Archive for December, 2010

Close Encounters of the Microwave Kind

Posted in About me, Cooking, Experiments, Life. Or something like it. with tags , , , on December 30, 2010 by samudranb

One of the first things I decided to do when I landed in Bangalore, besides cursing the autowalla for ripping me off of Rs. 150 by taking me round and round in circles (the bus had deposited me squarely in front of the railway station, and the only set of directions I had to get to where I had to get to were from Majestic – which, I learned later, was directly behind me when I got into the auto in the first place) and besides hunt for a place where a respectable citizen of society might be mistaken enough to take up residence in, was to decide to buy myself a microwave.

Now don’t get me wrong. I did a lot many much more important things too. But I cannot for the life of me recall any of those any more. In my memoirs, the chapter on my life in Bangalore would have this outline – “curse autowalla – hunt flat – buy microwave – get thrown out of flat – …

When I had moved to Bangalore, I had decided that I was going to cook myself, and I was going to eat healthy food. The two of them, to the uninitiated, might seem one and the same. But the truly wise know that they are as far away from each other as Jenna Jameson’s legs.

The truly wise might also realize that cooking is impossible unless you have a gas stove, or a microwave. Neither of which I had.

Having decided to buy a microwave oven immediately, I, being as perfect an example of the exemplary bachelor as anyone can ever hope to be, obviously forgot about it promptly.

Until the day three weeks later when I ran out of bread. And cornflakes. And milk. And biscuits. And cake. And pretty much anything edible. Unless you count that weird white thing that was once upon a time a light brown Monginis sponge cake, that now looked like it could walk off on its own in a huff, frustrated that it couldnt fulfill its destiny of satisfying someone’s hunger. I would not. Count it as edible I mean. Out of concern for the millions of microbes, yeast and fungi that had made it their home.

So I decided to make myself self-dependent on food. Well, as self dependent as any human without any natural means to produce anything edible, without turning to self-cannibalism, can be.

And went to shops. Small ones, where it seemed the microwave oven appeared from between and behind the shopkeeper’s legs (the shopkeeper did look like he was quite in demand in prison), to big ones, where you cannot tear your eyes away from the latest, the biggest and the orgasmically beautiful TVs which cost you a half year’s salary, while nodding along with the tiny chap, who is trying to portray a tiny microwave oven with a tiny digital display as the savior of mankind from a regression to eating raw fruits and vegetables for nutrition, and occasionally throwing in a “Hmm… that is nice. How about this model over here?” so that you can postpone any imminent impulses he might have of throwing his frustrated self off the roof of the building till after you have left the premises.

I finally selected one which promised me the abilities to cook rice and daal, brew coffee, bake cakes, cook cookies, grill chicken and fish, seduce Priyanka Chopra and save the world without having to wear my underwear outside.

I should have taken it as a sign when the landlady smiled at me that morning. I should have taken it as a sign when a guy wearing a Bhayanak Maut t-shirt came to deliver the oven. My barely present optimistic streak felt that that fateful Sunday was as good a day as any to assert itself however, and I unpacked the oven with a song in my heart (“Mar Jawa” from Fashion, another sign) and started reading in earnest the remarkable display of getting-sued-ophobia and hilarious test of human endurance – the instruction manual.

On my version of the bucket list, I have at the 23rd position a desire to meet a man who makes a living writing instruction manuals. I would like to know from him how he chanced upon the wisdom that we should not “place refrigerator on foot in order to estimate weight.” And about the circumstances which led him to issue advice to  the general public that they should not “break open microwave oven lid with a shoe while the oven is in operation.” And whether it was safe to use a shoe AFTER the oven had stopped operating.

To my feminist friends: I say that I would like to meet such a man, because I believe all women, and by that I mean all women who are outside of the walls of a mental asylum and who are not involved in a scramble to spend months of their salaries on that piece of yesterday’s fashion which they are not going to wear more than once, would somehow instinctively know that they should “Remove clothes from baby before putting clothes in washing machine. Do not put baby in the washing machine. Results not guaranteed.

But I digress.

After having gleaned enough information from the 3 pages (out of the 70 in the manual, half of them in Hindi, the other half in a language that seemed oddly reminiscent of English) to start up the microwave (“Put 3-pin plug into wall socket having 3 holes of same size.” Who knew.), I was faced with the monumental task of figuring out what I wanted to have for lunch. A task which was made considerably easier once I realized that amongst my considerable array of culinary skills, the only one to pass the “Can anyone other than you recognize what you have made? What about after 3 hints?” test was that of making scrambled eggs.

But how do you make scrambled eggs in a microwave?

Not one to be deterred by minor inconveniences such as ignorance, I set out on the path of self-discovery through the discovery of a scrambled eggs recipe involving a microwave.

Which, as it turned out, was not the best idea I had had since… well… that night a few weeks earlier, when I, determined to reach work on time at 10:30 AM for once, had decided to rig a bucket of water to wake me up in case I hit snooze on the 3rd and final alarm at 9 AM. The next morning, the whole neighbourhood had been jolted out of their routine by a long, elaborate construction of words involving entire generations and dynasties which, if they had understood “Hindi”, would have made me an irreplaceable part of the housewives’ gossip, and a hero to their kids, for decades after facilitating my unbelievably quick exit from the neighbourhood.

On this day, however, the resultant shortage of raw eggs thwarted my determined, experimental efforts.

Obviously, my next attempt had to be more organized. And I needed more than 6 eggs, if I were to produce anything identifiable.

So 1 hour, 1 trip to the supermarket, 1 trip to the bookstore (to buy a cookbook of microwave recipes that I would need to criticize and improve upon to reach the dizzying heights of the culinary celebrity world), 1 trip back to the supermarket (because I forgot my credit card) and 1 trip back to the bookstore (to pay for aforementioned book with aforementioned credit card) later, I was back at my place, ready for another battle with destiny.

And 4 hours, 13 adamant attempts by the microwave to feed me either Chicken Tikka Masala or Paneer Butter Masala, 5 episodes of Coupling, 1 shouting from the landlady (because I was laughing too loudly) and 24 mummified/dehumidified/burnt/putrefied eggs later, I finally did what I should have done 6 hours ago.

I would like to think that someday, when he is retired and is dictating his life story to a ghost writer, the multi-billionaire who started out as a pizza delivery boy remembers the tip which enabled him to start his own business, and thanks the guy who invented microwaves.


This is a completely fictional account. Nothing mentioned here is true. I do know how to make scrambled eggs. Not in a microwave though.

PS: If you are the pizza delivery guy, please spell my name correctly in your book.

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Favourite poems

Posted in About me, Life. Or something like it., Literary with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 5, 2010 by samudranb

Poems, it seems to me, have the power to captivate, astound, inspire the human soul with a fervor that is not usually achieved by prose. The beautiful way an emotion is captured in just a few words is what makes it so powerful.

The following lines, from various poems, have been special to me at various stages in my life. I keep turning to them regularly for support, for inspiration, and occasionally, for help with introspection.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

– from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

– from “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost

 While both of the above quotes from Frost’s poems remind me of where I want to be and where I have been, the following lines by Kipling help keep me grounded in the present reality.

IF – by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

 
I came across the following lines from Mary Oliver’s poem, when I stumbled across the Portrait Project. This beautifully reminds me of what is important, and how precious every single thing that I have is. Excellent for un-depressing myself.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

– from “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver

J. R. R. Tolkien was one mad hatter, if you ask me. (IMHO, you HAVE to be crazy, in order to write LOTR!) But his lines give me hope that even though I may not be far behind him on the bat-shit-crazy scale, I still just might have a chance to redeem myself.

All that glitter is not gold – J. R. R. Tolkein

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king

And last but not the least, a poem that scares me, inspires me, frees me and burdens me.

Invictus – by W. E. Henley
 Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced or cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

 
Tell me about your favourite poems. And how they affect you.

Wanderers

Posted in Experiments, Life. Or something like it., Literary on December 5, 2010 by samudranb

For the last few days, weeks, months, years,

I have been wandering.

Whiling my time away,

Wondering.

 

They say “All those who wander

are not lost”

Or am I just fancying myself

to be Faust?

 

Mary Oliver asked me – “Tell me, what is it you plan to do,

With your one wild and precious life?”

Figuring this out is painful,

And the cause of a lot of strife.

 

Being the “Captain of my soul”

Is tough, it is.

Especially alone, and without a compass,

in black rough seas.