Monday, January 26, 2009

Misadventures of the Married Kind- IV: The Domestic God in the Kitchen.

Continued from here

I’m ashamed to admit that before I got married, “Kitchen” and “I” weren’t words that could easily be seen hobnobbing in one sentence. Oh all right, I am not ashamed of it. In fact if there was any way I COULD stay out of the kitchen even now, I would.

And so, knowing my limitations, for the first few weeks after marriage, I was quite circumspect about the cooking projects – and firmly stuck to stuff which couldn’t be messed up – viz. mostly potatoes and other such accommodating vegetables ( When I write that famous treatise of mine – “ Vegetables for Dummies” , I shall have a special acknowledgement page for potatoes I think)

A few weeks of this and the hero started displaying chicken withdrawal symptoms. So I thought it was about time to up the collective gourmand ante and experiment some non-vegetarian dishes.

I had never cooked chicken in my life – all my mother’s attempts to instil some culinary sense in me had been met with firm (and vocal) resistance. The only recipe I knew (discovered by the genius of a school friend) started with the eternal words of “First you catch the chicken and then you behead it...” Experience had taught me that was not necessary – there were nice sealed bags of Real Good chicken easily available in the supermarket aisles.

Hero on the other hand had assured me that he often made chicken in the bachelor heydays. I assumed that was more than probable – people tend to know how to cook the stuff they like(note my extensive potatoes repertoire)

So anyways, I asked him whether he wanted to cook it the first time we got it. He refused on the grounds that I needed to learn (!). Somehow I muddled my way through it (with Ma on the speaker phone) and chicken curry happened.

After a few episodes of “You need to learn” I called his bluff and shoved him into the kitchen.

Hero with appropriately solemn dignity started prepping for the event. The knife tray was laid out. Onions were brought out from the basket; the chopping board was aligned (exactly parallel) to the kitchen platform.

And then the awe-inspiring process of actually cooking the chicken curry began.

First he ceremonially placed half an onion on the chopping board. Then he examined it with a narrow eyed concentration from all sides (picture a pro-billiard player with a cue – the way the eyes move from one side of the table to another. I assume that is the same concentration one would find the heart surgeon).

Then a terse command of “Knife”. He carefully he made the first incision across the heart of the onion. This surgery took approximately fifteen minutes – while I stood and watched with my mouth hanging open.

Then he wanted to sautĂ© the onions – I stepped out of the kitchen and came back to see the milk vessel spluttering with some oil in it (fortunately no onions). When asked what he was doing with oil in THAT utensil, he calmly replied that he was cooking.

(Fortunately I managed to save the milk vessel before he added chicken into it. That also shed light on a few things which had confused me till date: - viz. why he had seemed astounded at my very modest number of kitchen utensils. I found out after inquiries that he had operated with three vessels which served as a multipurpose jack-of-all-trades – one day for milk, another for chicken, the third to cook daal in...).

I handed him a cooker instead. He carefully proceeded to dump ALL the contents in at the same time, added whatever masalas took his fancy, closed the cooker and turned to me and said

“Now we pray”

Hmm. I wonder whether THAT is the reason people say Grace before meals.

P.S. Further investigations also indicated that when he had given all those swashbuckling chicken-cooking assurances, he had actually meant the “Ready-to-eat” meals – the sort one actually dumps into a cooker and prays (that it’s fresh and one doesn’t end up with food poisoning)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Misadventures of the married kind – III: This little DeeGee went to the market....

(Continued from here and here)

Just before we got hitched, and around the time I was getting a massive attack of frozen feet about marriage – the responsibilities, the new people, the new location and even grocery/vegetable shopping, I had this conversation with the very-reassuring-and-considerate fiancĂ©.

"Do not worry" he proclaimed "Main hoon na (actually, the English equivalent – but Main hoon na sounds so much more heroic no). I used to shop for vegetables and groceries all the time when I was in the US."

"Do not waste a moment worrying about it" he empathically added.

Thus, after uttering a brief prayer thanking the powers-that-be, for inadvertently acquiring a Domestic God, I blithely traipsed into the marriage.

Let's forward a bit, to a scene a few days after the ceremony.

A foray into the kitchen stores and refrigerator had elicited nothing but 2 inches of accumulated dust and a sneezing fit.

"Aha - Time to see the master in action" I thought to myself.

The Domestic God (henceforth to be known as DG) rose with alacrity to the occasion and thus we found ourselves browsing the aisles of Tru-Mart for the very first time as a couple-setting-up-a-house.

The dimming of the stars in my eyes started in about twenty minutes. For twenty minutes I saw the DG stand with rapt attention in front of the frozen meats section, intensely debating on the relative merits of Chicken salami versus sausages. (A sidebar here, DG’s genes seem to have revolted against generations of brahmanical abstention. They like their chicken. They like the chicken very much. In fact, I am pretty sure that if there was a race between say, a Biryani versus wife, the wife would be so far behind in the race, that it would have been significantly better for the wife's ego not to have started running in the race at all).

Anyways after gently hinting (remember this is very soon after marriage, where one hadn't yet graduated to shrewishly prodding) for about ten minutes, he moved on. – to the snacks and juices counter and carefully and lovingly selected some more staple-foodstuff– viz. custard powder, salted peanuts, Haldiram's snacks, papads and pickes. Then he led me very confidently to the toiletries and cleaning supplies section where he added some ear buds and dental floss to our shopping cart.

And it so happens that I found myself in the slightly atypical situation of having olive oil and salami in the house, but with no daal or atta.

And this highly individualistic shopping pattern continues till today. On the rare day that S goes grocery shopping – specifically on the days he has a craving for corn and realizes that its available in Big Bazaar AND I manage to catch him in time to shove a grocery list in his hand, he comes back cheerily carrying whatever it is that he finds interesting in the aisles (whether or not it is on the list).

The selection process is all very mysterious. Yesterday for instance, he had chilli-powder and turmeric on the list. He brought the turmeric but very snootily passed over the unfortunate chilli-powder.

And rummaging through the shopping bag is always fraught with interesting possibilities – one never knows WHAT one may find inside. Although, probability is high, that one won't find any Harpic or Lizol.

Ah well. Who needs Harpic and Lizol anyways?

To be continued: The Domestic God in the Kitchen.

Prince Charming

The twist in the fairy tale: Isn't this taking the fable of kissing a frog TOO literally?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Last week we had a mini-reunion of few college friends (When does “hanging out” get transformed into “reunions” I wonder?). One of my friends had come down from Australia so we had an impromptu girl’s-meeting (the blokes were invited as well, but didn’t turn up because a) we have tragically lost two of them to marriage b) one of them is in UK and c) one is a @#*&@#@&# ditcher.)

I suspect it wasn’t quite a girl’s night out the way all of us would have liked – the Australian friend was accompanied by her husband (G) and S had her husband (D) and Junior S.

It was probably the first time we went out for a dinner with 2 out of the 4 spouses along (The fifth friend N is not hitched) and thus, the meeting had its share of slightly surreal moments.

Surreal because suddenly people you know and are used to viewing in a particular way get transposed into an unknown context or role. A person behaves in a certain way as a friend and might be a completely different personality as a spouse. In a dinner such as this, you have two roles warring and visible at the same time which is rather disconcerting for the viewer-recipient – in this case the friend (and the spouse perhaps?). (Just to cite a weird example of which I am not very proud – when I met S for the very first time after the baby, I found myself having difficultly even looking at her directly – the whole context was so utterly alien that I had trouble adjusting. She told me later that her parents had also demonstrated a similar disoriented reaction – which made me feel slightly better!)

Also, all said and done, the presence of a spouse disrupts the whole existing equilibrium which has been built up over a period of time. This has got nothing to do with the individual in question (Both G and D are fantastic guys). The analogy that comes to mind is of cooking – it’s like adding a new ingredient (however relevant and tasty) to an existing recipe – it might make the resultant mix significantly better – but it cannot hope to be the earlier dish.

I also wonder whether it’s really possible to be actually as emotionally close to a friend’s spouse as it is to a friend. The natural progression one would say as one grows older and transitions lifestages- from two singles spending time together to a single spending time with a couple to two couples hanging out together to eventually becoming that old overused term of “family friends”.

I like my friend’s spouses very much – but I suspect they will always remain that – friends spouses. If I had met them as individuals perhaps they would have become friends in their own right. But the minute one is introduced to them as a friend’s significant other – there is so much pressure (on both sides) to, well, LIKE them that the relationship becomes unnatural. And it is burdened with the baggage of expectations – not in the conventional sense perhaps, but expectations nonetheless (e.g. if a friend is getting married to someone, isn’t there always a) sense that the spouse needs to behave in a particular ‘right’ manner to a friend? But if you actually think about it, what right does one have to expect that from any person? b) Also a sense of altered /diminishing importance –leading to a tug-of-war in some form or the other ( internal-external), which one needs to get used to)

In other words an entire “full-grown” (for lack of a better word) relationship (of friends-in-law) comes into being – without it having gone through the normal growing pains and hiccups. The same problem faced in a possibly more aggravated avatar by the family-in-laws.
Perhaps it is easier if the friendship comes into existence AFTER the commitment – because then the spouse is an integral part of the person life anyways.

The only time I think that friends-in-law can be genuine friends in their own right is when the relationship has been built in a situation not constrained by an intermediary individual – viz. if three friends spend time together and two of them get into a relationship. In which case the third person has individual relationships with both parties. But in a situation where there is a bridge person there will always remain conflicting loyalties.

It’s an interesting corollary that the conflict seems to be higher and more difficult to surmount when the friend is of a different gender and the friend-in-law of the same gender. (Maybe the similar problem faced by Ma-in-law/daughter-in-law and Pa-in-law/son-in-law?)

If you take the natural progression I was speaking about the two singles becoming two couples - that might be easier than the threesome set-up ( because there will be two people in dichotomous roles as opposed to only one) but will still be a lopsided for a while. I have always wondered about these so called “couples-friendship” – but that is a subject for another post.

And just to clarify – when I am talking about friendship in this post, I mean friendship in the sense of emotional-dependency – not the more casual, lets-go-for-a-dinner variety.

Ah well.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Confessions of a stationery stealer

Ed Note: The original post on my er..stationary fetish (written in May 06 – rediffblogs). Seemed like a good time to post this since a) just come back from rather hectic trip to Bombay and don’t have any posts b) this is the backdrop to the Embezzlers and c) I had a DREAM that I was pinching some stationary last night. Bah!

I have discovered a dangerous flaw in my character. I am a stationary kleptomaniac. Whenever I see any kind of pens, post-its or papers. I have this overmastering urge to pinch it. Have tried many things, but that itch refuses to go away.

Rumor has it that this unhealthy obsession started when I was about three. My father from one of his trips to Singapore or Sri Lanka I forget where had got this mammoth, mother –of-all-pencils for me (which again, rumor has it, was as tall as me!) – all colorful and fluffy whatnots.

Love happened. And it’s never quite gone away.

Every single day for the next four years when my father left for office I would beseechingly look at him and request a pencil – a BIGGGGGGG pencil from his office.
He did get me some – but having sensibly decided that he couldn’t give me a pencil a day, he would come home at night and present one to me, and take another from the collection while I was asleep to give me the next day.

As I grew older, I began to covet other things. Each birthday party I would go to I would look forward to the return gift and pray it was the fancy letter-pads (I have nearly intact, decorative letter pads which are twenty years old l!) or sketch pens. Birthday requests always included a demand for colored pencils and pen-pencils (the latter for a particular favourite of mine between the ages of 8-13-. Had not yet graduated to exotic pens hence that was the closest substitute)

Then I discovered pens. Calligraphy pens, fountain pens, ballpoint pens, fat pens, thin pens, you name it - I love it.
I am so fiercely possessive about my pens that even if someone borrows an ordinary ballpoint for a meeting, I am restless until the end of the meeting when I can rightfully reclaim it. And if some client decides to retain it, I bear a grudge with him/her (“as the person who pinched my pen”) for the rest of my life

Just before my engagement, Ma tentatively suggested giving one of the PENS I had to S. This wasn’t even an ordinary pen. It was a pen with capital letters – I screamed blue murder and refused to give it to him. So what if he is bridegroom?

So I have this legitimate collection of stationery, which I have accumulated by rightful means over the last many years.

Now to the unlawful.

Somewhere a few years ago I started working. A stationary freaks paradise! I could actually go to administration and get whatever I wanted. Stapler and plastic u clips. Punches and binder clips. Colored pens, highlighter pens, CD pens – CDs!!! Could heaven get any better?

After a few months, cost cutting measures and the concept of requisitions started. A sudden choke on my store of office supplies. Withdrawal symptoms commenced. I HAD to get to my fix of pens and other things.

Thus the disease started. I would hang around till late evening and regularly check the drawers in the hope that the bloke who was in charge had forgotten to lock it.
Occasionally would request the senior admin guy in the evenings that I was in pressing need of a pen and could I get the keys (the peon or whoever having left for the day) – the hypothesis being that the senior admin guy was far to busy to actually unlock the door so would just give me the keys. If that happened – ah bliss.

Every conference and workshop, after the day was over and there was a random collection of half opened colored post its and pencils would be sneaked into my bag – and if anyone happened to catch me, I would say “its such a shame to waste them” or alternatively “ never get the time to actually go to stationary bloke” – mostly I just tried to do it when no one was around.

So anyways, now I have this assortment of dry whitening ink and rusty staplers and pen that don’t write and posts its which are too pretty to use, planners, blank CDs, pencil mugs – all lying at home. And I STILL CRAVE MORE!

I wonder whether I need therapy. Hmmm.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Embezzlers

One of the most disconcerting side effects of a Notice-to-quit is the transformation which it occurs amongst (erstwhile friendly) colleagues (especially those in the HR and administrative departments). Overnight, the ordinary fellow office goer is transformed into the Public Enemy Number 1.

The feeling they (the admin/HR types) try and recreate is akin to what they might envisage for sequestered people on the Death Row – the same disgust, distrust and contempt. People watch you suspiciously with a hawk eye. Morning greetings dry up. People eye the CD you take from the stationary cupboard wondering if precious office intelligence is being siphoned off (This is especially amusing in an office with no intra-net, where the only data you can conceivably steal is what exists on your work station – viz. work which you have created which presumably also exists in your head)

The HR department buzzes around busily with forms in quintuplicate which you are expected to fill up and get verifications from any person you have had a nodding acquaintance with – the non-existent-library in charge, the cafeteria crowd (Okay, more than a nodding acquaintance in this case), the admin department, the accounts department and half a dozen other departments which you didn’t even know existed until you put in your resignation letter.

Most of the divisions are manageable but the admin department, anal schmucks ( pardon the french) at the best of times, rise to extraordinary levels of anality (is that a word?) when confronted with an on-notice-period-employee.
"Have you returned the staple pins? What about advance money? And you’re visiting cards. You have no RIGHT on the visiting cards - they are our property. Where are the books? Have you done the handover”

What conceivable use I could have for old visiting cards I still have not understood. If I worked in an organization which was so prestigious that even the visiting cards were collectors’ items, chances are I wouldn’t be quitting no?

In this kind of hostile-suspicious environment, one MAY find the saintly people who actually depart to the (hopefully) better work-hereafter, with spotless consciences and without having plotted (if not implemented) petty revenge.

And then there is the other set (to which I belong). The ones who have endured years of being screwed over with salaries-that-appear-attractive-only-in-appointment-letters, minuscule hikes which come five months late, bonuses which suddenly get linked to performance, variable pay which unvaryingly doesn’t get credited. And then are viewed suspiciously to add an insult to injury. It's no wonder then, that they decide to inflict maximum financial damage in the organization as their parting gift and swan song.

These include the super studs that steal large sums of money and deposit them quietly in numbered Swiss Accounts. Then there are the glib guns that lure away lucrative clients to their new employer. You will also find some conniving chaps who hijack hush-hush information and sell it to competition. And of course, there are swashbuckling people like me who daringly steal away vast quantities of pens and post it’s from the office supplies cupboard (this has nothing to do with my stationary fetish. Really).

And that is the risky task on which I have been engaged upon these last days.

Everyday some CD’s, scales, blank envelopes and pencils find their way mysteriously into my bag. Every night my bag is inexplicably clunkier than in the mornings. Every evening leaving for home is a quasi-military exercise. First the reconnaissance (to evaluate the lift floor, the precise position and likely movement of enemy personnel) followed by a sprint to the lift under cover from a friendly colleague (who has been promised a part in the spoils).

Once downstairs, I skulk furtively behind bushes so that the passing nosy colleague will not stop to inquire about why my bag looks like it’s on the verge of delivering twins.

And every single night, I, the Napoleon of Stationary-Stealers, relax happily in the afterglow of a successful heist.

Tomorrow, I think I shall pinch some business cards. Hmmmm...