Thank God for Good Friday

Today is a Friday, and it is a very good Friday indeed.

It has gone ten in the morning, and I’m lying lazily on the floor, playing with our new puppy. There’s no morning rush, no teeming trains, no pleading with cabbies and swallowing lungfuls of dust and grime.

I approve of this Friday. The other Fridays of the year should follow its example.

My First Ever Pet Comes Home!

This week, we have adopted a tiny street-pup that was struggling to stay alive on the busy roads of a crowded Bombay suburb.Puppiekins is calledKaju – which is Bengali for cashew. Don’t ask me why we chose this name; it just seems to sit well on our gorgeous and mischievous little pup.One of our impish friends suggested Kaju is a contraction of “Kaj barlo”, which is Bengali for “drat! my chores have increased”. I can’t deny that our howling little monster – which my partner insists is a wolf in a dog’s body – was a lot of work to begin with, and he has messed up our sleep cycles already, but I like to think I call him Kaju because he’s delight and comfort like cashews, and not because he makes life hard.

Here’s a glimpse of Kaju’s first night (he came to us late one evening) and day at chez moi. Isn’t he adorable?

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I iz mountaineer!

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Howling for bacon

The Resolve of the Bombay Catholics and Miss Danie’s Easter Eggs

I joined work in the middle of Lent, and discovered that observant Catholics from Bombay and abouts go vegetarian for Lent. For all of it. I have known people to give up a particular favourite for Lent – a couple I once met told me they’d tried giving up sex, but gave in and conceived their first child instead – but I’ve never known a community to give up a defining chunk of their cuisine altogether.

I’m a little bit gobsmacked, actually. Being vegetarian is not really that big of a deal in India, because millions of Indians are born into faith-based vegetarian cultures and never taste animal protein. But to give up the good stuff when you know how delicious it is – now that takes some steel in the spine!

Still, Easter is almost here, that happy Sunday when all creatures big and small return to the Catholic kitchens, and in celebration, here are three pictures of the fabulous Easter eggs my lovely colleague Daniela Cardoz made for her family last year. See and envy her lucky family, people!

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Indian Elections 2014: Close-up 3

From Maheshwar Peri’s blog on Outlook India:

I was an undecided voter. I was exploring my options. UPA II did not deserve another chance. Modi personally never gave me good vibes. Blame the publicity, but I never saw any compassion in him, even in BJP posters. But BJP was still an alternative because AAP was not fit and ready to govern, at least for five more years. I had a lot of issues with AAP. So I was veering towards BJP despite my discomfiture. We still have to make a choice and NOTA is not an option for me. I wanted to vote for stability. For me, Gujarat is one of the better governed states. I also did not want a Baba, Amma, Behenji, Netaji, Didi or Bhayyaji to be the next Prime Minister or even interfere in governance.

As I kept expressing myself without bias on Facebook and elsewhere, the Modi fans went after me. They were organized, belligerent and at times scary. Many questioned my intelligence and a few even my integrity. Last night, I analyzed few people who took it on themselves in leading this charge—the hardcore Modi fans (I personally don’t think there is any BJP left). And what I found was revealing. Throughout the posts, I saw hatred, criticism or trivialization. No serious discourse based on facts and reasoning. Liberal use of epithets like “Sickular”, “Paid Media”, “Khan-gressi”, “Pakistani Agent”, “Traitor”, “ISI Agent”, “CIA Agent”, “Saint Topiwal”, “Fakeriwal”, “Aaptard” was common. The name calling was personal and perverse.

I encourage each of you to do a similar exercise. I can’t even wish them off as over-enthusiastic supporters. They are so committed to Modi that it is well nigh impossible to be objective in future. Unknown to us, we have created a lynch mob. But then, they have only learnt it from their leader who had used the “Mian” in Musharraf, and the “James Michael” in Lyngdoh to create insecurities and mass votes. Even as a PM aspirant, he peddles epithets such as “Shahzada” (Rahul) and “Pakistani friend” (Arvind Kejriwal) and vitiates the discourse. A leader who has only created a legion of followers but no second line of leadership needs a stronger opposition in Parliament. The checks and balances have to be stronger.

The agenda for positive change, good governance and development are mere statements that have got lost in the election carried forward by his followers. What started off as a positive campaign soon descended into bullying. Development is no longer the narrative. The bias was such that the same people who quoted Time (“The Under Achiever” cover on Dr.Manmohan Singh) started criticising and questioning The Economist and The Guardian for ‘interfering’ in India’s internal affairs. Hypocrisy has become synonymous with politics.

And then yesterday, a beast amongst us slapped Arvind Kejriwal. It was ferocious. It was brutal. It was inhumane. It was meant to physically hurt. As AK held his face, it was heart-breaking. He had a black eye and a swollen cheek. And the BJP bandwagon took to the streets and launched their attack in a highly synchronized manner. It was celebration time. The slap was a butt of jokes. AK was despised, derided, laughed at, attacked, and violated. It was appalling. Each time as I watched the slap, my heart wept. Is this the society we have come to be?

Last night, My decision was made. There was greater clarity. I don’t want a society where hatred wins over love, violence over peace, anger over amity, frown over smile, sternness over calmness, negativity over positive feelings. I don’t want a society where the mobs decide the agenda cleverly planted by a handful of people (we have seen it in 1984 and 2002).

I decided. I will vote with my conscience. I will vote for peace. I will reject divisiveness. I will vote for change. I vote to bring in a good opposition in the parliament. I vote for AAP.

Indian Elections 2014: Close-up 2

Yesterday on the train, I heard a rehash of a recent Facebook conversation I’ve had. A group of people (mostly supporting Modi) bemoaned the decline of the nation since independence, the growth in corruption, the general rotting of the social and moral structures – the usual cheesy whine (if you forgive the lame pun). To the last person, they blamed politicians and the government for this, and agreed with each other that nothing good could ever come of India.

The people on my Facebook, bless them, have the long view of greater good, and hence they oppose the dictatorial politics of Narendra Modi. My co-passengers on the train were blinded by the irrational hope for a majoritarian government, that will put troublesome minorities in their place and enforce righteous discipline. But both groups missed the mark, in my opinion, because they both disowning the responsibility they had, as members of the voting public, in nurturing our poisonous, sectarian political climate. It is our susceptibility towards divisiveness, after all, that has trained our politicians to believe that on-record religion and ethnic talk and off-record violence is all they need to sail into office. And if we want a stronger India, we have to shake off our personal discomforts with difference, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us initially.

And honestly, despite a political system so rotten it stinks, I don’t personally think India is beyond hope. Quite the contrary, in fact (although I do have my moments of hopeless cynicism). But if we are to actually go beyond moaning on social media and thriving on the “likes” and “shares” our oh-so-politically-aware commentaries earn, we need to first drop the automatic, frothing-at-the-mouth defensiveness and admit straight up that our own prejudices and apathy got us into the mess we’re in. It got us the politicians we have, the scams we pay for, and the social policing we suffer. A thriving citizen’s media is a great thing, but active involvement in communities and local politics is the only way this country will actually develop (and by that I don’t mean sprout more shopping malls).

If we want a better future, we absolutely HAVE to take ownership of our past. So stop getting mad when someone says you’re part of the problem. Everyone in a failing society is part of the problem in some way or another. Own up to it, and then try to grow beyond it. A seed doesn’t burst into a tree in thin air. It needs the dark and dirty depths for a strong beginning. This election season, that’s probably a good analogy to bear in mind.

Indian Elections 2014: Close-Up 1

My cabbie this morning was in a chatty mood, and for an hour we discussed politics, politics, politics. His chief grouse seemed to be that “Hindustan” – India – hasn’t been declared a “Hindu rashtra” or a Hindu nation yet. In the same breath, he said religion was personal, and what he would vote for is progress, ergo the vote for Modi.

Usually, in circs like this, I allow only curiosity free rein, because there is something very paternalistic about lecturing a working-class person on his electoral choices without first making an effort to understand where those choices come from. But the onset of elections has probably made me more anxious than I realised, because for the first time, I engaged in a gentle debate, asking him what concrete benefits “a Hindu rashtra” would bring him, and how the certain riots that would follow such a declaration would affect him and his.

Locked in a cab on a barely-moving highway, the two of us had very little choice but to listen to each other, and consider each others point of view. In the end I conceded that I really knew very little about caste Hindu anxieties in and around Lucknow, and he conceded that perhaps he wouldn’t benefit from the Hindu rashtra label after all. We also had a very involved conversation about what “pragati” should actually mean, and how little served it is by our political parties, but that’s a post for another day. He and I are good friends now, though. I have his number and know about his wife and family, and we have a pact of giving him the first call whenever “sir” and I have somewhere to go.

Recipe: Curd Cake

I don’t mean to boast – well, only a little – but I have made the most divine pound cake you ever tasted… and I wielded this magic by simply adding a cup of curd to the batter!

Say what you will about the purity of recipes, nothing works its magic on the tastebuds like a little mix and match and transcont. fusion. I’m calling this fabulously fluffy and pillowy concoction my curd-cake, but if you have a better or more poetic name for it, please let me know.

Here’s the recipe:
Whisk together two eggs, one cup regular curd or yogurt, 1/3rd cup sunflower oil (I always substitute oil for butter in my cakes – the texture is silkier with oil, I think), 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or a little more if you want a really fragrant cake), two tablespoons of dark rum, and a little less than one cup of sugar.

Now sift two cups of flour, 1.5 teaspoons baking powder, half teaspoon baking soda and just a touch of salt. Add this to the liquid mix in batches, and whisk till smoothly blended.

Butter a cake tin generously. (Yes, I use oil in my cakes, but butter for the tins. Get over it.) Bake for an hour at 150 C. And voila!, you’re done. Gorgeous softie cakey-wakey all weddy for your tumty-tum!

You’ll thank me for this one. I know you will. So you’re very welcome, in advance.

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