August 29, 2010


Erm, I’m vegetarian.

When the train pulled into Howrah station, shortly after it was scheduled to reach, I sat motionless on my seat, not sure if I was in Calcutta yet. I asked a porter, who looked at me like I was his country cousin, and sniggered to reiterate his impression. And then I spotted the local trains.

It took me a while to locate the exit to the station. I found a knot of cabbies who immediately surrounded me and quoted stupendous prices. When I finally settled on an offer that made me feel less fleeced, I started unloading my luggage. We were in the taxi lane and a Sardarji cabbie was driving past us. He exchanged pleasantries with the taxi driver and then remarked to me, “Beta, Chennai Mail aa gaya kya?” 

It took us twenty minutes to cross the stretch in front of the station. I was not sure if the driver had heard where exactly I had to go. So after we had covered a safe distance, I told him again. It would have been too easy if he knew exactly where I wanted to go, so he didn’t. And my friend Srin is not very, erm, goal-oriented. She bunny hops from goal to goal, you see. And my phone wasn’t even working, so each new twist by the cabbie meant I had to check back with Srin and then confidently answer his questions. After a while…

Cabbie: Where in Lake Gardens do you want to go?

Me: AK Ghosh School. AK Ghosh Bidyalaya.
(Is it even called bidyalaya in Bangla? I should have known when I once got a prize in a Rabindra Sangeet competition for my courage, for attempting to sing in Bangla. Face it, dear Ranjana, you are Chennai Mail material.)

Cabbie: Where is this school? I don’t know. 
(Cabbie has also smoked his last Charms cigarette and is getting increasingly restive)
Should I take the flyover?

Me: If it’s on the way there…
(Srin has messaged saying I can also use Dhakuria bridge)
Or we could take Dhakuria bridge.

Cabbie: (getting gruffer) Now it’s too late! How can you ask for this now? Why didn’t you tell me before? Then you will complain I took a longer route! ^?&*(**((%#$

Me: Just get to Lake Gardens, please! Whichever way you like.
(This fast resembles a lovers’ quarrel. We soon reach the lake that gives Lake Gardens its name. Cabbie stops with an air of finality. Turns back deliberately and informs me…)

Cabbie: This is the lake. (Implied speech: this is the lake, get off my back and go drown in it.) You said you wanted to go to Lake Gardens. This is the lake. This is Lake Gardens.

Me: (Gulp) Yes, that’s great. Now can we please go?

Cabbie: I don’t know where that darned school is. Find out yourself!
(I find out.)
That is past the flyover. This is too far. You didn’t tell me you had to go so far.
(One would think I’d asked him to drive me to Dhaka.)

Me: (in my best primary schoolteacher voice, as he drives, muttering angrily under his breath) Now this is the flyover, you go over the flyover and then we will be in Lake Gardens.
(Meanwhile, I am frantically messaging Srin for directions, which do not meanlandmarks. Not Lords Bakery, but right-left-right-median-fork-blah-Lords Bakery! By this time, we have left the safe space of the flyover and are again at the left-right-left crossroads. Having stopped again for directions, we are hurtling through Lake Gardens, a spluttering cab with an angry cabbie and a primary schoolteacher, my rucksack bouncing in the back. Note, we are now in Lake Gardens. I can see the signboards by the houses, which say, say, 234/4224, Lake Gardens. I hope the numbers are in some order, so that I reach 188/64 soon. But, alas, the next one is a 929!)

Cabbie: This is not Lake Gardens! This is not Lake Gardens. You fleeced me! You cheated me! (Wow! Such original indignation!) 

Me: (having lost all pretence of the loving student-teacher relationship, I have now joined the decibel-busting competition with gusto, determined to lay down my life before I lose) Don’t you see the SIGNBOARDS that all say Lake Gardens? You think I’m a blasted fool who’s never been to Calcutta, which is why you’re taking me for a ride? (I’ve never been to Cal, so what? Now I have.) You operate from the railway station and you don’t even know your way around the city? What did they teach you?!

Cabbie: (yelling/ bawling) This is not Lake Gardens! This is not Calcutta! You fooled me! You fooled me!

Over the next few minutes, having woken up all the sleepy morning walkers in Lake Gardens with our early morning not-so-loving exchange, we gradually reach the school in question, where cabbie stops his car, insisting that the right turn I ask him to make takes us into Dhakuria; now we are properly leaving Lake Gardens. Another shouting match ensues, and my visit to Lake Gardens/ Dhakuria will be remembered by many early morning stragglers. Thankfully, the one place Srin did give me right-left instructions for, I didn’t go wrong and was safely deposited at her creeper-laden red house.

As a parting shot, cabbie dearest hefted my rucksack out of his boot and dumped it on the road. The dumping part, however, was not so successful, because the weight of my rucksack hampered the freefalling nature of his emotions. 

The curious traveller's guide to circumnavigating the Earth. Or the North Pole. Or living at the North Pole.

What we do when we have better things to do.
Tips and questions:
1. Do you like the cold? Be rest assured, the North Pole is warmer than the South Pole.
2. Does your pee freeze at the North Pole?
3. Will the dal freeze? If yes, then you have a problem. If no, what will you cook it on?
4. Do you know how to make dal? If not, you have to make do with fish and seaweed.
5. If you starve from the lack of dal, Reuben will eat you alive. He has seen Sazayein Kaala Pani and knows where to get good advice.
6. I don't like seaweed.
7. Antarctica is in the south, but it is still cold.
8. If you flattened out the globe from the top, the North Pole would be at the centre and so would the South Pole. Then you could play hopscotch between islands and travel from Russia to Canada.
9. Reuben says we might find a Mc Donalds somewhere. However, he is unsure.
10. We could volunteer as elves at Santa's workshop, he says. Do they have self-heating toilet seats,asks a niggling worm at the back of his mind? Reuben, elves are small, you're too tall. 
11. He'll pull Santa's reindeer. And won't carry his own bag.
12. What after we leave Santa?
13. Maybe they'll have a beauty pageant, to crown the Ice Princess. You win ice.
14. I can drill a hole in the ice and make use of my experience in hydroponics. 
15. Will Reuben fall into a hole I drill? I will be chief hunter-gatherer. That way, Reuben says, when they excavate or thaw our frozen bodies, they will see how women were the providers of sustenance. Note the doubt in his voice, he thinks I'll be such a bad provider and then we will die of starvation.
16. And when I fall into a hole, he will dial 100 and get the Mumbai Police.
17. But does MTNL have towers at the North Pole? 
18. Now that Reuben has eaten seaweed and slept in his igloo, he thinks we should hire a diamond cutter from Surat or Antwerp and cut the glaciers into diamonds - show them the maal in situ, as he puts it. Clearly, he is not one for ecological sustainability. He is so lazy, he won't venture south to sell his fake diamonds. The clients have to come to him.
19. He thinks I lack suspension of disbelief.
20. We will have our own mineral water business. Because glacier water is better than Evian. And if we drink up all the 'glacier ka paani', then we don't have to worry about melting glaciers that will drown us. Makes astute business sense. He never knew he had entrepreneurial qualities. But then, living at the North Pole brings out the best in us, doesn't it?
21. We will have a different address each year.
22. Reuben has heard that reindeer grow algae on their hide in the summer. Now he will go for anything green.
23. The North Pole is nice; however, tomorrow, I will go for a walk. 
24. I will have clairvoyant connections with the Aurora Borealis. Reuben thinks he could die after having seen that. And he gives me permission to eat him after he has seen AB.
25. He says we should take lovers also. I say he will eat them all after the long winter.
26. Reuben is a praying mantis.
27. PETA, where are you? Reuben wants to shave the reindeer and use some wet felting process to realise and release the fashionista in him. Well, what does one wear at the North Pole? Surely not woollens from Sarojini? 
28. Reuben will wear felt.
29. And for once, we'll have a real Christmas tree! But Reuben will cut that up later, to use as fuel.
30. And he will let me teach him Odissi, in our spare time. We will have an ice skating rink too and then we will hybridise the two.
31. Maybe they'll make a film out of our past lives.
32. We will promote tourism. Paradise. Human Population: 2. Have we already eaten the lovers? My, we're sinking to new lows with each step. They'll overthrow our regime before we get there.
33. And supposing we're still alive, we'll write you more notes. No, don't say don't bother.

August 28, 2010

Leela Samson at NCPA

Watched a lovely Leela Samson performance at NCPA yesterday. I seem to recall that Experimental Theatre did not have a raised stage the last time I was there. It is simply horrid. The floor was better. I remember that lovely Sutra stalactite-stalagmite set filling up the space. 

The post-performance discussion was annoying and hilarious. I wish people could understand that post-performance discussions are meant to be critical ones and are not job fairs or marriage meets; you do not ask Leela Samson for her contact details five times in a row and waste valuable question time! Go backstage and hound her for all I care! To Samson's credit, she fielded questions beautifully.

More on the post-performance discussion soon.

August 21, 2010

Too many potatoes

NB: For all those who recognise the title, whacked from a Bodhi Tree song, I blame my lack of imagination on the bald stupor caused by yet another display of the various ways in which potatoes can be put to use.

Before I moved to Delhi, I knew of the potato. I actually liked it; it was an occasional carbohydrate stuffed delicacy that we ate once a week.

Then I moved to Delhi.

Two months later, home with typhoid and too many boiled potatoes, I went into hysterics when my mother placed before me a dish of little diced potatoes, just the way I liked them.

Then I came back to mess food and between snake gourd and ash gourd, I wanted to do violent things with and to gourds, so I opted to eat the potatoes that were liberally sprinkled over each dish. Oh, and in case one didn't get enough of them, they also made their presence felt at breakfast, at least thrice a week.

Somewhere between all this, winter came, and ensconced in my sweaters, I failed to notice how I was fast becoming a potato. Why, now that I think of it, that sounds a little like one of Roald Dahl's stories come alive. Not too nice an allegory, I'd say, though I quite liked reading Dahl.

After that, the next 18 months passed in a war of potatoes. If you didn't like this potato there was that potato. One learnt that potato was the most transgastronomical vegetable ever. Start your day with alu paranthas or perhaps alu kachoris or chole bhature with alu in the chole thrown in for good measure. I even had sprouts with...potatoes. That little insignificant cur of a tuber suddenly dominated our lives. Except, it has always appalled me that Delhi cannot make decent batata vadas.

Like everything else, too much of the potato is harmful and one is susceptible to withdrawal symptoms no matter how much one hates it. When I went to Kerala, there was no food, and no potato. I still fail to acknowledge the side of me that walked into Big Bazaar one day and picked a ready-to-eat alu mattar off the shelf. I don't know her.

Eventually, I did return to saner climes, and saner food, where the children study their green vegetables well. Erstwhile exotic delicacies like rajma, chole and any remotely alu-using dish have been banned from the table on pain of death by potato-sized temper tantrums.