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Additional thoughts

23 Oct

*I feel I was a bit hasty in forming my opinion on #metoo. It seems to have provided an outlet that wasn’t seen to exist before. I withdraw my reservations about it.

*I am deeply fond of soft, creamy cheeses but they are hard to find in India. Brie and Camembert are still found in fancy shops, but what I really give my heart to is frishkaese, which was wonderfully cheap in Germany, especially if you bought an in-house brand. For around Rs.35 I’d have a 200gm tub of herbed frishkaese, which is a fraction of the price of Amul cheese.

The Germans also make a variety of soft cheeses that taste similar to Brie and Camembert, all for under Euros 2. I love Germany, have I mentioned? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Cheese is not a viable thing to ingest in the hot climates of either Delhi or Calcutta, the two cities that are home to me. So most of the time the lack of availability or expensive imports don’t bother me. Besides, Philadelphia cream cheese isn’t, in my opinion, half as tasty as your average frishkaese.

Sometimes though, the craving hits, and in winters it is permissible to indulge. It was with great delight that I discovered this year that a home-made substitute exists that is veryย close to the taste I am seeking. And that is a hung-curd dip that my mother makes. When you hang curd long enough it assumes a texture and taste quite like frishkaese, and when you add in whatever additions appeal to you, like garlic, chopped coriander etc etc, it becomes suitably elevated to divine! A bonus: this is actually healthy and good for all weather consumption.

*Salt and vinegar chips are rather yummy. INOX makes a brand of kettle-cooked chips which delivers this flavour at Rs.40 for 50 gms. It’s quite good, though the chips aren’t as tongue-curlingly sour as I’d like. I am, however, not paying ridiculous prices to try the other brands that offer this in India. When I’m not PhDing, (which seems to be always these days!) I begin to fantasize about making these at home, without the maltodextrin.

*I discovered English Breakfast tea in December 2011, in the panic of MPhil coursework exams. I’ve loved it ever since, but haven’t ever had it with milk, because I prefer my tea without milk and sugar. Today I was craving a milky drink and found it tastes as good, maybe even better, with milk.

*The fridge went kaput yesterday and I will be fridgeless for a week until we buy a new one. I’ve never lived without a fridge, ever. I’m very dependent on it, a reflection of my extreme privilege ofcourse, given how monstrously expensive those things are!, and I’m driven to near panic at the thought of existing without one. (I’m almost as dependent on washing machines.) My neighbours are very, very nice and they will keep my cooked food for me whilst I woman up to the challenge of planning my meals without the cushion of storageability.

*This post is almost entirely about food.

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Year Four

18 Oct

Stocktaking:

  • Came out of PhD paralysis by going through and making notes from all audio recordings. Some of that shit’s really interesting.
  • With one last round in Calcutta and Delhi, brought the fieldwork part to a close.
  • Prepared and presented a poster in a conference in Hannover.
  • Trying to read the book I have been asked to review for a peer-reviewed journal.

I need to begin the writing part, and for that I need to wade through historical literature. Dipesh Chakravarty was fun, illuminating, and done. Raj Chadavarkar? Making me doubt my abilities severely. Should have had a tentative chapterisation down by September. I dumped the scientific process and chalked out three chapter possibilities-the historical lit, writing down of fieldwork#1 and fieldwork#2. I’m hoping that from there will emerge chapters four and five.

At this point I feel like an outside observer watching my own self with disinterested interest. Will she? Won’t she? Finish the damn thing, I mean. I wonder what the picture will be one year down the line.

There isn’t a whole lot of work that I’ve got down since July. I thought I would find the work frenzy motivated by desperation that happened during the MPhil. But nwope. I’m even getting a tad worried about the book review I said yes to. Sure, book reviews don’t count for anything in an academic’s CV. But a)I don’t do things for the CV (except summer jobs in undergrad-that I definitely did for the CV), b) it’s a new experience, and for a journal I intend to try publishing in, and c) it might get me started on the publication journey.

I’ve been spending almost all my time indoors, and I’m sure that’s not very healthy. Been doing a lot of bad eating-and thought my cooking days were over. Well, I’m still indoors a lot (with a few coffee shop binges thrown in) but as of this month, I’m happy to cook and bake again. Though brownies for breakfast don’t do much for the waistline. Oh, that’s another thing. I can’t seem to abide any exercise. The thought of getting out for a morning walk just makes me roll over and go to sleep. Yoga? What yoga? Consequently, my clothes are getting a bit tight around the middle. But I’ll knock it off post-PhD, won’t I?

Have decided to cancel festivals this year. Post October is always delightful in the Indian calendar. But I decided to skip Durga Puja, Diwali, Bhai dooj. The mother isn’t happy at all. But I feel I need to do this in a bid to force myself to get a sense of urgency and in routine, and sort of like a deny-self-till-achievement-visible.

In all this, my spiritual life has both suffered and not. I’m more mentally fragile, as can be expected from a 30 year old struggling with a PhD and not sure about whether she’ll be able to handle adulthood on her own. I’m trying very hard to develop a routine of twice daily meditations, short though they may be. I kept it up for a month, but am yet to start again for month#2. The only part that hasn’t suffered has been the urgency of my need-that has grown.

Make no mistake-the scary moments are enough to send me into a panic and they do. The level of uncertainty about things grows a lot towards the end of the twenties, I see that now. And my coping habits leave a lot to be desired. I’m reading a LOT of fiction and non-fiction again this year (just not maintaining a log to feel good like last year), doing some writing, doodling. Have in fact joined an online art exploration course that my very talented friend is conducting. ย  I’ve also, as mentioned in the previous post, been discovering the Russian Army.

What is to be done though? Nothing but keeping on. Keep on keeping on. Even through an excess of detective novels and junk food. And un-scrubbed toilets, and overflowing laundry baskets, and clothes strewn everywhere. And Chandavarkar staring threateningly at me along with the book I have to review but can’t seem to be able to read.

Cheers!

 

Bye, 2015. And Season’s Greetings!

31 Dec

I’m glad to have made your acquaintance. In many ways you were like 2013: you walked me through quite a journey. In no specific order, some of my favourite things from this year:

*The share autos at Noida City Centre metro station. Because:

1)UPiites (Uttar Pradesh iites) really are polite, even if they burn their women and mutton eaters occasionally. And,

2) In order to extract the crazily parked and inevitably hemmed-in auto you are sitting in (or sitting behind) (filled with a minimum of 10 passengers) the driver will move backwards and forwards, going thud-thud into the autos in front and behind, like dodge’em cars, until there is space to manoeuvre out onto the main road.

*That twice daily meditations did not happen, but routinely longer ones did.

* The Cafe Coffee Day on Barakhamba road. After many misses, I’ve found ‘my’ coffee shop in the city.

* Days that begin at 5.30AM on winter mornings, finish by 3, leaving me the rest of the afternoon and evening for Noida visits and meditation.

* Who’d a thought I’d enjoy being out of the house by 5.30 AM? That I LIKE less sleep when forced into it?

* Goettingen. Lucking out on wonderful people there, both friends and strangers. Especially strangers.

* Uncle Chips. Many, many packets of it.

* Beginning, meaningfully, on field research for the second part of my PhD. I don’t care whether I actually finish or not: the journey thus far has far exceeded my expectations of learning when I began. But I will finish, because the ICSSR has kindly paid me a fellowship thus far.

* Noida, Nurnberg, Dakshineshwar.

Happy New Year, all. Because whyever not?

Accents

15 Feb

There is something immensely endearing about the Bihari (Bhojpuri?) accent on Hindi. One of my favourite things to do on public transport-especially on trams and buses (although I no longer take tram rides as frequently as I once used to)- is to overhear conversations. My eavesdropping ear stays peaked and travels from one conversation to another, and homes in on one that suits.

Today morning on the 1.5 hour ride to Dakshineshwar, I overheard a mother and daughter have a brief not-quite-a-quibble about who will pay the bus fare (the daughter was quite business-like about how much her mother owed her for the preceding auto-ride-Rs.11!- and would not shell out for the bus fare, even though the mother promised to pay her back later. The mother was apprehensive about whether the bus-conductor would willingly accept the hundred rupee note she had for a fare that would be under twenty rupees). The mother wondered whether the conductor had over-charged them (I think he did, for he took one rupee more from me than is the usual fare). They also spoke about how the daughter’s new workplace would be quite far from home. Rather mundane, and all in Bengali. My ear did not happen upon anything interesting.

On the return journey, there were two voices behind me. I’ve never aged people by their voice before and it was interesting to recognise an ‘older’ voice and a ‘younger’ voice. In Bihari (Bhojpuri?) accented Hindi the older one one was recounting how during the 1992 World Cup* (cricket, ofcourse; I never did football B-)) he and his friends used to rent a television to watch the matches. And how he bought celebratory fire-crackers in anticipation of India’s win against Pakistan, way before the match day. And how the true joy of watching the matches, especially after wins, was switching between the various news channels to hear what the experts had to say accompanied by the many replays of particular moments. They were wondering whether to go to Mani Square (a biggish mall with, I assume, large screens airing the match for free) or Tiljala (a neighbourhood known for its notoriety in the 60s and 70s, according to my mother) for today’s match. The older man was trying to convince the younger man, boy, really, to come to Tiljala. But what is there in Tiljala, the boy kept asking. Oh, you come, and I’ll show you something wonderful, the older man would laughingly say. The second time he conceded there was an ashram there which he was keen to take that young boy to. I’m not exactly sure how an ashram is related to cricket,lol!

All this to say that the Bihari/Bhojpuri accent, coupled with their way of delivering speech, makes language sound warm, endearing, and straight from the heart. Every word sounds like a verbal hug. You’ll have to imagine what that sounds like ๐Ÿ™‚

***

*Certain liberties have been taken with the dates. It could also have been the 1996 World Cup, or some cricket series in 1994. All three years made an appearance during the conversation but my memory chose to be all Oral History** about recollecting the sequence of their appearance.

** Oral history, with its privileging of narratives recounted from memory which often contradict officially recorded ‘facts’ and timelines, and their own facts and timelines with every re-telling, used to frustrate me when I first encountered it as an undergraduate student of literature taking a compulsory concurrent course in history.ย  Later, as an MPhil student, it began to really teach me about how we think about ‘what was/is’ and how much of our history gets written by privileging a few versions of the ‘truth’ as opposed the many that exist. I now find its premise to be a very valuable tool in knowing how to listen to other people before making sense of a problem, a situation or a picture.

Chow

21 Jan

I cannot write about my Grandmother’s death as yet, it is too soon and more painful that I imagined it would be. It is still hard to believe she’s gone. My mother forgets sometimes and thinks to call her about something before remembering. Every other thing reminds me of her, and suddenly, of my grandfather, who passed away in 2008.

Chowmein, for instance. My mother brought some back from her office canteen today. She sat wrapped up in a quilt and I at the foot of the bed, eating, and Didu popped into our minds at the same time. My mother’s because she had one of those moments when she was thinking to call and ask how Didu was doing with Calcutta’s cold (like most old people, my grandmum hated the winter and wore several layers at home) and I because of ‘chow’.

My grandmum was an awesome cook. Most summer vacations, when we visited or they did, we had a ritual where she’d weigh me before and after the visit. Her feeding up would inevitably add about five pounds to my skinny frame by the time it was time to go back. She’d be planning meals all the time and talking about how I was too thin, and at times I’d get irritated and make fun of her one-track mind. One of my demands of her used to be her chowmein. This was in the days before it was available commonly and cheaply on the streets (and anyway my grandmum was so good at replicating restaurant delicacies at home that the question of ordering in rarely arose). She would call it chow and it was a staple whenever we visited. My brother loved it as well, if I remember correctly.

When I was even younger, it wasn’t enough that she prepared delicacies for every meal; I used to demand she feed me and tell me stories. Both grandparents were awesome storytellers and I grew up associating grandparents with the function of storytelling. Even when I’d snuggle in for a nap with either Didu or Dadu I’d demand endless stories. Golpo bolo.

Their old house had a kitchen on the first floor. It was huuuge, had a separate storeroom, and contained a dining table as well. I’d hang out there with her as she cleaned and cut fish (this she did till she was 80; she’d never trust the fishmonger to do it for her) on the bonthi, demanding, what else? stories. And the occassional piece of tamarind. I first tasted tamarind in her kitchen. She’d make a rad shingi magur’er saloon. Ilish maach, kosha maangsho, chicken’er jhol, kaakra’r jhal, chingri…I’ve never eaten better.

Just a couple of weekends before she died, she came over and brought us Dhakai porotta. And she ate a slice of pizza I’d sent to her through my mom the day she had her stroke. Whilst she was in hospital, in a coma, I told her I’d be baking a cake and saving a slice for her. I did; but in the end, like always, she ensured I ate it.

Light

23 Oct

In nursery, they taught us to sing ‘Diwali, Diwali, festival of lights’. Candles burn, crackers burst…and after that I cannot remember. Never mind, it’s the light I’m interested in.

There is something so cleansing about fire. Cleansing, energizing, life-giving. Or perhaps, I’m just a closet pyromaniac! ๐Ÿ˜›

It is Diwali today, and I realise that I suck at secular festivity. As a kid- it was the crackers which made Diwali an occasion for me (we’d burst them as a family, mostly low-power stuff except that one time when my mom got us those string crackers that look like crayons in a box and OHBOYWHATFUN our hearts thudded with the noise after my mom the brave one lit it and that is one memory I will always cherish-that one daring Diwali-but we stopped bursting crackers when I was in Class V because my brother, who is four years younger, was brainwashed at school into giving them up child labour, pollution and Diwali, Diwali is a festival of lights I was pissed at first, I remember standing at one end of the primary school corridor at Carmel overlooking the basketball court? complaining to friends about the injustice of it they’re just crackers) but after that I’d only get mildy interested in putting up the diyas with my mother (who has always been the most enthusiastic about it) who eventually found a kindred spirit in the neighbour kid and they would do rangolis together. Once or twice, I’d summon up interest because Kali Puja, which falls on the same day for us Bengalis (although some apparently do Lakshmi Puja on this day), provides mutton curry as prasad.

So yes, I suck at secular festivity. This time, the secular beat a retreat on its own, and in the days leading up to Diwali, I transitioned in my head to thinking of it as Kali Puja. I love Kali. So I did some enthusiastic cleaning around the house (and discovered the joys of wipe-downs with lemongrass oil-don’t get any on your hands though it’s an essential oil and it will burn undiluted) and went out today to replenish the stock of tea-lights that were to go into diyas today because yesterday we used up fourteen-the day before Diwali ‘we’ (meaning what? Bengalis? Our kind of Bengalis? Or just our family line? Who knows? We’re autonomous migratory Bongs with limited time for rituals) and along the way I saw this young man setting up with the largest, brightest genda phools I’ve seen, on two tables, by the little road leading to the market I was walking to. I saw him, thought about buying some, but because I never do, I walked on. Genda phool also goes by marigold and when I was a child, when we had flower pots in our balcony, we had two of marigold, one used to be on the left-most corner and I would stand by that one oftenest as I would look between the railings and get my view of the world outside my building. I kind of remember it being in perpetual bloom, but I’m sure that is just my memory kidding me.

On my way back, though, I bought it. They were the biggest, brightest, yellow and orangest and fragrantest of the lot I’d seen while walking-and there were many marigold sellers out and about on occassion of Diwali. The young man selling it called me Madam and the lady beside me Madam. We both examined the length of the string, and both asked the price and he used the same tone of voice, the same language for both replies. He treated us the same. He gave us the same soft, polite respect. What a nice guy!ย  What a beautiful soul! That is what happens when the secular transitions to non (I notice things).

The strand of all that is good and God wove its way from his big, lovely flowers to a new urge to place a blossom each before our Guru in every room.When I go back to Calcutta end of this month I’m getting myself a pot of marigold so I can take a daily flower or two and with my hands place them before Lahiri Mahasaya and Gyanamata and Babaji and God and Guru in every room. The genda phool found its way home and took me along for the ride.

The thing about marigolds? Apparently they bloom best in poor soil.

Ah the sun!

30 Jul

There is nothing like beginning your day with a mug of green tea with lemon and honey.

I’m in Delhi for a week. The primary purpose was a close friend’s wedding, but I had also made plans of yoga, meeting friends and generally just going around Delhi for a bit. I already know that yoga is all that will happen, hehe. I’m just too reluctant to make long journeys right now, I’d rather vegetate a bit.

I did apply for the PhD. And now there is a month to read up on and defend the proposal- somewhat sketchy at the moment- for the interview. I’m at peace with the decision. While working on my dissertation, I saw that my brain really likes to be challenged, it thrives on being forced to think. However, there is also a part of me that resists attempts at hard work, that tries to tell my body that happiness lies in taking it easy. If I do get into the PhD programme, life will be harder. But I’m no longer as scared of my ability to negotiate a difficult path as I was till even a year ago.

Back in Calcutta, a batchmate has been in an accident under unfortunate circumstances, which involved my entire batch, minus three of us. Drunk driving. She was the passenger. It was the night of the farewell that our faculty gave us. She and her friend (not our batchmate) got into an ugly exchange of words with everybody else, apparently (I wasn’t there since I had a flight to catch to Delhi the next morning), and took off with her friend driving. The car flipped. All considered, she had a miraculous escape. I feel for her. She has been making bad choices for so long. The inside of her head is not a happy place. She needs someone to be firm but loving with her. I’m not sure there is anybody playing such a role in her life, not even her parents. I’ll be going to visit her once I’m back.