Thursday, 28 April 2016

An ode to Afonso de Albuquerque

Today, I attended a talk on a small but important island in Goa - the Chorao island. There were many interesting points that were made in the talk by Dr. Aaron Lobo but what stands out for me is that the Chorao island is the place where the Alphonso mango originated. Wow! that was something astounding to me because I have visited the island and there is nothing fascinating that strikes the person on a first look at the island. The island grows on you, much like a cultivated taste - the peculiarity of the landscape, the species of fishes, crabs and other animals that are found only in the island and more popularly, some birds which could be sighted. The island is also made famous by the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, well known for its many varieties of mangroves. But if a lay person visits the island without an accompanying expert, then one might even think that the visit is a waste of time.

Well, coming back to the mango - Afonso de Albuquerque, a Portugese general and military expert brought the variety from Portugal and introduced the same in this Konkan region. Despite the fact that de Albuquerque was helping build the Portugese to establish colonies and conquer various territories, one cannot but help wondering if the Portugese had not invaded the Konkan region, we would have been deprived of this delicious and delectable fruit. Thinking of tastes and food, it is quite sinister of these countries to leave their mark, that too, an unforgettable mark in the country. I don't know how many can actually associate the Portugese and the Alphonso mango but I guess that food and the various ingredients were the primary cause that lured the foreigners to Indian shores - the abundance of spices and the range of plants available for consumption made the guests overstay their hospitality and invariably become the land owners and then rulers of the land.

Not only the Alphonso, India owes to the Portugese many such items that have become commonplace in our kitchen -chillies, vinegar, potato, tomato to name a few. How much ever,  we may bemoan the fact that they destroyed the ethos of the land and made slaves of Indians, we can never ever forget their contribution to the Goan and Indian cuisine.

Thus saying, I bow to Afonso de Albuquerque for giving us the Alphonso, which is named after him but not without despising his ambition to conquer the whole world!

Sunday, 17 April 2016

New found tastes

Taste and sensations are peculiar attributes that have a mind of its own. Recently, I was introduced to Bimli, a sour tasting fruit and Wiki tells me that the botanical name is Averrhoa bilimbi. Now, I am quite fond of the tangy flavour - tamarind, raw mangoes and the like have always held a special place in my tongue. Bimli is something like that. I realise that there are so many flavours and items that one has not tasted and perhaps will never taste! One of my colleagues had lovingly prepared Bimli pickle and asked us to sample her culinary prowess, and I being the tangy-loving entity lapped up the pickle with a zest that only tangy-lovers could comprehend. I quickly made note of the recipe and tried it at home. It wasn't as good as it had ought to be nevertheless, I could see that I was not as lazy as I had thought I might be.



Bimli happened to me quite late in life. I could not imagine that I had spent so many years without tasting this fruit. I think that sometimes it would have been growing in the vicinity of our house but we had never bothered. My husband knows this fruit well and tells me that every house in Kerala has the Bimli (Pulinchika) tree. I wonder how many such fruits, trees and tastes are unknown to us in spite of sharing living space with us. I wish I could identify these gems and die happily in the knowledge of having partaken of the many wondrous tastes of nature.


On another note, I saw a movie in my phone for the first time - The Bengali Night, a French film, set in Bengal of the 1930s. It was weird to see Hugh Grant so frail and gaunt. The film also led me to one of my favourite authors - Mircea Eliade. The film is an adaptation of his autobiographical novel, Maitreyi. The film took me on a wild journey of the years where love was a simple look, holding of hands and rapturous ecstasy. I had always liked Hugh's accent and this film was from an era where Grant was not yet idolised as he is today (a few years ago, to be precise).

Many first times today and I again realise that every day, we have an opportunity to learn and unlearn.

Well, what have you discovered today, dear reader?

Image 1: Bimli (Wikipedia)
Image 2: Wikipedia

Sunday, 14 February 2016

The Last Waltz - A love letter to an imaginary person

Dear Melody (I always associate you with music!):

You might wonder why I haven't used the epithet 'dearest,' but then I wonder whether we ever gave importance to epithets! December and music always reminds me of you and the songs that you crooned over the phone. Well, it is a surprise to me that we haven't ever met but that does not make any difference, right? What we shared was something special - let us not strive to name it otherwise we might end up being slotted in the labels! We chatted, spoke, were angry over unspoken truths, discussed music and life in the wee hours of the night. Time was at our side. Both of us were lonely in our own ways - our loneliness entwined us into a state of feigned togetherness. We knew it right from the beginning but still we carried on reveling in the present and acting that tomorrow will never come. I enjoyed that NOW which is now in a corner of my memory still unlabeled. The Now was all that we had then - How many nows did we forge our togetherness without having met physically. That green light on G-chat against your name would send ripples through my being and you the rascal that you were, knew it perfectly well. I would like to imagine that the same sensation was yours as well when my name was lit by the green dot! I remember the day you called me for the first time - I think it was on my birthday. As the clock chimed 12, the phone chimed in as well. You sang to me - not the corny Happy Birthday song but another song which I don't remember now. I just remember that I was overwhelmed with happiness and joy. I couldn't sleep after that or did I sleep with a smile - I don't remember but I do remember that I was ecstatic. Why after all these years, I choose you to write a letter. Well, the reasons are obvious, it is you that I remember amongst my many loves. Many have caressed me with words and noble thoughts but none have lent music to my being.

I hope you are well and happy (though I would like to imagine that you pine for me in the deepest of your heart without a visible sigh unbeknownst to the world but I also know that it is a figment of my grand imagination).

So darling, save the last dance for me!

This post was written for "Write a love letter campaign by Chennai Bloggers Club'' 

Sunday, 7 February 2016

The curiosity that was Perumal Murugan

Ever since news of Tamil author Perumal Murugan flashed the internet, I was curious to read and probe as to what provoked the saffron brigade. I finally ordered my copy of One Part Woman and keeping aside The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, I started yet another journey into a different historical time and space. It was soothingly familiar as I identified largely with the local lingo, peculiarities and cultural nuances found in the book. Needless to say, it was a stark contrast to cold, pale and distant Japan. Inspite of having completed a good number of pages, TWUBC  is still to ''wind my spring" (a phrase from Norwegian Wood).




Murugan's story is that of Pona and Kali, a childless couple who are sexually and emotionally quite compatible with each other. They have a strong desire to have a child and not being able to bear one drives them to intense anguish and pain. The story is set in Tiruchengode and in the pages, mention of various temples, deities and other cultural markers are liberally strewn. I completed reading the book rather quickly and to my amazement, I was quite engrossed in the story that I forgot to notice the red signals that might have provoked the touch-me-nots. I tried recollecting portions from the book that created such a furore that made Perumal Murugan swear never to write again. What a waste of talent! I then furiously started hunting Google pages to read up on the various incidents that coloured Tamil Nadu after the release of this book. I finally found that the touch-me-nots were incensed by one practise that Murugan has mentioned in his book. I quote from the blurb for better clarity -

"their hopes come to converge on the chariot festival in the temple of Ardhanareeswara, the half-female god. Everything hinges on the one night when rules are relaxed and consensual union between any man and woman is sanctioned. This night could end the couple's suffering and humiliation. But it will also put their marriage to the ultimate test."

The touch-me-nots imagined that Murugan had interpreted the practise in a manner that defiled the religious intentions of certain groups. Well, Murugan is not only a writer but also a teacher of Tamil who has done extensive research on the topic before writing the novel but alas! all that did not matter. What mattered was the 'sexual union' which was depicted as part of the ritual. If set in a modern context sans the deities and temples, the practise would resemble an orgy of sorts where coupling with strange people is part of the whole fun or perhaps a disco which is another refined form of an orgy albeit in a slightly different set-up or perhaps swapping partners for benefit. One can actually try placing certain age-old customs and rituals in today's context of course, with a different set-up. Kali and Pona could easily be a couple who are working in a software company and after twelve years of childless marriage decide to experiment in order to bear children. These and few other parallels were colouring my mind as I traversed through the lives of Pona and Kali.  


On another note, I am glad that the book was banned, otherwise people like me, though belong to Tamil Nadu would have never heard or read a gem like Perumal Murugan (the angst of not being able to read in Tamil is another story for another post!). I have missed reading another banned book, The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie who is another writer who courts controversies much like young models and actresses! Maybe I will soon start a club with the abbreviation BBC (Banned Books Club) and when I do, I will sure put up an invitation for you to join.

Have you read any banned book? Do share your experience.
 

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Asian stories and Western sensibilities

The past week saw me ordering Haruki Murakami's two books on an impulse after a passionate conversation with my friend/colleague on how reading time is slowly leaving our systems. I started reading Norwegian Wood first, for no specific whim or reason and thus began my journey into the lives of Watanabe, Naoko, Midori, Reiko and several others. I have read Murakami before and the remembrance of past reading pleasures drew me to his books again. It comes as a surprise to me that somehow I pick up a Murakami in the beginning month of the year. About two years ago, I had read Murakami on a January and also had written a post (Murakami and related thoughts), which surprisingly echoes most of what I have written now albeit in a slightly different manner. Murakami is Asian, Japanese to be specific but that awareness slowly dissipates as I progress with the book. That Murakami is a fan of the pop songs of the 50s, 60s and 70s is quite limpid in his works. In fact, the title Norwegian Wood  is the title of one of the popular Beatles' songs. Now, my senses are quite welcoming of the references to diverse cultures and habits and knowing fully well that a Murakami will lead me to the Japanese way of life, I tend to lose my way somewhere in the pages. Though my imagination is coloured with petite women and men with pale skin colour, somewhere I lose the track and start imagining western people and surroundings. Then, mid-way, I realise that here I am reading a Japanese author and imagining western people. The character Reiko, especially. She plays the guitar and belts out popular numbers, all of which I know quite well, having grown up listening to them. My image of Reiko is that of a blond, fairly well-built with an imposing personality but then reality often intervenes and I try hard to stop this as it seems sacrilegious to do so.



I wonder whether I owe this to the explicit Western sensibilities of Murakami or to my knowledge of the songs which colour the story or my imagination which is used to imagining white skin and blond hair (Read influence of Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen and other sundry writers). Whatever the reason, alongside getting entwined in the characters' lives, a parallel track on my imagination was also niggling me.

Well, I have now completed Norwegian Wood and have embarked on the second novel, The Wind Up Bird Chronicle


A quote from the book Norwegian Wood

Image 1: Internet
Image 2: Internet

Monday, 4 January 2016

Hobbling into 2016 (Literally!)

Anything new fascinates me as it gives me another chance to rebuild, a chance to look forward to altering me and a chance for hope to abound and if it's a new year, then the prospects triple. Well, 2016 is here and I am overwhelmed and excited by how I get another opportunity to better myself. And lest I forget, the beginning of this year saw me with a broken big toe nail; ''broken'' would be an under statement because the broken nail led to a state of no nail. Yes, I entered 2016 without a nail on my left big toe. I am unwilling to go through the process of how I ended up without a toe nail as I have been narrating the experience to all and sundry throughout my five-hour of my first working day. Phew! the thought itself tires me immensely.

A colleague upon observing my gait, went into a philo-spasm exclaiming how life slows us down when we are running and that one needs to mind the pace with which one works and so on. She is right, I thought, not about life slowing down and all but about SLOWNESS itself. How often we just rush through everything. Slowing down to observe and be mindful is something I consciously try to do but end up forgetting. I stumbled upon this quote of John Muir which speaks to me about a certain calm,

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.

- John Muir -


This is what we are exactly doing to ourselves - getting tired, nerve-shaken and over-civilized and in the process forgetting to slow down and cherish our surroundings, US! 

Well, the injured big toe is slowly teaching me to see the world in another fashion and thus ushering me into 2016. 

I hope and pray that you have a blessed and mindful 2016.

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