Friday, 15 June 2018

Coconut Rice recipe for the lazy

This is quick (lazy) version of coconut rice. I dont have ingredients measured, but worry not use your instincts and it will be fine. The traditional recipe, rice should be cooked in coconut milk.
But who’s got that kinda time?

What I found in my kitchen:
Leftover boiled rice
Coconut oil or Ghee
Fresh coconut grated
Urad dal and chana dal
Tamarind (Imli) soaked in water
Curry leaves
Mustard seeds
Coconut milk
Green chilli (can use red dry chilli instead)
Toasted cashewnuts

What I managed to whip up:
1) In a skillet heat some coconut oil, Add mustard seeds, urad dal, chana dal and curry leaves.
2) Next add in grated coconut and roast lightly. Careful not to brown the coconut.
3) Add chopped chillies.
4) Next goes in about 3 tablespoons of coconut milk (just enough to coat the rice that you will be adding in later)
5) Add imli juice. This is optional. I used very little imli for a sweet sour balance.
6) When the sauce bubbles, add in the rice. Mix well.
7) When the rice is hot enough, switch of the flame.
8) Add a generous spoon of ghee
9) Season with salt and pepper
10) Garnish with roasted cashews and curry leaves

If rice is just prepared and steaming hot then add in the rice to the sauce and switch of the flame
instantly.  Also, use less of coconut milk, to avoid it getting soggy.
For my leftover rice, I needed the moisture from coconut milk so I added more.

Bon Appetite!

Tuesday, 6 February 2018


Blood boil -o- meter on buffets.

1) Diners eating from their plates while walking back to their seat. 'Arre, ruk jao yaar'  The food isnt running away. You can wait a few seconds while you park your arse on a seat and them chomp away.

2) Food kept in the open. Look, I am all for fancy displays and that we first eat with our eyes. But my eyes get sore just thinking of the germs sitting on that food. Nope, cannot happen.

3) Food that looks like has been sitting on the stand since the neolithic period. The baked goods section, cheese and salami section more often than not is a victim here. If i were in their place, i would appoint someone (happy to volunteer) just to be not lose perspective and scrutinise the food display strictly.

4) Diners who chose not to move from their seats, and demand food items that are on display from the staff.

5) Cutting the line.

6) Touching food thats on the buffet spread by hand and then decide not to take it.

7) Overloading your already filled up plate, and then not eating it in the end.

why why why?

Friday, 2 February 2018

Long walks in Hampi

With the help of my loving family, my best friend and I finally ticked Hampi off our travel list. And we practiced 'Dolce Far Niente' italian for the sweetness of doing nothing. Away from the hustle bustle and gadgetry, a couple days spend  on the boulders of the mighty Tungabhadra river was a dream come true.

Like most places in India, Hampi is not an easy place to reach. One can get here, provided you are up for a long journey. Hubli is the closest airport and from there it is a 4 - 6 hours journey to the boulders.We chose to to take an overnight train to Hubli and hired a cab to take us there which cost us around INR3000.
Hampi is a place of rich history and a glorious past of the Vijayanagra empire. The sightseeing places are across the river. A coracle ride to the other side is joyous. On learning that it was my first coracle ride, our coracle rider was kind enought to show us some tricks,also spinning the boat with child like enthusiasm. I hired a rickshaw for couple of hours to take from one place to another. Roads are well made and its a comfortable ride. The stone chariot one sees in every picture promoting Hampi is mesmerising to see in person. Intricate stone carvings on each and every direction. Some of the walls have ancient scriptures carved in stone. The stories of the queen dancing in her private chambers with more than a thousand diyas illuminating the entire palace adorned with marigold flowers forces you to go back in time and imagine the sights. Music was made by thumping the stone pillars, our guide was gracious to give us a short preview.The interior is cooler in temperature.  The folklore is plenty. The stories of kings, queens, the lavish bazaars, gems trading, music, art and culture echos how vibrant this city once was. Locals are helpful. My mobile network was poor, when another rickshaw driver saw me frantically trying to get in touch with our driver, he came up to me and just offered to use his phone.

We were staying at Hampi Boulders. The moment you step in there your fatigue just vanishes. Small cottages by the river, makes sure everywhere you look you are surrounded by serenity of nature. It took us a while to find this hotel, they have no signage to get here. All you do is enter through a large brown gate, when looked at you are trespassing a private property. No boards screaming out "hey, heres your home for the next couple of days". When I asked why, they say, they choose to keep this property low key. As you drive past those gates, what seemed barren entrance transforms itself to a jungle orchard with trees almost drooping with the weight of their blooming flowers. We stayed in Otters cottage overlooking the river. Waking up to the sound of flowing water is mesmerising. The sunrise is beautiful. I spent my morning sipping on my chai and listening chirping birds. The nature trail walks offered to all hotel guests is must try. Bamboo bridges take you  across boulders to view a magnificent sunrise/sunset. The hotel tariff included all meals, and bon fire dinner under the stars. They grow organic vegetables and fruits in the property and hence the food is delicious and homemade. They have a rock pool which keeps the water quite cool in the sun. The staff is very helpful.

Such wonderful 3 days spent here.  I will definitely want to go back spend a couple of chilled out days after the monsoons. More than the sights i loved the hotel experience.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Indian Passport Saga

In September 2017 my passport dies.And the rule is 6 months prior to death of one's passport, one cannot travel abroad. So in the beginning of March, I decided to dive in head long into this renewal process.I was prepared to run around from one govt desk to another, answer a million unnecessary questions, crib about India's red tape, be next in line before lunchtime and blame everything on the process. Nothing happened!

I applied and 5 days later I got my passport. I would never have thought to write about this,but while I was researching what documents I would need, I found some answers on blogs that people like me (victorious Indians who came out sane) that really helped. So heres what I learnt from my experience.

Do's and Donts

  1. Take a good week to sort out all your documents. Its better to carry more documents. In my case, I had the same address as my last passport but I wanted to add my spouse name. When i checked on 'Document Advisor ' on the website it asked me to address proof,old passport and aadhar card. I carried that and marriage certificate, my degree certificate, pancard, bank passbook, birth certificate and utilities bill. In my application a lot of these extra documents I carried were taken. 
  2. Be patient while filling the online form. If the document hangs then try again using another internet browser. I had to fill the form thrice on google chrome it always had some snag. Firefox worked in one shot.
  3. On your appointment date at PSK, carry a few blank paper sheets just in case they could ask you to write a declaration form/letter.
  4. You do not need to carry photographs for PSK appointment. Infants/minors need passport photos. (up until march 17)
  5. Avoid carrying your documents in files. Carrying them in folders worked best for me. Its easy to produce when asked for.
  6. Given a choice, go for morning appointments.
  7. Signing up for sms updates makes the whole process stress free. I'd definitely recommend it.
  8. On PSK day, carry signed photocopies of all your documents as well as all the originals.
  9. Atleast until march 2017, uploading supporting documents on the psk website was a futile exercise. All of your original documents are scanned by them.
  10. The process is divide in 3 parts. A is where officer will scan documents, take your photo, biometrics. Then you will be called to B section, where you have a passport officer verify your documents, and thereafter at counter C is where they will accept of your application. 
  11. All questions / queries about your documents will be raised in B counter.So this could take a while. 
  12. After finishing A,B,C, you got to collect your application receipt from the exit counter.
  13. This process could take 2-3 hours. 
  14. You do not need an agent. The website explains the procedure.
  15. In my case, I wanted to add my spouse name at the same time retain my Maiden name. At counter C, I was told that there will be police verification. The next day, an officer visited my home, the day after that i went to the police station to sign and got my passport via speed post the in the following two days. 
  16. I applied for Normal passport renewal. I received my passport in 5 days.
Passport renewal process has become simple, its straight forward and quick. I am impressed. What used to take months, now is done within a week. 


Thursday, 2 July 2015

Give em a box of tissues

When you see a man crying, more often than not it is considered weakness. Women comfortably shed tears at anyplace anytime. Men, however , have difficulty in opening their tear ducts. Researchers say that its because of the society regarding emotional stoicism and physical toughness as stereotypically male qualities. Parents often view their sons' and daughters' emotions differently. The fear of creating a 'mama's boy' is one that is deeply engrained in our culture. We hardly saw our grandfathers, father shed tears. Men suffer in silence because they are told 'men dont cry'. Recently , a hotel in Tokyo introduced special 'crying rooms' with tissues, eye - masks and tear jerking films for guests who want to cry heartily in the comfort of a private room. The good part of this news, which may seem bizarre to most of us, is that finally a traditional culture like Japan has accepted that men need to cry. The sad part of this news is that they still consider it to be done in private. 

The motto for the longest time has been 'boys dont cry', but that needs to change. Crying helps rebalance the body's chemistry - a way of helping mind and body return to equanimity after any sort of stress. Men need to cry.

Here's a video that speaks volumes.

Monday, 22 June 2015

The irony

I find it odd that some non-vegetarians are opposing Yulin dog meat eating fest. Think about it, for animals that are your pets , you feel their pain. Somehow while gorging on a plate of tandoori chicken one doesn't think of that pain and suffering. 
Research says that plant based diet is a way to avoid /prevent a lot of diseases. But keeping the health reasons for vegetarianism aside and thinking purely on moral terms this doesn't make sense. For centuries now Muslims have been conducting animal sacrifice on Eid day. Americans celebrate thanks-giving with stuffing a large bird. And many many animals get sacrificed to celebrate festivities across the globe.  A friend thinks that i have been brainwashed after watching some PETA videos. A mention of these videos often make meat lovers cringe, they even resort to saying, thats extremism. I disagree. Its being in denial. Animals that grown, bred solely for human consumption in inhumane conditions to become a plate juicy fillet mignon, honey glazed duck, fois gras, chicken curry etc is acceptable. Is it just because you dont have them at your homes as pets that one doesnt feel its unfair ? Some accuse PETA for not being right. I honestly dont care. Animals regardless die. They are grown like inanimate objects, injected with god knows what chemicals to become fat and juicy.  The irony of an animal lover being a proud meat eater.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Escape to the Ganges

Aap toh bahut alag tourist hain !" I was told when i asked to meet the Aghoris,  translates to "you are not the average tourist i meet every day ." Sounds like a compliment but it wasnt.  It was more of  stop being a pain in the ass ,tourist kinda response. "woh kahan dikhenge ? " [where can i see them ?] He looked at me as though i asked him to donate his kidney.  He asked me for reassurance . "kaun  ? Aghorri ? " Our conversation ended there , when two ladies of the group wanted help looking for a loo.

Yes, I was travelling in a group of 28, more like a tour leader. I usually dont travel with our travel groups but this one was special. All these people were a part of Travel Program in Turkey. So we were filming all across north India. Our last stop was Varanasi also known Benaras. It was my first visit to this vibrant city and I was very excited about it.  This was the only place i could see an aghori.

The word aghori in Sanskrit means non terrifying, ‘a’-‘ghori’ most of the Hindi speaking people would have heard the phrase ghor kaliyug, ghor paap, etc.. it is the same ghor, theoretically these people don’t attach themselves to anything mortal. They do things which a common man finds to be terrifying, so they overcome this terror by going through it, since they do it regularly it is a common thing for them. The Aghori are known to engage in post-mortem rituals. They often dwell in charnel grounds, have been witnessed smearing cremation ashes on their bodies, and have been known to use bones from human corpses for crafting skull bowls (which Shiva and other Hindu deities are often iconically depicted holding or using) and jewelry. Due to their practices that are contradictory to orthodox Hinduism, they are generally opposed. It is also said that many Aghori gurus command great reverence from rural populations as they are supposed to possess healing powers gained through their intensely eremitic rites and practices of renunciation and tápasya. They are also known to meditate and perform worship in haunted houses.  I first learnt about them when a friend mentioned about a national award winning movie and ever since have been fascinated by them.

Mahavir , our local guide told me that they come out of their " dens" post midnight. When my eyes sparkled to that information , my guide looked at me with concern. I knew Mahavir wasnt going to help.  So i asked him, "Chalo theek hai, old salvation house toh dikha do".  

The hostel, a short walk from the Ganges, is a final stop over for elderly Hindus hoping they will shortly end up on one of the hundreds of funeral pyres lit on the riverbank each day.  I see 12 bare, tatty rooms arranged around a courtyard in a 100-year-old red-brick building with green shutters. The atmosphere is far from sombre. While the rest of the world celebrates a new life when a child is born, similarly these guys celebrate death. Its like being on the waiting list to die. Believe it or not, the one stays alive for long is asked to vacate to make space for other ailing ones. This waiting list (to die) has a waiting list.
Hindus believe that dying in Varanasi and having their remains scattered in the Ganges allows their soul to escape a cycle of death and rebirth, attaining "moksha" or salvation.

Soul searching
For me Benaras is all about the faith , the sadhus, the smiles on peoples, the tear that rolls down while praying, the conviction of God which are exclusive to the city. It is weird , intriguing , fascinating and all at the same time. Its a place where Brahmins and Aghoris live in harmony. There is no rule book.
I enjoyed watching the sunrise while on a boat , the ganga aarti , and all the temple visits a lil less than searching for sadhus and old homes. I enjoyed walking through narrow gullys , drinking tea in clay pots , feeding cows on the way, the flower man weaving garlands, chatting with the cycle rickshaw guy, I can go on and on.  Every nook and corner by the river banks has a story. The vivid smell of jalebis , havans, puri bhaji, brewing masala chai, paan masala, weed ,  incense sticks , jasmine flower garlands, ash, sandalwood and even cowdung is all part of the character of this city.

Make a wish
Millions of people come to this city for worship. They are of different caste, creed  and regions. What I saw in peoples eyes is faith. Everything they do is for God Almighty. Some praying for success in business, some for a good spouse  some for an offspring and some for death. 
Its a city of wishes everyone must experience. 

P.S: On the last evening of my trip, as i was walking back to the river bank from a boat ride i spotted 4 aghori sadhus, sitting under a bridge in a dingy corner. I asked a teenage boy , woh aghori hai ? The horror on his face made me break into a smile..