Friday, July 28, 2006

Tea

I love tea.

My idea of bliss, is to curl up with family/friends, and have a nice long chat over a hot cup of tea.

When I say I want to drink tea, it is very rarely for just the tea itself. It is for the entire ritual - taking a break, preparing the tea, sitting comfortably and drinking it with somebody, enjoying their company. In fact, when I am alone, I have tea only when it is absolutely necessary -- just to get rid of a mild headache, or just to drive away the vestiges of sleepiness.

I like my tea with just a teaspoonful of milk, and just a touch of sugar. Honey and jaggery are interesting substitutes too! For a change, I love ginger tea, especially when I have a cold or a sore throat.

The Sundays of my childhood was full of lemon tea, made oh-so-perfectly by my father. Just that little lemony tang, and the fragrance of tea, and sugar enough to please a child's palate. Papa, why don't you make lemon tea any more?

In fact, it was my dad who taught me to prepare tea. I followed his instructions to the T(ea). And it always was fantastic!

As I grew older, my tastes called for lesser milk and lesser sugar. But the process still remained the same. Then my aunts taught me a tasty new alternative - brewing tea - just like the oh-so-propah English. Just add those tea leaves into hot water, wait, and drink. Wowie! And this tastes best without sugar or milk.

The best tea I have had out of home are at Darjeeling, right inside a tea garden, and at Kemmannugundi, though this one was very milky and sugary. (I have no doubt that the places had a lot to do with it, though!)

When I am slightly hungry, I love dipping a biscuit into the tea and eating the soft, squidgy result. This is an art in itself; you hold the biscuit in the tea for just that right amount of time - to make it soft, but not long enough such that it lands into the teacup and forms a gooey residue.

I love trying out varieties of tea. Darjeeling, Assam, Earl Grey, Lemon, and that yummy Chocolatey Sikkim tea that my uncle brewed for us the other day - wow!

So, imagine the effect that a tea bar would have on me! That's my latest post on Metroblogging Bangalore - hop over and have a look. In fact, if you browse a bit at MB, you will discover some fab eating joints for you to try out. Bon appetit!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The angel in white.

A few years back, Isha Yoga Foundation conducted Sahaja Sthiti Yoga classes at our college. Finding that we would be taught breathing exercises, and being aware of the benefits of Pranayama, I enrolled for the course. It went on for two weeks, and I quite enjoyed it, especially the 15-minute Shoonya meditation, which I find very effective.

[For a time, I did the entire exercise cycle regularly, and was surprised by people asking me why I was glowing with health. But in spite of knowing that it is good for me, I don't do the exercises, nor the meditation, and I have no excuses for that.]

Anyway, back to the course. On the last day, it was arranged that we would visit the Isha Yoga Foundation at Coimbatore. I was persuaded to go with the promise that it is in a very picturesque setting. So off we went, in a bus from college.

Arriving early in the cold winter morning, I found that the place indeed is beautiful. It is in a kind of valley, with low, green hills all around. It has pristine green lawns and beautiful trees, and pretty buildings - in all, a very peaceful environment.

After a painful, but refreshing bath with freezing water, and a sumptuous breakfast, we were taken around the grounds by a couple of volunteers. It was cloudy, and there was a slight drizzle. Beautiful weather for a beautiful place.

As we roamed around, it started raining. We ran, enmasse, across the green lawns, towards the main building, for shelter. As I reached the building, I kind of lost my bearings, and wondered aloud, "This way or that?" A soft voice behind me said, "To your left". I turned to thank the source of the voice. And the picture I saw took my breath away.

In the background, emerald green hills, grey clouds, green lawns, with the rain coming down. And framed in this setting, stood a vision, swathed in spotless white. The pure white in stark contrast to the bright green lawns, freshly washed with rain.

She was pleasantly plump. Her round face was crowned with short black curly hair. She was smiling very sweetly. Her expression was one of serenity and joy all at once.

She must have thought I did not hear her, coz she repeated, "To your left", and she pointed with one finger. And she smiled again. "Thank you!" I said, and ran in to get shelter from the rain. I caught up with a friend R, who saw that I was looking bewildered, and raised her eyebrows questioningly. "I just saw an angel", I said, at the risk of sounding corny, but I meant it. R looked at me funnily, and we went in.

The angel also came in, and walked over to our group. She introduced herself as Tina, and said that she was our guide for the day. Another pleasant lady, Angela, joined her. They were resident volunteers at the foundation.

They took us around, and patiently answered all our questions. The day was good. We ate, played games, did the breathing exercises, meditated, went around the place, and relaxed.

I saw with amusement that I was not the only one upon whom Tina had had that extraordinary effect. R agreed with me about her being like an angel. As for the guys, they were following her around like puppies. ;)

When we got some time to sit down, we chatted with Tina. She was funny, friendly, enthusiastic, but more than anything, she seemed at ease with herself and the world. Always smiling that tranquil smile.

She said she was from Lebanon, and was staying at the Foundation for a while. We did not press for more information, nor did she say anything else.

After a round of photographs, we said goodbye and left. In retrospect, it might be that I followed the exercise regimen so strictly in the hope that I would also turn out as happy, calm and graceful as Tina. ;)

Tina, I have no idea where you are now, but I hope you are safe.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Waiter Rant

I recently discovered Waiter Rant. If you haven't heard about this, it is the blog of an anonymous waiter of a restaurant in New York. Oh is he popular!

Now if you, dear reader, already know Waiter Rant, and if you are thinking, "Huh, has this girl been living in a cave all this while?", then please bear with me for a while.

If I just say that I find the blog entertaining, I would be doing a disservice to Waiter, as he calls himself. The blog is totally enjoyable, and frighteningly addictive. Since he started blogging long back, I have a lot of stuff of his to catch up on. Whenever I am bored, or have ten minutes to spare, I go to his blog, click on the archives, and proceed to read.

What does he write about? Just about his work. About co-workers. But mostly about his customers. Their eccentricities. Their cheapness. Their silliness. The funny side of his job. The sad side. Everything. His stories are hilarious, wicked, poignant, all at the same time. He grabs you at the first line of each post, and holds your interest right down to the end. Anyway, in short, Waiter Rant is just a Waiter's Rant. And man, is it enjoyable!

Now, this blog got me thinking. If I were to write a blog only about my work, what would it look like? Left home. Boarded bus. Got stuck in traffic jam. Reached office. Checked mails. Drank tea. Pretended to work. Took some calls. Had lunch. Blogged a bit. Drank tea. Pretended to work. Left office. Got stuck in traffic jam. Reached home. Yawn.

So, a blog of which profession would be as entertaining? It has to be a job where you come across a variety of people. Just machines cannot be too interesting.

A doctor? Might work, but you might not really want to read it in your lunch break.
A lawyer? Maybe, but the legalese might get heavy.
A beautician? Now this one might be interesting.

But I can't think of anything more interesting than a Waiter's blog. (Can you?) Coz at a restaurant, people come in groups. And they spend some time there. You get to observe not just the person, but you also see his behaviour in a social setting, which tells you a lot more about him. And Waiter of Waiter Rant has this habit of drawing conclusions from the little slice of life of his customers, that he gets to observe. It might be slightly cruel at times, but for a bystander, its funny!

I guess that's what makes his blog popular. By Waiter ranting about his customers, you feel a certain superior goodness. That you could never be so rude. You would never tip so badly. You would never be so mean. I guess people read this blog for their daily dose of superiority!

Naturally, as you read this blog, you start viewing waiters in a totally different light. Now, as a rule, I am pretty polite and nice to waiters. After all, they bring me food. :) But what about tipping?

Waiter is very vociferous when it comes to tipping. How he treats a customer the next time they come in, depends on what they tipped him the previous time. Waiter says that the decent minimum is 15 %. If you are really happy with the food and service, you tip much higher. I googled a bit, and found that yes, this is the expected figure - but that is in the US. My momentary pangs of guilt dissipated. I googled a bit more, and arrived at some sites, which say that the average tip expected in a restaurant in India is 5-10 pc, which is comfortably equivalent to what I am used to. Phew! [Some restaurants add a service charge. So you are spared the agony of wondering how much to tip.]

But, really. I am sure I will never look at a waiter the same way again. What if one of the waiters at Aromas of China is a blogger, and writes about the crazy creature who always comes in, orders a plate of Honey-Pepper vegetables, attacks it and finishes it all, not letting her hapless husband take even a bite? *Shudder*

[Reading this through a feedreader? Here is the link to my blog until the end of the blog ban in India.]

Monday, July 17, 2006

To Kill a Mockingbird - Impressions.

A teacher once told us that you shouldn't read too much when you are too young. You should wait until you are mature enough to really be able to appreciate good writing. Of course, who listens to stuff like that when you are too young?

I had heard a lot of good things about "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee, and so when I came across a copy, I browsed through it and saw that the narrator was an eight-year-old girl, and so I went ahead and read it. I was least impressed with it. I don't think I even understood it.

I usually avoid reading books a second time. I am of the opinion that there are too many books waiting to be read, so I'd rather read them than waste time reading books I have already read.

But I know many people who name "To Kill a Mockingbird" as the best book ever. And I wanted to know why. It bugged me that I had read it and did not remember the story at all. And try as I might, I could not remember any significant birds in it, let alone a Mockingbird.

So I broke my rule. I read it again.

And I want to read it again.

This time, it is not because I did not understand it. But because it is such a beautiful book. Moving. Touching. Thought-provoking. Wonderfully written.

The book is alive with incidents and characters. But everything happens in a sleepy, laid-back age and town. The book sometimes thrills you and sends chills down your spine, sometimes it just makes you feel warm and fuzzy.

The characters - The eight-year-old narrator, Scout Finch, is very likeable, as is her brother Jem. Though all the colourful characters in the book are from an unfamiliar land, and a distant age, they are very real, and believable.

Atticus Finch is probably one of the best male characters I have ever encountered in the world of fiction. Wish there were more people like him in real life.

I will not review the book, but here is a very nice review if you are interested. If you haven't read the book yet, you really should!

Friday, July 14, 2006

A forgotten poem.

A few days back, appreciating somebody, I found myself quipping, "May his tribe increase". I stopped with surprise, for it had been years since I used that expression.

I learnt this phrase from a poem, "Abu Ben Adhem" by Leigh Hunt, which we had learnt and memorized sometime in school.

At first read, the first line "Abu Ben Adhem (May his tribe increase)" had seemed a very funny thing to say. I had assumed that Abu Ben Adhem was the headman of a tribe in the forest, and the poet is just hoping that his tribe prospers. Until our English teacher explained what it really meant. We kids, of course, used it at every opportunity, regardless of context, over the next couple of days.

The dreadful thing is that, now, after all these years, when I tried to recollect the name of this poem, I desperately tried to remember the name that preceded the phrase under discussion, and the only name that kept popping into my head was "Abu Bin Laden". Ugh!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Metroblogging Bangalore

I received an invitation to join Metroblogging Bangalore as a contributor. When the invitation came, I was in two minds. One part of my brain said that it would be a good experience, and the other part said, where will you find the time to do justice to posting at two places? [Coz one of the agreements at Metblogs is that you don't crosspost at your own blog!].

But then, the urge to be part of something new won over. Time will find itself somehow, if I am really interested, correct?

So I am now officially a Metroblogger. My profile is here. My first post is just up. Do hop over and have a look at it. And please don't forget to comment away as usual!

If you would like to read only my posts on the site for some inexplicable reason (like if you are my parents), then you could subscribe to just my posts using this in your regular feedreader - "http://embed.metblogs.com/authorRSS.php?author_id=1224". Or if you look at the sidebar, you will find the links to my latest posts there.

What I need from you, my dear readers, is a load of ideas. Come across anything exciting happening in Bangalore? Drop me a comment. Come across an interesting story, about anything connected with Bangalore? Write me a line. It could be anything at all. If you have posts about Bangalore, do let me know, I could link to them if I am doing a story on a related subject. You could also directly hop out here and suggest a story.

Posting on this blog will continue as usual.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Into darkness.

One moment they were watching the hypnotic sway of the handles, thinking of going home to a dry set of clothes, and hot food. The next moment there was darkness.
Shattered lives, destroyed dreams.
But yet, life goes on in Mumbai.
Hope the families of the dead find the strength to live on.
Hope the injured recover soon. Both physically as well as mentally.
More info at Mumbai Help.

Monday, July 10, 2006

An Ice Cream to Remember.

An inspiration. The seed of an idea. Built upon. Tried out with trepidation. Result - Astoundingly delicious.

If you like nuts, and if you like ice-cream, and if you like ice-cream with nuts, here is a very simple, but delicious recipe for you.

Discovered and prepared by none other than S himself.

What you need:

X Scoops of Vanilla Icecream. [X depends entirely on you.]
Tip: Amul icecream is a good choice ! It's tasty, light, and doesn't leave a greasy residue in your mouth.
Nuts of your choice. The more nuts, the better. [Excluding the chefs, of course.]
Tip: Badam and Pista is a great combination. But any kind will do.
Ghee - Just one teaspoon.

How to make it:

1) Break the nuts into sizeable chunks. So that you can easily get your teeth into them.
1a) Prevent predators from putting them in their mouths.
2) Lightly roast the nuts in the ghee, in a shallow pan, just until a maddeningly pleasant aroma rises up.
2a) The aroma will attract more predators. Keep a keen eye on the nuts.
3) Pour the roasted nuts into the icecream, and mix well.
4) Put the resultant gooey mass back into the freezer. Wait for about 15 minutes. Long enough to get the icecream to solidify again, and short enough to ensure that the nuts don't go soggy.
4a) Try hard not to keep opening freezer to see if icecream is ready.
5) Remove frozen icecream from freezer, and serve in glass bowls.[Appearances matter].
6) Gorge.

Very simple, yes. But absolutely scrumptious!!

What distinguishes it from ordinary ice-cream-sprinkled-with-nuts is that the nuts somehow release their flavour into the icecream during the 15-minute freeze. Also, The nuts are large and crunchy, and find their way into your mouth with each divine spoonful. You will find yourself licking the bowl after you finish.

Try it out! And if you like it, please do come back and let me know! And also, please pray that S gets more such brainwaves!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Short History of Nearly Everything - Book Review

[A book review of A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson - This review of mine appeared in the latest quarterly issue of our office magazine]

As a child, I wished, like probably many others did, that my textbooks were like storybooks, so that I could read them as easily, and with as much interest. But then I would chide myself - you cannot explain science like a story, can you?

You can.

Bill Bryson, in his book "A short history of nearly everything", has done just that.

The book is a short journey through the history of science. Not only does it give us facts and figures in a way that we can understand and enjoy it, but also tells us how we came to know what we know.

Bill Bryson is an acclaimed travel-writer. This is his first foray into science writing, and hopefully, not his last. He says he wrote this book because one fine day, he sat up and realized that he did not know the first thing about the world he lived in. He “didn’t know what a proton was, or a protein, didn’t know a quark from a quasar, didn’t know how an atom was put together and couldn’t imagine by what means anyone deduced such a thing."

So he set out to remedy that. He spent three years reading books, talking to the people who wrote those books, went looking for trivia in unlikely places, and obviously had lots of fun on the way. Then he sat and put it all down, and the result is this book, crammed with information and tidbits about the world around us. It speaks about the expanse of the cosmos and the smallness of the proton, and everything in between.

The book reads almost like a novel, without a central theme. It is a group of longish essays, each dealing with a different aspect of the world around us. There are six chapters in the book.

Lost in the cosmos talks about the expanse of space, the beginning of time, the origin of the earth, and the remarkable personalities who figured all this out.

The size of the earth tells us about the earth, what is in it and on it, and about the interesting investigations that led to discovering its age and size.

A new age dawns speaks about new revolutionary discoveries, like the concept of the atom that stumped the foremost intellectuals and entirely changed the outlook of humanity.

Dangerous planet warns us about the seemingly placid planet we live on. There are inherent risks like volcanic eruptions, and threats from outer space like meteor impacts. And just in case you are interested, the earth is statistically overdue for both these occurrences. And they may happen without any warning whatsoever.

Life Itself takes us back in time to the beginning of life, explores why the Earth is the only planet around that is conducive to life, and then traces developments to the present age. He talks about evolution, DNA, genes, and much more.

The road to us is about us, humans, and our evolution to what we are now. It also speaks about our role in the extinction of a number of species of life, and the strong conservationist in him tells the tale in poignant words.

The book is full of interesting characters, incidents, and situations. Scientists and thinkers, who were until now, just names which were associated with theories – for example, Brown of Brownian motion, or Halley of Halley’s comet – all these people take on a distinctive identity.

It also tells us more about scientists we already knew about. Newton, who to us, was just a scientist in a wig, with the habit of sitting under apple trees, comes to life as a brilliant, eccentric, absent-minded, and terribly secretive man.

The author also narrates heart-rending stories of brilliant scientists who worked in drudgery for years, some of whom were rewarded with recognition, but most of whom just faded into oblivion due to various circumstances. He tells us about scheming people who stooped so low as to take credit for other people's work. He talks evocatively about bitter rivalries and successful partnerships.

What is special about this book is that the author enables you to comprehend the magnitude of everything. For example, he says that if an atom is the size of a cathedral, then the nucleus is the size of a fly in the cathedral, but a fly which weighs much more than the cathedral. He points out that the solar system can never be drawn to scale in a book. In an attempt to do so, even if you represent Mars as the size of a pea, you will have to draw Jupiter 300 m away, and Pluto more than 2 km away.

Each page is sprinkled with his trademark wit and humour. In the middle of grasping an ostensibly out-of-reach topic like the space warp, you spontaneously burst out laughing at a funny offhand remark that he makes.

The book enlightens us about how much is yet to be discovered in science, despite all that we already know. Also, about how everything that we think is true, might not be so at all.

This is an ambitious book. It covers a huge range of topics, but as can be expected, everything is just touched upon. If you are the kind who, after reading a bit, is tempted to delve deeper and know more, this book will not suffice.

This delightful, interesting book makes science seem accessible. If you are the kind who is fearful and wary about science, fear no more. This book is just for you.

Monday, July 03, 2006

A prick in the conscience

We were driving back home late last night. We saw a little boy about ten years old waiting to cross the road. He was carrying a couple of bundles too heavy for him. He had crossed halfway, and was standing on the non-existent median, trying desperately to cross the other half of the road. His face was one of bewilderment and terror, as vehicles zipped by on either side of him. His pathetic little face was brightly lit by the glare of the headlights of the cars that zoomed past him. S stopped the car, leaned out and motioned for him to cross. It took him a while to understand, but when he did, he scuttled across quickly and disappeared into the darkness. We resumed our journey.

The face of this child stayed with me. It was disturbing. A child of his age should have been in bed by now, after a hot meal. How often do we see kids like these, begging, working, their faces much older than their bodies!

There was a time when I allowed myself to get affected by them. I would think of the child for a long time. I would compare the child to a boy of the same age in my family or neighbourhood, pampered, loved, cared for, and ensconced in comfort. I would try to put the face of this fortunate boy on the body of the less-privileged child. And that picture would move me to tears. But as I grow older, I find myself becoming more and more immune. I resist all unpleasant thoughts, for my own sanity. We all do that, don't we? We tend to build up a kind of armour around us. We prefer living in an ivory tower than accept reality.

There are some people who have been so deeply moved that they have gone ahead and dedicated their life for the betterment of the lives of people like this boy. I always wonder what stuff these remarkable people are made of. How they can put up with dealing with such sorrow, day after day. How they have the conviction that they can make a better life for the less privileged.

I often think, what can I do about it? That is, apart from cash contributions, and maybe occasional voluntary service. Sometimes I have a sense of failing and shame. That I am here in my comfort zone, fully aware, but pretending that I am not.

Anitha has put across her feelings beautifully in this piece "I met a man". She talks to a man with a typical story of helplessness, and she says,

My inadequate words could not and did not give him any solace. As I just sat there, listening to him talk, feeling empty and useless, it struck me: I didn’t really know how to feel. Emotions were a waste: they were all about me, they could not do anything for him. I would never know how it felt to live hand-to-mouth, to wake up and go to bed hungry, or to be oppressed and obligated to people financially forever, with no hope of breaking the bondage. It felt like I was almost living in a parallel universe, sitting across from him.

He wasn’t asking for much – just a life with dignity. And it was a promise I could not make, much less keep.

It’s at times like this that make you really wonder: what is life all about, anyway?
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