Category Archives: Why we ponder to Postulate and Hypothesize

An Essay on How to Fill a Day with Nothing – Also, known as, The Pleasures of a Purpose-less Sabbatical…

Some three and a half years ago, I took a sabbatical from work, ostensibly to do bigger, better, more worthwhile things in life. (Unfortunately, I settled back into more mundane living fairly quickly, without utilizing my downtime in any meaningful way. Clearly, the current break will have to be much more purposeful!)

This note below captures the heady feeling of the early days of that break…dated October 2009, location New York, NY.

Watching grass grow can be a fun and rewarding experience.

Ah, the Art of Sleep. Or, rather, the Art of Waking-Up-Late. For some, waking up late means 8 am, which is such a pity – this artform is clearly wasted on them. For others, waking up at 11 am or later comes easy. Natural Born Artists. So you continue to hone this Talent each day.

Sometime mid-morning sleep eventually dissipates. Your eyes hook up with your iPhone/Watch/Media Center/Newspaper/Life. 10.55. You float out of bed around the same time as Worker-Bees all around town are hearing the first rumblings in their stomachs. After all, lunch hour is near. The Sun has already expended much of its morning energy, but you don’t notice that because the blinds are down (sensible move last night). Your first act of the day is to bring the Sound-and-Fury box back to life. You already made sure the remote stayed close at hand. Choices abound – there’s CNN, if you want to know how much your Life would Suck if you hadn’t been Goldman Sachs (but wait, you aren’t Goldman Sachs…). Then there’s Martha, who can  teach you how to make Champignon French-something-or-other with mushroom caps and cheese, and craft decorations with discarded mushroom stems and glitter. Super talented woman. But best to settle with the Ladies of The View. Five women talking animatedly about important-sounding topics, you know, Jon and Kate, Balloon Boy and such. They can’t seem to agree between themselves that the sky is blue. And what greater pass time than to guess which dentures Barbara Walters chose to wear today – clearly, she rotates between several pairs depending upon her need for audible coherence?

Breakfast at 12. If you have made lunch (aka breakfast) plans with friends, food is taken care of. But each time you are out having lunch, you wonder why things appear rushed. Could it be that your Worker-Bee-Friend needs to get back to work? You are in no hurry yourself, but those Au Bon Pain soup bowls carry only so much soup. Even the Large ones. Though lunch plans are quick and easy, and your friends have suggested them a few times, you are a lazy sloth (painful to take a quick shower, get ready, and leave home by 1). So you plan to meet another day. Maybe later in the week – Friday.

Today, you are home for breakfast – things are much simpler. The Fridge holds the key to your happiness. Milk. Direct from a cow some two thousand miles away. Wholesome, pure…missing some fat, but with added vitamins. What else…there is Pepperidge Farms Bread – unspoilt even after a week. Fortified with cement, presumably. There’s some Swiss cheese. Organic Grade-A-Large-Eggs with yummy Good-Cholesterol. Gala Apples and Dole Bananas before they go too ripe. But you look beyond all that and grab the big box of Cheerios you bought yesterday. After watching that ad in which a grandfather is having Cheerios with his year-old grandson. They were loving it so! Nothing like a good bowl of cereal. Except carrot cake. Or any cake.

All through your miserable years at work, you have wondered about those folks who sit at Starbucks in the middle of the afternoon, sipping coffee and reading a book. WHAT is their profession – and how do you get to be one of THEM? Well, now is your chance. So you grab your great new Novel, in all its 700 pages of hard bound enormity, and lug it to the cafe two blocks away. You don’t really like coffee, so you order yourself a dessert drink. There is no one ahead or behind you in line, so you get a clear picture of how your Frappucciono is manufactured. Basically, they start with Heavy Cream. Then they add some mix (sugar syrup?) from a bottle. Followed by some fruity looking syrup from a second bottle. Off to the blender. Followed by a huge dollop of more Heavy Cream to top it up. Your heart fails just toting up the calories and Bad-Cholesterol count. The kid behind the counter smiles as she hands the Venti to you, her lips saying ‘Enjoy’ though her eyes clearly mean ‘Good Luck surviving that’.

Drink in hand, you seat yourself at a table with a so-so view of the Street. The best seats are already taken by Ferocious-looking-Hipsters. (Go back to your East Village, you Skinny Jeans Morons). Anyhow, you are not to be undone…you fish out your giant book with both hands (your bag and your shoulder thank you for it). You read. 3.15.

Outside the window, you spot a chick wearing mittens (already?). An old but well preserved lady with a dog. Back to the book. Two new visitors to the cafe. Marble cake…mmm, maybe you should get that, too. Two sips of the Frappuccino. Book. The visitors settle down at a worse table – take that, Losers. NYU Kids. Ah to be young in New York. Outside, the Mailman runs his block. Frappuccino. Book. Repeat. 3.30.

Only 3.30? Concentrate on the book. It is a great book, but this public area coccooning is new to you. The sounds and visuals are distracting. IPOD! Yes, take that out. Headphone all set. Playlist set to 500-Days-of-Summer. Go. Book. Frappuccino. Book. Repeat. Man running. Two giggly girls. One of the Ferocious-looking-Hipster starts to leave. Should you change you seat? No, that’s uncool, surely. Book. More Book. Even more Book. Frappuccino. Skip Song. Skip next Song, too. Frappuccino. Book. More Book. Even more Book. Now mainly Book and little much Else.

4.30. This turned out to be reasonably ok. You need more practice, so maybe you will repeat this again tomorrow. Or maybe, later in the week – Friday. Did 20 pages of the Book. The Brick goes back into the bag (groan). Onward home.

The Mega Million Lotto is now 108 MILLION DOLLARS! Stop by the neighborhood deli. Pretend you are there to buy something else…Snapple Grapeade, say. And just by-the-way ask for 3 Mega Million tickets. You know, to top out the 5 dollars you placed on the counter.

Finally Home. Free until 7 when you meet your friend over dinner. Go for a run? But you showered already, so perhaps tomorrow. Maybe later in the week – Friday. Catch up on recorded Jay Leno and Conans. Conan is still not funny…poor guy. But you want to be nice to him, so you continue to watch politely. You doze off…as your Natural-born-talent manifests itself again only after a few short hours. But, as Conan says bye for the night, you wake up as well. Perhaps time to change your shirt for the evening. You look through the closet to realize – 1) you still haven’t done laundry, and 2) you don’t have good clothes, anyway. Laundry and Shopping coming up. Maybe later in the week – Friday.

Off for dinner. Thai, Indian, Mexican or Chinese, typically. Usually cheap, and always worth it – there is a reason why New York apartments come with kitchens and smoke-alarms 1 feet apart from each other. Why would anyone want to cook in New York?

Home later. After 9, even your cellphone provider sets you free, so go yap as much as you want. But talking is so 2007, now that there is Facebook…Think of something truly witty for your Facebook status. Think hard. Continue to think. Eventually, give up – it’s not as if you have anything to report – you haven’t done ANYTHING today. Witty or otherwise.

Mr Sandman won’t visit for a while, so you extricate the Brick from the bag. Read the Book. It’s actually quite delightful…you wonder why you couldn’t concentrate at Starbucks. You continue to read. 1 am. You want to catch up on your sleep – there’s much to be done tomorrow. Or, at least, much to done later in the week – Friday.

This is Life you could get used to. You wish your parents had worked harder when they were younger…and left you a Trust Fund.

This Post Is Not About That

The Aakash Tablet. You are looking at the only piece in existence.

The Aakash Tablet. You are looking at the only piece in existence.

Recently, I paid a thousand bucks to see a play at Siri Fort, New Delhi. That’s a fair bit steeper than what Delhiites typically dole out to see their local actors give amateurish performances on the spartan sets of IHC, Kamani or Epicentre auditoria. Before you start thinking that I have won that big Sikkim State Lottery jackpot and start reaching out to me as a potential door ka rishtedaar, let me quickly scrub your hopes. No such thing has happened – I am still poor and the purse strings remain tighter than ever thanks to Mr Chidambaram. These hard earned thousand rupees were coughed up for a one-evening-only theatrical ‘event’ – a monodrama by Anupam Kher called ‘Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai’. Rest assured that despite its silly title, this was not a play based on some limp horror (comedy?) film from Ram Gopal Verma’s potty. This play featured a bona fide Bollywood celebrity, one of our leading, national award winning actors doing a one-man act. How often do we get to see that in Delhi? Surely, a thousand was a small price to pay for the sake of art? What’s skipping a few square meals in order to afford that, I thought.

Anyway, this post is not really about Anupam Kher or his play. It is not even about the good folks who had organized the event. And good folks they indeed are – a leading NGO that is providing free education to children in over 150,000 schools in remote, mainly tribal areas across the country. Noble cause by any yardstick because not only are these kids being offered an education, but even their basic needs of primary healthcare, clothing and nourishment are being taken care of by these schools that are managed directly by this organization. Presumably, the charity of the well-heeled in Delhi, and the blood and sweat of the feet-on-the-ground, are allowing that little Adivasi child in Bastar to dream of a brighter future that opens up for her when she has access to language and maths. She now has books and multimedia that open her eyes to the world outside her village. She has clothing that gives her dignity and protection, medicines that keep her healthy. At some point in the future, she aspires to be the nurse who looks after you in a hospital, or your neighbourhood bank teller who greets you as she dispenses cash to you, or the driver who pilots the Metro train that takes you to your destination. And, a mother who insists on a better life for her own children and family.

No, this post is not about the hundreds of kind folks who have the wherewithal to offer assistance and do so, generating opportunities for thousands of kids who deserve and get them. This post is not about them.

This post is about the millions of others who get left behind.

This post is about a nation that dreams big and yet squanders opportunity after opportunity. It’s about the Right to Education Act that gets passed by the federal Parliament in 2009. An act that establishes India as one of the few progressive nations in the world where education to children between the ages of 6-14 is a fundamental right. A law that provides 25% reservation of seats to EWS even in private schools. One that mandates all schools to ensure the existence of a proper building, a boundary wall with gate, a toilet, and drinking water to its students, or face the risk of losing accreditation and funding. It instructs the states to provide educated educators and able administrators to make all of this happen. And yet, 3 years after the Bill was notified, only 10% of the nation’s schools conform to its mandates. This post is also about other associated policies on Human Resource Development, like the vocational schools that don’t exist. Or the grand promise of the new Akash, not the polluted blue one above our heads. Or the free laptops dispensed to children whose homes have no electricity. Not to mention usable sports equipment and training facilities, instead of the locked and rusting behemoths erected for a two-week long sporting event.

Yes, this post is about the points I have enumerated above. But, mainly, this post is about lost opportunities because we constantly attempt to beat a corroded system into place, not by robust, get-your-hands-dirty action, but by new ornamental and shallow promises.

You could say that this post is about getting what we deserve.

Oh, I know, before I close, you still want to know how the play was, don’t you? Well, here is a quick review, in that case. It featured Anupam Kher laboriously playacting the story of his own life in excruciating detail (yes, you guessed it right – the play was quite awful, pompous even). But still, a nice change from what we usually get to see in NCR. You see, what the avid theatregoer gets here is either British or American plays, and it is normal to see desi actors addressing each other as ‘Charlie’ or ‘Polly’ on stage. Never mind that in real life, the only Charlies and Pollys that we actually know are the neighbour’s raucous dog and our aunt’s graceless parrot.

Anyway, like I said, this post is not about that.

 

This piece has been carried in the April 8th, 2012 issue of The Education Post : www.theeducationpost.in. My thanks to Arvind Passey for making this happen. Do check out his blog at : http://passey.info/

 

Article_The Education Post_Rickie Khosla

 

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.

 

The Clean Chit

 

Truth Alone Prevails. Until, of course something jucier comes along.

Contrary to popular belief, The Clean Chit, that irrepressible vote-of-confidence that all political parties seem to dole out to their controversial and beleaguered doyens frequently, isn’t just a bland pat-on-the-back or a rally of support on TV. (And it isn’t an unwritten and unsoiled drycleaner’s-receipt-sized paper either, in case you were translating “Clean Chit” quite literally in your head). It is a historical document, one that bears a total absolution from all crimes and misdemeanours, real or perceived, past or present (or future) of the alleged offender by his peers.

And by document, I mean just that. Given its supreme significance in the way political business is being carried out in our country today, I have managed to smuggle out a template copy from the Lok Sabha Library. Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting to you –

 

The Clean Chit

(template created August 15, 1947. Last modified November 30, 2012 for subject Robert Vadra. Do not change template without prior approval.)

 

It is our great pleasure to grant this Clean Chit to (optionalHonourable to be used if the subject uses Z+ security) Shri/Smt _________________ (henceforth called Clean-Chitee), <<mention relationship, e.g. son of, daughter of, son-in-law of, daughter-in-law of, brother of, phoopa-ji of etc.>> of Shri/Smt ___________________ (optional – previous awardee of Clean Chit relating to <<mention alleged past crime and misdemeanour>>. In case multiple Clean Chits have been issued to the family, state the most notable one, i.e. the one associated with the greatest alleged loss of money, mortality or modesty to the nation) for his/her alleged role in the <<mention alleged current crime and misdemeanour>>. We abhor the insinuations made against <<insert Clean-Chitee’s name>> regarding this issue, and dismiss the allegations categorically with the contempt and without the due diligence it deserves. <<Insert Clean-Chitee’s name>> has been handcrafted by The Maker Himself and, as such, embodies all the virtues of the One who made him/her. All those behind these charges are despicable morons not fit to be called human, and unworthy of even an unbranded woollen-acrylic-nylon mix Made-in-China monkey cap when Hell, the domicile of their afterlife, freezes over.

<<Insert Clean-Chitee’s name>> is an upright and modest person and it is below his/her dignity to even acknowledge, let along explain his/her position on, these innuendos that have been leveled against him/her. As a result, they are being summarily dismissed, with total contempt we might add, by us – the absolute custodians of morality, principle and fact – self-appointed though we may be.

(If alleged current crime and misdemeanour is too real to ignore, and the alleged involvement of the Clean-Chitee in the matter as abyssal as Ekta Kapoor’s is to TV serials, please add) – Clearly, the <<mention current crime and misdemeanour>> is a criminal conspiracy hatched by the enemies of the Republic of India with the sole intent of destroying the good name of <<insert Clean-Chitee’s name>>. It smacks of the underhand machinations of the morally bankrupt and <<choose from – inept past government, inept previous administration, corrupt corporate houses, anarchic opposition, deranged Narendra Modi, hysterical Mamata Banerji, psychopathic Sonia Gandhi>>.

With this declaration, we rule that <<insert Clean-Chitee’s name with full title>> is not only wiped clean of the all that feces that has been tossed at him by these nefarious monkeys, but is also smelling of nothing other than roses and sandalwood. As he/she always had in the past, and as he/she always will in the future.

Signed by <<mention the name of the political organization Clean-Chitee is congenitally attached to>>        

Release to Media before the 8 pm news cycle.