Author Archives: Ria

In search of tribal treasure…

The car flies along the Mysore road. My cousin Bala is driving and the roads are delightfully empty as it is a Sunday morning. We are headed for the Lambani tribal settlement on the outskirts on the city. This tribe makes beautiful metal jewelry and embroidered cloth with mirror work, well known for their excellent craftsmanship. We are hoping to see the making of the lovely artefacts and to buy some, if available.
 
The progress is not so fast though, as we have to stop frequently to ask for directions. Many of these stops turn out to be exercises in character assessment as it seems inconceivable that anyone would willingly say ‘I don’t know’ around here. So one has to gauge whether the directions given are anywhere near dependable, based on the person’s apparent confidence, his body language, whether he looks you straight in the eyes…
 
From the highway we turn onto a paved road; just barely paved. Soon the going gets worse as the paving disappears from under the wheels and the terrain gets increasingly tough. Soon the path becomes two ruts hardly visible among the high grass, climbing up and down hillocks. The vehicle is lurching from side to side, the bottom often touching the ground with scraping noises. I’m getting more and more uneasy, as I’m the instigator of the plan. The other occupants of the car – Min and Bala’s wife Su – have this scared look on their faces and are looking uneasily around.
 
Soon the trees on either side are brushing the car and we can hear scratchy scrapy noises. Any indication of a road or path is almost gone. There is all kinds of discussion in the car… what if we get stuck somewhere, how will we turn the car around, what if we are not welcome where we are going… Su and I try to dissuade Bala from going any further. And Min looks like she is ready to scream at the first indication of trouble.
 
But apparently Bala is looking for adventure. We have come this far; now we don’t want to turn back without seeing the village… the road is sure to get better further along, says Bala the eternal optimist.
 
All of a sudden, the car bursts out into a clearing. Far off across the flat ground we can see some kind of construction. Just as we start looking around from the now stopped car, there is this loud whoop and flurry of action. A bunch of men, all dressed in tribal finery and shaking huge spears, rush towards the car from across the clearing. The loud shouting and yelling fill the air, combined with the noise of their running feet. Bala makes a tight circle with the car and in the blinking of an eye, we are driving helter skelter out of that clearing. As the car turns, we catch a quick glimpse of a huge cauldron, steam rising out of it, set on three gigantic stones with a roaring fire under it, in a corner of the clearing. It is being stirred by a bunch of women who are standing on stilts so that they can see into the pot. That is all we see and that is enough to set us out of there at the speed of thought…
 
Aah… I guess my imagination ran away with me… The story up to the point where we burst into the clearing is all true. We find ourselves in a grove of young mango trees, with some construction happening at one end of the grove. We speak to the people there… yes, we are on the right track; the Lambanis live around the area. No, they do not carry on their traditional arts anymore, at least not around there. And at this time, mid-morning, most of them will be at their work places.

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Young mangoes – mouthwatering stuff!

So, a wild goose chase, but we thoroughly enjoyed it! 🙂 And the day provided many other enjoyments as well. On the way where we stopped for breakfast, we got to taste moode idli, a delicacy of the locale. Made of a mix of rice and lentils, it is steamed wrapped in pandanus leaves.

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Moode Idli

Also, we stopped at Janapada Loka, a cultural center set up to nourish the arts and crafts of Karnataka. Founded in 1994, it is located on the Bangalore-Mysore Road on a 15-acre campus.

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Statues inside the gate of Janapada Loka

Artists in residence perform and conduct training in the traditional dance forms and music. Bangalore University has recognised Janapada Loka as a research centre.

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Dancers at the Janapada Loka

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The day we visited, there was a Yakshagana performance scheduled at Janapada Loka. But unfortunately, we couldn’t stay for that as we had to go see the Lambani settlement… 🙂

~Ria

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With sincere apologies to the Lambani people. The above story is no indication of the behaviour of the friendly and peaceful tribes; it only proves the influence of popular fiction on my imagination.

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24 Feb 2014

Namma Metro… Bangalore ahead…

Last time I was in Bangalore, construction was going on all over the city for the Metro transit system, named Namma Metro meaning Our Metro. As you probably know, Bangalore is the tech hub of the country, with a population surge already way beyond its infrastructure can support. And extended traffic snarls during the peak hours are as predictable as the sunrise every morning.

All this digging in the middle of the roads added considerably to my commute times. It was easy for me to not get irritated by this as it was a matter of only three weeks, after which I would be going back to my PATH trains… And I had a grand new Metro system to look forward to on my next visit… 🙂

Hence I was a bit amused by the venting of the cab driver one day on my way to work. We were stopped at a traffic signal and had to inch forward missing at least two greens. ‘Madam, who are they building all this for? Can the ordinary people afford the fares of the Metro? Never. All it has done is fill the pockets of the politicians… they all get rich, a white elephant Metro will sit there, and god alone knows whether it will even be completed!’ And I had to wonder whether his frustration had anything to do with the possible competition his trade would face from an efficiently run, on time Metro!

The first stretch of the Metro – from M.G. Road to Baiyyappanahalli – was inaugurated in October 2011. This visit, I took a ride on the Metro on that same stretch. First impression… Wow!

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The stations are expansive, spic and span, and maybe because I entered around 10.30 am, deserted. The personnel in charge of the strict security screening of all passengers are extremely courteous. Energy saving escalators, helpful signs… above all, everything spotlessly dust free; it is a bit hard to believe you are still in Bangalore! 😉

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The train compartments are of international standards and not at all crowded, especially at the non-peak hour that I travelled. Now I do have to check out the crowds during the peak hours, of course!

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To my delight, the trains run on elevated rails, not underground. And provide a wonderful view of whatever can be called the down town on the M.G. Road – Baiyyappanahalli route.

Two things to do next… check out the longer Malleswaram-Peenya stretch and check out the downtown stretch during peak hours. Another day…

~Ria

21 Feb 2014

Really not sure… Why?

So… I walk back into the store. By this time, I have realised that my car battery is gone, kaput, dead, and needs to be replaced. Triple A does have a battery replacement service, but the recorded message about the limited services…
 
With doubled energy, I dial their number. Sorry, the battery replacement service is temporarily unavailable; call back in the evening for the service. And yes, a service truck will come by in two hours and jump start my car. Two hours? Two hours.
 
Outside it is bright and sunny. For a fleeting second, I think of walking home, a distance of 20 minutes. That indeed was a very short-lived thought. What if I lose a toe or two to frost bite? Very possible in the bone chilling, mind numbing cold. And another toe or two in the walk back to the car… definitely not worth it.
 
Have you ever considered how it it would be to spend two hours in the grocery store? After you have just finished your grocery shopping? Neither had I. But, let’s look on the bright side… now I know that every brand of canned fruit – Del Monte, Dole, the store brand… they all contain the same ingredients and preservatives and colourants, in the same proportions. The next time you need some peach slices for a recipe, just grab the best priced can. Not so with pie fillings though… And thanks to the two hours spent wandering through the aisles of that grocery store, I can now confidently pen a scholarly thesis on ‘Price point variations in papier mache food consumption equipment relative to spatial dimensions and considered with brand identities’. In layman’s terms, how the price of paper plates vary according to size and brand… 🙂
 
With frequent staring at the watch, I force time to move on. Triple A calls to inform that the service truck is outside in the parking lot. I walk out and spot the truck right away. It is the same truck and the same man who helped jump start my car in the morning. Was it only this morning?
 
Again, it is a matter of two minutes to get the car started. This time it is straight back home, no driving around to get the battery charged. It is past 2 pm. I haven’t eaten a thing the whole day. All I can do is grab a sandwich – ham and cheese with lots of lettuce, in case you wanted to know – and plonk myself on the couch.
 
My shopping is not yet done, and won’t be, till the car is fixed. Promptly at 5 pm, I’m on the phone with Triple A. Yes, a service truck will be around to replace the defective battery. By 6.30 pm.
 
It is already dark outside at 5 pm. The temperature has started its night time plunge into the depths of negative numbers. By 6 pm, I’m dressed in layers and waiting for the call. Promptly at 6.30, the truck arrives. This time it is a small one and has no problem getting into the garage.
 
The man parks his truck, gets a bunch of tools and a jump cable and walks over to my car. Opens the hood, looks at things, touches a few things. Goes back to his truck, brings more stuff over. Turns, unscrews this and that under the hood. This goes on for 15 minutes. Cold wind is blowing into the garage through the open sides. I move around to keep the shivering to a minimum. After 25 minutes of tinkering, the man declares that Volkswagen cars have special battery installed batteries that can only be detached in a workshop. He offers to tow my car to an auto repair workshop. In a display of supreme self-restraint I mutter politely, No, thank you.
 
While seeing him out and rushing back to my warm home, all I can think amidst the fuming is, at what point in the 25 minutes of tinkering did he realise that my Beetle is a Volkswagen make?
 
My car service shop is just two blocks away. Next day, despite it being a Sunday, it is open at 9 am. And I’m there narrating my saga of woes to Luke, the owner. And true to his life saver persona, he asks two of his assistants to go get my car. In two hours, I get the call to tell me it’s all done. I get there, my beautiful Beetle is waiting for me, all nice and freshly washed. And the engine purrs into life with a single turn of the key.
 
They say all is well that ends well… and I know that things happen, apartments get flooded, car batteries go bad, but why oh why at this particular point in time?
 

~Ria

17 Feb 2014

Still wondering… Why, why?

So where were we? Yeah, the flood that threatened my door step did not materialise. So far, so good.

As per my plans, I was to go and do some shopping – last minute gifts, chocolates, etc – Friday evening. But after a stressful Thursday evening, I did not feel like driving out in the early dark. After all, what is Saturday for? I could comfortably do the shopping in the day time. So that was decided. Maybe, just maybe… the fact that I was in the middle of an interesting book might have had something to do with that decision. 🙂

Saturday dawned nice and sunny, with an expected high of 10 degree fahrenheit, waaay below freezing. 10ish in the morning, I go down to the car park, start the car. Grrrrr…. and nothing. Turn the keys again. GGGrrrrrr…. the engine refuses to turn over. I realise that the continued freezing cold has done a job on the car battery.

What else to do than trudge back up to the apartment and call triple A! As the phone connects, the recorded message warns that services are limited due to adverse weather. Excellent! My car battery chose the perfect day to go on strike! Hoping that jump starting will not be among the services that are chopped, I wait patiently on the line. The lady who takes the call is very polite and informs me that a service truck will be over in two hours. In the relief that the service is available, I did not even think of protesting the two hours. Not that it would have done any good, with almost all traffic slowed down with snow and ice.

As promised, in around two hours, the service truck arrives. I go down and open the garage door. But alas, the truck is too big to get in through the door, though overall it is not a too big truck at all. We go to check the door on the other side of the garage. The man is of the opinion that it is larger than the first one though I cannot see any difference. Finally he squeezes his truck through. Then, the truck cannot reach my car from this side of the garage. I have to go and request one of my neighbours to move his car so that the truck can have a way to get to my car. Done. Mr. W is very gracious and moves his car readily.

It is a matter of two minutes to jump start the car. The man tells me to keep it running for 15 minutes before driving out. Fine. By this time, the cold is seeping onto my fingers even through the heavily insulated gloves. I’m only happy to sit in the car that is warming up by the second.

I let the car warm up for a good 20 minutes and start out, headed for the grocery store first as it is closer. And drive around for a while to give the car battery time to get charged. Reaching the parking lot of the grocery store, I switch off the car, switch it back on. No problem. Switch off and wait two minutes, switch back on. No problem. The car kicks up right away. A weight off my mind, I traipse along to the store.

20 minutes back, I’m back in the car, grocery bags in the trunk. . Grrrrr…. and nothing. Turn the keys again. GGGrrrrrr…. the engine refuses to turn over. Triple A, come and save me… again!

To be continued…

~Ria

14 Feb 2014

Why Oh Why?

It all started in the week before I was scheduled to start on my winter vacation. This was a planned vacation, tickets booked a while back. Still, you know how it is… you plan all the things you need to do before you go, and you have every intention of sticking to those plans… then somehow things happen differently and you are left scrambling at the last minute. What I cannot understand is how this is the case every year, every vacation. But I digress…

So it was the week before my travel. Came back from work Wednesday evening. Entering the apartment, I can already see the flashing lights reflected on the window panes.

Looking out the window (being on the second floor, I do have a good view of the street), I can see two cop cars parked among the small hillocks of snow on the sides of the street. Suddenly I realise… the snow hills on the near side are no longer there. Instead there is a muddy stream meandering towards the rainwater drain at the end of the street. Oh no! Water main break… No wonder, considering the below freezing temperatures we have been consistently having. And it was apparent that the problem was with the main pipe that supplied water to our building.

So the smart aleck that I am, I ran to the kitchen. Put a cooking pot under the tap and started filling it with water. Already the flow of water was slowing down. As I watched, the tap spluttered a few times and the water stopped. I was not worried. Enough drinking water in the house, and of course water will be back the next day.

Next day, went to work as usual. Around 4 pm, as I’m getting ready to leave for home, my phone rings. It is Mr J, our condo president. ‘Ria, where are you? Can you get home right away? The water was turned back on a while back, after the repairs, and there is flooding in your apartment.’

The kitchen tap… I had forgotten to close it last evening! All the way home, all I could think of was, all the things I will have to throw away because of water damage. The bottom rows of my book shelves were sure to go… Gosh, all the heavy classics are on the bottom shelves…

By the time I reached home – Manhattan traffic is so unmindful of your personal emergencies! – three of my friends were waiting to help me with damage control. We rushed up. No water coming out under the door. I gingerly opened the door… expecting to step into squelching water. Nothing. Looked into the bed rooms… no problem there. Moved on to the living room… the floor is dry as a bone. Then to the kitchen… yes, the floor has patches of water puddled here and there. But beyond that, no sign of flooding at all.

What had happened was that the water had seeped under the dish washer and the floor cabinets in the kitchen and gotten to the outside corridor under the wall. And to prevent it getting to the apartment across the corridor, Mr J had the water turned off. What a relief it was, to see all the horror scenarios in my mind come to nought!

Wiping up the remaining water was a matter of minutes. And my friends insisted on celebrating my transition from panic to relief in a short hour by treating me to takeout pizza. 🙂

To be continued…

~Ria

12 Feb 2014

Sunset at Kappad Beach

Global awareness, global warming, global politics, global citizen, global governance… the word ‘global’ has become part of our daily conversations. It is hard to imagine a world where you cannot pick and choose goods and products from all over the globe. We are truly enjoying the fruits of globalisation. I was reminded of a significant historical incident on the route to this globalisation, when I visited Kappad, a beach on the Malabar coast on the south western shore of India.kappad-beach2
In 1453 Ottoman Turks, under the leadership of Sultan Mehmed II, conquered the city of Constantinople, after a siege that lasted 50 days. With the fall of Constantinople (the city was renamed Istanbul), the Ottoman Turks cut off the overland caravan routes that were essential to the spice trade between Europe and countries in Asia that produced spices like cinnamon, cassia, cardamom, ginger, and turmeric.
Meanwhile, the demand for spices which were scarce and costly kept growing in Europe. In addition to flavouring food, spices were valued for their medicinal qualities and as a status symbol.
Finding a sea route to India became an immediate need. Tales carried by travellers, of the fabulous wealth of the East, also fuelled the quest. It was under these circumstances that King Manuel of Portugal commissioned an expedition to India under Captain-Major Vasco da Gama, who set out with four ships on July 8, 1497. After much hardship, Vasco da Gama landed at Kappad near Calicut (of Calico fame) on May 20, 1498. Thus was started an era of strife and competition and warfare among the European nations for mastery over the land and wealth of the East. At the same time, it also was the beginning of cultural and commercial interactions on a global scale.kappad-beach1
Calm, serene, peaceful… these are the words that best describe Kappad beach today.
The place is very beautiful and quite. Rocky formations extending into the ocean on either side of the sandy beach add an extra charm. The huge rocks can easily be climbed and provide wonderful views.
On a regular day, the beach is not crowded at all.
It is glorious to sit on the rocks and watch the sun setting in the Arabian Sea.

The old temple on one of the rocky formations is quite charming.temple
If you are an early bird and get to the beach, in the morning when the fishermen’s boats land, you can buy almost live fish, including the fabulous pearl spots.

Pearl spots taken through their natural progression (unfortunately, not from Kappad)

Pearl spots taken through their natural progression (unfortunately, not from Kappad)

A pillar near the beach commemorates Vasco da Gama’s landing at the Kappad, which used to be known locally as Kappakadavu. pillar

~Ria

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Interesting note
The early stories about the mysterious East were so full of fantasy… In the 7th century, Europeans believed that pepper grew on trees guarded by serpents. The only way it could be harvested was by setting the trees on fire, which would frighten the serpents away. May be that would have explained why pepper was black… 🙂divider-recipe-end

07 Feb 2014

The Groundhog Has Its Day…

In old old times… in a small village, used to live a farmer and his wife, who had two grown up daughters. The daughters were married and settled in far away villages. One day the farmer decided to go on a trip to visit the daughters.

The elder daughter and her husband, who were farmers like him, received him with all honours. And had to say this about their well-being: ‘If it doesn’t rain within the week, we will be ruined; our harvest will be destroyed!’

With a heavy heart, the farmer set out for the younger daughter’s house. The younger daughter and her husband, who were potters, were equally glad to welcome him. And had this to say: ‘If it rains within the week, we will be ruined; our pots set out to dry will be destroyed!’

When the farmer returned home, he said to his waiting wife: ‘Regardless of the weather, one of our daughters will surely be ruined!’

Weather has always been a determining factor in human life. Early cave dwellers had an anxiety ridden relationship with weather, perceiving it as unexplainable and way more powerful than themselves. The fear-laced respect towards changing weather has led to a wish to predict the weather, if not to control it.

All civilizations have sayings and proverbs related to weather, aimed at predicting. Examples: ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning’, ‘When the goose flies high fair weather. If the goose files low, foul weather’, ‘Seagull, seagull, sit on the sand, it’s never good weather when you’re on land’, etc.

Among the many means of predicting weather, observing the behaviour of animals has been an early one. And much to humanity’s credit we still follow the age old traditions! 🙂 As is evident from the celebrations associated with Groundhog Day!

Groundhog Day is celebrated on February 2nd, every year, the main location being Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. 2014 marks the 128th Groundhog Day celebrations there. The custom has its origins in the folk belief that on this day the groundhog, a marmot that typically lives in burrows, peeps out of its abode to check the weather. If it sees its shadow – if the day is sunny – it goes back in and the winter will last another 6 weeks; if no shadow is visible, it will venture out and we can expect an early spring.

So what if Punxsutawney Phil emerged from Gobbler’s Knob, exactly at 7.28 am on February 2nd 2014, and predicted another six weeks of winter this year? Isn’t the ceremonial consultation of Phil an occasion for some old fashioned pomp and splendour? And doesn’t it bring visitors to an otherwise sleepy town and help out local businesses? And don’t forget a fairly good movie with Bill Murray playing a TV weatherman covering the Groundhog Day. The fact that dear Phil has been more wrong then right in the past in predicting the length of winter is beside the point! 🙂

And don’t think that groundhog related festivities are over with the predictions… far from it. There is the Groundhog Picnic, Groundhog Club Banquet, Groundhog Ball, a Celebration Tent filled with fun and entertainment events, Phil Phest featuring a yard game tournament… whatever your preference, there is something for everyone! And of course, you can buy memorabilia like t-shirts and beads and whatnots to take home. And the list of corporate sponsors for the events is pretty long. Take a look at all the details at the Groundhog Day Home here.

The belief that groundhogs (and other animals) are capable of predicting the weather was carried over from Europe by the Germans who settled in the south eastern and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries. The earliest reference to Groundhog Day in the US is in 1841.

As any person who has achieved great success, Phil also has had to content with imitators and competitors. Several other groundhog personalities have emerged in recent times – no pun intended – to get in the business. Buckeye Chuck in Marion, Ohio, Birmingham Bill in Birmingham, Alabama, General Beauregard Lee in Lilburn, Georgia, Sir Walter Wally in Raleigh and Queen Charlotte in Charlotte, both in North Carolina, are some of the Johnny-come-latelys in the weather prediction business. Isn’t it so true that success breeds imitation?

And of course, Washington DC has its own version of Groundhog Day, with Potomac Phil, a stuffed groundhog playing the main part. No, no… no comments on stuffed beings in DC, please! 😉

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By the way, the name Punxsutawney comes from the Indian name for the location ‘ponksaduteney’ which means ‘the town of the sandflies’.

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03 Feb 2014

What is in a name? Seriously?

I am a great fan of AWAD (A.Word.A.Day), a daily subscription email list founded by Anu Garg of wordsmith.org. There are certain words that I might not have ever encountered but for the daily AWAD email. Petrichor jumps to mind… that lovely indescribable scent that emanates from the parched earth after the first rains, finally got a name when it dropped into my inbox one fine morning. Bringing with it, memories of monsoons and school reopenings which for some inexplicable reason coincided most of the time. But I digress…

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Last week’s AWAD theme was toponyms – words derived from the names of places. Got me thinking about how place names came into being. Also, about interesting place names.

It is easy to imagine the need to identify geographical locations in communications, even in cave people days. ‘Big mammoth felled at rock mountain; come, join the fun’ would prevent a lot of that mammoth going waste, you can imagine. 🙂 And most of the earliest place names were based on geographical features, naturally. That trend continues to the present day with innumerable names like Glendale, Riverside, Hillview, etc.

A lot of place names were carried over from the old countries by immigrants who were nostalgic for the lands left behind. New York (earlier, New Amsterdam, when it was owned by the Dutch), Lancaster, Brunswick (New, North, South), Rochester, Stamford, Berlin, Copenhagen… they are all present. When I was travelling in Egypt, the tour guide asked us why we had to have a Cairo and Alexandria in the US. The only answer we could give was that the US is a true melting pot! 🙂

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Many of the current place names are derived from their original names used by the native Americans, which again were based on geographical features. A prime example is Manhattan, from ‘manna-hata’ meaning ‘island of many hills’ in the language of the Lenape tribe. Massachusetts (by the great hills), Connecticut (place of the long river), Hoboken (where pipes are traded), Passaic (river flowing through a valley)… very interesting to take a look into the thousands of such names.

Then there are place names that exist in every state, sometimes more than once in the same state. Middletown, Harrison, Bloomfield, Fairfield… can you think of any state that does not have towns with these names?

Then there are the truly interesting place names. Like Cut and Shoot in Texas, Casa Blanca and Moriarty in New Mexico, Hell in Michigan, Real and Loving also in Texas (two towns, not Real Loving!), Caliente (meaning ‘hot’ in Spanish) and Steamboat in Nevada… the list goes on. Not to forget Blue Ball and Intercourse in Pennsylvania, so inexplicably close together!

But my favourite is Truth or Consequences in New Mexico. According to my friend Google, the city called Hot Springs changed its name to Truth or Consequences, the title of a popular NBC radio program, in 1950, in response to a promise that the program will be aired from the first town that renamed itself after the show. Voila! Hot Springs got a new name!

The most poetic and literary place names I have come across belong to Columbia, Maryland. Columbia is a planned community with self-contained villages and its localities are named after places in the literary works of well-known American authors like Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Walt Whitman, etc.place-names-word-cloud10

Kind Rain, Scarlet Petal, Rising Moon, Deep Calm, Open Sky, Tawney Bloom… can you imagine any more poetic place names?

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Interesting thought…

According to Wikipedia though the word Manhattan has been translated as ‘island of many hills’ from the Lenape language, the Encyclopedia of New York City offers other derivations, including from the Munsee dialect of Lenape: manahachtanienk (‘place of general inebriation’), manahatouh (‘place where timber is procured for bows and arrows’), or menatay (‘island’). Which one would you think is most apt? 🙂

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27 Jan 2014

Waiting for the third…

AGhosh-featureWe do a lot of waiting in life… waiting for trains, waiting in lines at stores to pay money, waiting for the water to boil… all painful. But there are some waitings that are enjoyable. Full of anticipation. Like waiting for a friend to call. Or for spring to arrive. However, even such waitings are hard for me… have zero faith in the saying ‘Patience is a great virtue’. Rather agree with Ambrose Bierce whose saying goes, ‘Patience, n. A minor form of dispair, disguised as a virtue’. 😉

But I digress… At present I’m in such a state of impatient waiting. Waiting for the third and last book in the Ibis trilogy, by one of my favourite authors, Amitav Ghosh, to be published.

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The first book in the trilogy, Sea of Poppies was published in 2008, followed by River of Smoke in 2011. In a nutshell, the books tell the story of the trade of opium in the early 19th century and the people whose lives, knowingly or otherwise, get entangled in its web.

The author paints the stories of individuals in vibrant colours in the background of the trade in opium, the cultivation of which was forced on the farmers of northern India and the consumption of which was forced on the population of another country, China, against the objections of their government. The snippets of history remembered from school days – the opium wars and the carving of the Chinese melon – come alive in the lives of these characters.

SoP

Sea of Poppies narrates the journey of the ship Ibis which carries opium from India to the markets of China, along with a group of passengers very unlikely to have met in any other surroundings. The intricate threads that bind these passengers to each other and to the central theme explain the circumstances which bring them to the good ship Ibis. And the drama of that voyage and the fortuitous turn of events bring the book to a satisfying end.

In River of Smoke, we follow the passengers on Ibis to their different destinations, some to new lands and new fortunes; others to age old conflicts and tensions. The characters are so nuanced that you will be hard put to root for any one side. While the conflicts of life throw them against each other, you as the reader recognises their innate humanness and can’t do anything other than sympathise with them.
RoS

If you are one to let your imagination soar like a kite braced by the breeze of words on a printed page, you will love these books and the rich and vivid tapestry of life they weave. And you will understand why I’m so impatient to get my hands on the concluding part of this trilogy. If we go by the timeline of the previous releases, the third part should be out in 2014. Waiting, waiting…
 

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And to console myself in the interim, I have chosen Hungry Tide as my vacation reading. I have already read Shadow Lines and Circle of Reason, around when they were first published. 20 years ago? How time flies when you are having fun! 😉

You can read more about the Ibis trilogy and other books by Amitav Ghosh at his web site.

~Ria

22 Jan 2014

A brownie in any shape…

For the most part of December, I was in Toronto. And for the most part of December, it was snowing in Toronto. And as long as one looked at it from within the warm interior of the home, the snowscape was so beautiful!
Being housebound has its plus points too… one can take up any of those projects filed away for ‘one of these days’… or one could bake! On a cold day what could be better than the fragrance of sugar and chocolate and warm caramel wafting through the house? So that is what I did… baked brownies!
And brownie goodness is something that one needs to spread around. Distributing brownies to friends is not only good karma, but good calorie control strategy too! 🙂 And one of the friends who tasted the brownies wanted the recipe. No recipe can be complete without some pictures. So just to get some pictures, I decided to bake some today. Beginning of a long relaxed weekend, what better time to mess around in the kitchen!
So I’m melting the butter with the chocolate, stirring it round and round… when the idea hit me. Why do brownies always have to be made in a square or rectangle pan? Why not try something different? After all, I claim ‘continuous improvement’ as my middle name. (Some of my people call that ‘won’t leave well enough alone’ too, but what do they know!)
In a jiffy, thought turned into action and the brownies were reborn as brownies cup cakes! But even though I say so myself, they were pretty good… pretty darn good indeed. 🙂

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Ingredients

2 sticks unsalted butter, plus more for pan

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch salt

4 large eggs

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 tablespoons instant coffee

2 tablespoons dark rum (optional)

1 1/2 cups walnuts

brownie-ingredients

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix butter and chocolate in a double boiler or in a pan over simmering water. When fully dissolved and smooth and shiny, remove from the heat and allow to cool.

choco-butter

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.

Dissolve the coffee in two tablespoons of warm water. Beat the eggs with sugar, dissolved coffee ,and rum, if using.

egg-sugar

Add the cooled chocolate mixture and mix well. Add the flour in batches and incorporate into the mix. Add the walnuts.

Spoon into the cupcake pan and bake for 18 to 20 minutes. The brownie cakes are done when a skewer inserted into the center of it comes out clean.

 brownie-cakes

Cool in the pan for five minutes before grabbing the brownie cakes.

~Ria

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17 Jan 2014