Mar 31, 2006

The making of "Poli - an experiment blended with creativity "

Decided to make Poli (Obbattu in Kannada) on the occasion of Ugadi. I placed the recipe book on top of the microwave and started the process. The first line in the recipe said "Soak the bengal gram dhal for some time". I've been cooking for the past three years but I can never remember that Bengal gram dhal is kadalaparuppu. A few minutes went off in looking at the index and confirming that it was indeed kadalaparuppu. Next question came immediately to my mind - What is "some time"? How many hours do I need to soak the dhal? I decided "Let it soak for one hour".

Next came the big challenge. The second line was "Take maida or white wheat flour and make it into a smooth dough". Good, I have an option to choose since I didn't have maida at home. I took the wheat flour but it wasn't pure white. Forget it, so what if the colour doesn't match the exact requirements? I made a smooth dough but it became a bit soggy. So I had to allow the dough to soak for a while so that the moisture gets absorbed. Anyway, I had to wait till the dhal gets soaked.

The next one hour was filled with anxiety and a hint of tension. This happens whenever I try a new, complicated dish. Blog hopping came to my rescue for that crucial one hour. I returned back to see the dhal well soaked but the wheat dough was still soggy. I had to do some patching to bring it to a consistent, non-sticky state by adding some more wheat flour. Then I started boiling the dhal and within 10 minutes, it got cooked well. Meanwhile, I broke the jaggery into pieces and took a cup of shredded coconut. Next the dhal had to be ground to a coarse paste. I was skeptical to add water while grinding. What if it turns to a liquid consistency? I had a backup plan that if turns that way, I can convert it to a payasam (kheer). Thankfully, the dhal was in a semi-solid state after grinding.

Next comes the interesting and tough task - melt the jaggery. Initially it started to stick and hence I added a little water. My hands were paining a bit when I was stirring the jaggery continuously. Then the dhal and coconut gave company to the melting jaggery. The aroma of this combo was mesmerizing and my taste buds got activated. Even after 15 minutes of continuous stirring, the mixture didn't come to a consistency by which I can make small balls out of it. Another 15 minutes passed with a good amount of doubt and anxiety occupying my senses.

I looked at the clock and it was already 12.30. Oh my god, I still haven't prepared any dish for lunch. A short pause was indeed needed to let the jaggery mixture cool down. Multitasking and multiprocessing enabled me to complete the lunch dishes in 90 minutes, Multitasking wherein I was making sambhar and rasam in parallel, multiprocessing wherein my hubby was helping me with cutting vegetables :-)

I came back to the poli ingredients and started to make balls with the wheat dough. I could feel the stickiness in my hands. "No problem, add some more flour", instructed my brain. The actual execution steps began.

(1) I made a small chapati out of a dough ball. Yippee, it didn't stick to the plate.
(2) I placed a small ball of the jaggery mixture and rolled it.
(3) Praying to God, I started making chapati again out of the now-increased-in-size ball. Oops, it started to stick and I couldn't take it out.

I took another ball, same steps, same result. I was feeling damn hungry by then. I realized that this is not going to work out. I followed steps (1) and (2) but instead of making a big chappati, I made into a shape of kozhukkatai (semi circular shaped with jaggery filling) and fried it.

Thank goodness, the wheat dough was little in quantity and the jaggery mixture was more. I was able to make 5 kozhukkatais and the rest of the jaggery mixture into a yummy payasam. The time was 2:30 and we tasted my poli-turned-into-a-kozhukkatai-and-payasam with lunch. It wasn't tasting that bad after all the effort that had gone into it's making.

My landlord brought us a couple of Polis from his house. I was comparing my version with that. How different world is and how different cuisines are?

Can you identify my unique experiment below? ;-)

Mar 29, 2006

What is happiness?

Statutory warning : You are bound to get confused and your thought processes might undergo a serious change when you read this post.

A big question for which I'm searching an answer. I know that the meaning of happiness varies from person to person. But I'm pondering on what happiness means to me. Or what happiness meant to me so far in my life? I'm undergoing a change within myself. My definition for happiness is bound to change.

In these past years of my life, my happiness was always dependent on success, achievement, objects or people closer to me.

When I eat soan papdi, I feel happy. But if the supply of sugar is stopped through out the world, is my happiness lost?

When I stood first in my school, I felt happy. What if there was only one person in this whole world (or two, myself and the one who gave my scores)? Will I still be happy?

When I am with people whom I love the most, I feel happy and comfortable. But the golden rule of life is that it has to meet death face to face some day. This rule applies to every life. The earlier we accept this fact, the better we would be prepared to face the deadly monster called death. What will happen to my happiness then?

When I sleep in my bed for long hours, I feel happy. I love sleeping. But will I be happy when I take my life's longest sleep now?

As told by our teacher in Art of Living course, being happy is our normal state and we do not need anything to be happy. I imagine myself sitting on the floor on an empty, dark room alone. There is nothing inside the room apart from the four walls. I am in company with myself. Will I be happy? No way. I would feel miserable and in the end, turn mad.

I find happiness in the small flower blossomed in my garden.
I find happiness in the serene sunset and the evening sky that I get to watch these days.
I find happiness in the bright face of the kids playing in the park.
I find happiness when I chat with my family members and friends.

They are just short bursts of beautiful time. What happens after those few minutes? Why do I base my happiness on the presence of nature, books, music and people whom I love the most?

I still couldn't find an answer. What is happiness, my readers?

Mar 24, 2006

Apartments are not match boxes

Many people have the notion that living in an independent house is always better than an apartment. I agree to this as far as investment benefits are concerned, you definitely get more value for money. But living in an apartment with many families is such a wonderful experience.

When I watched Anjali in 1991, my brother and I wished how enjoyable living in an apartment would be, playing with so many kids, running around the apartment in the open space, shouting until the old grannies peep out of their window and stare us etc etc. Circumstances forced us to move to an apartment in 1993. 21 unique families were there to provide us fun, frolic and happiness during our childhood. When we moved in, only a few of them had occupied their flats. It was boring initially but once everyone had occupied, we had a blast. Memorable 9 years of my life.

We were around 15 (+/- 5 depending on summer vacation) kids, age varying between 5 and 12 years. I was the eldest, sort of a gang leader. I can't imagine how many hours we used to play. Sunlight or midnight cannot stop our spirits. We never get tired amidst the shouting and running. We also held secret meetings, trying to plan how to shut the mouth of those oldies who always crib about the fact that we scream a lot while playing. A 6 year old gave a wonderful idea that we should lit crackers and drop into the old Mami's window. As a gang leader, I should set examples. So I decided that we would not drop crackers, instead while she is taking a nap in the afternoons, we would go and bang her windows and then run off. That was such an adventure.

There was an empty plot at the back side of our apartment and a deserted out-house. Some were actually spreading rumours that a girl had committed suicide in the out-house and that's why no one is willing to buy that plot. Curious set of kids we were, on a quiet Saturday afternoon, we jumped on the wall and went inside the out-house to see what's in there. But to our disappointment, we couldn't see anything. It was just a dusty empty room.

Ice-boys (hide and seek) was our all-time favourite. There were many hide-out spots in our apartment, the one who becomes the catcher would have a hell out of time. We would be praying that we shouldn't become the catcher when we put "Sha Boo Thri" (Does this ring a bell in any of your minds?). Ice-boys in the dark makes it all the more spooky. Some brave kids (my bro, one of them) will jump onto the devil's house (pei veedu !!) which would make the catcher even more scary. The dense bushes, the tiny motor room, behind the bikes and rolling ourselves into the bike covers were our other famous hide-outs.

Adjacent to our flats lived an old bachelor uncle. His house was very small but his garden very big and the most beautiful. Most of the times, he wouldn't be around but we would be there in his garden, plucking guavas, mangoes and flowers and playing a short game of ice-boys. Can you believe if I say I played ice-boys until I entered college? My 12th std holidays were the best, waiting for results and nothing much to do. I was always playing ice-boys inspite of my father's "ezhu kazhudai vayasu aakudu, chinna pasangaloda vilaiyadikkittu irukke" comments (Your age is equivalent to 7 donkeys, but you still play with kids).

I learnt many new games and invented a few as well. When I visited my home last Diwali, I was very surprised to see a kid playing a game (Gate to B Block) that I invented 10 years back. I started organizing many activities - chess and carroms tournament, flat day and new year celebrations. We would prepare for dance programmes and execute them in front of everyone. When the movie Kaadhalan was released, we went crazy over the songs. I still remember clearly when we used to dance in our friend Anantharaman's house for "Oorvasi, Oorvasi" and "Pettai Rap".

Mrs. Anandi (we call her Moti mami, Moti was her dog !!!) was our beloved Maami because she always used to be supportive and never used to shout at us when we play until midnight. Infact, she would give us ideas on how we can trouble the ones who hate to see kids playing in the apartment. When we are tired, we would rush to her house (since her house is in the ground floor) and drink water. Her house was a rest place for us, when we want to sit and relax or play cards, carroms and trade. She also had a dog by name Moti which became our pet as well. We would play ice-boys with Moti inside the house. Moti was so cute when he had caught us. He would look at us with a sense of pride and achievement.

Navarathri (or Kolu) was one of the good times when we would visit every house to see the kolu (dolls arrangement) and also to have sundal. At the end of 10 days, we would rate the kolu and most of the times, Harini's house would win our hearts. An entire room devoted to kolu, decorated with serial lamps, parks, cricket stadium and a cute little train moving around a zoo. The tough part for me was to sing a devotional song, a compulsory tradition followed. A bad singer I'm, I did manage to learn a few songs from my granny. Yet, I'm not supposed to repeat the same songs that I had sung last year. "Vera pattu padudi" would be the reply from 40 plus mamis. There I was, sitting bewildered and thinking why don't people accept movie songs for kolus.

The general body meeting is another interesting thing that happens in every apartment once a year to elect president, secretary and treasurer. We would be praying that the old mama whom we hate the most shouldn't win any post. Bcoz we knew if he was elected, the first thing in his agenda would be to put on the notice boards that kids are not allowed to play after 9 pm. That's what exactly happened. We were so used to play until 11:30-12 and now we had to stop by 9. Our apartment looked very peaceful for a few days. We couldn't bear this silence. With the support of Moti mami, we started playing late again. This time, there were oppositions to the President's views from our parents.

Mary Aunty, my true supporter in my childhood was another favourite among the kids. We all love to hang out in her house during Christmas days to decorate the tree, blow balloons and ofcourse, eat yummy cakes.

My cousin loved our apartment and the fellow kids very much. He used to come to our house during quarterly, half-yearly and summer holidays. There were cousins of other kids who would visit our apartment around April-May. Our apartment would resemble a small school then.

These days, we hardly see kids playing outside their houses as they are busy with studies, computer games and TV. Apartments pose a very sad state. There is no more socializing with neighbours in apartments in Bangalore. Although adults don't want anyone to interfere with their personal lives, the kids definitely need to interact with their peers, play outside, run and jump when their bodies are fully flexible and enjoy childhood. I miss my childhood days now but atleast I have beautiful memories to treasure forever and narrate to my children.

Mar 22, 2006

An ode to the most precious

If only
you could smell
how good I have
started to cook

If only
you could walk
how beautiful would
be my nearby park

If only
you could sing
how colourful would
be this dull evening

If only
you could touch
how relaxed would
be my tired body

If only
you could understand
how I miss
your hands caressing my hair

If only
you could talk
how strong
I can face my challenges

If only
you could see
how my smile
can never be permanent

If only
you could realize
how life can
be tough without you

If only
you could hear
how far my
"I miss you, mom" can reach

If only
you could live
how different
my days would be.....

Mar 21, 2006

"The Vendor of Sweets" - not so sweet

Another master piece by R.K.Narayan I managed to complete. Mind you, this is not as humourous as "Swami and Friends" or "Bachelor of Arts". It is more on the lines of "The English teacher"; sad, gloomy, frustrating and feeling pity for the protogonist Jagan. He is a down-to-earth person with simplistic values in his life, well illustrated by his beliefs on nature's cure for diseases and his ever-releasing book. His son Mali, a completely different person who doesn't believe in college education and wants to become a writer. The mental misunderstanding between the two forms the crux of this little novel.

One of the characters I like the most in this story is 'The cousin". There was never a mention of his name, atleast I couldn't figure out. But this cousin always helps Jagan with valuable suggestions and information about Mali. A neatly etched character, I should say. Towards the end, there was a short flashback about how Jagan meets his wife and their engagement ceremony. Very interesting, typically seen in old Tamil movies. The ending was damn good. Jagan could have given all his money to Mali and just continued with his sweet shop and normal routine. Instead, he decides to start a new life at 60 and goes ahead with his dreams of constructing the temple.

RKN has this unique talent of making the audience visualize Malgudi streets, market road, the houses, Mempi hills etc etc. But the expected RKN humour is missing in this novel. The story is also not as gripping as his other novels. Still, it's worth a read if you are a RK Narayan fan.

Mar 17, 2006

Bharathi - Anyone better?

During my last trip to Chennai, I got to see a pack of cassettes in a CD shop. A collection of my most favourite tamil poet Bharathiyar songs. I was so excited that I bought the pack immediately. Last evening, I played one of those cassettes. The first song was "Theeraada Vilaiyattu Pillai" sung by D.K. Pattammal. What a powerful voice she has ! This song reminded me of my childhood when I used to sing this song in all the music competitions. When I was a baby, my grandmother used to sing this song to put me into sleep. After many years, while I listened to this song yesterday, it gave me a lot of happiness.

Bharathi was the one who brought new dimension to Tamil poetry called "Pudhu Kavidhai". His verses are very simple and captivating and most importantly, are not time-bound. "Oodi Vilaiyadu Paapaa" is applicable to every child in this world, even today. His romantic poems based on his wife Kannamma are lovely, the most recent one composed by Rahman "Suttum Vizhi Chudar dhaan kannamma" in "Kandukonden...". Rahman has used minimal instruments so that Bharathi's lyrics stand out.

Most of his poems are centred around three themes - freedom struggle, Lord Krishna and his wife Kannamma. Another interesting thing about his poems are that different raagas have been used by different singers for many decades. I have heard atleast three different versions of "Kaakai Chiraginile".

Although I have heard many of his songs, I plan to read his entire collection. Thanks to my dad who got "Bharathiyar Kavidhaigal" book as a prize when he won a speech competition in his school, I have the copy with me.

Bharathi is definitely an inspiration to amateur kavingni like me....

Mar 14, 2006

An utter disappointment

Being an ardent Rahman fan, I'm very much disappointed with his latest work "Godfather", definitely on the same league as Ah Aah. Except for the one song "Theeyil Vizhunda" sung by the genius himself, all other songs sound very average. Two songs have been remixed, only to increase the count of songs in this album. The remaining two folk songs "Diwali" and "kamma karaiyil" are worse than the remix songs.

The only worthwhile song to listen to is "Theeyil Vizhunda". Rahman has rendered his beautiful pitch variations, very similar to "Santhosha Kanneere" from "Uyire". The rest of the album is below ordinary. Music directors like Yuvan and Harris are doing very well these days. But the sad part is that the genius who took Tamil film music to great heights is performing poorly.

His latest in Hindi "Rang De Basanti" was quite good, though not upto his mark. I also liked a couple of his songs in the flop movie "Bose". But his recent Tamil movies are going worse day by day. Until he comes back to his form, let me listen to his ever-green melody "kannukku mai azhagu". I bet I can listen to it a thousand times.....

Mar 13, 2006

How lucky !

Aarti was looking tired, with drooping shoulders and a sweating face, carrying a school bag weighing half her weight.

"Mummy...where are you?", screamed Aarti.
"I am here, my sweety", arrived the reply from the computer room.
"I'm very hungry. Give me something to eat", said Aarti in a low tone.
"Give me a minute, dear. I've baked a yummy chocolate cake for you. I'll get it", Reena, her mother replied.

Washing the dishes in the kitchen, Vidya was staring at the chocolate cake, longing to have a bite. Having heard the footsteps of Reena, Vidya quickly turned around and continued her task at hand. "Are you still washing dishes? How long do you plan to take? Take this list and buy vegetables", shouted Reena. Trembled with fear,her tender palms lost grip of the porcelain cup she was washing and broke into pieces. Reena went furious but she controlled her temper since she saw Aarti
coming towards the kitchen having heard the sound.

"What happened,mummy?", Aarti asked. "Nothing. Vidya had broken a cup. You wait in the living room, sweety. I'll get you snacks to eat", replied Reena in a calm voice but in an angry mood which her 8-year old daughter couldn't recognize. She didn't shout at Vidya but took a piece of chocolate cake for Aarti and left the kitchen.

Wiping off her tears,Vidya took the list and the shopping bag. She could feel the love and affection showered by Reena towards Aarti,feeding her the cake, the same love and affection she has been longing for 10 years since her birth. Born to a poor house-maid Kamala,Vidya has never seen her father. Kamala couldn't afford to bring up her little treasure in this money-driven world. Forced by poverty, she had to lose her treasure. She had to leave 5-year old Vidya in a temple fair, praying to God that a good-hearted person finds her child and gives her good life.

On a yearly visit to the temple, Reena and her husband Ashok found little Vidya alone, crying and searching for her mother. Ashok felt so much pity for her."Poor child, someone has left her alone. Let's take her home. She might give company to Aarti", he suggested to Reena. Though not convinced by his suggestion, Reena had other plans and she agreed to it. Her rude face showed up once in a while, her anger and frustrations related to her work pressures were always showered on Vidya with no second thoughts. Inspite of knowing Reena's true face, Ashok, a workaholic husband didn't interfere too much in his wife's ruthlessness.

Slowly Vidya became an unpaid house maid. She lost her childhood amidst a sense of unbelonging, fear and inferiority complex. Though Reena was a cruel lady, she made sure that Aarti is unaware of how Vidya was being treated by her.

Watching Vidya coming out of the kitchen, Aarti said with a pleasant smile, "Mummy, why don't you give a piece of cake to Vidya?". "She is going to the shop now, she would come back and eat", replied Reena, knowing very well that she would never give one to her maid. Vidya's dinner is already lying on her plate; chapathis that Reena burnt while chatting with her friend in the morning.

"Mummy, how lucky Vidya is! She never has to go to school or do homework. She always stays at home. I want to be like her", exclaimed Aarti, waiting for a response from her mother.

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