Friday, March 26, 2010

Of Chillis, Berries and Mithuns

So I’ve got the King of hotness at home.

Well, before certain males begin to preen and the curious gossip-mongering lot make a dash for my Facebook page in an attempt to dig up the latest and greatest on yours truly, let me cast a slight damper on things.

I am referring to the Naga King Chilli, sourced from an acquaintance who hails from the state of Nagaland. This particular variety of chilli (as Wikipedia told me) has earned its place in the Guinness Book for its spiciness.

Having long been the Dallay chilli’s greatest fan (arguably), I was quite excited to get my hands on this variety. Unfortunately, I’ve managed to source just a couple of dried ones, ready to have their seeds planted. Let’s hope that in three months’ time, I’ll have more to write about the little dynamite. (Alternatively, if you are in Nagaland when you’re reading this and of altruistic disposition, let me know if you could send me some fresh stuff!)

That aside, I have a little box of something called ‘bukari’ from Nagaland. I can only hope that is how it is spelled or pronounced, for Google has failed me, as have Wikipedia and every other self-proclaimed storehouse of knowledge.

For the adventurous gourmands, this is a made of a particular borum and tastes a lot like the variety of tituara or lapsi I got from Darjeeling (the sweeter, blander sort as compared to the Nepali/Sikkimese/Kalimpong stuff). It’s peculiarly sweet-ish, got the slight aftertaste of an overripe-bordering-on-rotten fruit and leaves a fat round seed lolling around in your mouth. Not really much to write home about, but considerably worthwhile blogging about I thought - since it’s a) new and novel (to me at least) and b) the Internet can’t shush me for yammering on about a trifling berry.

Thanks to the new Naga acquaintance, I’ve also learned that the Mithun is supposed to be incredibly delicious! No, gross… not that inebriated-looking Disco Dancer silver-suited Bollywood actor fellow of yesteryear with the son whose only claim to fame is his strange moniker. This is a species of gaur that is also Nagaland’s state animal.

The sombre-looking beast - the sort that throws you a look that could fry an egg or wither a blimp - appears perpetually irate. I suppose it’s wise to say one ought not to proffer him one of those king chillis.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It Just Trips Off The Tongue

“Language -- we play with it, argue about it, spar with it, judge others on it. Who said language was only for communicating?”

When A-Word-A-Day’s daily snippet popped into my mailbox this morning, the lines above got me thinking. One’s command over the English language, which I long thought was a really solid advantage anywhere, is, as it turns out, something of a double-edged sword.

Choosing to look at the glass half-empty, let’s see how one’s fluency in this language of foreign origin now adversely impacts an Indian in India - here are the commandments for all those (unfortunate?) Indians who are apt to believe their first language/mother tongue is English:

1. Thou shalt be entitled to titles.

No “Lady” or “Lord” type British titles for you. The titles bestowed on the comfy English speakers here are a lot more colourful. While my dad dealt with the likes of “East India Company”, I had to contend with tags like “White Pig” (literally translated from the Tamil phrase) thanks to delightful classmates in cordial Chennai - until the day I walked up to a blackboard and corrected a Tamilian’s Tamil spelling for the word “yaanai” (elephant). Almost needless to say, the look on their faces was absolutely priceless. Then there’s the more mundane “So-n-so’s British.” My mother’s son-of-the-soil brother insists that his “sister is British” because “her father was British!” Who am I to point fingers? I tell everybody “my mother is British” and “KO is related to the Queen.”

2. Thou shalt be the butt of all jokes.

You are always the “outsider” in any gathering where a vernacular language is the chosen medium of communication. Even if you do choose to converse in the vernacular, your conversation is subject to intense scrutiny by the vernacular experts who cackle at any slip-up or, having found no grammatical errors, then attack your “anglicised accent,” mimicking you with an even more ridiculous accent - something akin to playing a Geoffrey Boycott commentary on slow.

3. Thou shalt be infallible in all things English.

If you are good at the language, the bar is set even higher for you with almost no margin for error. This mean you cannot afford a single typo, errant comma or grammatical error in any of your written works - be it a simple email to a colleague, a note to a neighbour, your college thesis, the to-do list tacked to the fridge, or a hurriedly scrawled recipe for prawn curry. As for pronunciations and the spoken word, God save thy soul if you happen to spout a more vernacular expression. For instance, an “Arre yaar” or a more colourful vernacular expletive. (No, B-C, that still does not mean we will stop laughing at you for saying “I promise on Lord Jesus…”)

4. Thou shalt be witness to double takes.

You speak in the vernacular. Listener does an exaggerated “I-freeze-in-my -tracks” before saying, “Oh, my God! You speak Tamil/Hindi/Kannada/Malayalam/Fill-in-lingo-of-your-choice?”, which may or may not always be followed by the obscure observation “You do not LOOK like you speak xyz lingo.”

5. Thou shalt be the English language ready reckoner.

Move over, Google, Websters, Oxford, Wren & Martin. You are a cheaper, handier version of a dictionary and thesaurus. You shall provide spellings, definitions, usage and synonyms at anybody’s behest for any word or wannabe word in the English language. A failure or inability to do so will cause ripples of amazement wider than even George Bush Sr.’s keeling over and throwing up on the Japanese PM evoked.

6. Thou shalt be the Brit wannabe.

Somehow, an “English language expert” in this country is immediately construed as being one who idolises the Brits and all things Brit,is dying to live in the UK, turns up the old honker at anything Indian. Does having fluency over a foreign language immediately make one a traitor to your land? How about looking at it as being able to cock a snook at the Brits in their own tongue? In any case, I don’t quite get what all the competitive hype and hoopla is about when it comes to the various races. I am not the one who hoists the Union Jack every morning nor do I even know (or care)what the UK national anthem is. I prefer a hot samosa to a drab old scone any day. I might be guilty of preferring a man in a suit to a lungi, but then, that really is a matter of personal taste rather than allegiance to a country! (Basically Blah prepares for hate mail from a certain N Rajakutty)

7. Thou shalt be perceived a snob.

The “English type” come with a tag attached that can never be shaken off. Absolutely no opportunity to prove otherwise. You have been, are and always will be a snob. It doesn’t matter that you may not actually think of yourself as too cool for everybody else around you. You are “one of those” and you just have to be a snob, looking down upon anybody else who may be more fluent in the vernacular and whose English skills leave a lot to be desired. Sigh! When a neighbourhood nanny trying to get a colicky baby to sleep shushed a woman squabbling on the road outside for disturbing the little fellow, the belligerent passerby shot back, “Oho! You English people in your bungalows (we live in apartments, fyi) think you can tell us what to do?” The nanny had made the mistake of speaking in the lingo of the sahibs. So apparently, speaking in English makes you appear to be a cut above the rest - who cares what you really think about yourself?

To the wise auto driver (a dying breed in Bangalore) who said that learning and knowing good English in this day and age is a must else it will get you nowhere - there is plenty of truth to what you say.

However, in my next life, Oh Big Guy Upstairs, can I please be Vatal Nagaraj, bastion of the local language? For starters, he is male (I haven’t heard anything to the contrary); secondly, he is on the other side of the fence (or the 'English Channel' as I like to think of it) and it looks like the grass is far greener on that side - just ask the camel he's seated on (not seen in pic).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mushroom & I

This post has taken a long time coming. The other day, I got around to reminiscing about the days of old with KO, who has known me since I was knee high to an ant. The conversation wound around to one of my best buddies from boarding school, Mushroom, who I still keep in touch with from time to time despite being separated by miles of ocean. In retrospect, Mushroom was the proverbial trouble maker.

The one thing that drew us together - a sure-fire reason that still draws me to some people more than others - was our shared craziness for all creatures great and small.

After returning from a weekend home, Mushroom ran up to me, bursting with excitement. Drawing me away from prying eyes, she showed me a biscuit tin with holes poked in the lid. Raising the lid, I spied a bunch of cabbage leaves with a whole lot of tiny butterfly eggs.

Thrilled to bits, we kept the tin in her desk in our classroom, waiting for them to hatch. And hatch they did. Right in the middle of a Math lesson. We suddenly noticed a sea of tiny caterpillar larvae swarming out over her desk. As inconspicuously as possible, we tried to herd them back into the tin, only to have them pop right back out through the holes in the lid.

Growing more adventurous, they then swarmed over to other desks, creating quite a row with girls squealing in horror and running for cover. Needless to say, we were thrown out with our precious biscuit tin to release the wannabe butterflies in the woods surrounding our playground. However, we kept finding stragglers in the classroom for days afterward.

Our foray into entomology didn’t end there. There was the matter of the housefly called Snoopy - held hostage in an empty glue bottle by a couple of curious eight-year olds. Snoopy, R.I.P.

Entomology aside, Mushroom and I were probably “wiser beyond our years.” Engrossed in drawing the Garden of Eden for a Scripture class, we decided to go all out and ensure Adam and Eve were “anatomically perfect.” When we sat back to admire our handiwork, it suddenly struck us, “What will the teacher say?!” In panic, we grabbed an eraser and hastily tried to erase Adam’s generous manhood.

Erasers, back then, were ineffective things that left an ugly black smudge on paper. Ultimately, we ended up with an erroneous Adam with a suspicious black cloud over his crotch area, which, when held up to the light, even boasted a hole in the paper.

A terrible giggle fit later, we found ourselves thrown out into the corridor once more, wielding our masterpiece; Adam now sporting green-crayoned “grass” scrawled up to his waist with Eve almost up to her eyeballs in misshapen foliage.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Many Furlongs Away From Home - Part II

Day II dawned later rather than early. With no clock in the room, I slept on until nearly 9 before one of the group sounded an alarm that the breakfast may be running out.

Once breakfast was done, and B-C (who would put Rumpelstiltskin to shame) was roused and scrubbed behind the ears, we opted out of the trip to see a waterfall and settled down to a game of carrom.

When the group returned, full of tales of a terrific clamber and scramble over rocky terrain to get to a fabulous waterfall, I steeled my morose heart by telling myself that city slickers, who haven’t been born and raised in the boonies like I was, would find three stones and a pebble challenging.

I don’t care that the photographic evidence might have declared otherwise. I don’t trust technology anyway. (Hey, who threw this grape at me? It is sour!)

After lunch, which was the previous day’s re-hashed lunch plus re-hashed dinner, I waddled off for a siesta, accompanied by B-C and KO, while the rest worked themselves up over settling the bill and what time we ought to leave.

The ride back was relatively uneventful, save for the time Team Red decided to play dirty so as to gain the No. 1 spot in our little cavalcade. We resorted to the old stop-we-want-to-buy-tender-coconuts-hoo-hoo-hoo-sucker ploy- you know, the one where you flag your “rivals” down and tell them you’re stopping to buy tender coconuts because you’re dying of thirst and then step on the accelerator and zoom off into the horizon as the suckers eat dust.

Well, we didn’t so much zoom off into the horizon leaving a trail of dust - it was more a slow taxi and takeoff as the confused GC meandered about a bit in confusion as a bunch of hysterical women shouted in his ear to “Go! Go! Go!” just seconds after screaming for tender coconuts. I swear, if we’ve put him off women for the rest of his life, I can scarcely blame him. We did leave the other two cars behind, blinking in utter bewilderment, calling us up to tell us that it was okay to “have our coconuts.”

GC, I fathom, got his back on us for all the trouble our fickle-mindedness had caused him by hitting a speed breaker at high speed, causing some of us to bump our coconuts heads on the roof.

As I crawled back home well past midnight, it struck me that I’d actually had a really good time, with scarcely a moment to brood over other brow-furrowing events. There is something to be said about going on a holiday where one plays no part in the planning or execution, with your sole responsibility being to just show up at the appointed hour (or an hour later with a plausible excuse) and then just going along for the bumpy, muddy ride.

Besides, a tiny bump on the head is a small price to pay for a car-full of laughter and memories that provide plenty of fodder for private jokes between a bunch of people who will forever remain my closest friends.

[For the politically incorrect version of events, visit Kaotic's Workshop.]

Many Furlongs Away From Home

Basically Blah is back from a very quick but much-need weekend getaway.

Destination: Texwoods Resort near the Bhadra Wildlife sanctuary close to Chikmagalur.

Joining a bunch of strangers on a holiday was a first of sorts for me. While I knew I had KO for company, B-Complex decided to join the dozen or so of us setting out on this “trekking” adventure after initially having opted out since the trek did not include palanquin bearers for her personal comfort.

As with all big groups going on holiday, we set off (in three cars) a good hour or so later than planned once all the stragglers and their excuses for tardiness had been gathered. As always happens when you have men at the wheel, the three vehicles got into a surreptitious race to stay at the head of the cavalcade.

Of course, the four women in “Team Red” might actually have nudged their genial chauffeur (GC) into it. We must be allowed our juvenile delights once in a while. Speaking of juvenile delights, one of mine is to keep people from sleeping during a journey, and hence, I found myself making some incessant chatter much to the chagrin of B-Complex and KO who cannot (otherwise) keep their eyelids open in a moving vehicle. Well, the outcome of that "intellectual" discussion was that we inferred that buns without yeast are biscuits. Go figure. *snigger*

We made it to Muthodi under Ms. Zeus’ able navigation and GC not-so-helpfully asking around for “Bhadra Life Century”; deciding against Texwoods’ owners directions with distances given in furlongs. Who, in this day and age, gives distances in furlongs?

Anyway, some, I don’t know, 20 furlongs later, we found ourselves transferring into Texwoods jeeps for the bumpy, dusty crawl up to the resort situated in the middle of a coffee plantation.

Post an uninteresting lunch, B-C, KO and I caught an afternoon siesta, while the rest bobbed about in the swimming pool with leaves and orange bugs for company. Then leaving B-C to her own devices, KO and I set off at a brisk pace to explore our surroundings in the hope of finding something more interesting than coffee bushes. We were sorely disappointed and returned to the resort just as darkness completely set in.

The night brought with it a bonfire under the watchful eyes of a statue of Infant Jesus sporting blue nail polish. Everybody sat around it in a semi-sombre silence, smoking, drinking, munching on supposedly barbecued chicken, exchanging a private joke or two within their little cliques or sharing obscure jokes with the bigger group.

After dinner, which consisted mainly of a re-hashed lunch, Team Red, sans GC, sat by the pool, dangling our feet into the icy water and taking in a spectacularly clear night sky. We then decided to call it a night just as a few wine-soaked others thought a midnight swim was the need of the hour.

[Part II to follow]

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Top 20 Lessons People Wish I Would Learn

(Or top 20 things people have said or wish they could say to me)

1. That cool pub in Chennai is called Bikes & Barrels not Bird & Basket. (And it really is cool, so your mocking laughter is uncalled for.)

2. We cannot understand your tendency to laugh raucously at a scene in a movie that was not meant to provide comic relief in the first place; we also object to your tittering even 10 minutes after the scene. Your misplaced mirth is a catalyst for B-Complex whose glee has a tendency to create tremors measuring 1.2 on the Richter scale.

3. You watched Saw 1 through 4 back-to-back and thrive on gory horror flicks but keel at the sight or even suggestion of blood in real life? Don't you think there is something amiss in that?

4. It is not normal to shout out you cannot find the Gummy Bears as soon as the lights go out instead of groping around for a flashlight like the rest of us.

5. Give up claiming you can speak Telugu; all you can really say are a bunch of offensive lines someone taught you back in hostel. Besides, it isn’t polite to comment on the size of anyone’s anatomical parts no matter what language you may say it in.

6. Relax, it is only a friendly game of Scrabble; not the World Championship and you don’t need to win at everything.

7. Not everything green, leafy and in your plate is part of some underworld plot to eliminate you slowly but painfully.

8. Wouldn’t it be easier to spell your surname just like the other 1,000 people from your community or must you be difficult and different all the time?

9. While on the subject of spelling names, it really isn’t worth cultivating a haematoma just because somebody inserted that extra “H” in your first name.

10. The correct term would be “bindi” for that dot on the forehead, not “moni” - however that came about!

11. No, painting the dog’s toe nails pink or silver does not speak volumes about HIS fashion sense.

12. Get a grip on your creative juices; during work hours is not a good time to experience a creative Big Bang.

13. Learn to hang up the phone; yawns followed by a light snoring should give you some indication that this conversation was over a long time ago.

14. Recording a person snoring and then assigning that as a personalised ring tone for whenever the person calls is not okay.

15. Respect your elders. That includes refraining from regaling people with tales of how your sibling ran after a sparrow with a salt shaker or accused a pigeon of hanging a large pair of chequered pyjamas on his balcony.

16. Not everybody even three years your junior still wears diapers or can be referred to as a “foetus.”

17. Dirty socks do not go in your mother’s handbag - same as that picture of the beaming moustachioed politician in a crisp white shirt and tri-colour scarf does not belong in her wallet next to the family picture.

18. Some of us like to saunter up mountain slopes not dash up to the summit like there’s a scalp-collecting brigand on your tail.

19. People tend to spook when you smile at people just because you got a funny image of them in your head or heard an unintentional innuendo.

20. Do not tease people on a diet with food or complaints about your high metabolism. You really are toeing the ragged edge of disaster with that one.

Women's Reservation And All That Jazz

After much bordering-on-comic drama, the Rajya Sabha finally passed the contentious Women’s Reservation Bill. I am not sure on which side of the fence I sit on for this one. Women ought to be able to make it to Parliament on their own merit (and vote-bank politics, and goondaism, and promises of free colour televisions).

For this is a country where 90% of men believe that women belong in the kitchen, must be leered at and not heard, must cater to a man’s every whim and fancy etc. and 8% pretend to think otherwise (since it is “cooler” to appear “broad minded”) but secretly agree with the majority.

The remaining 2%? Well, I’d venture that 1% are “open minded” meaning they are open to having their male friends and relatives tell them what they ought to believe. The other 1% is an urban legend.

After the fireworks the Bill incited in the Upper House, which is usually the more “civilised” of the two, it will be interesting to note the reactions and counter-reactions in the Lok Sabha as more male chauvinists, representatives of the common man no less, get their dhotis in a knot.

If the RS folks could leap onto the Speaker’s lap and rip the "offensive" bill up - inadvertently providing yet another example of blasé masculine brute force being used to snuff out the possibility of having women on an equal footing - could we expect any better of the Lower House?

Regardless of the outcome of the Bill (and the accompanying dramatics courtesy the Yadavs & co.), here’s my question: will it change the life of the average Indian woman, one with no political aspirations, in even the smallest possible way?

True gender equality cannot be got by burning undergarments, mailing pink ones to misogynists, dedicated pink bus services or frenzied celebrations and women-oriented art exhibitions on International Women’s Day.

It is about changing mindsets, altering thinking and reason ossified by generations of traditional and cultural conditioning and ultimately, getting that neanderthal male ego to move over just a tad.

Hahaha! As if! Just blame that last bit on my wishful Piscean day dreaming of Utopia.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

New Beginnings

Another birthday over and done with. Cakes cut, glasses clinked, gifts ripped open and awww-ed over, calls galore and all that. Whew!

Time for new beginnings.

Time for a complete revamp of self, life and blog included. It's called spring cleaning. (What? Am I a tad late?) Out with the old, in with the new, good riddance to right rotten rubbish and whatnot. Fret not, Basically Blah readers... It's just that all this dull green could really do with some livening up. Or a touch of Tabasco and a dash of dynamite, perhaps?

Watch this space!