Chennai – Namme ooru pole varuma!

The frogs are getting too loud. I eye the long handled mop I’ve kept near the door to make sure I know exactly where it is when I need to grab it and clobber the snake that I’d seen earlier in the night slithering through the water outside our gate pausing to turn and wolf down a frog before gliding under my car parked outside, if it decides to return. I am terribly fortunate. I have electricity and internet, my phone is charged, I have clean drinking water and food and the frogs and snakes are still OUTSIDE my home. I am thankful. And I am terribly proud of this city and its people. Rains will no longer conjure up images of hot bajjis and pakodas, long drives or rain songs on radio. It will be a long time before rains would be #romantic or #awesome. Over the last couple of weeks, Chennai, the rain loving little city has seen nothing but rains, unrelenting rains that have battered the city, wrecked the roads, filled up canals, reservoirs, broken walls and flooded roads and houses. We never expected it would come to this. We never thought we’d have to travel by boats on our roads. We never thought we’d go without power for days together, unable to reach family and friends, that we’d need relief, that we’d be marking ourselves safe on facebook. These were things that happened to far off lands, never to Chennai. So we thought. We have seen nothing like this ever before. But these rains have brought to the fore this strange, most beautiful thing. I am getting all choked up. I am shocked and choked. People have been cooking extra meals for strangers, venturing out on to water logged roads driving over to donate things, passing on important and useful information on social media, connecting people through, welcoming people into their homes and caring for each other.     We have seen nothing like this ever before. I always had a strong unexplainable gravitation to my city. I had to always come back. This was my land. My gravitation has only got stronger. I am pretty sure it’ll take more than these floods to make me or any of my fellow Chennaivasis budge from this city. I can hear my sister say “When you have power, internet and TV, you bloody well won’t feel like moving your fat...

My non-encounter with Kamal Hassan

I did not realize until a few weeks back what a complete cinema crazy fan I am. I realized that I go near hysterical on seeing Kamal Hassan a few feet in front of me, my skin tingles in excitement and I can’t stop smiling that wide vacuous smile. I hear his voice and I go bonkers, I try to wolf whistle knowing I can’t whistle. I clap after every sentence and how – in big sweeping motions.  He tells a joke and I am still laughing after everybody’s stopped, he says something touching and I get choked up. I was star-struck, benumbed, done. A few weeks back I had been to Crazy Mohan’s 777th show of “Chocolate Krishna” and Kamal Hassan was the chief guest at the show. I was in the fifth row from the stage and I could see the back of Kamal Hassan’s head while he watched the show from the front seat. Every joke I laughed and turned to look if Kamal Hassan did. So did my husband and my sister and my friends. It was a great evening, such fun. We dropped kids at home (most important decision of the evening) arrived early, ordered filter coffee from the sabha’s bustling Woodlands canteen and sipped our coffee scanning the crowd for Kamal chella kutty while regulars ate Rava dosai, sambar vadai and filter coffee at the open-air tables nearby. We spotted ARS (police commissioner in Nayagan), Y.G. Mahendran and comedian Sathish. I was this close to Kamal Hassan’s Land rover when I walked past in the opposite direction. We had to hurry inside though as the show was about to start. Watching a live show is nothing like anything. The atmosphere is electric and the excitement and cheer palpable. The drama was hilarious in true Crazy Mohan style. I am totally smitten by the drama scene. It is so quaint and retro in a way. These dramas are still in the 80s and 90s right from the Doordarshan like simple sets, speaking out the dialogues at the standing mics, the storyline and the special effects. I loved it. Madhu and Crazy Mohan were brilliant. So was Appa Ramesh. The “thiruttu paati” was fantastic. I am a huge fan of Tamil comedy dramas if I haven’t told you before. S.Ve.Sekhar and Crazy Mohan are iconic in the Tamil comedy drama scene. I haven’t been to too many...

Tribute to K.Balachander

Yuvi and I were watching “Kalaivaniye” from “Sindhu Bhairavi” on youtube yesterday. I then alt-tabbed to my Facebook page and scrolled down through profile picture updates and Christmas sugar cookies and stopped dead. K.Balachander has passed away! To me and to millions of his fans he is the finest, greatest Indian director ever. I had to write this. Long ago when I was still in school, when I knew nothing about K.Balachander, when I had no great preference in cinema, a black and white movie “Nizhal Nijam Aagiradhu” was playing on Raj TV. I thought I’d watch a few scenes and then go to sleep. The first few scenes drew me in.  I didn’t move from my seat. I watched the entire movie. This was no thriller. This was the story of wonderfully real characters beautifully played out in a genius screenplay – Thilakam (Shobha), the simple day dreaming servant girl who falls for Challam, the very proper Challam (Sarath Babu) who nobody’ll doubt, the brash talking Sanjeevi (Kamal Hassan) who is easy to doubt, the stubborn men-hating Indu (Sumithra) who loves Sanjeevi but will not admit to even herself, deaf Kasi (Hanumanthu) who loves Thilakam in his own simple way and the local nosy mama (Mouli) who rues that nobody suspects him as the father of Thilakam’s child. Classic!!  I can watch the movie any number of times and still smile at Shobha’s innocence or be wooed by Kamal. I was a K.Balachander fan from that day on. I love his films. I adore them. if I were to chance on the Kavithalaya (earlier Kala Kendra) Thiruvalluvar statue (that marks the beginning of his films) anytime anywhere, I’d stop, sit and gape at the TV unmindful of exams next day, of meal time or filter coffee time at home, that we’re in a hotel room on vacation and we’re supposed to be sightseeing, that I’d just pulled out all the clothes from my bero to sort them out and the kids have fashioned it into a garment swimming pool and are jumping around in it. I am oblivious to everything around me. His movies are my metaphors in life. I am so much like the Sowar Janaki in his “Ethir Neechal”. I am also a little like the idealistic Kamal in “Varumai Niram Sigappu”. Balachander’s movies have shaped the way I think, they’ve been my frame of reference. Movies...

Want to be a food blogger?

Want to be a food blogger? But why? Food bloggers are an obsessive crazy madpack who cannot finish their sandwich without thinking if they should have clicked it first. They speak food. Food is their lingua franca. Food moves them the way good movies do. They collect all kinds of junk for their food photos, spend enormous amounts of time on Pinterest, celebrate every conceivable day with food (red-blue themed independence day food, Aadi maasam food) and wake up to their blog stats everyday. It’s no surprise that majority of food bloggers are women. And many food bloggers I know are mommies.  But being a food blogger is not easy. It is fun though. This is not a guide for aspiring food bloggers. This is not a how-to. This is more of a ”what you’ll do” if you become one. It’s a fun take on what food bloggers do. If you still want a disclaimer please head to the bottom of the post. Disclaimers spoil the fun if they’re at the start. You’ll need to know a dozen different words to say something tastes good. You’ll invariably love love the karamani usili, Red velvet cake, Roast chicken, Curd rice, bulls eye or bournvita that you made and you need to proclaim to the world how wondrous it is. Kids of mommy bloggers will usually gobble up everything mommy makes. The dozen different words will also come in handy when you’re commenting on your friends’ blogs. Commenting on fellow food bloggers’ blog is absolutely imperative so that they return the favour. I am woefully inept at this and generally at social networking of any kind. You may at times spend more time commenting than blogging. You’ll spend hours online searching for Bread Upma to understand all the permutations and combinations in which bread upma is made worldwide and then make your own version with grated carrots (instead of finely chopped carrots like the rest of the world) and just a dash of Tabasco sauce – Recipe Development. Cake pots, rasam shots, pasta patties, pizza sandwich… you get the hang? You’ve got to make it smaller, change the shape, crumble it, put the inside outside and the outside inside, stuff it, roll it, dip it, sprinkle it, top it, drizzle it and dust it. There – a new dish is invented. Be prepared to kneel down, bend, twist, crouch, squat, sprawl and...

The English speaking Tamils

I was at the parlour yesterday to get my son’s haircut and there was another mom-son duo already waiting, the mom fiddling with her S3 (maybe S4, I am no good at mobile models) probably looking for that unique smiley on whatsapp and the boy, a 6-7 year old just idly kicking around next to her. Note this – no conversation at this point. Then it was the boy’s turn. So the hairdresser sat the boy in his chair and the mom went along and stood beside the boy. The boy to his mom: “I want Shah Rukh type hair, oh wait – no, I want Aamir Khan’s haircut.” Mom: “Oh Like in Dhoom. Ok He’ll do it that way” (smiles at the hairdresser who pretends not to notice) Boy: “Mom, I want my hair to be gelled and spiked.” Mom:  “You are only 6 and you want it to be spiked. That’s not appropriate. I can’t allow that” Boy (whines): “But mom, that’s how I want it. You said I could choose my hair-style…” There was more but I couldn’t stand to listen. Without the audience, the mother would have probably not replied at all or just said “Nothing doing, keep quiet”. But with people around, they continued this fully English BBC conversation throughout the time the boy got his hair cut and quite loudly making sure everyone around approved of their English speaking abilities. This is in Chennai and I can safely say they are not British. Chances are they are tamil. I won’t blame the kid. I won’t blame any of the kids who go through these English-speaking performances. Lately in malls, restaurants and schools I see more and more moms and dads talk to their children in English and English only. And especially when there are people around. I can get beaten for this – but I feel housewives do this much more than working moms. You see super-singer daily, eat puliyodharai for lunch, go out to aapa kadai and saravana bhavan, watch “Naduvula konjam Pakkatha Kaanum”, are Kamal Hasan’s fan but cannot speak Tamil? Sowcarpet Sethjis speak Tamil. Our Telugu neighbours speak fluent Tamil. The pretty bharatnatyam learning American girl in the next street who cycles to Kalakshetra, speaks Tamil. Kushboo speaks Tamil. Shah Rukh Khan speaks konjam konjam Tamil. But Tamil-born Tamil mom of Tamil child in Tamil Nadu doesn’t speak Tamil to her...

2014 Blogging Calendar | Menu Planner

One of my most important new year resolutions is to plan everything and be more organized with my cooking and blogging. So I decided to make myself a menu planner cum calendar that’ll help me plan my dishes, keep track of my blogging assignments and generally be more efficient. And I made this blogging/cooking calendar. I am no great printable girl. I am terrible at matching colours and designing stuff. This isn’t pinterest stuff but it is practical and convenient. I have a PDF version for those who like to print things out and write in with a pen. I am the writing kind at times. I also have an Excel soft copy of the calendar for the excel fans out there. I am an MS Excel fan. I open up an Excel spreadsheet for the smallest calculation, for making my grocery list, for my blogging schedules and for just about everything. I like my information in neat rows and columns, it’s much easier to read and assimilate and just as easy to manipulate too (sort, remove duplicates etc). The PDF version and the excel version of the planner can both be downloaded using the buttons at the bottom of this post. I’ve divvied up each day into – breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and specials, the way I think about each day. Stuff that you’re making ahead of time, blogging specific dishes that don’t fit into the meal routine can go into the “Specials” category. There’s a notes column at the right side for jotting down prep steps (soaking beans the previous night), shopping lists (just when I am about to start baking something, I realize I’ve run out of butter or flour), cleaning/organizing tasks and whatever else you need to keep track of. I’ve made it a point to highlight all important blogging dates in the year – Diwali, Krishna Jayanthi, Eid, Halloween, Navratri and more so that bloggers can plan and prepare for these festivals. I totally missed out on these last year. I knew Ganesh Chaturthi was around the corner when Kozhukattais and modaks were flooding the blogosphere last year and I didn’t even have a plan. Ganesh Chaturthi is Aug-29 this year. I’ll make the kozhukattai during Aadi, and the Aadi Maasam specials in May, pickles and vathals in April.. This menu planner would be a great tool for any mom/homemaker and not just a food...

2014 New Year Resolutions | 1st Year Blog Anniversary Post

One year ago, this day yesterday (late again) I posted my very first blog post – Sale at Poppat Jamal. Now about 140 posts later, I am still abysmally erratic (I’ve not posted in a week), I am woefully un-prepared for festivals and special occasions (no fruit cake post for Christmas, totally un-seasonal, random Kichadi instead – Yikes!), I haven’t hosted a single event/giveaway and I am terrible at networking. Not the makings of a successful blogger. But hey, I’ve really enjoyed this blogging thing and it has become my most favourite obsession. 2014 is going to be a lot better (hopefully, I don’t want to tempt fate) and that’s an open promise to all my readers. Here are my resolutions for 2014 on the blogging front and otherwise. 1.      Wake up early. This has been on my list every year. I remember my dad’s words right from my school days. “Seekaram Ezhundha thaan uzhupaduve”. Translated a little decently it means “If only you’d wake up a little early, you could become great”. If not great, I’ll at-least not be late. I am now late for Hasini’s school too and I don’t want to perpetuate my late-comer syndrome on my kids as well. And I’d be able to cook so much more.2.     Blog more often. The keywords are “more often”. I don’t want to break my resolution the very first month. Ok, so let’s say 3 days a week, minimum. Readers, this is where you come in. Your comments, ideas for posts, recipe requests or even requests/ideas for posts on general topics will keep me on my feet. No requests to stop or decrease blog posts will be entertained though. 3.   Exercise every day. Must be on everybody’s list. I am slowly becoming the typical fat Indian mom. I am already one. What’s alarming is I am settling into it. Plus I work at a computer all day. You know the typical IT employee’s figure – normal up till the waist and then balloons out like.. well, a balloon. The new Levis shapes, lifts and lengthens. Can it compress? I bet even Levis can’t make jeans for the Deksa-hipped moms (Deksa or Degchi is a traditional narrow necked, wide bottomed cookware). 30 minute walk every day, light dinner and no wolfing down leftover cakes and sweets. 4.      I am going to plan everything. Planning has never been my strong point but 2014...

Joint Family – Part 2 – Guide for Daughters-in-law

After my hugely successful first post on Joint Family, I’ve decided it’s time for another one on Joint family. Isn’t that the formula in cinema? Make a weak sequel to a decent film and hope that one promotes the other (Billa – original, 1,2). I live the joint-family life everyday (every-&*$@-day), so it’s only natural that the subject is close to my heart and I feel so much about it. This post will be an invaluable guide for girls on the threshold of marriage and a ready reference for dumb DILs (daughter-in-law) like me who learnt everything the hard way, the wrong way. It is the accumulated wisdom of generations of DILs in one place. 1.      Don’t ever ask the husband to put away his clothes, take the kid to the toilet or even get you a glass of water, at-least not in front of the MIL (mother-in-law). Mothers don’t take it lightly when wives come in and get their sons to do a little work after they’ve spent their whole lives training them to do nothing. The wife shalt not disturb the husbands operating the TV remote. 2.      It may be just a simple omelette or rava upma, but everything ought to be done their way. So whether you know how to make it or not, ask the mother-in-law to show you how. Believe me, they’re not looking for Masterchefs, they want Adimais (obedient slaves). All those ads that show the MIL in awe of the new wife’s cooking prowess is total bullshit. Sue those companies. 3.      You think only Infosys has an in-time/out-time record? Every MIL has the wake-up time/enters the kitchen time record. Waking up late is a cardinal sin in the joint-family setup. I am a serial offender. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the bench, if you can’t start anything without the MIL’s directions. Just be there on time and act helpless. 4.      However beautiful the saree may be, however much time you spent picking it, the MIL will 100% want to exchange the saree you so thoughtfully bought her as a gift. She may after going to the store, and inspecting every saree decide to buy something much uglier but she has chosen it, remember! So always take her to the store or if you still want to surprise her and humiliate yourself, keep the bill. 5.      Successful mothers-in-law rarely have a sense of...

Wife Vs Husband

It was our 5th wedding anniversary last Sunday. We spent our anniversary in Hyderabad where we’d gone for a dear friend’s wedding. We pretty much ate ourselves dizzy at Paradise in Hyderabad. It’s really a mammoth 3-storeyed biryani paradise that serves really excellent Hyderabadi Biryani.  On the eve of our 5th wedding anniversary, I think it’s only fitting that I write this wife Vs Husband special. Don’t worry – It’s not a lovey-dovey note to Jagan on what a great husband he’s been and how lucky I am and the likes. You know me. We’re not facebook couples (you know the ones who don’t say it to their husband/wife sitting right next to them, but post those syrupy things on facebook for everybody to see).  This post is anything but that. I am taking a dig at my husband’s beloved routines here. To balance it out I’ll also record some of my quirks that drives him up the wall.   1.      Is TV watching a basic qualification for being a husband? No wonder, the husbands have a TV put up in every room of the house (Joint family dynamics). He wakes up to “Just for laughs” and sleeps to the sounds of “Destroyed in seconds”. What’s even worse is we cannot watch the same TV channel. Car chases and huge airplanes going up in flames don’t interest me and he snores the minute I switch to TLC or MasterChef. The only programme that we both enjoy watching together is “Two and a half men”.   2.      We don’t even share the same temperature range. He turns the AC to the coldest level possible and happily snores away. As soon as he sleeps, I fish out the remote and switch it off. When it gets too warm, he wakes up and switches it back on. When it turns cold, I switch it off. On, Off, On, Off we go all night.   3.      What’s it with men and clothes? He is incapable of putting away his clothes. He won’t hang them, he won’t throw them in the laundry basket either. They’d lie on the floor or the chair and looking at them I can make out exactly where he stood, which direction he was facing while he was undressing. My most favourite part in Karate kid is when Jackie Chan makes Jaden Smith do the coat hanging routine – put on...

George Town – Part II

I am yet to schlep over to George Town for those pictures that I promised in Part I. But I couldn’t wait any longer to post part II. The all-consuming daily grind of work, e-mails, kids, cooking and cleaning leaves me no time for anything else. Forget driving over to George Town, I’ve not had a pedicure in months, I’ve been paying late fees on my credit card bills for 2 consecutive months (I can never remember the payment due dates) and our room looks like a railway platform (a box of toys and random junk here, handbag there, laptop bag on the side, random bags strewn around). I’ll hopefully have those pictures within a month. Before that, here’s more about this great old place. While you are in George Town, do visit the neighbouring streets as well. Kasi chetty street has lots of imported stuff, gift articles and party supplies (streamers, plastic toys etc). If you are into imitation jewellery, Narayana Mudali street is the place to be. I don’t have first-hand experience of this but many of my friends claim to have saved enormous sums by buying here.  Anderson street has a series of wedding invitation shops and paper shops. I once scoured the entire street looking for colourful designed envelopes but I couldn’t find any. They had only the standard white envelopes and a few plain pastel coloured envelopes. Nothing fancy. It’s not just shopping in Sowcarpet. But it’s mostly shopping. There was one lone theatre in the entire area – Select Talkies. Remember theatres of those days? Dirty paan stained corners, grainy ice-cream & soggy pop-corn. Well, Select Talkies was pretty much the average (below average actually) dirty theatre. Thankfully it closed down long back while we were still there. Other places worth visiting are the Kandhaswamy temple and Bairagimadam temple. I loved visiting Kandhaswamy temple when I was a kid. There was this huge tank in front of the temple filled with water and lots of tiny fishes. You could feed pori (puffed rice) to these fishes and there were vendors sitting there selling puffed rice just for this purpose. There are wholesale stainless steel shops near the temple. If you are looking to buy stainless steel dabbas in large numbers for wedding favours, party favours or items to outfit your own kitchen (on my wishlist are steel thali plates, small sambar bucket like Mani...

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