Author Archives: rabidsherlockian

Shopping Misadventures or “What was I thinking?”

shopaholic1Less often than a blue moon, my compulsive globe-trotter (and now, entrepreneur, too) friend Achala Srivatsa decides to kick off her shoes, snuggle comfortably in her large First Class seat, and pull out her featherlite Apple Mac Air to write a post for me on a Singapore – Bangalore flight, thus preventing my blog from tumbling into total insignificance. And THIS is what she comes up with.  

 

 

Every now and then, I will read these articles on “How to Simplify your Life”, “The Bare Essentials”, “10 classics every woman over 20/30/40 should have” and have an epiphany. Yes, I say, if I throw out all the non-essentials in my wardrobe, I shall achieve a Zen-like sensibility, that elegant, minimalist classic Audrey Hepburn look that will make other women shrivel up with envy and men gape in awe. I shall have only classics in my wardrobe. Tomorrow is a new day, Operation Wardrobe shall start tomorrow.

This is usually a very, very bad idea because as I sift through my clothes, I am confronted by the Ghosts of Sartorial Misadventures past and present, which instantly drives me into a self-loathing spin. Some of the horrors I uncover display a level of wishful thinking, which borders on the delusional.

  • Delusions of Glamour – That Ao Dai bought in Ho Chi Minh is a prime example. After two days of Vietnam, I was seized with a need to shop. Every woman around me had on these flowing Ao Dais that were stunningly elegant and instantly this voice in my brain went “Buy this and look slender and stunning. People will gasp as you pass them… go now…” I rush into one of those charming little stores with bales of lovely silks that are designed to turn your mind into bubble gum. Yes, yes this brilliant green is so me… maybe this subtle shade of blood clot red… I remember forking over the doubloons and rushing out clutching my Ao Dai. It was only after I returned to Jakarta and I stood staring at a long flowing garment in bilious green, that I wondered what had possessed me to buy something that only a colour blind Vietnamese woman with a 14 inch waist and a 20 inch chest should be wearing.
  • The Slimness Delusion – I will also invariably find one tiny little black pencil skirt, one pair of stylish cropped pants that are 2 sizes too small both bought on an entirely unfounded conviction that I can drop 2 dress sizes over the next 2 months. In my defence, there was a time 20 years and 20 pounds ago when I used to live in these things but well, here we are. These will inevitably be reluctantly handed over to slimmer friends 4 disillusioned years later.
  • The Trend Train Wreck– Every now and then I will also find one truly bizarre item and, after racking my brains will identify it. Ah, a reminder of the scrunchy phenomenon of 1990, or the acid wash jeans of the ‘90s (horrors!)
  • The Cuteness Craze – –which happens when women in precious pale pinks and corals and baby blues surround me. Instantly my mind flashes the message “Go Pink and look adorable”. Shortly after, one putrid pink top bites the dust – or in my case cleans the dust off my bookshelves.
  • Delusions of Tradition – Half a dozen ridiculously heavy kanjeevaram silks (bought during my pious swadeshi phase) that I now almost never wear. Full Disclosure – just did this 2 months ago, but seriously how could I pass up a black and white kanjeevaram – umm that I most likely will probably never wear.
  • A corollary to this is the true Swadeshi phase of the early ‘90s when my friends and I went on a Fab India/Gurjari kick. Shapeless kurtas that blanched at the sight of water and mirror work that blinded everyone.
  • The Crisp White Pretension – Every now and then I will buy a super expensive white shirt in the fond hope that it will confer upon me a cool sophistication – a feeling that dissipates like dew in the sunlight as I stare at the 3 turmeric stains on it. Damn you Rasam!!

The Footwear Foolishness merits a whole new page:

  • My Sturdy Shoe Phase – Black and brown Batas and Scholls of hideousness unparalleled, the salesmen swore these would be the most comfortable shoes I’d ever wear. In my case, I’d ever buy and not wear.
  • My Delicate Shoe Phase – As a size 7, really what was I thinking? The things broke before I could leave the shop.
  • The Sling Back Syndrome – 4 pairs of black sling backs and 5 pairs in assorted colours including – I am not making this up – lime green.
  • The Mystery Shoe – Every now and then I will come across a pair that looks perfectly lovely and go “Oh I wonder why I’ve never worn these lovely peep toes? Let me wear them today!!” 2 hours later, I stare at my bleeding foot which the upper part of the shoe has viciously cut into, thinking – “Yup, that’s why I don’t wear them.”
  • The Bling Bungling or the Metallic Craze – Three pairs of blinding metallic slippers and sandals all blinged up and nowhere to go.

I could go on but you get the picture. I blame most of my hasty decisions partly on all those size zero sales personnel who stand outside the fitting room giggling and going “ Maybe an XXL?” In sheer mortification, I walk out with as much dignity as I can and say, “No thanks I’ll take the Medium,” and walk out wondering whom I can gift the top to.

Meanwhile, let me get on with my wardrobe cleanse. I still need to figure out what I’m going to do with all my low cut sequined tops (The Diva Delusion of AD 2000).

 

Choco- Raspberry Delite Anyone?

Part-time Market Researcher but full-time Observer and Thinker Achala Srivatsa is back with this absolutely hysterical essay that will have you rolling on the floor like a, well, a rolling pin. If you are a foodie (and by that I mean you don’t entirely mind popping something solid in your mouth occasionally) you have got to read this! 

 

(Stolen from The Healthy Voyager website given my own lack of artistic talent))

(Stolen from The Healthy Voyager website given my own lack of artistic talent))

Practically everyone I know claims to be a foodie these days (a broad term that could mean anything from “I eat like a pig and Darshini is my  second home” to “You must try my sous vide salmon with chanterelle duxelle and a hint of wild fennel pollen” or “my rajma recipe is a closely guarded family secret”). Our home-grown NRI friends who visit for 2 weeks also call themselves foodies, which essentially means they spend 2 weeks running around to every local restaurant and immersing their being in assorted deep-fried products dipped into condiments that are off the charts on heat and ferocity. Much of those two weeks are also, not surprisingly, spent reading War and Peace in a toilet. But I digress.

India is now neck deep in cook books of an astonishing range and variety, not to mention cookery shows of every description. Do you want to make a refreshing drink to be enjoyed by the pool? Chances are someone on some channel is muddling together mint and sugar as we speak.

I discovered this the other day as I browsed at my local book store. It was truly educational and here for your benefit is a summation of the fruits of my labour.

  1. At one extreme is the new bride’s go-to guide for all things South Indian. Written by a  “Maami Rajammal” with the picture of a formidable looking woman (usually with a slight moustache) to lend authenticity. This book will tell you how to make “curds” from scratch, the recipes for 20 types of chutneys using the peel of a ridge gourd and 15 different rasams. Recipes will sternly instruct you to “ take a good amount of tamarind…” Precisely what that means is, literally, anyone’s guess.
  2. The next category I uncovered was a slew of slim paperbacks on snacks, for every occasion (Tea Time Snacks/ Pre bedtime snacks and so on). These appear to be aimed at young mothers with recipes focusing on fried thingies of various descriptions. A half-hearted attempt at amping up the health factor can be seen – “Add a cup of sprouts”. Clearly written quite hurriedly, I was charmed by one recipe that started off calling for a cup of chopped onions, later forgetting about the onions completely.
  3. Then you have a series of books that claim to offer specialized cuisines – Rajasthan, Punjab etc. Some of these seem authentic, others not so much. Call me a cynic but I look askance at “authentic” recipes that call for a cup of tomato ketchup.
  4. Cookbooks on the Woman’s Era lines – easily recognizable by the way they fiercely hang on in a limpet-like fashion to  recipes from the ‘70s – “Blancmange”, “Raspberry Delite”, “Chocolate-Pista Surprise” and so on. Bellbottoms and beehive hairdos! By the way, if you know what a blancmange is – consider yourself officially old.
  5. The ethnographic school of cookery – Where Jamie does Tuscany and works up a froth over fresh zucchini flowers, baby artichokes, dusty purple grapes exploding with sweetness blah. Do NOT read these books. Let me tell you what happens – First you identify a recipe you get all excited about – let’s say enchiladas with a chipotle sauce . Then you walk into your local supermarket and hmm, chipotle seems to be a problem. But hey, you are a creative cook, so a little improv is in order. So you shift gear – from chipotle to badgis from Central Karnataka, from fingerling potatoes to whatever’s available, from Vidalia onions to your local pyaaz and for some reason the end product tastes strangely like a dosa. Mexican food’s over-rated anyway.

 

Frustrated at every turn, stuffed to the gills with stuffed karelas drowning in sweet ketchup, I turned to our local Food Channel for inspiration. Here’s what I found.

  • Sanjeev Kapoor’s wooden, sickly smile every hour on the hour –  either fusing cuisines  feverishly – here cooking biryani with truffle shavings, there grating paneer on to pasta or cooking “healthy” sweets with ghee and sugar substitutes.  Is it just me or have others realized that  ever since he’s shaven that moustache off, he has this – “I could give you this recipe but then I’d have to kill you – or myself” look on his face. A bit tough for a TV chef that.
  • Wanna be Sanjeev Kapoors – with the same puppet like movements and and stilted manner of speaking always ending with “ab aapki mint coriander hing mojito lassi tayar hai
  • Indian women with strangely accented English teaching (presumably) a befuddled western audience how to make “potatoes spiced with a hint of cumin” and such like.
  • Two men checking out every dive, dhaba and Udipi hotel in search of…mediocre food? Almost every time I watch this, the two have a conversation somewhat like this…“This idli is…round and white” or “the fried dal tastes pretty much like dal that’s been fried”. My point is – so why is a 30 minute program based on a restaurant that seems to be a non-event?

 

So anyway, I have decided to have another crack at those enchiladas. I hear my local supermarket’s just started stocking chipotles.

 

Things That Happened When I Wasn’t Looking

Part time Historian and Thinker Achala Srivasta’s new blog post where she is ruminating (well, ruing, mainly) on the good old days. Feel free to breastbeat about the changing times in the Comments section below.  

 

good-old-daysEver since I moved back to Bangalore, I’ve been noticing that things are not quite the way they were.

So I decided to do a list of things that apparently have vanished or changed when I was looking the other way.

  1. First things first. What happened to my old Five Star bar??    You know, that fatly unctuous, gooey, caramelly, nougat thing that took at least 30 minutes to eat? You had strings of caramel sticking to your hair by the time you finished eating it – and then you had to skip lunch – for 2 days.  It was my treat, my reward for getting an A, my consolation for getting a C. It was  the one thing that made up for random people pinching my cheek when I was 10 years old  and asking  “Do you know who I am? ” I bought a Five Star for old times sake the other day and was horrified. I felt like the Godfather pointing to Sonny and saying “See what they have done to my chocolate bar” Flat, rock hard and gritty and with as much chocolate flavour as a potato. Great ads, lousy chocolate -not a great combo.
  2. And speaking of missing chocolate – where is my Parry’s Caramel with the green and gold crinkly wrapper? Alpen Liebe is a poor substitute for that rock hard toffee of brown, buttery sweetness.  And the decisions one had to make – let it melt quietly at the back of your mouth, crunch into it and risk losing your fillings??? What to do, what to do?
  3. Also missing in action is the phrase –“I look forward to… seeing you, dining with you, working with you, bitching about x with you etc.”The new phrase seems to be a chirpy and to my mind somewhat puzzling “Look forward” – a tantalizingly incomplete phrase that, to my mind, raises two points:
  • Who exactly is looking forward to doing what with whom if you get my convoluted point? Am I being asked to look forward? Are they looking forward to… what? Cortez -like – gazing on the horizon?
  • And not to be a party pooper – but of course you’d look forward -why on earth would you be chirpy about looking backward?

And finally, just when did the foot path/pavement/sidewalk disappear? I occasionally walk down to my local mini-market and have to do a tightrope act on this narrow strip by the side of the road, clutching the occasional tree or electric pole that suddenly looms in my path, screaming when a gigantic bus screeches by with about an inch to spare. On the rare occasions that there is a clear strip and I walk admiring the cerulean blue sky and the way the jacaranda looks framed against aforementioned sky – BAM I’ve tripped on the most uneven footpath ever and fallen face first into a cow pat.    I do hear cow dung has very good antiseptic properties though. Which I am sure will serve me well as I leap nimbly over sleeping dogs (nice one there eh?) and tightly wound coils of rusty metallic wire and risk dog bites and tetanus to buy a couple of carrots.

So clearly, I’ve been living under a rock but all I say is – bring back my old Five Star.

 

White Knuckles In The Air

Friend and fellow victim of a career in Market Research Achala Srivatsa is back with a delighful piece on the joys (woes?) of air travel. Musings, coping mechanisms, call it what you may, but I promise that by the time you are done reading this piece, you will have relived your last (few) plane ride(s).   

Look out! Frantic Air Traveler Inside!

I am a nervous, you could say anxious flyer. I would not call it a phobia exactly but I find myself sweating quietly at takeoff, scrutinizing the cabin crew’s expressions and body language and clutching the hand of whoever is next to me during turbulence.

I envy that guy in front of me who pulls up his blanket and begins to snore gently the moment he straps himself in, that lady whose concentration on her book does not waver even a little as we battle through dense, angry clouds, the businessman who continues to frown at his balance sheet even as the plane rocks.

Since mine is a job that requires travel, I’ve had to bite the bullet and develop some coping mechanisms to ensure I don’t turn into a gibbering wreck by the time I land. Fortunately, the human race is a colorful one and I find that between our very own Bhai-Behen and the dour farmer from South Dakota, I am provided with enough entertainment, aggravation and amusement to take my mind off… oh my god, is that lightning? No, it’s some twit taking pictures in the aircraft.

Let me start with myself. I am no mean hand at dishing out irritation and amusement to those around me in a plane. The moment I am strapped in, I kick off my shoes and then crawl around on my knees the entire duration of the flight trying to find them.  When my tray of neatly wrapped AVML arrives, I consume everything on it, including the cling film, noticing with mild interest that the watermelon is a bit chewy. I spend 20 minutes getting the little sponge wraps around my earphones, tear them and sheepishly ask for more. Meanwhile, the 14 something old next to me rolls her eyes and deftly slips on hers. I manage to lose my blanket and pillow, demand blankets slightly petulantly and then discover I’d been sitting on them all the time.

At the slightest hint of turbulence, I clutch the hand of the person next to me (a bonus if it turns out to be a cute guy, not so much if it’s a large hirsute man with heavy gold chains around his neck). I babble about my life, my work, the events that led to my traveling that day. The moment the rockiness stops, I drop his/her hand and spend the rest of the flight squirming with embarrassment trying hard to remember exactly what I said to the man and whether I should expect a call from him soon.

So people pretty much cheer when I walk into the aircraft because it makes them feel supremely tremendously calm and competent. It’s a public service really.

But enough about myself. The one thing I’ve learned by flying is that all men LOVE that little hot towel that’s handed out. The man next to me will extravagantly and thoroughly scrub his face, neck, his ears, wring out the towel and proceed to wipe his arms up to his elbow. The women around me, meanwhile politely pat their hands with the towel.  As hard as I try not to get distracted by this, I find myself wondering every single time if: a) Men have discovered the link between hot water and hygiene just yesterday b) have taken a sacred vow to not clean their necks until they are seated in seat 45B next to me.

One of my most memorable moments and one that made me forget my fears completely was on a flight from New York to Minneapolis. I was seated next to two very pleasant gentlemen. As is my wont, I began to babble the moment we hit some turbulence, explained to the man next to me that I had a need to converse to get me out of panic mode. He asked me where I was from, to get the conversation going. He turned out to be a farmer from South Dakota on an annual pilgrimage to NYC to watch a Mets game. The whole conversation we had was about Hinduism (what is it about?), Christianity (only those who believe in the Lord our Saviour will go to Heaven) about my family and me – we’re not bad people really (Nope, it’s Hell for you heathens) and finally the Big Question (why don’t you convert?).

I was mildly amused by his assumption that a 2 hour flight could have me questioning my beliefs but a friend of mine had the last word when he wrote to me saying  – “ Well, think of it this way, Hell will be full of your friends while Heaven will most likely be full of farmers from South Dakota, so I think you’re better off”.

In that Baptist farmer’s defense, he really was not being offensive, he genuinely could not believe anyone would actually choose to follow a different faith. Ah well…

Swinging back to our own motherland, on my way back from Bangkok recently, I boarded the plane, settled in and then… the sweet, unmistakable sounds of two self-righteous Indians squabbling over nothing. It started slowly – a few splutters of “what, what is this, I say?” then slowly swelled to a crescendo of “How dare you I say? What you are doing? See Sir (to a startled fellow passenger minding his own business) he has just thrown my bag out of the overhead baggage hold… how he can do that?, “you mind your language” and then of course the sweetest, classical Indian high note “Do you know who I am”?

This question always reminds me of an Asterix comic  strip when a Roman soldier asks Asterix what the password is, to which he retorts “Why? Aren’t you in the know?” (The response from the Roman soldier is classic. Drawing himself up, he replies  “I should think I am. It’s Cogito Ergo Sum”)

But I digress. By this time, the Thai crew is standing around smirking and barely hiding their loathing for us as a race (“such a silly matter”) and I have never been more interested in my biography of Clarence Darrow.

Anyway, I think it’s safe to say that as long as people keep me amused while flying, I think I can keep my fears in check. Plus, I have a theory. I believe I am not alone in my fears.

While I may act out my fears, (okay, so banging on the cockpit door demanding that the captain sit next to me holding my hand was not the wisest thing in retrospect. To be fair, the police were very understanding) that businessman staring at his spreadsheet is most likely mentally reciting the 10 names of Arjuna feverishly as we fly through a storm and I did notice our bookworm toss back her third glass of red wine. So maybe there is a collective sigh of relief when we land and that typical scramble for the door is a way of us kissing the ground and saying  “let me out of this tin can”.

 

Look What They Have Done To My Hero- A RabidSherlockian Rant!

No less Lady Watson herself, friend and ninja-market-researcher Achala Srivatsa is in a bad mood. Wouldn’t you be if someone made a mockery of your favourite superhero? (For starters, STOP CALLING HIM A SUPERHERO!)

Sherlock Holmes. NOT the star of “Apocalyptic Cabal Part V” (The new must-have video game this holiday season. Rated M)

 

These past few years have seen several adaptations of Sir ACD’s Sherlock Holmes. We had Robert Downey Jr’s “Crouching Holmes Sleeping Watson” version with ninja type flying kicks, a semi-nude Holmes, we had the scarfed up sociopathic and, frankly, nasty Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC’s mini-series “Sherlock”, and now we have “Elementary”, where Sherlock Holmes is a woman …no wait, Watson’s an American woman of Asian origin while Sherlock Holmes is as Brit as…well, Sherlock Holmes.

Now, I am a notorious purist when it comes to my literary and celluloid heroes and my best friends will tell you I frothed at the mouth when they messed around with James Bond (hey, My name is Bond not Heathcliff… stop the maudlin melodrama and man up with some martinis –not beer!). But I gritted my teeth and swore I’d enjoy these adaptations even if it killed me.

So I smiled sweetly and painfully through RDJ’s first movie which had a positively skanky Holmes on drugs, on steroids and worse, but joined my fellow Sherlockians and exclaimed over the vigour and fun of that movie. I stoutly refused to watch the second one but did manage to watch a bit of it and cringed.

Sherlock was fun, I admit, but this must be said – what’s with the fiendish complexity? There has been enough hand wringing over the portrayal of Holmes as a sociopath and I will not bore everyone again on that, but seriously – when did Holmes become so horribly unpleasant? Yes, I loved the clever little touches; I loved the mystery around Mycroft, the use of texting blah blah.

And then I saw a bit of “Elementary” because that was all I could take and snapped. I have had ENOUGH!

I am sick of being politely excited about “modern day” adaptations of a classic that I have loved all my life, that inspired me and excited me and still gives me a thrill when I read the opening lines of some of my favourite stories.

I say enough. Enough of female Watsons (a sober companion, for God’s sake?), enough of clever technology, enough of silly acronyms (H.O.U.N.D???), enough of seeing Holmes as a social misfit, tripping on all kinds of drugs, wallowing in a filthy room, tattooed, muscled and with prostitutes wandering through his rooms (and no, she was not there to complain about the depth to which the parsley had sunk into the butter on a hot day)

I would like to see a revival of the original canons… Please

  • Give me my funny Holmes in The Noble Bachelor “by the same logic Lestrade, every man’s body should be in the vicinity of his wardrobe”
  • Give my self-deprecating Holmes – “she waved us to our respective chairs like a reverend abbess greeting two rather leprous mendicants. If your head is inclined to swell, my dear Watson, take a course of Miss Violet de Merville” (Illustrious Client)
  • Give me the Holmes who has a magically soothing effect on distraught women – the Holmes in the Speckled Band, the Copper Beeches
  • Speaking of….give me the thrill of the Speckled Band again. Please. If you can create a story that has the terror, the drama and has the ability to thrill you – in the original sense of the word thrill – do so. If you cannot –stick to the bloody original!
  • Which takes me to my next point – if you want to introduce Holmes to an  audience that has no clue what a Sherlock is,  give them A Study in Scarlet – murder, lust, revenge, mystery, adventure, German letters scrawled in blood?  Why look elsewhere?

If the argument is that a 21st century “digitally native” audience needs a tattooed Holmes, I beg to differ. I am sure that today’s young people are perfectly capable of comprehending that before the 21st century was a 20th and before that a 19th century where people were- you know, different. When they used the English language with precision and a tattoo meant you’d been working on a ship and words like fresh, curious, terrible and grotesque were used to mean exactly what they said.