The return of the native

The shows I have watched and loved in recent times, like The Outlander, Game of Thrones, and now, Good Omens, are all based on books. Books that I haven’t read. Which is an unusual thing for me.

Back then, I had already read the books on which a movie or show was based. I especially remember watching the BBC series Pride & Prejudice, and re-connecting with the beloved characters of Mr.Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett. Over time, I watched Rebecca, Guns of Navrone, The Godfather, the Lord of the Ring series, Sense and Sensibility, Jane EyreThe Jungle Book, the Agatha Christie series, Gone with the Wind, To Kill a Mocking Bird, even The Good Earth…well, you get the drift. The movies were like coming home to a familiar, beloved story, just with enhanced colour and drama.

But then, earlier, I devoured books at a frenetic pace. Today, I devour content on the web at a frenetic pace! As a result, I realise much to my dismay, that I have fallen behind with books. I realised this with the Game of Thrones.

Nearly a decade ago when I was introduced to GoT by Sachin, I got hooked. It was almost an addiction. I couldn’t wait to devour each bloody, violent, often incestuous, utterly exhausting episode. After watching season one, I was so smitten that I couldn’t wait to read the books.

It was altogether a peculiar feeling to not have read the book/s on which this series was based. I was very willing and eager to embrace George R.R. Martin, his bearded self and all. But what a let down! I just didn’t and couldn’t get his style of writing. I did persevere some, but gave it up as a lost cause, instead waiting with the exaggerated impatience of a true fan for the next season to stream. I was struck by the thought that if I had happened upon the books first, I would never have bothered to watch the series. Now, what a tragedy that would have been…!

Then take The Outlander, another lovely show on Netflix, which I watched at a friend’s recommendation, and then realised that this too was based on a book series by Diana Gabaldon. I hastily borrowed the books from Shemaroo library, and devoured the first two books. Then, I stopped abruptly. It’s a well-written series, but I was now, willy nilly, more loyal to the screen! I wanted to maintain the suspense of the show.

Indeed, I have traversed a long way. Reading had always been my thing. But in the last couple of years, the tide has slowly, but inexorably, turned. What still flummoxes me is that I had not even heard of  some of these books or the authors till the shows came along! And there is a vestige of sadness at this state of affairs.

The last straw, so to speak, is the outrageously funny series Good Omens I have just finished watching on Amazon Prime. It’s based on the book, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies by Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and though their names were familiar, I had not read a single book by either. Good Omens is one of the most entertaining shows I have watched in recent times, particularly because of its central cast – Michael Sheen and David Tennant. They are absolutely brilliant as Angel and Demon, respectively, trying to prevent Armageddon on earth. One of the highlights of the show is the ‘bromance’ between the loose-limbed, arrogantly cynical Tennant, and the goody-goody, wholesome Sheen.

Good Omens
The good omen which has re-ignited my reading 

Post this show, I am utterly ashamed at my in-the-doldrums reading habit. So, I have decided to pick it up again, starting with Good Omens, of course! In a nod to the times we live in, as also to eyes that aren’t as ‘powerful’ as before, I have downloaded the Audibles app to ‘read’ this book. So if you see me pounding the treadmill (okay, I walk briskly, not pound…it just seemed more dramatic, is all), or walking with my headphones on, you can assume I am ‘reading’ a book, all thanks to this show, a good omen indeed!

Paradise found

I stood at the window of our apartment in Perast, on the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro, and gazed at the serene bay, sparkling in the winter sun. Framed by the hills beyond, and little fishing boats bobbing in the bay, it was breathtakingly beautiful. That was the moment I lost my heart to Perast.

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We had landed in Podgorica (erstwhile Titograd), capital of Montenegro, on a cold November morning, and rented a car to drive down to Perast, two hours away. The road snaked around to the sparkling Boka Kotorska or the Bay of Kotor of the Adriatic Sea, towns around which, like Kotor and Perast, are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

We arrived in Perast, a one-street town hugging the bay, and was it crowded! Tourists, mostly from Dubrovnik and Kotor, visit between 12 noon and 3 pm. After 3 pm, it is near deafening, but blissful silence.

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On our first morning, we walked to the store near Skolje restaurant, to buy bread, milk, and cold cuts for a hearty breakfast. Wearing our warm jackets, we breathed in the crisp air, while the local fishermen motored off in their boats, and we befriended the stray cats.

Returning to our apartment, I put together our breakfast, taking pleasure in spending time in the quaint kitchen, which had its own, tiny cellar.

Perast Apt Dining

The apartment was a tastefully done up place, where we lingered for hours. Its stone floors, and old world charm had us completely captivated.The chair swing creaked alarmingly, yet provided a cosy, soporific perch, from which to contemplate life in all its swirling insanity. Utterly charmed by the view from the apartment, I spent many hours in the window seat, looking out to the bay, thinking many thoughts, occasionally reading a book.

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Perast Apt Seat

Later, we walked through town, taking in its baroque stone palaces, and churches. The street is just a mile long, but is interspersed with lively outdoor cafes, piers with white fishing boats, and locals going about their lives. The Bay of Kotor has been occupied since antiquity, and it shows in the beautiful churches and monasteries that dot the land. The most prominent in Perast is the Church of St. Nicholas with its 55-metre tall bell tower, where the busts of Perast’s famous sailors like Marko Martinvic, adorn the rectangular courtyard. We headed for the museum opposite the pier. Located in the 17thcentury Bujovic Palace, the museum tells the story of the town’s maritime history, with swords and daggers, uniforms, and models of ships, on display.

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Afternoon arrived, and we chose Café Armonia in the centre of Perast, for lunch, and relaxed in its outdoors seating, watching the sea gulls land for tidbits, the resident cat scrounging under our table for crumbs.

Seafood is popular, with every restaurant offering fish, shrimp, calamari, squid, octopus, and clams. We had lovely sea food salads and squid ink pasta, and marvelled at the sheer freshness of the produce. The locals are rather proud of their produce, its freshness and organic origins.

Seafood salad

Squid ink pasta

We hired a boat and its laconic boatman Mirko for 5 euros per person, to take us to the island of the Lady of the Rocks or the Gospa od Skrpjela, about 10 minutes away. Legend has it that local seamen used to lay stones at this spot when returning from a successful voyage, and on the island thus created, a chapel was built in 1630, later enlarged into a church.

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We returned from the island, and chose to walk the length of Perast.

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Night falls early, and with some abruptness, in Perast’s winter. Sitting at the pier, we saw a well-lit cruise ship crossing the bay in front of Perast, startlingly close, and realised that this was a shipping channel, of course! The serene, placid bay hides its secrets well.

After spending a few blissful days in the cocoon of our new-found love for Perast, we decided to stir ourselves and visit the medieval town of Kotor, less than half an hour away. The San Giovanni Castle or St. John’s Castle whose ramparts circle the old town, was built between the 9th and 19th centuries, and beckoned us. Located 250 m above sea level, with 1,350 steps leading up to it, we had heard it was a steep, but an easy climb, and cost 8 euros per head.

A local insistently pointed to another path snaking up, which we took, rather puzzled. This turned out to be a serendipitous choice, as the gently sloping path was easier than the steep steps, and more picturesque. Lined with pomegranate bushes, the path took us past the ruins of the St. George Church, while providing us with jaw-dropping views of the Bay of Kotor.

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Soon we climbed through a large opening in the castle wall, and looked down at the Bay of Kotor, caught in a breathtaking tapestry of sunlight, shadows, and a white cruise ship docked in the stunning blue of the bay. The hike had taken us about an hour and a half.

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We descended the steep steps to the old town of Kotor, whose cobbled paths, carved gates, terracotta tiled roofs, and narrow alleyways, are redolent of its medieval past. Kotor’s old town is a warren of narrow alleys with many squares named after their use in the times gone by – Square of Weapons, Square of Flour, Square of Milk, et al.

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The main landmarks are the Cathedral of St. Tryphon with its frescoes dating to the 14thcentury, St. Luke’s Church, which has survived earthquakes, and has two altars, the Maritime Museum, and the Pimo Palace.

Impatient to get back to Perast, we waved goodbye to Kotor. We stopped at the legendary, and charming Konoba Catovica Mlini restaurant in Morinj for dinner. A cosy restaurant, it has hosted the likes of actor Ralph Fiennes (a huge favourite of mine), and the famous tennis player from neighbouring Croatia, Novak Djokovic, we were chuffed to note.

Breaking bread

In the pitch dark night, we returned home to an utterly still Perast. I realised that I had never felt such peace and serenity. I thought this yearning for peace was a mid-life marker, till I heard my 12-year-old declaring Perast as his most favourite place in the world. How could a young boy have found his heart’s yearning in Perast, I wondered, bemused. Yet, I got him. Perast is stunning, and as poet Lord Byron put it, the Kotor bay is indeed “the most beautiful encounter of land and sea”, in which Perast is still a largely unknown gem in the Adriatic Sea. I wished with all my heart that I could claim a small part of this paradise for myself, forever. In my heart, I had.

How to get there

You can fly into Montenegro’s Podgorica or Tivat airports from any European city, or fly Turkish Airlines into Podgorica. From Podgorica and Tivat, you can rent a car or take the bus into Kotor and Perast. We rented a car for the duration of our stay in Montenegro.

 

My Summer list of top shows on streaming sites

 

  1. Fleabag (Series, Amazon Prime): This is my pick of this year so far, a two season series, which is a tremendous rule breaker on several counts. Phoebe Waller-Bridge (also the writer for the TV adaptation of the immensely popular Killing Eve), has created, written and acted in this series as a highly promiscuous, single, young woman, identified simply as Fleabag, whose way of coping with a tragedy is to use sex, and lots of it, pretty indiscriminately too. This not just affects her relationships with men, but also makes her an object of ridicule to her father, her sister, as also her Godmother (played so fiendishly by one of my favourites Olivia Colman of Broadchurch). Fleabag’s at heart a very sensitive person, who is alive to others’ thoughts and perceptions, yet, isn’t averse to poking fun at herself, in an almost self-deprecating way. She does this by what’s called breaching the ‘fourth wall’ – she makes the audience her ally, turning to the camera to say her asides to every evolving situation. Her asides are hilarious, heart-warming, and brutally critical and honest. And no one notices it, till the Hot Priest she meets in Season Two. (A number of characters are named thus, by their qualities or personality. Another is named Hot Misogynist!) Hot Priest’s very Catholicism precludes sex between them, despite their very evident mutual attraction. They become friends, discussing everything, while drinking gin and tonic. Hot Priest has chosen this calling after many trials in life, and is very sensitive to Fleabag’s vulnerability, which he tries to genuinely understand. He’s the only one who actually notices her speaking to the camera, in a way suggesting, he’s the only person so far who has actually noticed Fleabag. Phoebe Waller-Bridge has done such a tremendous job of conveying her confusion, and frustration, amid flashbacks of the tragedy which still haunts her. Will Fleabag and Hot Priest have sex? Does Fleabag finally find her meaningful relationship? The chemistry between Fleabag and Hot Priest played by Andrew Scott (Jim Moriarty from Sherlock, who would have thought?) is red hot, and very believable. Do not miss this one for anything.
  2. Goliath (Series, Amazon Prime): First, a confession. I love Billy Bob Thornton! We really have to stop seeing him only as Angeline Jolie’s ex. He’s such a brilliant actor. I loved him in Fargo, and here he’s done a superb job as a lawyer, who has co-founded a hugely successful law firm, but is now out of luck, and spends his days in a bar, while living in a motel. He is cajoled into taking up a case against the biggest client of his erstwhile Firm, which leads to many dangerous situations, and ultimately, resolution. Thornton, with his unkempt hair, that faint twinkle in the eye, and the cool smirk, can convince you of anything. Any moment you expect him to go OTT, but he never does. Season Two is more vicious and gory, and I didn’t dig it as much. But watch Season One for sure.
  3. Sex Education (Series, Netflix): Prima facie, this is about a bunch of  high schoolers in England, whose only obsession seems to have loads of sex, and lose virginity at the earliest. The protagonist is a teenager who is sexually untested and awkward, despite having a sex therapist for a mom. Yet, inadvertently, he and a friend set up a clandestine sex therapy clinic in school. What could have just been a voyeuristic story, becomes so much more, including a funny, whacky commentary on how we perceive each other, the cliches we swallow so eagerly, and why goodness is still a valued commodity.
  4. the Upside (Movie, Amazon Prime): This has Bryan Cranston as the protagonist who is a millionaire quadriplegic, paralysed from the neck down. After interviewing many candidates, he finally appoints a recently paroled con, who predictably, and after some false starts, helps Cranston live a full life. This is a done to death storyline. What makes it watchable is Cranston, who has played this role so convincingly,  dramatically opposite the role of a chemistry teacher–turned-meth-producer he played in Breaking Bad. Nicole Kidman acts as Cranston’s assistant, but she is rather under-used, in my opinion.
  5. Yes, Prime Minister (Series, Amazon Prime): This old BBC series is full of laughs and good, old fashioned, British humour. The way the British can poke fun at themselves, I can’t really imagine anyone else doing with the same subtlety and good-humoured sarcasm. And the language, always, the language, makes you want to just keep listening to them speak, on loop! I always have an episode downloaded and kept for lean times!
  6. Sommersby (Movie, Amazon Prime): A man returns from war after seven years, after he is presumed long dead. He finds his wife on the verge of committing herself to another guy, and the lands in disarray. He resumes life with his wife, convinces the villagers to take up tobacco farming, as also gives opportunities to black people to own land. How does this go down with the rest? Why does his wife see him differently? Is he even what he claims to be? Richard Gere and Jodie Foster are really good as the couple with good chemistry, who must make a conflicting decision, eventually.
  7. Dirty Dancing (Remake, Amazon Prime): This is a very creditable remake of the original Patrick Swayze movie, about a young girl, an inherent do-gooder with a very high moral code, who falls in love with her dance instructor during a stay at a holiday resort. In the process, she kindles in him a deep need to do better in life. The song “I’ve had the time of my life” is still one of the most iconic numbers. The remake is very well done and a definite must-watch. Nostalgia at its best.
  8. Wine Country (Movie, Netflix): A bunch of women get together for a weekend in wine country Napa Valley to celebrate one of them turning 50. In the process, they face up to each others’ weaknesses, and home truths some have being avoiding. The movie has some of the best names from Saturday Night Live like Tina Fey and Maya Rudolph, though Tina Fey has a very negligible role. You almost wonder what she’s doing here. It’s a good watch, on a slow day.
  9. Spotlight (Movie, Netflix): If you haven’t seen this film about one of the biggest exposes of the Catholic Church in the US, then rush and watch it. Starring Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo, this is about the ‘Spotlight’ bunch of investigative reporters of Boston Globe newspaper, who unearthed the multiple child sex abuse cases by Roman Catholic priests in the Boston area.
  10. Primal Fear (Movie, Netflix): An altar boy is found running away from a murder scene, covered in blood. Did he kill the Archbishop? His lawyer played by Richard Gere thinks his client is innocent. The story keeps you on edge, now you believe the altar boy is the murderer, and now you don’t. Watch it till the last second. That’s all I will reveal!

The campaigner

My 12-year-old is hankering after a phone. We haven’t yet succumbed to his entreaties. I  watch him with admiration as he comes up with the most ingenious reasons why he must possess a phone, even if not a smartphone. The arguments run the gamut of reasons, from the emotional, and the practical, to peer approval. For long I had thought that Ishaan was a babe-in-the-woods, compared to his peers, but after listening to him the past few months, I am relieved. The boy certainly has his wits about him!

Actually, this is not the first campaign he has run. In this season of elections, that is an appropriate metaphor, isn’t it? The first campaign was for a PS4 or the PlayStation4, for the uninitiated. I was dead opposed to it. Sachin’s counter argument was, most of his peers have it, and how long can we keep him away from these gadgets? I wasn’t convinced.

It was at the O’Coqueiro restaurant in Porvorim in Goa, that Ishaan finally won his PS4. I remember that moment. We were hungry and tired from our journey from Mumbai, and home in Vagator was still half an hour away. O’Coqueiro is an old favourite, and we stopped here for dinner. We had ordered prawn curry and rice, chicken cafreal, and prawns in butter garlic sauce, and as we waited for our food to arrive, Ishaan started a monologue. After a few seconds, I perked up and sat up in my chair to better focus on what he was saying.

He had launched into a passionate rant about the PS4. He milked emotions for all it was worth, citing the ridicule he faces from friends, the bullying he is sometimes subject to, and the utter joy he would get from such an acquisition. At one point, he had tears of self-pity rolling down his cheeks. This was a tour de force of a performance. I was stunned. Here was a son, whom I didn’t quite recognise. Sachin struggled to maintain a poker face, while I tried my best to look empathetic. Finally, he came to a stop. When I sighed at the end of his rant, and looked at him without a word, was the moment I think Ishaan and I both realised that the battle for the PS4 was won!

The rest was just semantics. Of course, I did my mom thing and put in place a system – no PS4 on school days, no PS4 even on weekends, only on long weekends and vacations…you get the drift. It’s another matter that he tries to convince us every weekend, that since the weekend begins from Friday after school, every weekend should technically be considered a long one!

But a gadget is a devil of a master. One gadget only engenders a longing for more of its kind. The dust had barely settled on the PS4, when the hankering after a phone began, a year ago. Why a phone? I asked Ishaan. He argued it’s the most handy communication device for him in case he is: 1. Kidnapped (to which I said they would take his phone before they took him) 2. He is in an emergency (kidnapping apparently is not an emergency), 3. When he wants to just speak to me (I was deeply touched, but not convinced), and the best of all, 4. He doesn’t have to harass us for our respective phones! (I was sorely tempted, especially with this last argument.)

But saner counsel has so far prevailed. Sachin has instead, got him an iPod, which looks almost like a phone. Together they have loaded it with music. The iPods of today bear no resemblance to the iPods of an earlier generation. Now they are wi-fi enabled, have cameras, and except voice calls and WhatsApp, Ishaan can do everything else, including watch videos. The other day, I saw Sachin and Ishaan peering at a Springsteen video on the small  iPod screen. Have we solved for one problem, just to create another…time will tell!

Badla…or The Invisible Guest?

Just last week I watched Contratiempo or The Invisible Guest, a Spanish thriller on Netflix. I wish I hadn’t. For, Badla, the newly released Hindi film starring Amitabh Bachchan and Taapse Pannu, which is based on Contratiempo, would then have been a virgin experience for me. I watched Badla last night, and came away with an overwhelming sense of deja vu. Not because I wasn’t aware that this was a remake of the Spanish flick, but because it isn’t just a remake, Badla is a fame by frame, dialogue for dialogue copy of Contratiempo.

Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t disappointed by the story, the cast or the acting. Badla is a genuine thriller. From word Go, Amitabh Bachchan, who acts as the protagonist Taapsee Pannu’s defence lawyer, and Taapsee herself, engage your attention. Prima facie, the story is this: Married accused Naina Sethi (Pannu) is accused of the murder of her paramour Arjun (Tony Luke) in a hotel room, which was securely locked from the inside, suggesting there was no way a third person could have committed the crime and escaped undetected. Naina insists she was knocked off by a blow to her head, and when she came to, her lover was lying in a pool of blood, dead. Naina’s lawyer hires Badal Gupta (Bachchan), a defence lawyer with an ‘only-wins’ track record, to help deconstruct what happened in that hotel room.

In the intense interaction between Naina and Badal, layers are slowly peeled off, to reveal many possible ‘truths’, and one more murder, albeit with a missing body. Naina’s many faces are revealed, and this has to be among Taapsee’s best roles, almost equal to the role she essayed in Pink. She is by turns, innocent, crafty, desperate. Bachchan is perfect as Badal Gupta. The steel in him comes to the fore when he’s calling Naina’s bluff, while at other times he’s the most understanding lawyer an accused can ever have. Till the last second of the movie, the suspense is built, and it explodes in a quiet crescendo, across literally, an expanse of space, leaving you stunned at the reveal.

But only if you hadn’t, like me, watched The Invisible Guest already. I knew the story and who the likely accused was/were and the big reveal, before I went to watch Badla. I was seriously fine with that since I was genuinely curious about how Director Sujoy Ghosh had handled this movie. His Kahaani was a stunning film, and he has the deft touch when it comes to suspenseful thrillers.

Ghosh could have gone two ways – One, loosely base the film on Contratiempo, while completely localising the story, and maybe giving it his own creative touches. Or two, do a complete copy of the original film. Unfortunately, he chose the latter option. And excelled at it! Except for a couple of stray references to the epic Mahabharatha, there is nothing, absolutely nothing original in this movie. The movie is also set in the same European winter as Contratiempo. Badla is thus, a Hindi copy of the Spanish original. To be sure, the director has given credit to the Spanish film. But couldn’t he have taken the effort to localise the story a lot more?

My advice to you – do not watch Contratiempo before Badla. And if you do, be prepared to watch Contratiempo a second time. Just in Hindi, this time round!

MyGoodEarth rating: 4.5/5 (pre-Contratiempo), 3.5/5 (post-Contratiempo)

 

 

Dil maange mor…inga!

A few days ago, I was at a supermarket in Matunga, where I saw a tin of ‘Moringa powder’ on the shelves. It said this was a ‘nourishing and detoxifying nutrient-rich superfood’. The irony of it? About a hundred metres from that shop was the vegetable market, where fresh moringa or drumstick leaves are sold in bundles, along with an envious assortment of greens like dill leaves, fenugreek leaves, and all manner of spinach leaves. And here were the moringa leaves, dried and powdered to be used as what, a topping on a pizza, or cereal, or to be consumed mixed in water? What a shame, I thought.

Moringa powder
The ‘miracle’ moringa powder!

From my childhood I have been accustomed to a wide diversity of greens in my diet. Though we are meat eaters, vegetarian food played a major role in our lives, as my mother, who hails from Palakkad in Kerala, is a strict vegetarian. We celebrated the greens with gusto. We sauteed the wide variety of leaves with mustard seeds and urad dal, incorporated the greens in a lentil based curry called erisseri, often made adai, a kind of dosa made with a blend of a variety of dals, horsegram, and the greens. You get the drift…the greens were everywhere. There was a special place in my mom’s heart for the drumstick or moringa leaves, as it’s considered especially beneficial for health.

But these greens were not glamorous. For instance, one would not make the moringa leaf dal or adai for guests. Guests would be served spicy sambhar, or a palate tingling fish curry, or a biriyani. My mom would unleash the entire sadya feast even, but the greens didn’t play much of a role on special occasions.

Over the years I lost touch with these leaves. I learnt to make paalak paneer, paalak erisseri. But I completely lost touch with many varieties of spinach and the moringa leaves. Most markets in Colaba and Lower Parel  stocked the whole drumstick, but not the leaves.

When ‘Moringa’ was getting touted about a year ago as the ultimate superfood, I was intrigued. I didn’t immediately recognise the moringa as the ‘muringa’ of my childhood. When I recognised it for it was, I was instantly flooded with a longing. I headed to the Matunga market and brought home bundles of it.

I made it in all forms – in adai, in dal, and as a bhaaji with potatoes. My son I discovered, loved the adais, when it was served to him hot, straight from the griddle, with dollops of homemade ghee! I am not an advocate of using excessive amounts of ghee, but I do believe that ghee must be part of one’s diet, especially a child’s.

Thus, did moringa and other greens make a comeback into my life. It was not just the return of these greens, but of some of the traditional recipes, which would otherwise have got lost in the mists of time. If I can spend time making intricate lasagna and spaghetti, and bake pineapple upside-down cakes, I can surely spend time making foods which are traditional and good for my family’s health, can’t I? At least once or twice a week? Now, a lasagna may triumph over a moringa dish in taste any day, but I think we owe it to our roots to establish some of the tastes that we grew up with, on the palates of our children. It is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, every day, we would be negating and ultimately forgetting, all that we grew up with.

I know that I have already let go of many traditions which were followed by my mother. Such can be the casualties of modern, urban living. I have made peace with it, as frankly, not all old rituals are necessary or desirable. But given the amount of junk and fast foods available today, it is nice to hark back to the past, and try and bridge the gap between eating only for pleasure, and eating for both health and pleasure. What do you think?

Recipe

Potato-moringa bhaaji

(I take about 3-4 medium potatoes for about 3 cups of moringa leaves, but this ratio can be altered as per one’s taste.)

Ingredients: Moringa leaves, potatoes, mustard seeds, jeera, whole red chilli, curry leaves, urad dal (gota), chana dal, green chillies, garlic, turmeric powder, salt, oil.

Method: Separate the leaves only, leaving the stalk. Wash the leaves well and drain in a colander. Boil potatoes (2-3 whistles), and cube. Don’t overcook the potatoes.

In about a tablespoon of oil, sputter 1 tsp mustard seeds and jeera. Add 1 whole red chilli cut into two, a few curry leaves, 2 tsp urad dal (gota), and 2 tsp chana dal, and fry till golden.

Then add chopped green chillies and chopped garlic.

Fry for a minute, then add the boiled and cubed potatoes. Add turmeric powder and salt. Toss it a bit and then add the moringa leaves. No need to cut it, just add the leaves as is. Fry it till the leaves shrivel. (Don’t over fry it as then the nutrition will be lost).

Have this with plain rice or rotis, and piping hot dal. Nutrition in every bite!

My top 15 most mushy movies ever!

  1. Dirty Dancing – What a lovely movie about innocent and beautiful love, shared by Patrick Swayze’s and Jennifer Grey’s characters. The couple’s dance to the number I’ve had the time of my life is an iconic one, and is a fitting celebration of this beautiful movie.
  2. Titanic – Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet winged their way into our hearts with this one about doomed love on a doomed ship. Yet, you are left with a beautiful feeling of love triumphing, above all.  Celine Dion has lost oodles of weight lately, and we will never stop losing our hearts to My heart will go on
  3. Pretty Woman – Richard Gere became an iconic romantic hero with this movie about a prostitute and a millionaire businessman finding love with each other, despite many social hurdles. Most of my generation can hum Pretty woman walking down the street…. all the way till the end:-)
  4. An Indecent Proposal – Here, I won’t talk about the love shared by Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson’s characters, which ultimately triumphs, but rather the near silent, but almost desperate love that the oh-so-dashing and handsome Robert Redford has for Moore’s character. It’s actually two parallel love stories. Most of us wished it was Redford who had triumphed, though!
  5. Gone With The Wind – What can one say except that this is possibly one of the few movies which almost outshone the book it’s based on. The clashes between the dashing Rhett Butler and the feisty and beautiful Scarlett O’Hara has made my heart skip many beats!  Set against the American Civil War, the movie became famous for its line, ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn’. Clark Gable who played Butler, was the stuff that a woman’s fantasies are made of!
  6. Ghost – Patrick Swayze in a movie? I will take him in any role, even as a ghost! This movie has one of the most romantic scenes of all times – Demi Moore and Swayze are electrifying!
  7. The Notebook – It’s a sad love story, which brings tears to your eyes and twists your heart up into many knots. A young couple, divided by class, fall in love and are torn apart, only to connect after many twists and turns. Ryan Gosling and the pretty Rachel McAdams share a lovely chemistry in this.
  8. Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen’s iconic book made legends of the main characters Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Our hearts longed for the principled yet brooding and taciturn Mr. Darcy – he with his pride and she with her prejudices. The Keira Knightley and Mathew Macfadyen version is a good one, but the best adaptation of this novel has to be the six-part BBC series which starred Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. The lake scene where Firth strips, set many hearts racing!
  9. The Godfather Part III – This movie was panned badly by the critics, and with reason. The plot is shallow, the execution very poor. But powerhouse actors like Al Pacino, Andy Garcia and Diane Keaton rescue this somewhat clumsy movie from utter failure. For me, the passionate love depicted between Andy Garcia and Sofia Coppola’s characters, shown as cousins in this movie, is very moving. The bleak longing in Garcia’s eyes at this forbidden love, especially after he decides to give her up, is the highlight of the movie. Their romance is utterly believable.
  10. Notting Hill – “I am just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her’, is a classic line as far as movie lines go. This movie with Julia Roberts as the acclaimed movie star, who is attracted to a book shop owner Hugh Grant (he with his boyish, handsome looks and the messy mop of hair falling on his forehead!), makes for a lovely, romantic comedy. Grant as always, is mildly ironic, self-deprecating, and good fun!
  11. Serendipity – A name and number written on a book, reunite two people – John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale – who met years earlier serendipitously, are crazily attracted to each other, but Kate decides to leave it to a book and a dollar note to reunite them! And they do reunite of course. It’s a heartwarming story.
  12. You’ve Got Mail – This was the time when emails were a big deal, Facebook and Insta didn’t exist, and technology had not yet taken over our lives. Meg Ryan, often termed America’s sweetheart, and Tom Hanks star in this lovely David v/s Goliath kind of romantic comedy where Ryan’s tiny bookstore has to shut down because of Hanks’s mega book store chain. Considering today book stores big and small are downing their shutters, this movie is bitter sweet indeed!
  13. The Wedding Singer – This is a sweet love story between Drew Barrymore and such a young Adam Sandler, a wedding singer. She’s engaged to a Casanova, while attracted to the wedding singer. Of course she dumps her Casanova and embraces Sandler. And we all love this happy ending.
  14. The Holiday – This one is completely for the dreamy Valentine’s Day indeed. On a whimsical home exchange plan, Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet find themselves in the other’s home on different continents, where they both meet the love of their lives. When one of the men is the dreamy Jude Law, your heart too does strange things!
  15. Shakespeare in Love – Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes star in this lovely movie about the bard desperately in need of a muse to kickstart his creativity and overcome his enormous writer’s block. Paltrow and Fiennes (he as Shakespeare), are the perfect cast for this romance, which also shows us a different side to the bard.

 

My cup of coffee

 

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Photo credit: Pexels.com

I have been searching for that perfect cup of coffee since aeons. Now, I really shouldn’t be, as I grew up in a South Indian household, with the tantalising smell of filer kaapi (coffee) wafting through the house every morning. We had started out with the traditional, double compartment steel filter, graduating to the electric filter. The electric filter speeded up the process. If earlier we used to drink warm to hot coffee, now it was piping hot.

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South Indian filter coffee is brewed in this

Once I was deemed old enough to drink coffee, I drank it every day. Somehow, my world righted itself when I held that cup of coffee in my hands. It was not just a beverage, but it was the comforting embrace of roots, traditions and habit. That strong, milky, sugary, coffee was just so home!

After marriage I discovered to my utter dismay that my new hubby drank tea in the morning. But I who mocked him, was soon drinking tea myself. Somehow, tea was the easier beverage to make, and I just didn’t have the patience and time to make that cup of filter coffee, just for me. Like so many other small and familiar rituals, this too fell by the wayside. It seemed easier to let go of the old, in the eagerness to embrace the new. Once in a way I cheated by making Bru Instant, which kind of satisfied my coffee soul. (To Nescafe aficionados, I say this – try Bru Instant just once!)

When we moved to Mumbai fifteen years ago, though we lived in Colaba, I made Matunga my own haunt. And I soon acquired a steel filter from Soham store, and the filter coffee powder from Mysore Concerns, both in Matunga. Yet, I rarely brewed it. I was experimenting with varieties of tea by then. My buying the coffee filter was more a cursory salute to the past. Waiting for the decoction to trickle down and then have lukewarm coffee was not my cup of..er, coffee at all. Or so I thought.

This is when Sachin got hit with the Nespresso craze. He acquired the machine and the coffee capsules, which came in their own sleek box, with the different flavours marked out, almost like a jewellery catalogue. Every day, while he fiddled with the Nespresso machine, a half cup of very hot milk, a spoon, and a sachet of Stevia were set on a tray next to the machine. Sachin would pop the coffee capsule into the machine, after much deliberation over which flavour to have that particular morning. It was a grand performance, which Sachin insisted was just about worthy of Nespresso. He achieved coffee nirvana after each such ritual. I think it was more the ritual, and less the beverage, which put him there.

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The Nespresso machine 

I just couldn’t bring myself to like Nespresso. None of the flavours appealed to me. But what it did do was kickstart my coffee yearnings. I started having the filter coffee when I could, and Bru when I was rushed. Since I like my coffee with milk and loads of sugar, I had it infrequently…hitting the 40s does have its downside. I can’t abide the taste of sweeteners like Stevia, Splenda, and I would much rather have coffee with sugar on weekends, rather than with these artificial sweeteners daily.

The advent of Starbucks into Mumbai was a milestone as much for our household, as it was for that august Organisation! Sachin discovered that he could also order a cup of Starbucks coffee through Swiggy, which I found amazingly wasteful. I offered to make him as much coffee as he needed, especially for the late nights up working or watching football on the telly. But of course, he wouldn’t be satisfied with Bru or filter coffee. He soon raided Foodhall and got decaf coffee, which frankly flummoxed me. It wouldn’t load him with caffeine and yet would give him the caffeine kick, he explained to me seriously. A coffee, which really isn’t coffee…hmmm.

Meanwhile, I was having my own palate evolution. Last November, while holidaying in Perast, Montenegro, I discovered by accident, Nescafe’s 1+2 instant coffee, which just needed sugar to be added. I discovered that adding a spoon of milk made it even more delicious. In the wintry cold of those November mornings, it gave me the greatest joy to sit with a cup of that coffee, gazing out to the beautiful Kotor Bay enveloped in pleasing stillness. But I couldn’t source enough of it before we left Montenegro. A search in Mumbai stores didn’t yield that particular combination. It was left to a dear friend to get it for me from Hong Kong, and I enjoy that coffee occasionally.

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The pleasing colour of the filter coffee!

That said, I have realised that my love for filter kaapi will never fade. A trip to Matunga even today means snacking at Mysore Cafe or Madras Cafe, rounding off the meal with piping hot filter coffee served in the steel tumbler and davra. You cool the coffee by pouring it back and forth between the tumbler and the davra from a height, which also generates a pleasing froth. Just look at the rich colour of this wonderful filter kaapi!

Today, one can even find herbal coffee to beat all herbal teas! And as many varieties of coffee as there are probably coffee drinkers, I guess. So the next time I want to drink coffee or Sachin does, I have an array in my house – Bru Instant, Nescafe 1+2, filter coffee, Decaf, Nescafe Gold, Nespresso, even Turkish coffee. If all these fail, I will head to Matunga, while Sachin can fall back on Starbucks, of course.

The dog we sent away

We had a dog called Maui. He was a pure stray, the kind you find roaming the Indian streets. Maui was highly intelligent, highly energetic, also, very aggressive. Yet, or maybe because of these qualities, we had to send him away. A flat in Mumbai is barely enough to hold humans, and if one stretches it, maybe the more domesticated breeds like the Beagle, the Labrador, the Pomeranian, or the Daschhund. These breeds I believe, have over generations got entirely accustomed to living with humans in confined spaces,  acclimatised to being ‘taken’ for walks down. They are conversant with elevator etiquette and wait patiently for it. A free-spirited stray stood no chance against the reputation of such ‘finishing school’ dogs.

The decision to adopt Maui had been an emotional one. Our mixed breed Daschhund, Joey, also an abandoned dog, had died in the summer of 2016. We had adopted him six years earlier. He was found cowering under a bench in a park in Santa Cruz, and an NGO for strays had rescued him. A friend of ours connected to this NGO, convinced us to have a look at Joey. And we who had gone to ‘just look’, returned with Joey in the back seat!

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Joey, Sachin and Ishaan – the happy trio

Thus came Joey into our home. The vet estimated his age at about a year and a half. We took some time to adjust to this new member, though he took to us without any reservations. He formed the closest emotional attachment to Sachin, while I was the primary care giver – of food and walks. He came with some emotional baggage, a result of having been abandoned, perhaps. It manifested in utter hatred for other dogs, and a dislike of kids. Ishaan was the exception. Joey was fiercely loyal to us, and when he passed away, it was like we lost a guardian angel. Sachin and Ishaan took his death very badly, and the house was shrouded in a pall of gloom for many days. I suffered too, even though I had been always more detached.

I knew their campaign for a new pet would start soon, and sure enough, Sachin and Ishaan started to work on me. Much against my wishes, we adopted Maui, six months later. Maui was a stray pup found on the road. He was a very clever, intelligent pup, from the beginning. He was incredibly cute, and had an alertness about him which was astonishing.

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Maui was an incredibly alert pup

We hired a dog trainer, as this time we wanted to tick all the right boxes. He was the trainer’s brightest student, and received many accolades from her. But, we soon realised that his loud bark and charging at people he was suspicious of, didn’t augur well for domestic peace. The staff would tie him up every time the door bell rang, which just made Maui more angry and aggressive. We too couldn’t invest the kind of time needed to train him, as I believe, that persistent training could have overcome genetics. Maui had a special affinity for the garbage bin, and he guarded it jealously, even charging and biting, if necessary, to defend it. When we stepped out, he would shred books on the book shelf. I felt the staff was on the verge of a revolt, and I was not far behind. It was finally enough.

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Like Joey, Maui’s attachment to Sachin was very strong

We knew we would never put him back on the streets. He couldn’t, in all honesty, be given to another household. We had by now realised that he needed a lot of space to vent his excessive energy. That’s when a member of our staff came up with a brilliant solution – send Maui to his village in Ratnagiri, where there was enough space for Maui to frolic. We were initially skeptical, but were soon convinced seeing his enthusiasm. He said his family, which kept cows and buffaloes and hens, didn’t have a dog.

We got Maui neutered. Finally, one find day, a fully outfitted Maui in a new collar and leash, and with his food and water bowl, set out in a car from Mumbai for Malgund village in Ratnagiri. Sachin and Ishaan were very upset, till we started receiving tidings from Malgund. We came to know that the entire village turned up to see this dog brought in such style from the distant metropolis! The name ‘Maui’ (from the movie Moana)  was a bit too much of a tongue-twister for his new masters, and very rapidly he was re-christened ‘Maavi’. Maui took to the village and his new family like ‘to the manor born’. Soon we were sent videos and photos of him chasing cattle, thankfully the family’s cattle, and generally having a most carefree existence possible. He became that family’s watchdog in every sense. All this news pleased me especially, as I had headlined the ‘send Maui away’ effort. That was autumn of 2017.

Though I knew Maui had taken well to his new environs, the guilt stayed with me, and I promised Sachin and Ishaan that we would one day visit him. That opportunity finally presented itself this winter. We decided to go by road to Goa, and took the Chiplun route to Malgund village, where resided Maui. This was also a good opportunity to visit this kind family which had come to our aid.

It’s well-known that dogs never forget a smell. Yet, I was sure Maui wouldn’t remember me, and even if he did, it would be with some rancour. Such was my guilt. I was mentally ready for the ultimate rebuff – that he would turn away from me in disdain while he enthusiastically greeted Sachin and Ishaan. We reached the village in the afternoon, after travelling on the most crater-ridden road I have ever seen. The new highway being built has destroyed all vestige of the previous one. Travel worn and weary, we stepped out of the car to the sound of the most welcome, enthusiastic barking from Maui!

He was tied up in anticipation of our arrival. We went near him, and he went berserk. After leaping on Sachin, he turned to me and lavished me with all his affection. He was ecstatic at meeting us again. I was close to crying. Dear friend, I said to him, forgive me for sending you away. Maui looked at me with only love in his eyes.

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Maui and Sachin renew their bond

He ran about and looked at us to follow him, as if to show us his new family and home. When we did a tour of the homestead, he disappeared for a while, ‘on his usual jaunt’ said a family member, and returned at peace, and happy to see us again. He was so secure in his new home, that while he went crazy at meeting us, he didn’t cling to us or follow us everywhere. Maui, I realised, was truly home. I slept particularly well that night…

Chuck Dior, try Dharavi!

I don’t possess very many handbags. And ironically, the one I use the most is also the least expensive one. It is a small, black, sling bag, which I wear across my body, when I go for my evening walks, or to the nearby ATM, or to fetch my son from the bus. I carry in it the essentials – keys, phone, some cash, sometimes, my credit card.

But the truth is, the bag is never confined only to these items. Over several days, it ends up accumulating much, much, more. At any point, I can put my hand in and find things which I don’t really recall putting in. So today I found some Vicks ki goli, a small piece of smooth, glittering, white stone gifted by my son, and Rs.500 in cash (which is a large amount for this unpretentious bag). On previous occasions I have found a tube of my favourite lipstick for which I had been hunting high and low, a tiny notepad in which I had scribbled some ideas as they occurred and then forgotten promptly about, and of all things, a lemon! For the life of me I can’t remember why I would have a lemon in my bag. And almost always, a pack of tissues.

Every few weeks, when I find I can no longer absent-mindedly slide my phone into the bag, I empty it. And these little ‘treasures’ roll out. And I am bemused at what I find.

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This sling is almost my identity now!

This bag is no Gucci or Kors. Oh, far from it. Can you even begin to guess where it was sourced from? It proudly dons the moniker of ‘Dharavi’. When my niece was visiting from Singapore, the enterprising girl, who loves India with a passion I sometimes can’t fathom, insisted on doing the ‘Slum Tour’ of Dharavi. She wanted to write about it for the magazine she was interning with. So we booked the tour conducted by the ‘Slum Gods’, which turned out to be three hours of pure, unadulterated, education.

Dharavi, if you look at it purely as an outsider, is a hellhole. There is no other word to describe it. There are open, stinking, stagnant, sewers, highest density of population in so small a space, and an absence of civic amenities which doesn’t point to a derelict municipality, but an absentee municipality. When you enter Dharavi and take the tour, your opinion does change. Not about the government, and not about the living conditions, but about its inhabitants. Dharavi teaches the abject lesson of survival at any cost. We were stunned by the enterprise of the small entrepreneurs there, (from leather processing units, to housewives rolling out papads in a central courtyard), and the will to live and survive amid dire poverty and squalor. Our ‘Slum Gods’ tour guide was a homegrown boy, who not only held his own in speaking English (he conducts these tours for firangs too), but was so very proud of the enterprise of his neighbours, and spoke with justifiable pride about the hip-hop band his friends and he had formed. I checked it to out on Youtube later, and it was quite creditable.

As part of the tour, he took us to a leather outlet, where on display were bags of various hues and sizes. Among them, the ‘Dharavi’ brand too. This particular bag called out to me as the perfect go-to bag for the many errands I have to run every day. It’s just big enough for me to carry the essentials, and small enough to ensure I don’t fill it up with rubbish. Notwithstanding the odd lemon and lipstick, of course! The very ease of wearing it, has endeared this bag to me. Now, you may scoff at the look of my bag. It perhaps lacks the design sensibilities that the Europeans so easily impart to bags. But there can’t be an iota of doubt that the quality of leather is among the best. Dharavi is known for its outlets selling quality leather products, if you are adventurous enough to venture there. So I was most happy to buy my  sling on this tour. I loved the fact that the manufacturer had decided to launch brand ‘Dharavi’. It spoke of a certain amount of pride, and self-assurance, which I found oddly touching, and very impressive.

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When the black sling was new and shiny!

I am glad my little sling isn’t a high-value one. I would then be most reluctant to haul it everywhere. The Dharavi sling has been carried to all places and put to much rough use, and it’s weathered all the ill-usage with smooth equanimity. The leather has just got more soft with time, and I have no doubt it will last me for many, many, more moons to come.

Yet, I have to confess, I am getting a bit tired of its colour. I crave a change. Is it time to go back and find a twin of this bag, maybe in tan, or green, or blue, perhaps? I will keep you posted…Meanwhile, if you find the brand Dharavi anywhere, do patronise it:-)