#1 – Uppmaav

Of all the things I do on a weekday, cooking is probably the most rushed. At least as rushed as it possibly could be.

The good news is, you can only rush it so much. That is if you’ve learnt your lessons, want the intended results and not spend an hour scrubbing the vessel after.

So you start by heating some oil – vegetable oil cos it’s cheap, coconut oil if you can afford that wherever you are, peanut if you aren’t allergic and any others if you’ve explored more. The vapors are rising off the oil surface so you now add your black mustard seeds. (no I will never side-note “or cumin if you’re North Indian“. Just don’t bother if you want to add cumin to uppmaav).

So this is where cooking begins to test your patience.
Was the oil hot? Of course.
Are the seeds crackling? No not yet.
Let’s wait 15 seconds. It usually happens in 15 seconds considering 15 is longer than you and I and all of us think it is.
Is it happening yet? You know, if I were home, I’d add some curry leaves at this point to induce crackling, never mind if it’s only the leaves and not the seeds.

Okay it’s finally happening! So now we add diced red onion – the rationed red onion that cost $0.75 each and was chopped while calculating its worth in rupees. This time you really can’t tell why the tears.

Also add some salt at this stage to accelerate the cooking and browning like that uncle/aunty in the TV cookery show told you. (If you opened this article I’m assuming you’re at that age). Keep sauteing – toss and toss and toss.

Is it browning? No not yet.
Did you add the salt? Of course.

See, at this point, you’ve given up trying to rush this. Cooking will take its own time. Which is why it slows you down, often when you absolutely need to and just aren’t aware of it.

I know it’d be low-key insulting to even bother to tell you the rest of the recipe. But to finish what I started, once the onions are translucent, throw in chopped carrots, bell peppers and whatever else is in your kitchen that can be eaten half-raw. Saute for a while. Add the rava, mix well until you’ve slightly roasted the granules. Pour in water and keep stirring until it boils, evaporates and reaches the consistency at which you like to have the meal.

Turn off the heat, take in life at a slightly slower pace than before you embarked on the uppmav.

Bon Appetit!

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Biennale 2 : Jew Street – Parting

The air was less sultry now, the armpit rivers of smaller diameter.
The streets were empty save for a few shops open in the slow-cooling afternoon heat, adjacent buildings looming on either sides of the narrow road.

They walked slowly in their shade, peeping into antique/curios stores and shops selling overpriced tea and unreasonably large white kurtas for the tourist. This was the last stop before catching their separate trains back home, and the thought followed them just as the falling daylight.

“On a Sunday afternoon..,” she sang Groovin’ loudly as they slowed their pace. He smiled. It was Saturday. She had only suggested the song to him that morning and it wasn’t one of their songs, yet.

They could easily live in one of these places, narrow and long, winding inwards, calm. There would be a small verandah with cheap aluminium rails, the kind you see in some houses near the beach, with cycles parked out. Afternoons would be strong tea and a playlist that switched between his, hers, and theirs. They’d sit with friends in summer and in rain, which meant they’d have to make friends here first. The long winding house would be a mystery that opened itself just to the two of them, with partitions for walls and ceramics taken out only during tea. Rent would probably be up the roof though so it’s best they didn’t gamble their chance at business. Would it be odd, living among all of them? Are only Jews allowed to occupy places here? Their music wouldn’t gel with the aesthetic, no. And they were glass-people, not ceramic. Kochi wasn’t their place to be, though they’d miss Shahabaz Aman.

 “Life would be ecstasy, you and me endlessly – , ending the song she dropped her head sideways and swiveled, stepping on and off the shade. Like during waves at the beach except he didn’t have to hold her from moving further away as she swayed back to him.

The melancholy suddenly taking over soon after the song ended, as if remembering their impending close, she asked, “What happens when I leave?”

He stopped to watch dreamcatchers hung between the buildings, pretending like he hadn’t heard. It was sad when she was sad.

“Am I Lola Milford?” She was watching him intently.
“No,” prompt came his reply and they continued walking towards the synagogue, brushing past the returning crowd, neither facing the other. He didn’t want them to drown, it was up to him now.

“Why not?”

And as if suddenly deciding to lift the mood, she cheerfully jumped, almost like she might break into dance again to yet another song.
“Am I missing any of her 4 listed attributes? Para para!” Demanding an answer, threatening to pull his fat cheeks.
He gave it a pause.
“We’re too precious to be characters in a book.” He was serious, unlike his usual grinning self, still not looking her in the face.

“You mean we aren’t? Nobody’s too precious.” She stopped hopping and walked by his side again, with a face that looked like it’d been sad for far too long and had just cheated on a quick short break, and was back to being the sad self again.
They stayed silent and walked on, neither minding the surrounding anymore.

They halted in their tracks and sighed. The sign at the deserted synagogue read, “CLOSED ON SATURDAYS.” They stared at the silent white building for a while and then at the clock on its high wall.
He was slow but stern with his reply, filling in the shoes she’d left a while ago, his shadow falling on her as he turned.

“We aren’t in Lola, because you aren’t leaving. And neither am I.”

The frame coyly shifts away, and we’ll never know if the two kissed before they made their ways back home.

Closed on Saturdays.

Biennale 1 : AspinWall House

Her hairs shifted in the breeze that made its way into Aspinwall House from the sea, the familiar smell of hair oils tinged with sweat reaching him. They were curly today because the hair was still wet and there was too much oil in them, with thick wavy strands where dry.

“കിളിവന്നു കൊഞ്ചിയ ജാലകവാതിൽ..”

A middle-aged uncle urgently attended to his loud ringing phone, shuffling in embarrassment and looking around in apology for his ringtone, in all likelihood a mistake by an impatient adolescent son or a daughter. A short woman, probably his wife, identified the song and turned from the queue ahead in front of the black-and-white freedom photographs.

The song brought to mind ill-lit library aisles, shining bright eyes and shy faces too close to each other. The young couple looked at each other and grinned.

“Your armpits are a river.” Her humour was either inappropriate or scathing.
“Yea Kochi’s melting.”
They moved out of the building. Sure enough, everyone on the grounds stuck to the shades of trees and the building, from volunteers to visitors to students running to avoid the sun. Their faces glistened in perennial tropical sweat.

“You know, I think I could’ve squeezed in my final year workshop project somewhere here, it’s got more effort to it than this representative solitary tyre with a measly description.”
“It’s the message that counts, isn’t that what they say. Plus they’d have arranged a JCB and all that.”
“Why aren’t you in a sari? I expected you’d be.”
“Well I expected you’d come naked.”
“Some day. You’re welcome though.” He grinned.

The rooms on the first floor were filled with portraits.
“I’m pretty sure we’re missing something. Something big and important. I’m getting bored.” She leaned up at him staring at a frame.

“She’s got a snake on her face.”
“Snakes.”
“Maybe she bites.”
“It’s probably the rest of the world, not her.”
“Is it poisonous?”
“Should I google?” He had already taken out his phone.
“Let’s just go paint.”

On their way down the stairs was a wall with rows of “Don’t die” handwritten and struck out, right next to suicidal diary notes and pin-ups.

“How much do you think the model was paid to wear snakes on her face?”
“Aaa, ariyilla.
“If you could put up a single exhibit here, what’d you keep?”
“Us?” He knew he didn’t have to pitch in, the question wasn’t really for him. And yet, between being romantic and sounding cliché, he always leaned towards the latter, armed and betrayed by his limited creativity (which I wouldn’t say is a crime.*)
“I’d keep a picture of me, staring back at everyone from my photo,” she attempted to sound arrogant, answering her own question.
“What are you?” He played along.
“Just me, out-of-step with the world and compressed into a frame – and they’d pass me by, mostly bored and blank. A few make attempts at decrypting me, to make sense. But none of them do, and I stare back at them.”
“Isn’t that what I said? Us?”

“Okay, you’re good today.”

Smart quips were his novelty.


She drew a heart on her portion of the glass wall. A little further away, he painted a house with 2 squares on either sides for windows, a door and a sloping roof, already fading as the water dried.

She extended a long arrow from her fading heart and pierced it into the fading door.

“My heart is a heart and yours is just a door”, she smiled stupidly and made a face at him.
“Mine’s a house.”
“Oh wow I hadn’t thought of that.”
-pause-
Kollaallo.

They watched their paintings vanish. A tease once in a while was okay.
She was too proud to lose and he liked her too much to let her.

*That’s me placing up my disclaimer inline, much like Prithviraj in Lucifer

Pothichor

The only early memories I own of pothichor are a misshapen package wrapped in banana leaf and newspaper, that Manichechi brought home when I was younger, with ammumma’s food inside.

Like everything else she cooked, there was as much coconut in the accompanying dishes as there was white rice (read: a LOT). Pink lovelolikka (is that how you spell it) and mango pickle staining a corner of the white rice with a shocking yet warm red. Red chilly chammanthi in very generous amounts. Two different thorans, one always being beetroot, both with lots of grated coconut. A separate tiny banana leaf wrap that you eagerly open to find the insides bathed in fried oil, with pieces of fish fried until crisp and more (well, almost black), yet surprisingly white and soft inside.

Amma talks about choodu pothichor that maaman brought to her medical college hostel from Vakkom early morning before classes, that stayed warm and succulent until afternoon and even up to dinner. She would wait for lunch time quite like Imran Khan did at work for his dabba in The Lunchbox, the anticipation of the banana-leaf parcel tingling her tongue. (And did I tell you she doesn’t care much about food? Oh not yet.)

As I grew older, especially in college, I saw more pothichors brought from home, sometimes for groups of 5 – 10. My own mother never cared about cooking much – eat to live, not the other way around she says. My father, an upholder of the other way around, still holds it to heart and lives a battle.

In circles when people said, “Mother’s food is always best”, I was always the sole one shaking my head. Once a friend said “Come on, you’re just exaggerating, I’m sure your mom cooks well”. The next day, I brought her my mom’s prepared lunch and she didn’t contest me after.

Once while my brother was admitted in the hospital for jaundice, my uncle and I were exiting the ward around 8pm as we saw an aunty eating from her pothichor. My uncle suddenly commented, “Did you see that.”
Assuming he wasn’t referring to the only thing I’d noticed, I cautiously asked, “See what?”

“That woman was eating pothichor.. kothi ayi”, he grins.

“Oh yesssss”



In the past one year there has been this mad rush in social media over the nostalgia and memories associated with pothichor.

So a couple of months ago, when my parents were leaving on a train to Thrissur at 11AM, I suggested to Amma, “Let’s pack pothichor for you guys?” I knew she’d be excited, she hadn’t had one in years. While packing, my father said “It’s been decades since I last packed one.”

We packed 2 separately, it was vegetarian with an omelette for each, and they gobbled it up as soon as they got on the train, amma said.

Last week, my parents and I were travelling to Belgaum. Our train was at 12:50PM, and obviously it was time for another pothichor episode. An elaborate one this time.

Amma first fried large kilimeen (pink perch, from Google) with spices. She separately cooked onions with masala and added tomatoes to it, and finally mixed the fish pieces into it. Chammanthi from roasted coconut. I made a double omelette with lots of shallots (small red onions) and green chillies. There was cucumber thoran with fair quantity of grated coconut (by amma’s standards, not manichechi’s), and another kovakka thoran.

Last time, it was achan who did the packing, but he was busy eating Puttu with the fresh fish masala (LIVE TO EAT manifests in opportune moments such as these).
I was already a tad bit hungry but saved the hunger for my long-awaited pothichor. Amma laid out the leaves and I apportioned.

A piece of fish in each, no pickle for Amma, more for achan, no omelette and more chammanthi for me.
(Yes I agree, pothichor without pickle and chammanthi is just blasphemy).

Spicy onion from the fish stuck to my fingers and I licked them clean – yum. Yet I conquer my urges again, for later.
“Should we add another fish piece?” Amma asks. Of course we should.

I wrap them up, two rubber bands each, neat and nicely shaped.

Needless to say we forget them at home and realize on the train by 1:30PM when we’re hungry and start checking bags. There is no pothichor.
We buy a biryani and a Veg Meal at Kollam railway station. I could only be jealous of my father who’d atleast tasted the fish (so much for conquering urges. Live to Eat, guys).
Two others in our compartment also brought pothichors. One of them had fish masala.

Loss of Innocence

I wonder if people know the exact moment when they lost their innocence.

Like when they watched porn for the first time (really?).
Or as they succumbed to money that’s bigger than life.
Or in the eerie silence while they buried their boss’ body.

I remember the time when I realized I had ‘grown up’.

So I was waiting one sweltering morning at the bus stop, contemplating ringing up my driver chetan to find if he’d unfaithfully driven off without me. A familiar yellow Loyola school bus halted to wait, grunting.  Soon enough a child, barely 7 or 8, in his white shirt and black trousers and shoes sprinted to the bus in beaming relief. A number of eyes watched him run, some frowning in the heat, some eager and some curious, one smiling.

A month or even a couple of weeks earlier perhaps, I would have seen a bunch of morning office-goers at the bus stop, delighted at this kid catching his school bus. I may even have told myself, Just how beautiful are people, in gleaming at this moment and this kid who belongs to god-knows-who. I would’ve told you how some of them re-lived their own bus-chasing days (I still have mine) when they were younger, their school vehicles and whites and blacks and emblems and morning frenzies.

But I didn’t.

All I saw were a bunch of faces. Some frowning at the kid’s parents perhaps, for getting the child ready late, for making others wait – disapproval at their ways and busy lives. Some unimpressed at the (adjudged) irresponsible boy. I saw some eager to find if he catches the bus and at least some hoping in malice that he misses it. I saw someone else betting on the bus taking off without him. Perhaps the only aunty smiling may reminisce to her days in a pinafore but none else.

Where a month ago I’d have told you they egged him on with their gaze, instead I tell you these tales.

That was when I realized I wasn’t the person I was anymore, I knew I had finally landed on earth like Amma always wanted me to. That this is what they should call Loss of Innocence.

Imagine taking in everything people say with a pinch of salt, of doubting intentions. I do not see halos around people’s heads anymore (probably never should have). Goodness exists if you dig deep enough in everyone and tons of benefit of the doubt, sure. But not pure until proven otherwise as I used to think. I can actually, without prodding more to know why, believe that people will deliberately cause you harm to none of their benefit.

I mean I was always cynical, yet I had hope and faith in people. I loved people. (I still do, many of them).

Once I was over the depressing shock of it, I saw the reality of smirks following uncles/aunties “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Now I see them, more often than not, inquiring not on the kid’s ambitions but on just how audacious they can get, just how innocent ignorant(that’s what they call them) he/she is. A “Wait till you grow up and watch porn and crave money and distrust people” lurking.

So loss of innocence isn’t when you can guess that Hyderabadi biryani flavoured condoms must suck*. It’s when you can imagine people wishing anything but well for a child who is, for all purposes, just a child.

*I never intend puns

Where numbers come from

So one day last year, three of us were discussing about the rise of BJP in India. The conversation mainly revolved around their proliferation despite outright communal agendas and intolerance.

P1 : But I mean, who votes for these bigots? I don’t expect a remotely sensible person would vote them to power.

Me : I can only speak for myself. Now I may bark liberalism in the workplace and about freedom of expression etc among my social circles, yet when I enter the polling booth – sorry but the Hindu in me is aroused and I vote for thaamara (lotus). Not sorry. (*wink* intended)

P2 (pleasantly surprised) : YEA I KNOW RIGHT! SAME HERE! Same happens with me! Wonder why that is…

P1 & Me :

ആാാ!

End to a Beginning, that wasn’t

There are high streetlights visible from the coffee shop where we sit. Such an unlikely place to meet.

I’d always imagined us meeting at a wedding of a mutual acquaintance, in the middle of everyone dancing. It seemed a likely prospect, our world was so small.
Though which South Indian wedding ceremony involves dance, you may ask.

Or in an exotic (enough) setting away from home. Homes.
In a crowded beach with the sun setting behind us, or a random KFC outlet where two disinterested souls spot each other in delight before indulging in incessant chatter.

Or in one of the narrow aisles of our public library, between tall bookshelves that we’re engrossed in decoding.

For a long, long time I turned every lane and entered every wedding almost expectedly. Nothing materialized, until I was exhausted of momentarily getting my hopes high and adjusting my hair in place.

All the while that I was getting dressed today (I may not have much to show for it), I felt old. As difficult as it was, I avoided the thought of how young we had been, Wo jo adhoori si yaad baki hai and Jaise milte nahi kisi dariya ke do kinaare lines continually playing in my head.
But now, godforsaken Naina da kya kasoor won’t stop and I must repress my headbobbing. I don’t feel like the song though.

“I don’t drink or smoke”. I casually mention, unsure why I sound like my recently decommissioned matrimonial profile.

“Oh”

“Neither does he.” Now I know why.
It came out surprisingly easy, and I’m only happy for myself.

“Oh..”
I’m assuming the dots were there, or maybe the melancholy was only in my air.

I see fingers, long, thin and straight unlike my long crooked ones. They appear damp and soft, like they always did in pictures. I imagine a fountain pen in them, almost immediately replaced with a Gel pen by memory.

As we stepped outside and the lights fell on us, for the life of me I couldn’t see the magnificence in his face, hair or arms. And for the life of me, I couldn’t believe myself.

As I leave, all I think of with every step away are the stories that weren’t written about me, the poems I didn’t feature in.

Yet we all choose our stories really, don’t we?

PS : Too many break-up stories, I’ve heard this past year.