Sunday, March 24, 2013

Of cocktail parties and beaches

So, this has turned out to be one legendary weekend. Long, but nonetheless fun. It had a bit of best and worst, in not so equal measures. This is what happened.

On Friday night, I was invited to a cocktail party by someone I know here. This person had an extra complimentary ticket and asked me if I could join. Well, who would say no? Free food and free booze - isn't that what every man dreams of. So I immediately said yes. There was just one problem though. It was a formal party - by that I mean a suit and tie party. I didn't have both. I somehow managed to borrow one from a friend's friend (which fit my size, that being the most important) and was good to go.

Now, this cocktail party was more of a fund raiser event. And being a student, I was in no position to contribute anything. So, with just good wishes in mind and heart, I reached the venue around 8 PM. That's when I realized I was in the midst of the 'who is who' in this place. Big shots all around, and I really felt a bit out of place. Until the alcohol was brought in.

Thankfully, I found a bunch of people around my age and they kept me company for the evening. We had some really nice moments and they did everything in their capacity to make me feel welcome. Atleast, outwardly. Or genuinely. Anyway, we were eating and drinking and drinking and eating and well you get the picture, right? At last count I had had around 10 rounds of whiskey. And then came the chief guest. And the wine.After his speech, there was a bit of interaction among everyone present and I was stuck with a middle aged couple, who turned out to be really sweet. I sat with them for the main course and they spoke highly of Indians and how they take care of their parents. That sure did feel nice.

The night went on for a while longer than I'd expected and finally when it was time to leave, I was about to hail a cab back home, when another middle aged uncle offered to drop me off home, as his house was just near mine. Thankfully, I was spared of the cab charges.

So I thought this is where the weekend gala would end. And I was so wrong.

Waking up on Saturday afternoon, I had to go to a friend's place to celebrate the birthday of another friend. So, the entire group came up, and the birthday boy was genuinely surprised. Party poppers, cake, sprite, the bumps - well the usual happened.

And then another friend calls up and asks me to come over to ECP for a night out session. Basically, the park has scores of barbeque pits where you can sit and drink your way off, right next to the beach. And its open all night, and no one bothers you as long as you don't bother others. There's a long cycling/jogging trek along the shore and it is one of the most blissful places in Singapore. And we were to spend the night at the beach drinking. What more can one ask for?

The night started off around 11 with a round of whiskey, another round of whiskey and on to vodka, beer, rum, breezer and on and on. Talk, drink, lie down on the beach - well the sequence pretty much repeated. And who else can keep you good company apart from Ilayaraja, especially when you are drunk and get into your philosophical best.

Some people were sloshed, some dozed off on the bench, and some of us were up talking the entire night, right until 7 in the morning, when we decided to call it a day. Heading back to Little India for a well deserved breakfast of Idly vadai and filter kaapi, the weekend seemed to have ended.

Putting up a few pics of the sunrise from the beach.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Puli Paruppu - paati's own recipe

Disclaimer : Ok, this is the first time I am writing a recipe on my blog. So, if it isn't exactly in the usual format (if there is one), please don't mind.

My paati and mother have always made this recipe called puli paruppu. And from times I can remember, I have only tasted it. Today was my turn to cook for my roommates and I was too lazy to cut any vegetables. And I didn't want to make any authentic sambhar, because all of us are too bored already. So I thought about attempting to make puli paruppu. Called my mom immediately, disturbed her in the midst of her office work and got the recipe and just made it. Speaking to Deepa Iyer (an amazing foodie blogger, who cooks and eats here), I thought why not share the recipe. So, here goes.

Puli Paruppu - paati's own recipe

Ingredients :

Mustard seeds (kadugu) - 1/2 tsp
Cumin seeds (jeeragam) - 1/2 tsp
Fenugreek (vendayam) - 1/2 tsp
Urad dal - 1/2 tsp
Channa dal - 1/2 tsp
Toor dal - 2 cups
Salt - to taste
Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
Chilli powder - 1 tsp
Dried red chilli - 4 to 5
Tamarind - 1 orange size (soaked and pureed in two to three cups of water)
Asafoetida - to sprinkle
Curry leaves

Method :

1. Boil toor dal in a pressure cooker until 5-6 whistles, so that it becomes a little soft, pastelike.
2. Heat oil in a thick bottom pan; temper mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek, asafoetida and curry leaves
3. Add dried red chilli, urad dal, channa dal till the dal becomes golden brown.
4. Pour the tamarind water into the pan and allow it to boil for about five minutes. Add salt, turmeric powder and chilli powder.
5. Once the mix has boiled well, add the toor dal paste and continue to boil. Stir continuously.
6. If it is thin, add some rice flour mixed with water to thicken the gravy.

 Serve hot with rice and eat well.

PS: This goes too well with potato fry and arisi appalam

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Gateway to Freedom - Berlin Wall

This post is part of The Chennai Bloggers Club's Wordless Wednesday series initiated to keep the spirit of blogging alive and challenging.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

When I did fly

Reading through Susan's post about her first flying experience here, I was a bit inspired to share my own debut flying experience. What started off from a mere Chennai-Bangalore flight many years back, at one point, became the only means of travel, and is poised to be so for atleast a few years to come.

On my father's side, I come from a family of well-to-do families, to whom flying was almost a daily affair. More so with international destinations, especially for holidays. But, hey, that was just on my father's side. Our family was a simple, yet, happy middle class. My dad had flown before, on an all-paid-by-the-bank business trip to Tokyo, Singapore and of all places, Bangkok. When he talked of the awesome JAL (Japan Airlines), where each seat had a screen on the seat before it, operated by remotes, that seemed the limit.

But I always kept my longing to myself, even as a kid. Scores of times I wanted to tell dad that I wished to fly atleast once, but no I didn't. Not that he would say no, but actually he would say yes. And I didn't want to burden him with that. So each time, my cousins (from the father's side) told me vivid stories of their trips to Hongkong, Europe, Egypt etc., I would be struck by a pang of jealousy, but I always let it go, secretly hoping that some day in the far future, I would fly too.

And it did happen.

I vividly remember the first time I was on an airplane. It must have been somewhere around 2001-2002 when my aunt(mom's sister) got a lumpsome bonus at work and decided to treat us kids (my cousins & I) to a flying experience. Five cousins on board two aircrafts. I was booked on the erstwhile Air Sahara (later taken over by Jet Airways) along with one cousin and the other three were on Indian Airlines. Coming from a family where flying was almost a daily affair (atleast on my father's side), I knew how "good" Indian Airlines was and remember very well about mocking the other kids that they were travelling on cattle class (or something to that effect) and we were flying business class.

Our flight was at 5 in the evening and the I.A flight was at 6 in the evening. Nonetheless, considering cost cutting, all of us reached the airport at 2 itself. Yeah, 2 PM for a domestic flight at 5. The racket we created at the airport, now when I think back I can only laugh at myself. Our mere being in the airport itself was something we couldn't comprehend. The glee on all our faces, staring at everything - even the baggage weighing machine at the check-in counter, the cute ground staff - well just everything about the airport was such a huge thing.

And finally we boarded the aircraft. Off we flew. Once in air, the fun started. The seatbelt, the seatbelt sign, the air sickness bag, the stunning airhostess (oh yeah, even at that age) who demonstrated the safety procedure (well, I listened in rapt attention, just to observe her every movement. Well, in later times, I never really bother listening to the safety procedure, thanks to her), the packed food, even the push back in the seat - everything seemed such a huge thing. As we got off the plane, she gave me the most gorgeous smile saying "Thank You, have a nice day". The innocent kid in me assumed it was only reserved for me (well later realizations did shock me initially).

And thus began a journey in the sky.

PS :
1. Never fly Air India to an international destination.
2. Fly Tiger Airways only if you are on a really tight budget
3. IndiGo airhostesses are the best of all the airlines I've flown (beating Jet and Emirates)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Be your own boss

This post is part of The Chennai Bloggers Club's Wordless Wednesday series initiated to keep the spirit of blogging alive and challenging.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Adopt me !!

This post is part of The Chennai Bloggers Club's Wordless Wednesday series initiated to keep the spirit of blogging alive and challenging.

Woman's Day - a tribute to the best cooks in the world

This post is part of the Chennai Bloggers Club which is celebrating a week long "marathon" in the honor of womanhood.

Over the past few months, there has been a huge hue and cry all over the media (social and mainstream) against the brutal assault on an innocent girl in our capital. Suddenly India seems to have awaken to this call and people are making loud comments concerning women. Several bloggers I interacted with during those times made some really bold talk about this and sadly some even went on to call men certain names. Well, all this vehemence is truly understandable, and being a guy it is difficult for many of us to actually empathize with their plight.But I am not going to speak about that in this post. In fact, I am going to talk of something that many of us see daily, but really do not fail to appreciate.

When I moved abroad, I thought it would be fairly easy to find food, considering its Singapore. But no, finding real "food" in Singapore is somewhat difficult. By real, I don't mean the scores of Indian restaurants around Little India. What I mean is authentic Tam-Brahm food. Something only each one of our mothers' can make. Well, that's really when I realized the value of the food my mother makes.

I cook my own food, but there are two problems to it. One being that no matter how well I do it, it certainly never matches what my mother makes. Secondly, it sure is an ordeal to actually make all pre-cooking preparations, something that is time consuming. More than that, the choices being limited, sometimes one tends to get crazy. I mean, how many veggies can you put in a sambhar?

But our mothers never seem to run out of choice. Each day, even before you think of getting your lazy arse out of bed, there she is, toiling in the kitchen to prepare your lunch before you rush off to work. Sometimes with working mothers, this rises their work scope all the more, for they have to prepare food for the entire family before she can actually get dressed to work.

Yet, beyond all this, I can sense certain things with the food a mother makes. One, it sure does have a "secret" ingredient (which most people would term love, but I beg to differ), that only a mother knows. Second, she never seems to tire out, or atleast pretends not to. Why? Just so you are well fed. Thirdly, she seems genuinely happy about it.

Many of us would actually observe this daily, but never really realize how much a mother does, just to make you happy. In the honor of all mothers who just feed their kids well, here's wishing you a Happy Woman's Day. Thank you for being there for us each day. You certainly know the way to a man's heart.

-Prashanth Ashok

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Har Har Mahadev

This is perhaps the first time I am doing a book review. So it may not be in the traditional way how any review is done. Hell, it may not even be a review in any sense. It is more of the reflections that I derived out of reading this book; well, this trilogy, to be precise.

With the first novel - The Immortals of Meluha, Amish painted a really beautiful picture of ancient Indian way of living - right from the cities and its sanitation system, right on to the righteous lives led by the citizens of Meluha. Fast forward, we reach Tibet where the tribals lead their so called barbaric uncouth lifestyle and it is from such a setup that the Neelkanth emerges. The reader is also introduced to the Somras, the elixir of life to the ancient Indians. Detailed narration of how it is made (at Mount Mandar), its powers and its importance etc. are presented and the reader is made to wonder how it would be if he can lay hands on this amazing tonic. Here, Shiva meets his to-be-friend Brahaspathi. Later the Mandar is destroyed and Shiva believes this is the work of the Meluhan archrivals, the Chandravanshis and declares war on them. Meluha wins the war, but only then Shiva realizes his mistake (for, the Chandravanshis had their own tale where Shiva would save them against the evil Suryavanshis - the Meluhans). Confusion reigns, but the book concludes with Shiva charging towards saving his wife, Sati.

The second novel - The Secret of the Nagas, in my opinion was the most interesting read of all the three books. For one, it picked up beautifully from where the first book left off. For another, it introduced two major characters - Kali and Ganesh, and the story woven behind their history was portrayed in the most obvious manner possible. That Kali and Sati are twins and Ganesh is Sati's long lost child angers Shiva, but he later forgives Ganesh, and also tries to emphatize with the sort of life his son had previously led, being banished by his own grand father for being born with deformities and hence being branded a Naga. The book brought out the moral fiber of the elephant god. This book is also significant, for it brings in most of Shiva's future associates, when he took on the fight against evil. At the fag end of the book, Shiva's entourage is attacked by unknown daivi astras. The book also reveals that Brahaspathi is indeed alive and not dead, as was thought of, after the attack on Mount Mandar (in the first book)

The third book starts off with Shiva seeking to understand why Brahaspathi had lied to him and faked his own death. As the scientist proceeds to explain this, truth about who tried to attack them enroute Panchavati gradually dawns upon them. It also reveals later that the true adversary was not Emperor Daksha of Meluha, nor was it Emperor Dilipa of Ayodhya. It turns out to be Maharishi Brighu. Eventually, Daksha, without the knowledge of Brighu Maharishi, gets an Egyptian group to kill Shiva during a fake peace deal. However, Shiva is out elsewhere, so Sati leads their camp to the peace mission. When she realizes the folly her father had committed, Sati is enraged and rushes back to save her group of soldiers. But the Egyptian killers mistake Nandi for Shiva and tries to attack him. Sati deflects him and duels his men. In the process, she dies a warrior's death, severely wounded by the duels. Shiva seeks revenge for this and uses the Pashupathiastra to destroy Meluha. Fast forward some thirty years, Shiva and the rest of his clan live on the Kailash-Mansarovar stretch and the trilogy ends here.

The trilogy is unique in a lot of aspects. For one, it introduces a lot of mythological characters in the most simplest forms as humans. That such characters walk on the face of the Earth, in itself is something we would all be thrilled of. Imagine the bull headed Nandi as actually a living human character. Same goes for Veerbhadra, another such character. To me, the best of all this would naturally be Brahaspathi, the scientist. For, in reality, we use the term Brahaspathi to describe someone who is really stupid. Stark contrast. Likewise, characters like Daksha or Surapadhman, who we associate with evil in the real world, are given their due share in this book. Their side of reasoning is explained so well that the reader is left to wonder if the Evil is actually not so evil.

But the best of all would be the choice of words and the language. We all look upon Shiva as someone supreme, but what Amish tried to portray was Shiva as someone just like you and me; someone who may well be right next to us. And it is ok for Shiva to use swear words (or for that matter, any of the mythological beings). For a reader like me, that is something unique, something I would never have imagined. But Amish did it. And I must admit, it was fine later. Also, this is one key aspect where Amish wins the reader over - all through the trilogy.

Also, Amish beautifully brings about the portrayal of modern day scientific inventions/discoveries as something very common back then. The sewage system, the customs at ports, the ship building and most importantly, the existence of nuclear warfare etc. are brought about in the most obvious sense. That is something which makes us wonder if such technological expertise did exist back then, and further makes us somewhat ashamed that we Indians could not sustain such priced knowledge.

Now, onto the third and the final part.

It has been quite sometime since the first two books released. Both books brought about war in the most realistic fashion. Gory bloodshed and warfare was narrated really wonderful. With the second book, expectations over wartime narration rose. With the third book, this reached its peak. Most of us expected this to reach an all time high. We wanted Shiva to fight Evil in the most crudest form possible, and destroy his enemies in a very nasty war. Well, we are in for a surprise. That part never happens. Except for subplot fights, there was no major war at all in the big. This, in my opinion, was a big time let down. Much of the expectation just got cremated then and there.

Also, the first two books built up the plot in a very gradual way, intertwining different events in the most natural way possible. The third book rushed off at such a pace that we lose track of what happens earlier. The plot, in many places, was just too quick and too shallow. There was nothing strong to it. There was something missing, in essence. I seriously wonder why Amish chose to write this third book with much expectation, to just let the reader know that nuclear weapons existed back then. Well, that may not have been his intention, but it eventually came down to that. In this sense, I would say that the third book was a really big let down, at least in most parts. What Amish started off with the first two books and built it to such a grandeur, he did not finish off with the same grandeur in his third and final book.

Yet, all said and done, Amish did attempt something brave, something unique. To portray the life of a God who is as diverse as Lord Shiva, in the most simplest and readable way, intertwining fact and fiction in the right amounts (such that the reader would never guess which was fact and which was fiction), is something remarkable. In an age where we have sleazy writers like CB and Ravinder Singh, who make it their life's mission to bring out a book that is just downright crappy in its covers, it is really heartening to have writers in the likes of Amish, who know what they want and who certainly know what they right. For that, Amish must definitely be lauded.

Overall : The Shiva Trilogy - 8/10

-Prashanth Ashok