blood group. Anyway, in one scene, the two guys, belonging to different faiths lie next to each other on hospital beds and their blood is extracted and then it MIXES together, drop by drop, in the bottle[!] before it goes into someone else. The symbolism was great, but does this ever happen in real life?
Please someone tell me which film this was.Please. Point taken: we have the same blood within us. Point not to be taken: it doesn’t work that way Mr Director. You see, it’s a little more complicated than this. William Harvey discovered blood groups. I’m sure he certainly never imagined such dramatic blood mixing.
I could go on and on.
NOW PICTURE THESE SCENES that have appeared in countless Bollywood films:
Scene 1: A woman collapses, she is carried to a bed where she is lying unconscious. The doctor is called and everyone in the household gathers at the bedside. The doctor, like a magician, examines her pulse intently and pronounces: “Congratulations! she is going to be a mother!” Wow! No medical history, no date of last menstrual period, no pregnancy test. This is Bollywood style medicine at it’s best.
Scene 2: A woman, usually newly married, suddenly runs to the sink and starts vomiting. The male members of the house start panicking. But a calm, wizened elderly lady of the house smiles knowledgeably and based on the fact that the woman is vomiting, proudly and confidently diagnoses the ‘good news’. “Don’t worry, have no fear” she says. “She is going to be a mother”.
Ah granny’s wisdom! Who can dispute that? Bollywood grannies seem to have their own special skills at diagnosing pregnancy based on vomiting! No, it cannot be a case of food-poisoning or just a stomach upset. If you are married and especially newly married, Bollywood grannies will most certainly diagnose a pregnancy!
Scene 3: An unmarried woman suddenly runs to the sink and starts vomiting. However this time, the wizened elderly lady of the house is horrified as she diagnoses pregnancy in an unwed mother. Even the music score that accompanies the vomiting is sinister sounding and that is one of the clues that suggest that something terrible has occured. No wonder the granny instantly guesses it’s a pregnancy. Again, there are never any chances that it could be simply something nasty the poor girl ate the previous night. Never! Also, no doctor required here, not even the one who checks the pulse and gives a prompt verdict of pregnancy.
Scene 4: A woman, usually married, suddenly craves pickle. She steals some from the kitchen, goes to a place where she thinks nobody can see her and excitedly but shyly eats the pickle. Again, an older lady of house spies on her and comes to a conclusion in a matter of minutes. Pregnancy, of course! Who needs any investigations when the pickle jar is almost empty?
Scene 5: [In a Marathi serial] : Two older women are talking about a younger woman who has been feeling nauseous. One of the older women tells the other one “ It has to be pregnancy….after all, she has been having ‘kordya ultya’[ ‘dry vomiting’……presumably ‘retching’]”. I cannot suppress my laughter as I have to say Marathi serials are a bit more medically advanced compared to Bollywood films, considering that they seem to better at the differential diagnosis of vomiting!
The other day I was watching a Hindi serial where this woman with a scrubbed clean look was lying peacefully in a comfy looking hospital. I have a suspicion she wasn’t that ill,because she managed to apply clear mascara on her eyes and nude lipstick on her lips.
Anyway, the poor soul kept drifting in and out of consciosness. She had no monitors attached, no IV medications of any kind, but the doctor by her bedside was all she needed. Every time she became conscious, the hero would try to talk to her and then she would pass out again. The hero would panic….”doctor sahab! “he calls out.
“ No worries,” the doctor says matter-of-factly…..”Yeh to hota hi rahega” Then she slowly and coolly proceeds to check the pulse. That’s it. Problem sorted. The woman regains consciousness and the saga continues.
C’mon people at least borrow a fake stethoscope from a child’s doctor’s kit and use that as a prop! Or ask a real life doctor to guide you and direct you in scenes that have something medical going on.
Please feel free to add any Bollywood medical scenes I’ve missed out.
If I’ve inaccurately described a movie medical scene, then I must be forgiven because I did bump my head yesterday and it must the amnesia and confusion that has resulted from it. Although, unlike Bollywood, I am not looking to bump it again to regain my memory. Thank you very much.
Finding anything Indian outside India always puts a smile on my face.
This morning, a takeaway food menu card dropped in through the letter-box made me grin from ear to ear.
Not only was I fascinated by the sheer variety of ‘Indian’ fare promising to have my taste buds salivating, but what made me smile in amusement were the many strange dishes on the menu.
To be fair, it did say it was an Indian and Bangladeshi menu. But even so, some of the dishes are such tongue twisters and brain teasers, that they provide a good few minutes of entertaining guesswork while waiting for the food to arrive.
This is not the only menu that has made me laugh. Ever since I came to the UK I have been baffled by many a restaurant / takeaway joint calling itself an Indian food joint. I have scratched my head at menu items like ‘Prawn puri’, pondered over what a ‘Lamb Passanda’ could be and wondered what a ‘Pilaf’ was. I have racked my brains trying to guess where on earth these ‘Indian’ dishes originated from.
So here were are in the UK, in an ‘Indian’ restaurant, checking out the appetisers, wondering what ‘Mogo chips’ are and if they taste better than ‘onion bhaajis’, which by the way seems set to overtake chicken ‘tikka masala’ in the popularity stakes in the UK.
Onion ‘bhaajis’ are onion ‘bhajias’ or onion ‘pakoras’. In Maharashtra, we would call them onion bhajee[ pronounced with a short ‘bha’].They are deep fried onion and gram flour fritters meant to be eaten with a steaming cup of tea on a rainy afternoon. But here in the UK they pronounce them onion ‘baaji’, confusing me further because in Marathi, bhaaji means subzi[vegetable]. Never mind. What’s in a name? But I have to report that ‘onion bhajis’ are seen selling like hot cakes even in the local bakeries, nestled next to traditional English sausage rolls or cheese and onion pasties. Believe it or not, they are enticingly displayed in the delicatessen section of my regular supermarket, where they sit adjacent to ‘dal and sago patties’ Sigh! – ‘sabudana wadas’ of course!
I cannot keep the secrets anymore. Mogo chips are chips made of Cassava which is a root veggie like yam. I think the origin is somewhere in east Africa where plenty of Indians live and lived, then migrating to the UK. Restaurants with a Gujarati influence in the UK have Mogo chips in the starters section. And yes, they taste as good as they sound.
As one munches away at the complimentary, obligatory basket of ‘Poppadams’[ papads] at Indian restaurants in the UK, one has a tough time deciding between the ‘Chicken balti’, ‘Chicken Madras’ and the ‘Chicken Chat’! ‘Duck karahi’ anyone? The ‘Balti’ dishes are a ‘made in UK’ invention, apparently originating somewhere in Birmingham and although sometimes called Indian food, it is not something we would find in Indian restaurants in India. The fried onions, tomatoes, ginger-garlic, garam masala, cumin, coriander seems to be the basis of most dishes but the names are unfamiliar and the combinations seem foreign to an Indian who has lived for most of his/her life in India. When I first came across the name Balti, I seriously wondered what sort of food this was. Balti means bucket in Hindi and the only food I’ve seen being served out of buckets is in the South of India in those wonderful food joints where the steaming hot sambar and rasam comes to the table straight of a huge steel bucket.
But the balti food in UK, is not south Indian food.The closest it comes to resemble is North Indian food, because the sauce in which meat or the veggies is cooked is heavily laden with the onion-tomato paste described above and there are definitely no buckets visible in the restaurant.
Indian food is very popular in the UK and it’s not just Indians who eat at these restaurants. ‘Let’s go out for a curry’ basically means ‘let’s go out for Indian food’. There are Indian restaurants and takeaway food shops on every street, even in far flung, small towns in the UK and they seem to be doing good business too. It is really irrelevant that the food is not authentic Indian food in most of these places, because people love it. There is some influence from our neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and one can discover wonderful new items like Peshawari naan which I’d certainly never heard of in India. So ‘Indian’ is a general term used for food from the Indian subcontinent and sometimes for the Balti cuisine whose origins are unclear.
So popular is Indian food that even at workplace lunches, there is usually a ‘curry’ dish with rice and yes, most people whether Indian or not dig into it with gusto.
In my local supermarket, there is in fact an entire hot meal section with various Indian curries, pilaf rice[ basically pulao], poppadoms and naan bread[ naan!] and at lunch time, office workers are seen enthusiastically filling up plastic containers with curry meals to eat on the go. Who doesn’t like a hot, spicy curry on a cold, grey day? Again, the Indian dishes are not what we in India are familiar with. The ‘Rogan Josh’ and ‘Tikka masala’ dominate and both taste pretty much the same. It’s the same onions-tomato-ginger-garlic-spices combination in various permutations, but honestly on a freezing day, the comforting warmth of the spicy curry is enough without caring about the authenticity of the dish. I have to mention the Vindaloo. Unless you are from Goa or well travelled, chances are, you may not have heard of the fiery curry called ‘Vindaloo’. But in the UK, Vindaloo is a popular item on the menu and ‘ how hot can you handle your Vindaloo?’ is not an uncommon dining challenge. Believe me, this is really HOT and spicy even for the most seasoned, spice-eaters, brought up in India. Never ask for a spicy Vindaloo, because it has enough fire as it is!
There are of course plenty of authentic Indian restaurants where the food is what we in India are familiar with and it is a pleasure discovering such places. Some of these are very basic, unpretentious places but the food is real Indian food and divine, to say the least. There used to be one such place opposite Queensbury Tube station where one could devour a leisurely Sunday breakfast of dosas , idlis and filter coffee- not sure if it exists now. Also Harrow, in London has a wonderful authentic Surti cuisine restaurant serving undhiyo, rotlas, khichadi, kadhi and so on. One just has to discover these places in the Indian pockets of UK and the list is endless. I have to mention the chana bhaturas and hot fried jalebis frying in the little eateries, off the pavement in Southall, which is as authentic as it gets.
There are of course several upmarket, authentic Indian restaurants which serve Indian food that we in India are familiar with. Often called ‘fine dining’, these places have dishes that are typical to a particular region in India and one discovers a whole new India on eating at these places. A Keralan fine dining restaurant very close to Buckingham Palace serves the most delicious ‘appams’ where you can actually see the chef making them in the special pan. They even give you a complimentary glass of rasam with your meal.
Not all fine dining Indian resturants are truly authentic Indian. To celebrate a special occasion, we once dined at a Michelin starred Indian restaurant in London. In those days, one could not check the menu online. When we got there, on the menu, in all its glory was the ‘Prawn puri’. I cannot remember what we ordered, but I remember the horror of looking at a large plate with a miniscule artwork of ‘Indian’ food with the obligatory sprig of coriander sitting on top of it. Perhaps, going to a balti restaurant would have been a better choice- atleast I would not have starved that night!
Coming back to the menu card, these days the menu is available online so one checks beforehand and decide if it is up to one’s taste and preference. There are still surprises no matter where you choose to go and where you end up eating.
Discovering Indian food in the UK is always a pleasure- whether authentic or not, it reminds of India and comforts the soul. We, who live outside India will go to great lengths to eat Indian food.
I must end with a story of my relatives who were visiting from India and visited a very famous, posh, luxury store in Kensington, London where most ordinary mortals only end up sightseeing. On visiting the food halls, they spotted ‘batata wadas’ in the Indian section and so homesick were they, that they actually bought two ‘wadas’ for an astronomical price and ate them stone cold, sitting on a bench in Hyde park. The next time I would advice them to at least have them warmed up in the microwave in the store as I know they usually do, on request!
Last night we ate out at an Indian restaurant. What’s the big deal, you may ask.
Well, this was an Indian restaurant outside India; in the UK to be more specific and we were going there purely because they serve absolutely authentic biryani. That was reason enough for me and my husband to go seeking it out.
Being an Indian outside India, one cannot help but hunt out good Indian food and venture out of the way to sample it. So there we were, sitting in an Indian restaurant, which by the way also happens to have a few Michelin stars to it’s credit.
On browsing through the menu some really interesting dishes jumped out. First things first, who can resist chaat, so although we were there for biryani, but the tantalising chaat in the starters section beckoned.
We ordered a plate of mixed chaat. A while later, the waiter came in carrying a large white rectangular plate of beautiful concoctions- works of pure edible art. The ensemble in the centre was all creamy, with brown swirls flowing through. Wow! Someone’s dessert order, I thought. I was almost about to tell the waiter that we had ordered chaat and not the dessert. And then my myopic eyes focussed a bit and to my horror I found myself staring at three, teeny tiny portions of chaat sitting pretty on a huge, largely empty white plate.
We decided to look at it as a half-full plate and managed to smile a feeble, polite smile of thanks to the waiter. I am sure he was laughing inwardly.
A few selfies and unabashed food photos later, we sat to admire our plate of molecular gastronomy.
On my extreme right, sat a single, crunchy poori filled with a teaspoon of spiced dahi, sprinkled with a bit of sev and topped with a solitary pomegranate seed, sparkling like a jewel. At the price that we were paying, I was hoping it would be red ruby in disguise.
Next, occupying pride of place in the centre was a fluffy aloo tikki, smothered with half a cup of spiced yoghurt[ dahi], a brownish-purple tamarind sauce spread over the dahi in the form of streaks running artistically across. A drop of green chutney, sorry, sauce completed the creation. Must say the chef was an artist in more forms than one, not to mention a wee bit miserly. Okay, I tried to control my middle class thinking. This is fine dining. This is how it’s supposed to be in the upper echleons of society. But since when did chaat become upper class? Or fine dining?
Anyway, the third item was the piece de resistance- a cylindrical neatly compacted mass of bhel sitting upright and proud with a lonely flat poori angled into it’s top. Phew.
Just describing this piece of art has taken my breath away.
This is not how I’m used to seeing or eating chaat.
The pooris always need the company of atleast a team of 5-6 pooris to be comfy and safe in the plate, the sev needs to be plentiful, lavishly spread all over the place, almost spilling off the plate; the chutneys need to be in generous dollops,not just little streaks that tease the brain, but leave the rest to imagination. But hey , this was fine dining and this was after all a Michelin starred place. How could I argue with that. So before deconstructing and destroying the mini sculptures, we took a few minutes of silence to take in the sight of this culinary marvel. It also took a few minutes to figure out how to use a fork and knife to dine elegantly on the lone dahi poori.
Now as this chaat was costing us a mini fortune, we decided to share the plate between us. I know, how miserly. So to be fair, we dissected the poori and tikki into halves. Even the bhel cylinder got evenly divided. I magnanimously allowed the husband to have the entire flat poori from the bhel. After all, he let me have the pomegranate seed. We were determined to enjoy this experience to its fullest.
So instead of chomping and stuffing our faces greedily with chaat as we usually do, we let each bite linger in the mouth for a little bit longer, allowing the palate to partake of this wondrous moment for a few seconds more, delaying the gratification, making it last. Yes, for full paisa-vasool [ getting money’s worth]of this fine dining.
Okay they give you very little. But why? At the price they charge,why couldn’t they throw in few more pooris or at least a few more teaspoons of chutney?
I am trying to understand why they do that. Most people who eat at such places come from an affluent background- you know, ‘khatey-peetey ghar ke log’[ well-fed people, to translate loosely]. So I suppose the already well-fed folks need little by way of nutrition and eat at these places mostly for the social interaction and the genteel pursuit of stimulating the taste buds. The palate scores over the stomach.
But sorry, but we who were were brought up middle class in India are used to eating until our tummies are nicely full. There is a certain satisfaction in having a fully inflated stomach at the end of a meal, trying to suppress a burp but failing to suppress a yawn. I mean, isnt that the true test of a happy tummy? A soporific feeling after a meal is what gratfication is about about for us. So when someone dishes out 2 millilitres of the purest nectar embellished with a few Michelin stars, one has to pretend really hard to feel satisfied. Even if the eyes have feasted lustily and the tongue has indulged indolently, until the poor stomach is satiated, I’m sorry but for people like me, the brain remains dissatisfied and disappointed.
Chaat is traditionally eaten off a haath–gaadi, a roadside cart. Our guts may not always be able to stomach the bugs that come off the chaat vendor’s hands and his cart. So we eat chaat in a restaurant that uses hygienic mineral water and other means to serve up a chaat sans germs. But the charm of chaat lies in it’s informality, it’s basic simplicity, it’s tangy-spicy, eyes and mouth-watering chutneys and masala laced liquids, it’s anti-social onion-laden piquancy and of course the fact that you cannot stop at just ONE measly poori….you need lots until you feel satisfied. That is what chaat is to me and those like me.
So although some of us can afford to go and indulge in a restaurant that serves Indian food in a non-Indian fashion, we just cannot bring ourselves to pretend that what we are being served in atomic proportions is real food. A sample- yes.
I suppose, for those unfamiliar with Indian food, this is a brilliant way to sample Indian food, including chaat. That explains the miniscule portions- perhaps it is for preventing food wastage. Chaat and other spicy food may not be to everyone’s taste. So, yes I understand the size zero chaat portions. But then my middle class mentality starts mentally calculating how many packets of pani puris one can buy at that price, how many plates of chaat could be bought at an unpretentious Indian restaurant in the UK at the same price and then the mind wildly guesses how many haath-gaadis of chaat one could buy out for that price!
I know, I know, people like me are not meant to go for fine dining experiences. To get value for money, why not just go to a basic Indian restaurant which dishes out Indian food the way it should served- there are plenty of those in the UK.
But then I ask what is so special about the fine dining chaat? It’s all about the ambience, you see. The way the food is presented, the way the cutlery is arranged, the way the server speaks to you , explains what is being served. I am still not convinced why it is called fine dining. I mean, apart from the frills mentioned, if they threw in a free foot massage, that would make it fine dining. My scientific mind thinks that if we closed our eyes and tasted Chaat from a dining place and one from a regular no-frills place, could we tell the difference?
Now, to be fair, fine dining places like the one where I had this very interesting chaat experience do have some authentic dishes on the menu, where the portions may be stingy but the dish scores on the taste front. Yes, the biryani lived up to it’s reputation, albeit at a steep price.
Also, some very innovative creations come out of these kitchens. For instance, the same restaurant had desserts like the crème brulee in rose and garam masala flavours. Yes, they were fantastic Indo-French culinary fusions and well worthy of the ‘fine dining’ label. Or the time we had something called a ‘Paan shot’ which is a drink made by blending paan[ betel leaf] with cream and a few spices, served in a shot glass, to be had after a meal. This was in a restaurant desperately trying for a Michelin star and hope they get one soon, but please, oh please do not increase your prices and slash your portion sizes further. Also , can we not serve Indian food like it is French food? Why does a single coriander leaf have to sit atop the food? Why can’t the coriander be chopped fine and sprinkled over liberally as a garnish instead of mimicking French cuisine with its parsley sprig?
I am dreading the day some clever restaurateur starts serving Indian food imitating Japanese sushi and lays out chopsticks to delicately pick up dhokla or idli or dosa and dip it into the sambar dipping sauce. Or is that taking fine dining a little too far?
15 mtes of Whatsapp, 3X day, -one dose first thing in the morning on empty stomach
10 mtes of Twitter at bedtime.
15 quick secs of Facebook as and when required
Does this look like the prescription that you have written out for yourself and have been devotedly following for the last few years?
Well, we in the modern world have become experts at writing out self-prescriptions like these- let us call them self-Ps. The doses may differ, the tablets may come in different forms, the timings may be variable, but we need the same sort of treatment to cure our boredom, loneliness, emptiness and entertainment needs. We keeping popping the pills called FB and Whatsapp until we get completely out of control.They may be easy pills to swallow, but often difficult to digest if had in large doses. But what happens when we over do our self-Ps?Read on……
I am an expert in the therapies of Facebook and Watsapp, having gained special expertise through recurrent use in the last few years. Also as someone who has overdosed on both forms of therapy and continues to be incurably dependant on both, I have to share the signs of social media overdose.
Here are 10 signs that you are hopelessly suffering from an overdose of FB and Whatsapp:
Red-dot-ophilia: You have a maddening affinity for Red dots of the Facebook kind- you know those little red dots which come up, signaling a friend’s request or a notification or a message. Yup, the more red dots the better. You develop an insatiable appetite, no, greed, for a red dot, every time you open FB. This is a classic sign of overdose of FB. Sometimes you even dream of red dots in your sleep…Aaah the blissful feeling. But when you wake up and grab that wretched phone, there is a blank. Yes, double-checked….nothing. That is when you know you suffer from Red-dot –ophilia. Face it!
Likomania: This is a common sign. C’mon we are human. Who does not like to be liked. The more likes you get, the more you are liked , correct? But when this thirst for ‘likes’ goes out of control, it is called ‘Likomania’. Yup, you will do anything to get a few more likes. Repost, reshare, ‘like’ it yourself, get some attention by adding a comment. Still not enough ‘likes’? Okay lets put up some more posts, some more quotes…..that should do it. Okay let’s tag some friends with the quote. That should wake them up and give those much sought after ‘likes’. Phew! Likomania is tough to combat.
Pseudobreakfastitis: This sign is typical to Whatsapp. Every morning, even before you switch the alarm off, you gaze through half closed eyed at the meduwada –sambhar your friend from Bangalore forwarded you or the samosa-chutney that your friend from Jhumri Telaiya sent you. You may not have met these pals for 20 odd years but they sure do feed you well. So what if it is make-believe, it sure fills you up at the start of the day. So much so that you forget to have your real breakfast.You are too busy replying to your pals and thanking them. Psuedobreakfastitis is a dangerous sign.
Neocommentogenesis: This makes you spend several minutes thinking of a witty, clever, original comment on FB. You think, you write, you edit, you delete. You think some more, you look at other people’s comments, you write, you edit, you delete. You go back to the first comment and write it. Fingers crossed. Now just wait for the ‘like’!!
Senttowrongchatosis: This is a classic sign of overdose of Whatsapp; the more chat groups you belong to, the more likely you are to suffer.Here you are madly, excitedly trying to multitask, multichat, multi-thumbsup, multi-namaskar- your poor thumb cannot keep up with the hyperactivity of your brain. Forefinger tries to help, but fails miserably and you only find out when you end up sending an inappropriate joke to your in-laws; who, instead of sending you an appreciative emoji, send back silence lasting a few minutes. Oops.Eeks! The immediate treatment of this is of course, the ‘namaskar’- a very handy treatment for Senttowrongchatosis.
Hyperemojiemesis: ( emoji= cute/evil/stupid face that apparently conveys emotion. Emesis= vomiting)
Most Whatsapp users are sufferers of this incorrigible urge to vomit a multitude of emojis for every occasion. When emotions are overwhelming and you just cannot articulate your feelings in words, you start vomiting out emoji after emoji, sometimes hundreds in a matter of minutes- you know you suffer from Hyperemojiemesis. So here come some bouquets of flowers, here are some virtual gifts, some cake, some music notes.Bring it on. Hyperemojiemesis can be cathartic too. The emoji with a mask, the emoji with gritted teeth, the emoji with tears running down its face-all multiple little faces but so much meaning.
Typospathy: Interestingly this sign is common to FB and Whatsapp overdose. This sign means you make error after error in your typing, so much so that after a while you don’t bother apologizing and start blaming your spelling mistakes on Autocorrect. In fact, you do not even bother to correct Autocorrect. You start getting sadistic pleasure from inflicting your bizarre spellings on you other overdosed pals and the world at large. Your overdosed pals on the other hand enjoy your typos and send you emoticons such as ‘hands clapping’ for coming up with such bloopers.In those severely overdosed, the typos become part of life. You soon speak like you type. Grammer, punctuations be damned.
Iatrogenic information-related anaesthesia: Again, this sign is common to FB and Whatsapp overdosers.[ Iatros= caused by person giving treatment in this case,YOU. Anaesthesia= numbness, no sensation].
It pertains to the mind getting numb after reading page after page of mindless, meaningless, irrelevant information put up by your pals and taking the pain to ‘like’/ ‘comment’ on inane stuff that has no bearing on your life and never will. Heavy duty quotes, long winded ‘funny’ videos, narcissitic selfies with food/drink……your brain can only take so much of information. Then you have to keep tabs on who is online, at what time they were on last time, have they checked your last message[ remember the double blue ticks?]…..yes, your brain has so much to process. No wonder it goes numb after a while and the minute it recovers, you feed it some more useless fodder, you make it absorb a bit more. You decide to go to so-and-so’s profile and check out their latest posts. Every minute of your FB/Whatsapp time should be accounted for. Not a dull moment,;nimble fingers, sharp brain, fast darting eyes all act in quick succession and there you have it- a very numb and dumb brain- all completely self inflicted.
FBWhatsappopenic Hyperhydrosis: [Hyperhyrdosis= excessive sweating]: This pertains to excessive sweating with reduced access/absence of FB and Whatsapp. Picture this: You are in a movie theatre and they ask you to shut down your mobile phone. What! no FB and Whatsapp for 2 hours??? You start sweating thinking of what you are going to miss- imagine all the status updates and new photos that your pals will put up!! So instead of thinking about the popcorn and Coke that you can buy in the interval, you long for the interval so you can switch on your phone again. This can also be accompanied by small twinges of pain in the chest when you hear other people’s mobile ringing and to cure this pain you have to sneakily pop in a FB or Whatsapp for a few seconds. FBWHATSAPPOPENIC HYPERHYDROSIS is also experienced in areas of no WiFi. You may start to feel like you are going to collapse when you realise there is no internet connectivity. Imagine the feeling when WiFi is restored.You almost have a mini heart attack with the sheer pleasure of seeing 112 new messages and 3 red dots! Bliss!!
HyperShantabaiism: Now this is a sign of extreme overdose of Whatsapp. In fact if you are Indian and immediately recognize this sign and know exactly what I am describing, you can definitely diagnose yourself of a lethal, mind-boggling, brain numbing overdose of Whatsapp! Okay, let me explain to those who have no idea about the phenomemon called ‘Shantabai’. This crude form of humour has even the most ‘normal’, sensible ones among us laughing hysterically and mindlessly forwarding the phenomenon on to other overdosed Whatsapp pals. This sign cannot be fully explained unless experienced first hand and yes, I have suffered too. You are by no means alone in your suffering.
There are many more minor signs of overdose of FB and Whatsapp. Each person will have his/her special signs too.
Please leave a comment to let people know of any signs that you may have suffered or are happily suffering because of your self prescribed therapy.
If you have read this and actually laughed at least once, you know you suffer and enjoy the suffering with pleasure.
Disclaimer: This is not intended as medical advice and people should consult a FB/Whatsapp specialist to take long term treatment from overdose of this kind.
As I write and share this, I can still feel the exhilarating ‘high’ after a 45 minutes workout of aqua aerobics.
Let me confess that I am not the type of person who likes exercise. In fact I absolutely hate exercise, although I do will myself to do some mild activity off and on. In fact this morning, I was finding excuses to cancel my exercise class and just lounge in front of the television. Besides packing my swimwear and other paraphernalia, there was the tedious job of depilating my hairy legs, before I got into my swim suit. But I am glad I persevered, a few quick strokes of the razor and out the door I went.
Let me describe my aqua aerobics class, held every week at a local council pool in the UK, where I live. No, I am not about to talk about super-fit, local British women flexing their muscles, working up a storm in the swimming pool. On the contrary, when I initially joined, I found to my great surprise that the group of women were as international as it can get. Women from all over the world came together for this all-women aqua aerobics class, complete with a woman instructor and a lady lifeguard. I am sure I heard at least 2 Indian languages in the changing room and to my comfort found several ladies from the Indian subcontinent in the class. The average age of these women was definitely close to 50 or perhaps more. At 40 plus, I certainly felt like one of the younger ones. Several older ladies looked like they really shouldn’t be doing this type of physical exercise. How completely wrong I was. Many people are actually referred by their doctor for this exercise for various medical problems and get to do it free of charge.
Getting into a swimsuit can be a traumatic experience for someone as imperfect as me. I mean the reason I joined the class was because of the pot-belly and overhanging love handles on my midriff. How does one hide one’s food excess and laziness sins in something as tight and revealing as a swimsuit? Some years ago I found a solution. Instead of wearing a ‘regular’ swimsuit that one sees on perfectly toned beach babes, I found this incredibly comfortable and modesty covering bathing suit, that has a full sleeved top and a pair of shorts that extend almost to the knees. These days one can find half -sleeved versions, legging-like extensions all the way to the ankles and of course full coverage ones that even have a hoodie to cover the head which are all certified swimwear. But whatever form of swimwear one chooses, it has to be snug fitting, so that one can float and swim. So there is really no hiding place for the flab and that is something that always makes me conscious if I am going to a pool.
But in an all-women aqua aerobics class, I need not have fretted about how I looked, what I wore or that fact that I was so unfit that I could not touch my toes. Besides I didn’t have to panic over uprooting every single hair on my body either. Here were women, only women, in all shapes, sizes, colours and differing abilities. Each wore what she wanted. Some wore conventional one piece, cross back swimsuits, some like me wore our adapted swimwear and some went one step further by covering up with a pair of ordinary leggings or a regular top over the swimsuit. Each had done what she was comfortable with. Some women had obvious medical problems and one lady had learning difficulties, but there was no stopping anyone from enjoying this activity. In fact they even have a hoist to lower wheelchair-bound people into the pool
The music started with a nice energetic beat.
There were no male eyes to be wary of, no need to be conscious or uninhibited.
The lady who leads the aqua aerobics routine wears a small microphone, stands at the edge of the pool, shows us what to do and off we go.
We start with very simple steps and work our way to more energetic stuff. After a few minutes, I start panting a little and look around wondering how these elderly ladies are keeping up. To my shock I find them smiling and effortlessly waving the their arms and jumping about in the pool. I egg myself on. C’mon I’m one of the younger ones, I cannot give up like this. So I challenge my lazy body, enjoy the music, go with the flow, do only what I can manage, but keep up the tempo without stopping. Slowly my body is warmed and hey, I am smiling- it is not as difficult as it first seemed.
In fact, being in water, one can do more with one’s body than outside it. So I can jump higher, feel less tired and twist my body more in the water. I look around, even the older Indian ladies are still going, the music even more upbeat and there is no way I am going to give up. The elderly lady next to me smiles at me through her wizened old eyes as she hears my frustrated squeal when I cannot bring my toes outside water. Her look encourages me to try harder and I know one day I will do it.
Before I know it, its time to wind down. The body cools as the music slows down. The instructor has been shouting out words of encouragement to us ladies. “This will get you that six pack” she says as I try desperately to wake up my sleeping abdominal muscles. “Well done” she keeps saying as we ladies keep going continuously for 45 minutes. There is a bit at the end where she even teaches us how to work the pelvic muscles. At the end of the routine, she gets a round of enthusiastic applause.
The ladies scramble to the shower room to change and when they amble out, many including the lifeguard are unrecognizable as they have changed back into their usual street wear, some wearing their traditional clothes.
As I enjoy the adrenaline rush and endorphins surge through my invigorated body, I cannot help thinking that the lazy me has found my perfect exercise.
I actually feel good after what my body has been through that. My mind is refreshed. Gone is the lethargy. Much as I hate the smell of chlorine in my hair, I feel energized enough to think it was worth it and don’t fret over having to shampoo it.
Being in an all-women environment can have benefits-No cares about stares.
Being in the water has a huge plus- less tiredness and lots of fun that being in water brings. All that splashing about brings out the inner child in me.
Being in a group with women with different abilities and disabilities
is a great motivation too- “If she can do it, I can too”.
To be honest, if I can do it, anyone can.
Disclaimer: This article is my own experience of aqua aerobics. This is not intended as medical advice or expert opinion. Women with medical problems or those pregnant should ask their doctor before attempting this. Also ideally, one needs to have a trained instructor and non-swimmers should be supervised by a lifeguard/ competent swimmer.
One need not know how to swim to do aqua aerobics as it is usually done in the shallow end of the pool, but that is not an excuse for not trying to learn swimming.
This is just one of the many small and big things I love and miss about Singapore.
The nomadic me has left SG and do I miss my laksa or what!!! By the way the above picture of Mee Siam, is one of the big things I miss about Singapore. Food and drink- no place on this planet compares to the sheer variety and mind boggling tastes- spicy, hot, sour, sweet all in one- that the melting post of Singapore has to offer. I love to eat and it’s like a big chunk of my existence has now gone bland. Until I get my fix of Singaporean or Malaysian food, I am going to drool over all these food pictures.
Now, no picture is going to capture the fragrance of these flowers. Frangipani flowers strewn all over the pavement exuding their heady, intoxicating perfume early in the morning and starting my day on a refreshing note- how I miss them. I used to collect a few in the morning and keep them around the house; Bliss!
Water bodies everywhere….. swimming pools, ponds, lakes, artificial waterfalls, streams, even a recreation of the waters of Venice[ much cleaner and better]…. Singapore has water around and within it. tap water is potable,so that is great. just watching at water is so relaxing………