TalaKaveri- the Original Spring.

High up in the Brahmagiri hills, along the Western Ghats, is the origin of the Kaveri river. A tank has been constructed at this place and a small temple, which is the worship place of the Kodavas (Coorgs).

talakaveri-temple-tank-source-of-kaveri-river

We saw people wade across the tank to the other side, duck thrice into the waters of the spring, after which the priests then splashed more holy water on them. What amused me was that the ladies were fully clad in saris or salwar suits, while the men went in mostly bare-chested. It couldn’t have been easy to walk in the water with all those layers of fabric but they did it anyway.

The water is then directed into a little outlet from where it is allowed to find its way down the hills and across the plains, till it finally pours into the Bay of Bengal.

IMG_20181106_104551731_HDR (2)

We met the river again on our way down from the hills, this time at the town of Bhagamandala. It had now grown from a spring into a stream and flowed in a leisurely manner towards the Triveni Sangam where it met up with another river- the Kannike, and the mythical river Sujyothi.

IMG_20181106_120032662_HDR

IMG_20181106_121327099_HDR
Triveni Sangam

The third time we encountered the Kaveri was when we visited the Elephant Camp which is situated on its banks, thus providing the inmates with a convenient spot for taking a dip.

Now the river had widened considerably but was still flowing peaceably along. There were forests on either side, greening the waters, while the sky above found its reflection in the blue depths. One could sit for hours by the water’s edge and listen to the waves lapping at the shore.

IMG_20181107_101823000

IMG_4467

We filled our minds and senses with the beauty of the river. Any river, big or small, has a live-giving bounty that deserves to be worshiped. It saddens me how thoughtlessly we can desecrate and exploit our rivers, when we so devoutly worship them at their origin.

 

Advertisements

‘Ban’ana republic bans porn sites!

So, it’s happened. The government has banned porn sites. Not all of them, mind you. There must be hundreds of thousands of porn sites out there in cyberspace. But only 857 have been banned. Which got me thinking- who decided on these 857 and how? We know how government offices work; even the simplest procedure is tied up in yards of red tape and reams of paperwork. Then, how was this decision taken? Was a committee set up? The ‘Ashleel Sahitya Pratibandh Samiti’ perhaps? I can imagine grim-faced officials, huddled over their laptops; surfing scores of sites and making notes as they went. Maybe they had forms with those little boxes to tick and columns to fill. A porn-rating scale perhaps- going from ‘mildly titillating’ to ‘offensive’, ‘graphic’ and ‘perverted’. Did they meet regularly to discuss their findings and file reports? I hope their ‘Adhyaksh Mahoday’ didn’t give them a rough time if they missed some deadlines.

And finally, after short-listing these 857 sites, did the Samiti have to send the list for approval? If so, to whom? They probably had to make a presentation in one of those conference rooms where all important meetings are held and decisions taken. The presentation would have to contain clippings from those sites, and bullet points detailing why it was necessary to ban them. And after much debate and consultation, the final proposal would be drawn up and the Adhyaksh Mahoday would give it the stamp of approval.

Whatever. Regardless of how this came about, I for one am hugely relieved. And grateful to the Samiti for all its efforts on our behalf. The world is now a better, safer place. Our daughters can now dress as they please and stay out late at night. Travel alone. Visit pubs. On second thoughts…better not. The Samiti might ban them next!

Market @ Mahabaleshwar

A trip to Mahabaleshwar is never complete without bingeing on fresh strawberries and cream, yummy corn patties, crunchy, roasted ‘chana’ and of course, raiding the market for footwear!

But this time we arrived on the day of the weekly bazaar: when the narrow lanes around the market place are lined with the local people and those from nearby villages, selling all household needs. Right from fresh vegetables (large juicy tomatoes at Rs 10/- a kg), fruits, lentils, grains and pulses, to clothes, accessories stacked alongside detergents and brooms. There were quantities of snacks, sweets and savouries, cheek by jowl with piles of goodies from local bakeries. It was a tempting sight.

Accustomed as we are to hurriedly shopping for essentials amidst doing a dozen other chores, it was a delightful experience to wander these lanes, among crowds of people who seemed to have come there to make a day of it. There were young women comparing purchases and giggling, village women carrying sacks on their heads, families out for their weekly shopping and my friend and I, the only two obvious city-dwellers!

It was a pleasant change from buying pre-packaged, sorted veggies in air conditioned supermarkets. Here we breathed in the fresh air of the hill-station, chatted with those simple, smiling vendors while a cool breeze and the bright sun accompanied us as we wandered along.

Ahhh…the simple pleasures of life. We need to discover them and relish them more often.

POP @ NDA. (Revisited)

Just back from attending the Commandant’s Rehearsal of the Passing out Parade. The same crisp morning air, the sun rising over the Quarter-Guard and the rays flashing through the branches of the trees that line the parade ground, with the Sinhagad fort looming imposingly in the background.
The familiar shouts of ‘Praaaadee..Savdhan, Praaaade Vishram’ that echo all over the ground, the handsome white charger trotting behind the contingents as they are inspected, And the impressive sound of a thousand boots as they stamp in perfect unison on the hard tarmac…music to my ears.
It was yesterday once more all the way.
There are five battalions now and squadrons that go up to Quebec and Romeo. But the champion squadron still leads the parade,with the ‘nishaan toli’; proudly bearing the colours; in the centre while the band plays ‘Hum NDA ke cadet hain’ and of course ‘Saare Jahaan se Accha’.
The commentary in chaste Hindi and impeccable English never fails to delight me and the familiar strains of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ as the cadets step upto the ‘antim path’ and beyond still brings a lump to my throat.
This time I was accompanied by my daughter, to whom I could smugly explain certain parts of the parade which the commentators didn’t. And as one of my students was passing out (hence the invitation),we were craning our necks to spot him in the march past.The crowds of spectators are much larger now (since this was the rehearsal) We were seated next to a row of squirming school children and a harried teacher to whom I gave sympathetic looks and stern ones to her students!
There were also the inevitable compulsive, selfie-crazed morons who blithely disobeyed instructions to switch off their mobiles and clicked away during the march past. But thankfully they were fewer in number.
As the Sukhois roared past overhead, I once again sent up a prayer of thanks for all the memories that this place has given me and a big God Bless to the cadet who invited me, thus giving me another chance to relive so many of them.

POP 2

Bites of Bretagne- III (Pizza, Quiche and a Picnic)

After a week in Bretagne, we asked our students to write down their impressions of French food and meals in general. While most of them raved about the desserts, crepes and other dishes they had tasted, what seemed to have impressed them the most was the skill the French had with a knife and fork. They can eat even a burger and fries using these two.

I was able to ascertain this when we were served a humongous pizza at a restaurant. The French pizza is unlike anything we have seen here.

WhatsApp Image 2018-04-25 at 00.27.19

It’s large (like XXXL), has a crust thinner than a regular thin crust pizza and is served uncut. When I took up my knife and fork to slice into it, the crust cracked up. So there I was, with a plateful of pizza and no way to eat it without making a mess of the pizza or an ass of myself. It was too big and too crusty to be rolled into a wrap; and there was no way I could manage to ply my cutlery through it. Finally, like a good Indian, I used my fingers to tear portions of it to eat, while my companion; using her knife and fork efficiently and economically; made short work of hers.

Fortunately for me, there was the cider. Quimper is famous for apple cider and we found it absolutely delicious. It tasted different each time to our untutored palates, but that didn’t stop us from having it every chance we got!

IMG_20180424_194327957
It’s crisp, it’s bubbly and it’s refreshing.

We visited a friend who lives on a farm with her husband, three kids, some sheep, hens, a rooster and assorted fruits and flowers growing all over the place. It had been a long day and she wanted to whip up a quick, satisfying dinner for all of us. So, she rolled up her sleeves and mixed up a really big batch of pastry dough. Then she went to the hen house and returned with a basket full of eggs.

WhatsApp Image 2018-04-18 at 20.33.10
Freshly laid eggs from a real farm.

A little later, we were being served warm slices of quiche with glasses of chilled white wine. On a cool evening, in the open air and seated at a wooden table, it was one of the simplest and best meals I have eaten.

A picnic at the beach with her family was just as enjoyable. There’s something about eating ‘al fresco’ that makes food taste better. We sat in the sand, scooping up hummus with chips and nachos and looking at the ocean as it stretched out in front of us. We tore out chunks from the baguettes and had them with slices of ham, cheese or both. And since no meal can be complete without wine, we sipped on a cool, pink ‘vin rose’. To end the meal, she had brought along a box of the most scrumptious salted caramel squares which we scarfed down with  ‘ooohs’ and ‘mmms’. After such a glorious meal, we were all set to walk the length of the beach, hunting for shells.

 

IMG_4054

Some meals are made special because of the place and the people they get associated with.  And that’s what memories are made of.

Bites of Bretagne- II (Indian/s cooking)

IMG_4317_LI

During our stay at Landeda, we ambitiously volunteered to cook an Indian meal for our hosts; an offer they accepted with alacrity by inviting a few of their friends as well. We drew up a menu and made a list of the ingredients required, which was when it began to dawn on us that we just might have bitten off more than we could offer our guests to chew.

The menu was simple:

  • chicken curry
  • cauliflower-aloo
  • peas pulao
  • raitha
  • rotis

Then we began to go through the ingredients we would need v/s what we could get. This is where things began to look complicated. Here’s a look at where we stood:

Ingredient Availability Dimension/ Quantity/Flavour Utility
Chicken Yes As required Yes
Cauliflower Yes Very large, bland Yes
Potatoes Yes As required Yes
Onions Yes -Pink and sweet OR

-White and bland

 

Not really, but we have to make do
Tomatoes Yes As required, juicy red Yes
Ginger Yes Large and bland Not really, but we have to make do
Garlic Yes Large and bland Not really, but we have to make do
Spices (Whole) Yes As required. (carried from here) YesYesYesYesYes!!!
Spices (powdered) Some As required, bland Not really, but we have to make do
Flour Yes (refined and silky smooth) As required NO! can’t make rotis out of maida
Cooking oil Yes As required Yes
Cucumbers Yes As required Yes
Green peas Yes (frozen or tinned) More than required (tinned ones tiny and pale green, frozen- only 1 kg packs) Not really, but we have to make do

Next, we moved on to the tools and utensils. This is where things become more complicated:

Tool/Utensil Availability Dimension/

Quantity

Utility
Cooking pans for chicken, cauliflower and rice Yes Large, as required Yes, thank God
Mixer-Grinder for ginger, garlic No  NA NA
Mortar and pestle for above Yes Wooden, small and lightweight Very little
Rolling pin Yes Very large ONLY for rolling out pastry dough.
Flat surface for rolling out rotis No NA NA
Flat pan for making rotis Yes Yes Non-stick but manageable
Tongs for flipping rotis No NA NA , used spatula instead
Flame for roasting the rotis No NA We made do…
Grater for ginger and garlic (to be used along with lightweight mortar or pestle) Yes As required We made do…

We spent the better part of the morning peeling and chopping or grating and pounding. The only tool we were confident of handling was…the chopping board. Everything else was learnt – the best example being the electric stove with 4- burners. Each burner came with its own size, settings and knob. It took us some time to discover which went with what and how, till we finally decided to figure things out as we went along.

Meanwhile, the cauliflower-aloo was still looking pale and colourless, the onions were taking forever to brown and the dough for the ‘rotis’ ended up as a sticky lump. We began to panic.

Finally, my friend, who’s the determined and innovative sort, took out the largest saucepan, upended it and rolled out the ‘rotis’, while I made them into something that was a combination of a ‘roti’ and a ‘paratha’

WhatsApp Image 2018-04-27 at 22.39.20
Chefs at work!

By which time the entire kitchen and living-room was beginning to smell like home. And we had learnt to never take our humble chakla-belan-tava-kadhai for granted, ever again.

We also discovered that cooking by trial and error in an unfamiliar kitchen can be great fun. And that much pleasure can be found in the simplest of tasks. Perhaps our laughter added flavour to the food, because the meal was a success and greatly appreciated by one and all. Hooray for home-cooked food!

And to all those wanting to cook home-type food abroad: carry your own home-type spices and mixes.

Bites of Bretagne- Part I (Desserts and Fruits de Mer)

If I go to another place, I want to eat the food of that place. Period. Not for me the pleasures of hot ‘pav-bhaji’ in the Alps or ‘dosa’ in the Acropolis, thank you very much. (these are real-life examples told to me by some tourists)

So, although I was quite surprised to see two Indian restaurants in Quimper, nothing would have induced me to step into either. With all the interesting looking creperies, boulangeries, patisseries and chocolateries around, it would have been an idiotic thing to do.

But first- the desserts. Or rather- the macarons. I had vowed to eat my fill of these, so it was like a dream come true when one of the first shops I saw in Quimper was ‘Les Macarons de Philomene’

IMG_20180418_110507237IMG_20180418_110513266

Inside was the most delectable, mouth-watering array of macarons I had ever seen (which anyway, wasn’t much in the first place). It was impossible to pick one, so I settled for three. And thus began my foray into the sweet, sweet world of french desserts. We went back a couple of more times to try out different eclairs and tarts. Each one was a sinful, divine treat.

IMG_20180418_110627872IMG_20180418_110631873

Quimper is famous for its crepes- they’re eaten as a savoury or as a sweet, depending on the filling. A very versatile food! I preferred mine with cheese and ham or just plenty of butter, but many kids had theirs with Nutella- which I thought was an insult to the crepe.

basic-crepes-20413-1

The next local speciality was the seafood. On our arrival, we were served a plate of  ‘langoustine’- which is a kind of small lobster or a very, very large prawn. These are boiled and served with a side-dish of mayonnaise. It was a little difficult to eat anything that was looking back at me, especially since I had to snap off its head and tail and remove the shell, but once I got past those hurdles (a bit messily), I found them quite delicious, washed down with sips of chilled white wine.

langoustines-mayonnaise-au-citron

I also tried some varieties of fish- none of which looked or tasted familiar. They were served with sauce or vegetables, each one was prepared differently and they were all yummy. So unlike the fish-tikka/fish-fry/fish-curry that I was used to.

WhatsApp Image 2018-04-17 at 23.31.22 (1)
My first ‘filet mignon’!

At the urging of my friend, I was persuaded to try snails. I was reluctant mainly because I thought they would be difficult to remove from their shells; which as it turned out was not the case. Drenched in butter and seasoned with plenty of garlic, each escargot was a scrumptious, juicy bite.

escargot

On our last day in Bretagne, I got to taste oysters. FRESH oysters. So fresh, they tasted of the sea (and the sand- a little!) Each shell was pried open and nestled within was the oyster, clinging to the shell which still contained sea-water. It was to be removed with a knife and quickly popped into the mouth. Not an easy task but one which my host accomplished with the greatest of ease. I however, fumbled a lot! The first oyster tasted briny and then slightly milky and so did the second. I did not try a third and I have been unable to decide whether I would attempt eating oysters again.

IMG_20180429_125231339
The oyster shells pried open and served on a platter.

 

Mujhe chalte jaana hai… bas chalte jaana.

IMG_20180425_195656443_HDR

My visit to Landeda in Brittany was memorable for many reasons: the breathtaking view of sea and sky, the glorious weather and the solitude. But what I absolutely loved about the place were the tracks that had been made for those who wanted to walk along the shore. One could just step outdoors, select a path and follow it up hill and down dale, along the rocks, sand dunes and small beaches until one decided to stop and turn back.

I’d watch from indoors and the paths around would beckon invitingly. All I wanted was to throw on a jacket, head out into the breeze, set my feet on a path and just…keep walking.

IMG_4294

 

I could choose to be alone with my thoughts or not. I could let the breeze whoosh through the corners of my mind and blow away all the dark thoughts that lurked there. Or I could gulp in lungfuls of fresh air and freshen up my thoughts a little! I could even let them play in my mind to the rhythm of my steps or the sound of the waves.  Or just fill my mind with the beauty around me and leave no room for anything else.

IMG_4335IMG_4338

Each curve or dip in the path invited me to go ahead, walk further; just that little bit more. And then some more. There was always the promise of something interesting around the next bend. One could keep walking till the sun went down- by which time it would be past 9 o’clock.

IMG_4340

At one spot there was this stile placed strategically, for those who wanted to stop and gaze at the view or perch on it and take a breather before continuing along the path. I did both!

IMG_4372

I remember a walk I took along the coast at low tide. The sea bed was covered with rocks and weed for as far as I could see. The waves in the distance showed no inclination to come sweeping into the shore. Further ahead, sand dunes stretched in a wavering line. It was such a change from the soothing emerald and aquamarine colours of the previous day that I felt awed.

IMG_20180428_124600521

The changing landscape has something for every mood and taste. All you have to do is step out and step up.

Clumsy ox… Who? Me?!

Lucy, one of my favourite characters from the comic strip Peanuts, called her little brother Linus a ‘clumsy ox’ when he messed up or dropped something that belonged to her. I use that phrase quite liberally for my beloved offspring because: a) it’s snappy and apt and; b) it rolls easily off the tongue. But this is one time that I had to use it on myself, not once but several times.

A visit to Mont St Michel earlier this April was going to be the highlight of my trip to France. I had been looking forward to it for months. I had armed myself with a camera (a fairly basic digicam loaned to me by my daughter), ensured that the battery was fully charged, had my mobile camera too for back up; and wonder of wonders- the weather forecast for the day was ‘bright and sunny’ What could possibly go wrong?

What indeed?! In my excitement on seeing the place and wanting to take as many pics as possible (no I did NOT drop the camera), I fumbled with the settings and unbeknownst to me; changed them from the usual, safe, ‘Auto’ to something else entirely. And off I went, clicking away at all I saw. We started from the terrace of the Abbey and the breathtaking view of the steeple. The sea at low tide all around us stretched towards a distant horizon. The imposing interiors of the cathedral where a mass was in progress. The large dining hall where the monks used to have their meals. And many other interesting arches, doorways and carvings- I  eagerly snapped the shutter at them all.

Yup, I had somehow changed the settings to something called ‘Fisheye’ which for the life of me I couldn’t figure out when or how. I never even knew that such a setting existed because who would want to use something that makes pics come out so ghastly. It only finally registered on my feeble brain that something was wrong with the settings when my friend took my picture through the ‘fisheye’. That’s when I felt that I couldn’t possibly look this bad- even on my worst bad-hair day. (Score One for vanity here) Which made me review all the pics I had taken earlier. And which got me fiddling with the blasted settings in a desperate search for the good old, reliable ‘Auto’.

But by then we had passed through half of the abbey. I made a apologetic phone call home, listened to the rantings of the camera owner and resolved to never ever, ever use my fat fingers on the camera to do anything other that switch ‘On’ and ‘Off’ and ‘Click’. I am so Not a gadgety person.

Anyway, I did redeem myself by taking some decent pics of what remained of the abbey for us to see. And I went overboard on buying souvenirs to soothe the ruffled feathers of those back home who had been waiting to see a monument that looked like it was right out of ‘Lord of the Rings’ (Duh)

Be that as it may, these pics will always remind me of my ‘clumsy ox’ moment. Thank God I still have my memories of one of the most magnificent monuments that I have ever visited. So far.

IMG_4129
The enormous pillars on which the monastery is built.
IMG_20180424_112853487
The grandeur of Mont St Michel. And no, pictures don’t do it justice.

The best cake of Christmas- my piece de resistance!

‘C’ is for the Christ child born on Christmas Day. ‘C’ is also for all the cakes baked for Christmas Day.

From watching my mother bakes varieties of cakes, to baking them myself, to now watching my daughter successfully try her hand at all sorts of cakes at Christmas; this is one festive tradition that seems well set to last.

Certain things have changed along the way- my father used to patiently sit with a bowl of egg-whites and a fork and beat them till they were stiff, whereas I’d avoid recipes that required separated egg-whites beaten till they formed peaks, but my daughter goes about  separating egg yolks from the whites with an enviable insouciance and whirrs them up with our trusty hand- mixer.

My mother would collect recipes by carefully cutting them out from different magazines, I’d jot them down hastily on whatever scraps of paper were at hand and my daughter saves links and videos!

I may be outclassed in the kitchen at baking time during Christmas but one thing that I still get to make is the Christmas Cake- aka the plum cake or the rum cake without which our cake platter would be incomplete. That’s a privilege I haven’t yet surrendered to the next generation.

In this era of Buzzfeed videos and dozens of their ilk, all showing us how to whip up the most complicated recipes in a matter of minutes, it’s very reassuring to know that I can still do something my way and have it turn out well.

When I see the glistening brown crystals of the demerara sugar sprinkled over the yellow cubes of butter, waiting to be whizzed into a fluffy mixture, it makes me feel like I’m in my comfort zone.

DSC_1058

Next step: to make the caramel, which at one time used to be intimidating but is now actually fun! As the spoon glides through the thick, glossy paste, I breathe in the aroma of burnt sugar and all I want is to pour it into the batter and watch how it magically turns the creamy yellow into golden brown.

DSC_1119

DSC_1162

The best part of making this cake is when the fruits go in. They have been soaking in rum for a month, along with cinnamon and other spices which makes for a heady mix of scents and taste.

 

DSC_1167

The flour has to be sieved and clouds of the cocoa powder mixed with it waft around and add to the mess that is a part of the festive baking tradition. Nothing matters because…it’s Christmas!

DSC_1090

Everyone hovers around as the final mixture goes into the cake tin which is then gingerly placed into the over. Which is followed by taking turns to peer anxiously through the glass as the batter follows its’s gradual process to turn from a gooey mix to a rich dark brown beauty. Meanwhile the entire house is beginning to smell a lot like Christmas!

DSC_1172 A perfectly turned out cake does much to inspire confidence in one’s culinary abilities. Christmas is over and I will have to wait another year to make this. But I will always have the memories of the cakes of Christmases past to know that- I can do it. Every time!

DSC_1176