Tuesday, May 24, 2022

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


T here 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?

A Bong will always be a Bong

  I have known Rajib and of him ever since he started his professional life as a journalist and then of him when he decided to say adieu to ...