13 dishes from Kerala you must taste before you die!

I obsess about food and I dream about food. And what can be more fun than writing about food! So, here I am, starting with the South Indian Kerala cuisine, which I love to eat and dish up. Except the meat and fish dishes, none of the vegetable dishes I have mentioned below use onions or garlic, which is uniquely Palakkad, my hometown in Kerala. And yes, we use tons of curry leaves and coconut in our cooking!

By no means exhaustive, here are the 13 dishes from Kerala, I believe you have to try!

Mutton stew with aapam: This soupy, white, coconut-based mutton stew is just what the doctor ordered – on any day. It’s small chunks of mutton cooked with onions and potatoes, ginger and green chillies, with coconut milk being added to it later, along with curry leaves and some pepper powder. A dot of ghee (clarified butter) takes it to another level. Teamed with lacy aapam (made out of a fermented batter of rice, coconut and a few other ingredients), or even our local pav bread, it is simply delicious. Many like to eat it like a soup, even. And one can make it as delicious with just potatoes and onions!

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Here, the lacy aapam is teamed with egg curry and vegetable stew

Avial: This is literally a hotchpotch, rather bland dish of vegetables, which somehow scores high with everyone. A medley of vegetables – carrots, beans, drumsticks, red and white pumpkin, ivy gourd (tendril), elephant yam – are cooked with salt and turmeric powder. Later, beaten curd, curry leaves and ground coconut-green chillies mixture are added, along with a dash of coconut oil. Easy peasy!

Chicken fry: This has many variations, of course. The one I make has tons of onions, garlic, ginger, curry leaves, fried, into which I add the marinated and cooked chicken. And then fry it on slow fire, till the rooster crows. Ok, am kidding. Just an hour of slow frying will do. And what a lovely dish this is, with a slightly crispy texture.

Avial-Chicken fry
Rice, avial and chicken fry

Sambhar: I am from Palakkad which borders Tamil Nadu and sambhar is as much my dish too as any Tamilian! This is the ultimate in terms of balancing pulses or dal (toovar dal), vegetables (bhindi to radish to brinjals), tamarind and spices. I like my sambhar a bit crowded and tend to add many vegetables. Have it with rice, the beans or cabbage podthul (featured below) and some papadam, perhaps? Truly sublime!

Beans/cabbage podthul: Minutely cut up the beans or cabbage, season with rai or mustard seeds, slit green chilli, and urad dal, cook with a dash of turmeric powder, red chilli powder and salt, add some grated coconut once it’s cooked. Though it sounds bland, it’s a must-have at any Kerala sadya or festive meal.

Mango Curry: This is the dish to make in the summer season, when mangoes are aplenty across India. It has chunks of mangoes ground with coconut, red chillies and curd, which is then cooked with cucumber in turmeric, salt and curry leaves. Yum!

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Sambhar and mango curry

Pineapple pachhadi: You cook pineapple with turmeric and salt, add ground coconut and green chillies and beaten curd, and voila! You have a lovely, soothing, sweetish dish, which goes well with rice and rotis!

Puttu and kadala curry: This is Kerala’s favourite breakfast. It’s rice flour and scraped coconut steamed in a special apparatus called ‘puttu kutti’ (which has by the way featured in Ellen Degeneres’s show!) It’s eaten with black chana curry or vegetable stew.

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Puttu with kadla curry and bananas

Fish curry: One can make this with different kinds of fish. I love to make this with black pomfret or halwa as it is called locally. The fish is cooked in tamarind water with onions, ginger and green chillies. Ground coconut-red chilli mixture is added to the fish, along with plenty curry leaves. Serve this hot with rice, what a combo!

Fish fry: My mom has this long and winding road to a fish marinade, which I am only now beginning to really appreciate. Marinate the fish with turmeric powder, red chilli powder, ginger-garlic-onion paste, and salt, and refrigerate for a few hours. Then fry it in the tava or pan.

Sardine or mathi fry: Most people I know are wary of sardines, and with reason. It’s full of small bones, and difficult to eat. Till someone teaches you to chew through most of the bones, except the central one. In my case, my dad did. I marinate it as any other fish for frying, and then on a tava do a vagaar of rai (sesame seeds), curry leaves, green chillies and grated coconut, and fry the fish in it. Oh it’s so tasty, and this fish is a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Ney choru or ghee rice: This dish I learnt very recently. Yes, as the name suggests, it does need dollops of clarified butter or ghee, in which the basmati rice is fried, before it’s cooked in water. Garnishing it with fried onions and fried cashew nuts is a must. This rice goes with absolutely any of the dishes mentioned above. The aroma will get you first, before the taste slays you!

Chicken or mutton biriyani: The Kerala biriyani I haven’t yet mastered. But I hope to, soon. This is one of my favourites, especially the one you get at Fountain Plaza restaurant in Fort, Mumbai. The succulent meat, surrounded by its spice mix in the bed of rice, with fried onions on top, has to figure on the list of top dishes to be tasted.

My list of shows to watch and books to read this coming week!

 

  1. Contagion (Amazon Prime): This Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s triology) 2011 movie is eerily prophetic. It’s about a virus originating in Southeast Asia which spreads across the world in a matter of days, leaving millions dead in its wake. The cast includes Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Ehle (you saw her as Elizabeth Bennett in the BBC six-part series, the best ever adaptation of Pride and Prejudice), and Kate Winslet. What shakes you the most is the prophetic warning, with messages like social distancing, washing hands thoroughly, etc. These are the exact catchphrases of the current corona crisis too. The movie ends on a positive note though, with a vaccine being developed and an insight into how the animal to human jump of the virus happened. If you have not reached the point of saturation with corona news, watch this movie.
  2. Hunters (Amazon Prime): Set in 1970s New York, this is about a small group of Jews who are hunting down high-ranking Nazi officers living under assumed identities in the US. These officers had notoriously tortured the inmates in the concentration camps of Auschwitz, among others. The star of the series is Al Pacino. The series lags a wee bit in the fourth episode, but then picks up again. Overall, not brilliant, but watchable.
  3. Special Ops (Hindi, Hotstar): I just started this eight-episode series, and suddenly find myself on episode 2! It centers around a RAW officer Himmat Singh, superbly played by Kay Kay Menon, and his 19-year-long manhunt of the sixth terrorist and whom he believes is the mastermind of the 2001 attack on the Parliament in New Delhi. No one else believes there was a sixth terrorist. To track this mastermind he has placed five agents in cities of the Middle East, even as he is today undergoing an audit inquiry into how he spent Rs. 28 crores in 11 years, without being able to give a credible account for any the spend? I am loving it so far. I hope the pace and premise are consistent till the end.
  4. Marriage Story (Netflix): Directed by Noah Baumback, this movie is about the breakdown of the marriage of a highly successful theatre director played by Adam Driver and his wife played brilliantly by Scarlett Johansson. The movie takes no sides and by turns, you empathise with both. It chronicles a divorce, as also the inherent sadness in an unraveling relationship, which was once so full of love. A beautifully enacted and narrated story. It fetched a best supporting actress Oscar for Laura Dern, a favourite of mine, ever since I saw her in the mini-series Big Little Lies. The movie is a tad bit slow but worth every moment of screen time.
  5. The Grand Tour (Amazon Prime): I was introduced recently to this by Sachin. Initially I resisted as I have no great love for cars or interest in them. But after watching a couple of episodes, I was hooked! It has been created and anchored by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, after they quit the popular BBC series Top Gear. So, it is a show about cars, with the three testing, test driving, racing and ribbing each other, apart from great conversations back at the studio with a live audience. I love the show for the crisp diction, sparkling wit and sarcastic conversation between the three, their camaraderie, as also their rivalry – I was shocked to hear them cussing and calling each other names on TV! It’s British wit at its best. And the best part is, you can watch randomly any episode and enjoy it. Maybe along the way, you will pick up something about cars…or not!
  6. 50 Shades Freed (Netflix): Okay, so you are fed up with all the serious stuff and need something more risqué, erotic, and well, romantic. This movie, fourth in the series of movies based on E.L. James’ ’50 shades’ books, is just the right one for you. If you have read the novels, then you won’t find it difficult to plug into it. The story of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey continues, now they are married, even more amorous, and more, er, adventurous in their romps. But always a threat looms.

Books:

  1. ‘Educated’ By Tara Westover: A beautiful, uplifting book by Tara Westover, who has been brought up by very radical and extremist Mormon parents in America. Her siblings and she are all homeschooled, and work the family scraps and junk business while stockpiling provisions, fuel, and weapons against the approaching “End of Days”. Tara manages to break free and go to college at age 17 and goes on to do her doctorate from Harvard. But she is scarred by the deprivations of her childhood, her parents’ radical worldview and one of her brothers becoming completely violent and abusive, Tara often being his target. This is a sad, poignant, but also a very uplifting book about the triumph of human spirit and the triumph of education. Evocatively written, with a wealth of introspection and insights. A must-read.
  2. ‘Three Cups Of Tea’ By Greg Mortenson: It’s literally an account of one man – Greg Mortenson’s – quest to build schools in remote areas, starting with the first one in the Balti region of Pakistan. A mountaineer, he gets lost and strays into this Balti village where the locals take him in, and where every conversation, however serious, begins with 3 cups of tea. He decides to help the villages build a school, returns to the US to raise funds and transports material from Peshawar. It’s a story of acute hardships and iron will and determination. Mortenson has come under much criticism from people who claim that he is delusional, and his organization corrupt. In my opinion, if after reading the book, if even one person gets enthused to do something similar, this book has accomplished its goal. Lovely account of one man’s journey of conviction.
  3. ‘Twice Born: Life and Death in the Ganges’ By Aatish Taseer: I love Aatish Taseer’s books. More his non-fiction than his works of fiction. I picked this book up with great enthusiasm. Taseer with his rather unconventional parentage of Indian journalist mother and Pakistani politician father has from the beginning been on an existential quest. His first book – Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey Through Islamic Lands, a biographical account of his travels across the Islamic world, culminating in Pakistan and his difficult, estranged relationship with his father – was brilliant. This is his second book of non-fiction, set in Benares or Varanasi, a bid to understand this India so isolated from his own version of India which is largely centered around New Delhi. I am halfway through the book and it’s been an engaging read so far.
  4. Books by Jojo Moyes – ‘Paris for One’, ‘Me Before You’, et al: Books by Jojo Moyes are easy, enjoyable and interesting reads. It’s got romance, strong stories, interesting female protagonists, and breezy language. Perfect for these socially distanced days.
  5. ‘The Master’ By E.L. James: Aha! What has E.L. James come up with now? After her controversial ‘50 shades of Grey’ series, what else could she have up her sleeve? Well, this latest novel is a story about a rich businessman who falls for his cleaning woman, who is expectedly ravishing, sensual, the works. Then follow many erotically written sex scenes, and a storyline which is well, adequate. But who cares? Did anyone pick up an E.L. James book for its storyline? Naah.

Life in the times of Corona

My office has been working remotely since the last week. It’s a novel situation. Going into it, I had wondered how we would all cope. Strangely, I have realized over the course of the week, that I have never been as productive and efficient at work. Work is something I cling to, in the hope that some things haven’t changed. It’s almost a desperate desire to make myself believe that life can go on as normal. That life is normal. That a minute virus cannot play such havoc in our lives. Despite every evidence to the contrary.

We live in interesting times. It’s I believe, a Chinese curse. There are so many things I had taken for granted. Hopping into a cab to go to work, a quick hug to a colleague who had just returned from a trip, sharing food at lunch, the easy banter, those quick meetings outside the office. Who would have thought that going into a cinema or eating out, which we did almost on auto-pilot, would become the very things that threaten us today? I view with suspicion the passer-by who just coughed. Was it a dry cough, I have caught myself thinking, fearfully.

The routine of the days, which I had sometimes chafed at, is today the very thing I crave for. I crave the daily human contact, those stimulating conversations, and the sheer ordinariness of the pre-corona days. I was guilty of skipping my exercise routine on some days, giving in to laziness and inertia. Today, while I circumnavigate my building endlessly, I miss the gym so much, it’s almost a physical ache. The school days, the office days, meeting my friends every day – these were the blessings that I never counted when I had them. The only silver lining is, my family is around me, and unlike so many Indian parents with kids studying abroad, my son is in my safe circle.

I catch myself thinking longingly about our travels and our last big trip which was three months ago. I wish I had stopped and lingered for a while more on that white snow, breathed in more of that crisp air. I wish I had cast one more glance at the vistas we were leaving behind, instead of eagerly thinking about home. When will we travel again, happily and without care? When will we get over the suspicions which have become such a daily part of our psyche in such a short time?

Now it seems ironic that we were watching that show on Netflix about a dystopian world. Our dystopian world is right here, not far into the future, not in 2050. We are living it every day. People with masks, and sanitisers at every entrance to everything, are our realities today. The way we have been forced to isolate or socially distance ourselves is our reality today. Someone said this is our planet’s way of repairing itself, of replenishing its resources. If that’s true, it makes me immensely sad. Did we have to lose so many of our freedoms to realize the privileges we had? If these are interesting times, give me boredom and routine any day. I crave it.

 

 

My 15 most favourite romantic lines from movies!

  1. “I wish I knew how to quit you.” – Jack Gyllenhall in Brokeback Mountain
  2. “Your eyes are amazing, do you know that? You should never shut them, not even at night.” – Oliver Martinez in Unfaithful
  3. “I love you. You complete me” – Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire
  4. “I have crossed oceans of time to find you.” – Gary Oldman in Dracula
  5. “I would rather have one breath of her hair, one kiss of her mouth, one touch of her hand, than eternity without it. One.” – Nicholas Cage in City of Angels
  6. “I’m also just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her.” – Julia Roberts in Notting Hill
  7. “Swoon. I’ll catch you.” – Ralph Fiennes in The English Patient
  8. “It seems right now that all I’ve ever done in my life is making my way here to you.” – Clint Eastwood in The Bridges of Madison County
  9. “I love how she makes me feel, like anything’s possible, or like life is worth it.” – 500 Days of Summer
  10. “You had me at hello.” – Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire
  11. “… If, however, your feelings have changed, I will have to tell you: you have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love … I love … I love you. I never wish to be parted from you from this day on.” – Talulah Riley in Pride and Prejudice
  12. “I think I’d miss you even if we’d never met.” – The Wedding Date
  13. “I guess when you’re young, you just believe there’ll be many people…you’ll connect with. Later in life, you realize it only happens a few times.” – Before Sunset
  14. “I want all of you, forever, you and me, every day.” – Ryan Gosling in The Notebook
  15. “It’s like in that moment the whole universe existed just to bring us together.”  – John Cusack in Serendipity

My son, the vlogger

My son is the most social person in the family right now. He can strike up conversations with strangers, ask to borrow the phones of mere acquaintances, and volunteer to attend every social event in the family. I would love to say it’s the way he’s been brought up, take some credit for this new persona. But I have to concede that his recent social transformation owes everything to Youtube!

It began rather innocuously. About four months ago Ishaan announced that he was going to start his own channel on Youtube. We said okay, do you need any help?  Apparently, the only help he needed was in setting up his account. Before we could say “Shawn Mendes”, he had recorded his “introduction” and his lip sync to a Shawn Mendes song, as also a rendition of the Harry Potter song in 99 seconds. Swept away in the tide of his new interest we offered him many suggestions. But Ishaan marches to the tune of his own drummer and that drummer bears no resemblance to his parents!

Since then he has posted more than a dozen videos ranging in length from a minute to 5 minutes, from “reaction” videos to horror ones. We praised him extravagantly for his shorter videos, while gently conveying to him that only his fond parents will have the patience to sit through his five-minute ones. Initially he expected people to “like” his videos just because he had posted one. He was hurt that everyone didn’t organically like and “subscribe” to his channel. This was his first rude awakening in the world of social media. I served up a lecture on how content is king and how there is no alternative for good content. He looked at me in genuine surprise, what’s subscriptions got to do with content?

His obsession with acquiring subscribers brought out a competitive spirit I had never suspected. This was partly fueled by an unacknowledged but definite battle for subscribers he started with his closest friend in school who has his own channel too. Strangely, while they compete they also enjoy and take pride in each other’s vlogs. Ishaan reminded me several times a day to send links to family, all of which I dutifully did. The subscriber base stayed firmly under 50.

Lady luck smiled on him a couple of months ago. He attended a social event in the family and a bit diffidently asked his cousins whether they would subscribe to his channel. Seeing their instant and enthusiastic response he knew he had stumbled upon a catchment so rich it boggled his mind. Suffice to say, he came away from that event many subscribers richer!

Encouraged by this success, he developed a multi-pronged strategy to boost his subscriber base. From neighbours he meets in the building lift to my mom’s doctor who  paid a home visit, to our house help, he has caught many a hapless person by surprise. He  has also approached his school mates, though peers can be brutal in their feedback. He not only managed to assure them that he will cater to their particular interests in his videos, but also promised them a treat when he got his 100th subscriber! A promise he kept.

But when he raced past his 150th subscriber we were intrigued. How was he acquiring subscribers at such an astonishing speed? That’s when he made the comment which we are still trying to digest! “A few well-placed comments, some strategic business transactions”, he told us, guffawing away. We realised he had figured out reciprocal subscribing with Youtubers whose vlogs he regularly watches. And “well placed comments” on friends’ blogs gets them to subscribe to his! For me this was a new side indeed to a son I always thought was more a dreamer.

The content monster in me wants to help him come up with more professional vlogs, with structured content. I have my own ideas for what will work well, all of which I want him to try. I want to iron every crease and smoothen his path. The urge to interfere is overwhelming, yet, I curb it. I know the best way he will learn is by experimenting and learning on his own, by making that shaky video and that clumsy one, ultimately, giving rein to his imagination. And when I watch him bravely facing the camera, I thank God for his initiative and his courage. And his now nearly 180 subscribers! Many, many, many more than what his “content specialist” mom has for her blog!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13 things to be aware of if you are planning to visit Norway this winter!

Norway

 

  1. Your reason for travelling to the Arctic Circle is most probably to see the Northern Lights. But know that Norway and Finland, parts of which fall in the Arctic Circle, offer so much more! Go with an all-embracing attitude and don’t be disappointed if you don’t see the Northern Lights. Often, it’s dependent on clear skies and distance from city lights. Frankly, just seeing the white Arctic world, and breathing in that crisp, clean air is enough reward.
  2. Layer up! You absolutely need inner thermals, your normal tee or top, a heavy sweater or fleece, and finally a down jacket. There are two types of downs – duck and goose. We chose the goose down from the Columbia brand for us, while our son insisted on a duck down jacket from Decathlon. And both options worked well.
  3. Get a good woolen beanie for the head as also a thick muffler/s to wrap around your neck. Very, very essential.
  4. Don’t scrimp on mittens (which work better than gloves in my opinion), and good water-proof shoes. If you are going dog sledding or plan to spend any kind of time on the tundra plains, this clothing will protect you in terms of keeping your chest and legs warm. Additionally, you will be given snow suits to wear over everything. Yet, the extremities – ears, nose, hands and feet will remind you why it’s nice to be a citizen of tropical climes!
  5. If you follow a vegetarian diet, may be this is the time to eschew it in favour of a seafood and meat diet! Okay, am kidding. While we went crazy about the meats and seafood like salmon and the creamy fish soups, vegetarians need not despair as there are enough sandwich, potato, waffle, salads, cake, pasta, pastries options.
  6. Beware of melting, slippery ice. While you will get spikes at the hotel/Airbnb you are staying at to attach to your shoes (please don’t carry them from home), be careful while walking on the ice anyway. Thick snow is safe, it’s the melting snow which is to be feared. Most public places here scatter gravel across the car parks, roads and pavements, especially on the black ice which forms on pavements. Despite that there will be patches of slippery ice.
  7. Drive slowly and carefully on the icy roads. The roads are cleared constantly of snow, but sometimes the mix of oil and residual ice can make the roads slippery.  This is not the time or place to show your F1 racing skills, believe me.
  8. The bite of the wind against your face can make you cry and your nose run! Carrying a napkin or some tissues in your bag may not be a bad idea. Some people wear face protector masks in the intense cold. Whatever works for you. I find such masks claustrophobic though, and made do with dabbing my nose every once in a while (sometimes not so elegantly I must admit!)
  9. Norway is a true cashless economy. I don’t even know what the local currency NOK looks like as we got by completely with our credit/debit cards.
  10. They take their public holidays very seriously. And everything is shut on those days. We were in Tromso in the week of Christmas and had been warned. We stocked up on enough provisions to last us a long siege!
  11. You will see busloads of Chinese tourists here, so much so that, menu cards in Tromso’s popular restaurants like Egon, are in Chinese too! This is not an essential fact to know, I guess, just an interesting one!
  12. The people of Norway are helpful, punctual and polite. They are very direct communicators, and will answer you to the point. It seriously encourages you to put forward your best, most succinct self with them.
  13. I asked Ishaan for inputs and he says beware of ferocious polar bears in the Arctic! A very useful tip indeed! Well, it is wishful thinking. You are not likely to come across any polar bears! Sadly!

 

 

What’s the good word?

“That’s sick, dude!” said my colleague! I stared at her for a moment, before I realized she meant “Wow”. Sick, to mean awesome? Another colleague wanted to know all the “goss” (gossip) from a meeting, while checking if the boss had “bounced”, meaning had the boss left office! “I think I am going to dip” said another, to mean that now he was going to “bounce”.

Welcome to the world of millennial lingo! I have still not sussed out most of their language, but what I have heard so far is utterly and comically fascinating! It’s a most desirable bonus of working with a bunch of lively millennials.

Every generation has had its slang which defined it. I remember being called an ‘enthu pea’ for my overzealous participation in English class. I cringed every time I heard it, though I didn’t mind being called a ‘cat’ (as in “she’s quite a cat”, said admiringly).

English is the most mauled languages of all times. Do you remember (and if you are a pre-millennial, you will), the horrible phase when short cuts were used in text messages, like “dat, dis & der”. Shudder! Thankfully it’s mostly died down. As P.G. Wodehouse would have said, God is in his heaven, and everything is right with the word, er, world!

One may accuse the millennials of many things, but certainly they don’t resort to “dis, dat & me2”. Instead, they have decided to be willful, resorting to completely contrary words to convey emotions, like “sick” when they mean superb, and “snatched” to mean something or someone is looking good. As in, she looked completely “snatched”!

To the millennials, their “squad” is their “fam”, even if sometimes their squad can make them “salty” and they may feel like “throwing shade” at someone in the squad. Translation? Their group of friends is like their family, even if sometimes they feel upset at a friend and they end up talking crap about that person. They particularly “throw shade” at anyone being “extra”, as in OTT.

Have you noticed, millennials are mostly gender neutral in their speech. They refer to each other as “bro” and “dude”. But tender emotions are always in the air, just expressed differently, I am told. So, if a boy or a girl sends a direct message on Instagram to the object of their interest, it’s called “sliding into someone’s gram”! But dare you use the phrase “Netflix and chill”, as apparently, it’s a highly sexual, pick-up line or invitation for a romp between the sheets. Who knew? But all is not lost. Once you do have a significant other, you can refer to them as “bae” (before anyone else)! If the relationship unfortunately hits a rocky patch, then of course you start giving or getting “can it” vibes!

Being very mindful of their need to maintain balance, millennials love to “vacay” (vacation) often, and failing that, at least go to parties which are “lit”, meaning, really happening. You could also be “turnt up” if you were at a lit party, though I have been warned, “turnt” could also mean “horny” or “turned on”! And would you wear expensive second-hand clothes to such a party? You will, just that such clothes are referred to as “pre-loved”. Seriously? Pre-loved? This reminds me of Marie Kondo way too much!

The millennials live with some glaring contradictions. They hate carbs, I mean seriously hate carbs. I feel like an absolute pachyderm eating my rice next to them. But they can’t do without their quota of chocolates. They can get really “hangry” (hungry angry) if they don’t get their daily chocolate fix. They are obsessed about health food and chocolates. Go, figure! Next to this they love their “sesh” (session) with the squad, which could be “goss sesh” or simply a “catching up sesh”! And anyone who isn’t in sync is of course a “wack” (whacko).

If you want to gain millennial approval, just go “savage”. It has nothing to do with savages and cave men, and everything to mean someone who is hardcore. It’s said in an appreciative manner. And if someone’s worthy of emulating, then they are “goals”. As in, “Look at her at 45, she’s serious goals, dude”.

Millennials, like many among us, have FOMO (fear of missing out), while the more evolved ones embrace JOMO (joy of missing out). But most millennials do fear going on a BT or “bad trip” (drug induced), much to the relief of their parents.

While they don’t necessarily suffer from hubris, millennials do think they are GOAT (greatest of all time), definitely they are the greatest of their own times! I must be really “cray” (crazy) to write this blog post, and I just hope I have “killed it” (done well), otherwise my young colleagues may accuse me of being a tired “boomer” (referring to those born pre-1965), while I will have to remind them that I am actually GenX…just one generation before them!

The Goa sojourn

 

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Last week, we flew into a weepy Goa. It was past midnight, and the world outside the aircraft window was dark, interspersed with dense, white, cumulonimbus, which obscured the city below. We were descending rapidly and I craved a sight of the cheery lights of civilization. Instead, I was bent near double, the seat belt so tight against my waist that it anchored me to a shaky reality. My head spun in many interesting ways as the aircraft shuddered and bucked with the immense battle it was waging with the elements. Finally, finally, we landed.

Sanjay, the security guard and Man Friday at the complex in Vagator had asked me earlier in the day, “Yahaan toh red alert hai, aap aa rahein hain kya?” My two previously planned trips had been cancelled at the nth minute, and my longing for Goa had deepened into an obsession. Vagator in Goa is our second home, and a place I love deeply. I had looked forward to visiting Goa during the Diwali break so much that even wild horses, or as it turns out, a cyclone, couldn’t have kept me away. I had replied to Sanjay, “Bilkul aa rahein hain”, superstitiously crossing my fingers.

It was rather freak weather for this time of the year, though when we landed it was a suspiciously dry Goan night. We reached home to no power, a backyard in shambles,  with uprooted plantain trees. It was a sad sight. It takes some effort to grow these trees. With the help of inverter driven lights, we assessed our home. Except for a pesky lizard which had taken refuge above the main door, there was no other damage. The lizard we soon drove away, though Sachin was sad to see it go. Lizards keep all other insects out, was his sage counsel which I indignantly ignored. He’s always had a thing for reptiles.

I was wide awake, though it was well past two in the morning. I sat in my familiar patio while the rain, which now came down in torrents, lashed the house, and the trees swayed drunkenly. I greedily breathed in the clean air, forcing my body to slow down.  Have you noticed, nights in cities are never ever completely dark? I could make out the faint outline of the other villas, and the little path snaking away in front of me. I was alone in the solitude of that world.  It was the most peaceful I had felt in a long while.

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A view from the house

In the morning, monkeys came visiting. I took photos, while my brave son cautioned from the safety of the patio that they were quite likely to grab my phone! The security guards were mighty miffed. Monkeys damage the trees, and while hopping from roof to roof, dislodge the tiles. But for us, monkeys were a novelty and we tracked them till they vanished over the fence.

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This was the best shot I could manage of our energetic visitor who left some broken tiles in his wake!

In Vagator we behave like locals. Unselfconsciously so. We trade banter with the local restauranteur, and buy our staples from the store next door. The vegetable vendor gives us discounts on the fruits we buy, in the happiness of seeing us after a long while (or so he claims). Whatever, it makes us feel all warm and fuzzy and happy to be here. We often go out wearing whatever we are wearing, and our shades. It matters to no one that we are not dressed to the hilt. Oh, the freedom of it all!

Vagator may be in North Goa, but for long it was the peripheral cousin to the more happening Calangute, Anjuna and Baga. Yet, this also means that it attracted less crowd which admittedly added to its charm. Lately, things have changed. The main Vagator beach has been usurped by outfits offering all manner of water sports, much like the other popular beaches. I have no quarrel with that, we just walk further down the long beach which is more deserted, for our dose of vitamin sea. My son enjoys Goa the beach bum way. He has to be dragged out of the sea with the direst of threats. Back home, after he’s streaked the house with wet mud, we often settle down for a game of Uno or Poker. But this is the extent of our exertions here.

For me, it’s a charmed existence. I do nothing more than sit back with a book or my iPad, and perform the most taxing task – plan the family’s next meal. While I love to whip up breakfast, Sachin and Ishaan insist on eating out for the rest of the meals. It’s so easy toe their line! The choices in Vagator are aplenty. Near to us are the thaali place Goan Spice,  Jaws, Tintin and one of our new favourites – Comida Casseira.

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This boy is vlogging while eating his zillionth pizza at Tintin!

The Greek restaurant Thalassa used to be our indulgence, but we have now lost it to Siolim. Go all the way to Siolim? Naah! Sarah Todd’s much acclaimed Antares which had burned down, has reopened in Vagator, but we are yet to visit it. When we feel more energetic, we stir ourselves to visit our other favourites like Ritz Classic in Panjim, Suza Lobo in Calangute and Britto’s in Baga. Post lunch, we often take a walk to the Baskin Robbins outlet near us, whose owner is rather whimsical. When it’s devilishly hot, and we long for that bite of coolness, he shuts down for his siesta. If we are lucky we get our little choice of ice-cream and head home for our siesta!

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All I can think about is that scrumptious seafood salad right in front of me at Comida Casseira!

Truth be told, food forms a big part of our intense attraction for Goa. And of course what Goa stands for – susegad. Goa to me, is a state of being. Being happy, being carefree, just being me. In a perfect world I would live in Vagator. But this is not a perfect world. So all I can do is promise myself to visit this haven as often as I can. I reckon that’s the least I owe myself.

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The peaceful Vagator beach

Working with millennials

I am reminded of the movie The Intern each day I walk into my new office. Barely two months have passed since I joined this firm, and the job is still spit-shiny and sparkling new. I am reminded of The Intern, because the vibe in the office is almost completely millennial. I am no Robert De Niro in my 70s looking for a place to hang out. But my ‘boss’ like De Niro’s boss, is 26, about half my age, if you round off my 46 to the nearest decade, which unfortunately is 50! It’s a testimony to his immense abilities and wisdom that he already has my respect, which I am normally very loath to give to people unless they have truly deserved it.

The millennial work place is a very different planet from the work places I am used to. The last place I worked full-time was at the magazine brought out by an environmental NGO. While the place had the buzz, there was overall, an attitude of world-weariness about the onerous duties of saving this planet. We were all battle worn, or at least pretended to be. People seldom bothered about trivialities like clothes and attire. It was as carelessly prosaic as you can imagine.

After that I joined a magazine which as a colleague put it laconically, had people “past their expiry date”. It was a less cliched way of saying that the office environment was tired, dispirited, and completely unenthused. I loved my work there, but was very soon infected by the lack of any kind of energy. It was a dead environment. By the time I stumbled out of there, I was more a zombie than an active, functioning individual.

So one can imagine the contrast my current environment is. My first week went in just getting acquainted with the various software and programmes that keeps the place buzzing and fine-tuned. The next few weeks have gone in finding my way through the maze of young, younger and youngest colleagues, whose work ethos, frankly, astonishes me. I have been told repeatedly that the millennials believe in work-life balance to the extent that ‘life’ outbalances ‘work’. But I find that is not wholly true. The millennials work hard, and are very focussed about their work. There is carefully cultivated bonhomie, but their focus is razor sharp. They are near ruthless in achieving their targets, seniority and experience (of others) be damned.

It seriously doesn’t matter to them where you are from, what you have done before, and your general ‘history’. It’s not rudeness or indifference, it stems more from utter professionalism which sees an individual as a whole instead of a part of an extraneous whole. In my earlier jobs all my colleagues knew within the fortnight my husband’s profession, and my entire antecedents. It was a given that one would be asked probing questions, and one just answered them. At my current work place, I think my young colleagues barely know that I have a kid, let alone anything else. I find it strange, but truth speaking, quite liberating! One starts with a clean slate, which is not a chance one always gets, is it? So only the work I do from now on, actually matters. And since everyone is giving their best, I have to do the same. And that alone is so very refreshing. To work alongside people who are the brightest and the best, in the hope that it will also bring out the best in me.

So, armed with my golden laptop and a will-do attitude, I have launched into my ‘second’ career! The learning curve is so steep that I sometimes wonder at my audacity in shaking myself out of my comfort zone. But then age is just a number, isn’t it, though my sluggish metabolism and aching limbs beg to differ!

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My July List of Shows to Watch

Good Omens (Amazon Prime): After Fleabag, this is a show I will most highly recommend. Based on the book, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies by Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, this is an outrageously funny and wicked series. The premise is simple. Armageddon is scheduled to occur on Earth within a week, the Anti-Christ has been born, and Heaven and Hell are primed and ready, as this epochal event will finally decide the supremacy of one of them. But thwarting these fine plans of God and Satan are their respective representatives on Earth – Angel (played by Michael Sheen) and Demon Crawley (played by David Tennant). These two who have known each other for more than 6,000 years, have struck a rather good rapport, complete with banter, sarcasm, and dare I say it, ‘bromance’! They have seen each other through thick and thin since Adam and Eve, and every historical event since. They have rescued each other from sticky situations, and in the process, have also got mighty comfortable living among humans, and are rather loathe to give that up. Hence, their plan to thwart Armageddon, and try and together influence the Anti-Christ, a boy growing up peacefully in a village (due to a hilarious mixup), to become a fine, balanced young man. When the day of Armageddon finally arrives, matters come to a head, but Angel and Demon have the last laugh.

For me, the best part of Good Omens is the chemistry between the goody-goody, naive, and eager-to-please ‘Angel’ Michael Sheen, and the arrogant, yet heart-in-the-right-place swagger of ‘Demon’ David Tennant. If you have seen Broadchurch then you will know Tennant as detective Alec Hardy, and believe me, it requires some leap of imagination to connect him to this loose-limbed, utterly cynical Demon Crawley. They are brilliant actors, brilliantly cast. Not that there is anything to cavil about the rest of the cast. Jon Hamm (Don Draper of Mad Men) as Archangel Gabriel is deliciously ironic and masterful, and Frances McDormand as God and the narrator for the series, is outstanding. In fact, the narrator is as much the star as the story and the  actors. Do not miss this one for anything.

Chernobyl (Hotstar): As the name suggests, this series is a docu-drama based on the April 26, 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power station near Pripyat, Ukraine, with was then part of the Soviet Union. It’s a gripping re-enactment of the precise events – man-made and scientific – which led to this horrific accident, in which many lost their lives, and thousands more had to deal with radiation-related illnesses. A large swathe of area around the power station is still an abandoned, exclusion zone, and likely to be for the foreseeable future. The series highlights the work of all those who responded to this accident, and all those who tried to cover up, including the State of Soviet Union, then headed by Gorbachev, which lied to the international community about the magnitude, and the cause of this accident. This series is a gripping thriller, and you will be most tempted to binge watch the series. In a departure from the usual, the actors all speak English, with no particularly local accent. A refreshing change indeed.

Homecoming (Amazon Prime): I saw Julia Roberts’s name on the cast of this series and decided to watch it. This is a thriller in a sense, as we remain tantalisingly close to discovering what happened at the Homecoming Transitional Support Centre run by the Geist group in the US, which exists ostensibly to help soldiers transition smoothly into civilian life. The place has counsellors, and all the other facilities expected of such a place. Julia Roberts is a counsellor too. But in the present, when the movie begins, she’s a waiter at a small cafe, with nary a memory of what exactly it was that she did at Homecoming, and what was her role in a particular incident involving a young veteran. Is Homecoming truly a place of transition into civilian life, or does it have a more sinister purpose? Quite a gripping series.

Nothing to Hide (Netflix): Ever since I watched The Chalet and Call My Agent, two thoroughly entertaining French series, I have been on the lookout for more French shows to watch. Nothing to Hide is about four couples and a single friend who meet up for dinner at one of their houses. As the evening begins, an impromptu rule is made – everyone will surrender their phones and any message or call that comes on any of the phones, will be shared with everyone. Some resist this, but soon, all phones are piled up in the centre of the table. Well, one can imagine the confusion and tragic-comic situations that ensue. Some truths are revealed, some lives unravel, some lies upturned. But was it a real game? Certainly, a lovely watch on a rainy day.

Hamid (Netflix): India’s Kashmir has many, many untold stories. Lately, a few movies have been made highlighting the truth of life in Kashmir, without being preachy. One such is Hamid. It’s told from the point of view of an eight-year-old boy, Hamid, whose father, like many Kashmiri men, has vanished when he stepped out of their house to buy a pair of batteries. The mother (played ably by Rasika Dugal), joins the unrelenting ranks of the Kashmiri ‘half-widows’, women whose husbands have disappeared, with no confirmation of whether they are alive or dead. These widows’ lives are defined by daily visits to police stations and check-points, in the hope of some information, some glimmer of hope. Meanwhile, Hamid decides to contact Allah and dials a number, which happens to belong to an Indian Army officer! Their conversations are hilarious, yet poignant, and reflect the conundrums on both sides of the conflict. A true gem of a movie. You won’t be dry-eyed by the end of it. I was also left with the yearning to somehow magically wave a wand and make it all right for everyone in that troubled state.