Search This Blog

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Cooking fish with milk: A Quixotic revolt that could have been my nemesis!


There was nothing spectacular that happened on 13th May 2022. Hardik Patel rebelled against Congress high command, while the Congress brass went into a huddle. The spectacle is known as Chintan Shibir. This, I am told, is a periodic attempt to create a road map for the future by the grand old party of India. Then there were a few incidents. Accidents that were allegedly the fault of the administration, someone killed somebody else for reasons best known to them, and so on and so forth. And of course, the usual tears shed over rising prices of fuel and essentials. Everything that happened was expected to happen and nobody’s morning tea got spoilt bar a small incident. I decided to try my hand at cooking!


I am still baffled by the way the wire entirely ignored this epochal event but then that is a matter of speculation that I refuse to dwell on. It’s not as if I am entirely starved of work. No. In fact, some might even call me a busy man. And the detractors, I am told, call me a busy man without business. This also I refuse to dwell on. But as of now what I am sure of is me being someone who is clueless about his existence. The last sentence, if read by my clients, might jeopardise my living as my bread depends entirely on my being quite sure of my existence. If I am not, how dare I advise others on how to define and communicate someone else’s existence. But then how long can you hide the truth?


So, here was this listless soul made even more listless by the despicable edibles being served on the table in the name of lunch and dinner. With due apologies to my dear wife who is so modest about her culinary abilities that she wouldn’t even flaunt them regularly so as to hide her skill from public scrutiny, I must confess that my tastebuds get titillated just by thinking about the food cooked by my mother and grandmother.


And, dear readers, I couldn’t take it anymore. The humiliation of being berated by friends who cook and flaunt their skills by inviting me over was getting on my nerves, to put it mildly. So on that fateful day, I lit the gas oven. I had seen maa cook this and still remember the taste. A summer dish that cannot go wrong. Hoping that you might like it, I am sharing this experience.


By the way, the kitchen by the standard of lower-middle-class families is big. Yet it was crowded with gawking ladies totally sure that the man of the house would ruin the perfect pieces of katla peti and the milk. But that day armed with my memory and the complete trust in taste buds I was the Don Quixote in the kitchen to out-chef the best chefs in the world.


But they wouldn’t allow me the full independence that I deserved. They quietly put haldi and salt on the fish as I was busy at the grinder mixing six almonds with a dash of milk. Readers, if you are new to the kitchen take it from me. Don’t allow the womenfolk of the household to watch you cook. They would ruin what is fated to be ruined anyway. Do not allow them the credit for ruining it. The haldi might interfere with the colour of the final output which is expected to be milk-white though a tad greyish. A tad, not more than that. Why? Read on and don’t be impatient.


I put mustard oil in the pan and lightly fried the fish. The inside of the fish should be cooked so that it remains soft yet the typical fishy smell is eradicated. I am not used to the expert’s words to describe it. While reading just remember that this is a disgruntled unwilling cook!


Then in a separate pan, I put some white oil and put two dried red chillies, one bay leaf and put two green cardamoms and broke one small cinnamon stick into the oil. Once the flavour filled the room, I put a little bit of oil and then put ginger paste, coriander powder, cumin powder and mixed them well.


And then put the almond and milk mix into the pan and bought it to a boil. It was the time to put chili powder, salt and ground black pepper to taste.


Don’t ask me the proportion. I didn’t measure. I trusted my taste bud.


It was time to put the fish in. And then let it boil on medium flame a bit just to allow the fish and the curry to get used to the marriage. And, yes, I had covered the pan to ward off prying eyes intruding into the process of this holy consummation.


And then I put a dash of ghee, chini (sugar) and garam masala (Bengali) powder and let it simmer a bit more.


Wait. All adventures of Don Quixote had disasters. And I was no exception. As I was cooking there were mechanics in the kitchen trying to bring our 16-year-old micro back to life, there were service people working on AC and then the driver from the garage to take our car for repairing the AC!


So I made a big mistake. Just before putting in the ghee, I had to put kalonji pasted in the grinder with a dash of milk. The paste shouldn’t have so much of the black spice as to turn the curry greyish on the dark side. But I had put two and a half spoon full of kalonji when a little over one spoon would have done the trick.


But you know what! For a first attempt, it wasn’t bad. I have my wife’s word for it. And yes, nobody clicked the final output!

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

A capital called education: Senior citizens can make society more productive

He doesn’t have a pension. But what he has is education. A professor of a globally acclaimed academic institute in India, he used to despair about his future after his retirement. He worried about treatment costs, meeting monthly medicine bills and all that after retirement. Then covid happened. Both he and his wife had a nasty attack and almost died. And that changed him in a way that should be seen as, for want of a better word, revolutionary. 

Not that the essence has changed. What has changed is his life thought. He still thinks that pension is important. After all, it’s a guaranteed income. Thinking otherwise wouldn’t have been rational. But not having one may not be the end of the world once you hang up the boots worn during your salaried days. 

Having lived a large part of your life under the shelter of guaranteed income this uncertainty indeed is a challenge, even scary. But education is a leverageable capital whatever age bracket you belong to. It might sound trite. But knowledge and realisation are two different things. What happened in this case is a hard pointer. 

The professor has been a successful academic and a teacher. He couldn’t have been what he was had he not been competitive and fought his way up through a tough competitive process. The PhD from a top global university in the USA couldn’t have happened had he not been capably competitive. 

Why is it that we always measure success by a metric called money? And judge old age as liability?

Somehow we have steadfastly refused to find enterprise in being academically successful. Yet, we define enterprise by that grit that makes you win challenges! The feeling is so deeply entrenched in the environment that even a person who has the distinction of fighting through his academic career to come up trumps takes a life-threatening affliction to realize that end of a career could also bring an opportunity to create another irrespective of what others might think. 

This is not to say that society would look down upon it. No. But it would definitely be condescending about the effort. Or, might even say, “Look at him. The poor man.” Or, “Look at his greed!” But no one would cry, “Bravo!” 

Therein probably lies the rub. We are so used to staying gainfully employed that we don’t think of it as an enterprise. Or, a learning experience! The risk averseness flows from here. There is no harm in favouring a pensionable job or aspiring for one. But what if it doesn’t make its way towards you? Or, even if it does, why should we call it a day? 

I keep wondering about it. Now that I am past sixty, retired in the conventional sense of the term, why is it that the environment asks me to relax. That I don’t have a pension has no bearing on this. Why is it wrong to dream of success even when you are past sixty? Or, for that matter, to dream even of doing stuff that defies dotage as defined in the conventional sense? In the sense of doing something new equally challenging as the one that you left? 

I dream of success as intensely as I used to in my twenties. Probably I do so more intensely and more consciously. The issue that keeps cropping up here is how I look at success versus how my success is measured by the society. Or, how my efforts would be measured by me and by the rest. Why is it that we always measure success by a metric called money? And judge old age as liability? It’s time to challenge it. And only we can do it and reshape the world-view about us. Shall we?

Thursday, September 16, 2021

A Rummy Dream


Much as I would have liked to pose as an exception, my much too known past defiantly stands in the way of even soliloquizing, “I didn’t live a clichéd life.” But, you know, even in some ordinary run of the mill lifestyles there could be sparks of extraordinariness. And in my case, it happened on the first day of my earning life. 

 Trust me, I never wanted to be a journalist! I wasn’t remotely interested in anything to do with writing. But like millions of youngsters brought up those days with a heavy dose of a “secured life should be your life goal, and a first-class is a must” life mission, my sleeps were dogged by nightmares of failing in exams and the waking hours by being a disappointment in academics. 

 All parents dream of children achieving success. My parents couldn’t have been an exception. But they never told me what it was. Yet when I would write an essay without a mistake with a few nice lines thrown in, I couldn’t but notice that glint in my father’s eyes. Or, coming back home with less than ‘worthy’ grades and the consequent thrashing from my mom would tell me that she also had aspirations. 

 But you know, my parents were indeed different. They would seek happiness in my writing that nice sentence, reading that difficult book and holding forth on it as if it were written by me and working out that Euclidean geometry problem that even my seniors would struggle with. And if I could do all that I would naturally win grades worthy of a middle-class Bengali son. 

Yes, I could do all that but not consistently. Some days I would write a few good lines and on some others, I would be an Einstein. But I could never be an Einstein and a Tagore on the same day!  Unlike many other, my parents were strangely also happy with their ‘not so Einstein, not so Tagore’ son. But to be honest, they never tired of talking about achievers in the family. And believe me, they all were, bar me! And my grades also kept swinging from Einstein to Tagore, without adding up to that hallowed status of a scholar. 

 I was growing up. By the time I entered college, I became an intellectual – not by virtue of my scholastic prowess but by the grace of spirit. I cleared university in good time and was in the labour market as an aspirant. My family wanted me to follow my uncles and become a teacher. 

As for me, I didn’t really have a clear goal. But yes. Teaching was an option because of the holidays and the possibility of enough time to spend with the spirit. But that spirit had a different idea. 

 So I got a job in a newspaper where you could drink during the night shift! And the blighter of a Monk decided my fate. So here I am -- a scribe with a clichéd life and without a pension. Sadly, you can’t do that anymore. Life has indeed changed. So has the cliché about a scribe’s life. And I have yet to collect my degree certificate!

Thursday, July 01, 2021

But his father was no AB!


When Usha knocked on the door and told me about the call from Calcutta, I walked into their flat like a zombie. Someone from the other end said something. I mumbled a response and cradled the receiver. Usha said, “Congratulations.” Even then it didn’t register: For I was sozzled. 

I had every right to be. My stint at the IIM, Ahmedabad, was coming to an end. My paper won the registration the day before. Padmakumar, now the HR Director at one of the multinationals in India, had this bright idea to celebrate the occasion. (If you are wondering as to how in a state under prohibition I could get drunk, I will say only this – it was never an issue.) Not that we needed one. But Padmakumar was a clever one about excuses.

To run a long story short, my wife was in Calcutta expecting our first child who was supposed to be born sometime in December but merrily dealt a surprise by deciding on 25th November to be his birthday. Those days you had to book a call and wait for the connection to materialize. Lightning calls charged a bomb and urgent calls had no urgency to connect though they also cost a packet. So the day he was born, my parents and hers were busy with the grandkid. Sometime along the way they remembered my existence and the call materialised the next day in the morning. 

One good thing about inebriation is that you are not fuzzy all the time. There are moments of lucidity as well. As I entered our apartment that moment of lucidity hit me. Usha, the daughter of our neighbour Prof Jain and my wife’s close confidante, congratulated me on my becoming a father! And the lady talking to me was no other than my proud mother-in-law! Broke the news amongst my friends littered across the floor,  and again it called for celebration and so on and so forth. That’s how I landed in Calcutta to the realisation that I was a dad! 

But no sooner had I landed than my father handed a diary to me saying, “Go through it and take a call. You need to get his birth certificate fast. Time is running out.” There we were with a diary full of hundreds of possible names to choose from. His nickname though was fixed. He was his grandparents’ Tartar. I am Suparna, she is Shubha so what about Shinjan! And it went on and on. Cousins chipped in. Uncles had their own views, aunts would, of course, have a different opinion. In short, there was no agreement. My logic was simple. Pathak is given. Both my wife and I have had the bitterest of experience of always being last in the queue because of our names. We wouldn’t like our son to suffer the same way. 

Thus determined I walked into the Corporation office, filled in the form and named him Abhishek. The clerk took a glance at the form, looked at me and smiled. I wondered why and it took my father to clear the reason. Amitabh Bachchan’s son was also called Abhishek!

With hundreds of Abhishek around and with Pathak as his surname, he still comes almost last in the queue!

Cooking fish with milk: A Quixotic revolt that could have been my nemesis!

  There was nothing spectacular that happened on 13th May 2022. Hardik Patel rebelled against Congress high command, while the Congress bras...