Sunday, 12 July 2020

In which we re-read "1984"

The way I used to read when I was younger was with a certain breathlessness. To say that we (Several of my family members & I, trace the tree up and down, stick to the women, you will get the list) are addicted to books is an understatement. There are many moments when my need for a book is almost alongside my need for breath, for example. There are other family members who hold the book like a protective cloak. Any book, not like a singular particular book or anything.

Though I don't remember when I read 1984 earlier in my life, I know for sure that I read it with more than the usual measure of morbid fascination, and hurriedness. Like it was going to run out. You can trace this back partly to the fact that my sister & I were always in a race to finish books and borrow  new ones from Kavitha Circulating Library before he closed for the day (which he did whenever he felt like it - mostly when he ran out of cigarettes or felt bored).

I am a little bit changed now. For one, I read on my iPad. The Kindle App is everything to me. The font size is big, bigger, biggest (as the day proceeds and my eyes get tired). I ruminate a bit. I also fall asleep way more, nowadays. I own the books (or at least I can keep them as long as I want, if I get them on Kindle Unlimited). There is no fear of Kav. Circ. Lib. guy's wrath or fines. Plus my elder sister, likely to breathe down my neck and push me to "finish already, slow poke", doesn't live in Chennai.

In between my nagging for the usual things like bathing, working, folding the bed sheet, putting away clothes etc. I inadvertently challenged the child to a reading contest. I should have known better! Foolish, very foolish. Unlike in those days, the reading can be done simultaneously by all of us in the house now. So that was the plan. I was at 21%. It was a Sunday. Quickly, father and daughter said they are "in", and are taking me on.

Eldest member, i.e., my husband, read for 30s and fell asleep. I ploughed on valiantly from my 21%. But suffice to say, she beat me hollow and made lot of jokes about it and felt immensely smug. We occasionally sit shoulder to shoulder and read, I can make excuses that I have 100 things running in my brain, my eye sight is bad, she is hogging the backrest, blah blah, but the fact of the matter is she reaches the end of the page way before me and it takes all her patience to wait for me to swipe to the next one. I knew this, but see, this is a book not really in the style teenagers are used to, I was counting on that, for sure.

Oh well, we have enjoyed immensely the aftermath of this reading challenge session, despite me having lost so badly. NewSpeak is clearly twitter/social media language, and it's not as if we don't have our own interpretations, mispronunciations, and intentional-misuses of several words in several languages, our own private NewSpeak to to say. We have spoken about the characterisation of the women, actually the singular woman in the book. A bit unidimensional, isn't it? And some of the parts that are weird, like the long Goldstein manifesto - which was quite a pain (in our opinion). Finally, the ending. It scared her. It pissed me off and left me unsatisfied.

What do you all think? Can you speed-read 1984? Did you like the ending? Should we watch the movie? 

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Rasam Chronicles

I am not a fan of rasam. I would like to rise against the tyranny of rasam. Go ahead, disown me. I am from Mysore, and though my family does have some Tamizh roots, the well-entrenched dislike of rasam is pinned (mostly) on my Tamizh friends. As soon as you speak of the thin soup and the idyllic town together, they will turn to you, their noses turned up, and say “So you put sugar in the rasam, right?” I don’t know why, but this infuriates me immensely. I mean I do feel superior in the knowledge that they have no clue what they are talking about, but still. 

First let me talk a little bit about the current state of affairs and chronicle in a detailed manner, my rasam preferences. It has to have tomatoes in it. Tomatoes can be eliminated if it has fried neem flowers in it. Third and most important, it must not have a green tinge to it (which comes from a preponderance of coriander powder and a distinct lack of chilli powder). I accept lemon rasam, with green chillies and tiny tomato pieces, if it packs a punch. Currently, I rarely partake of any of these variants, though one or the other is prepared at home every day.

Ok, so rasam went by another name in my childhood, I cannot ignore that, despite the fact that it will slot me. Saathamudu is what it was (to be) called. Childish tongues tripped over that big word and various bastardisations were evident in our family, including the rapid-fire uttered Saatund. Which sounds like an electronics manufacturer or something. In effect, when we said rasam, we conjured in our minds, the big bad city of Madras and the heaving temple towns of southern Tamilnadu, which was our (at least my) only exposure to our neighbouring state in those young Mysore days. It is saaru in Kannada and that was acceptable too. Eventually, when I moved abroad and had to cook for myself via Mallika Badrinath recipe books, I accepted rasam as rasam, and now I don’t much use my childhood word for it. Which is just as well, considering that I rarely consume it in adulthood.

Now I get to the sugar part. I don’t remember in my household, sugar being added to rasam, ever. An occasional piece of jaggery, maybe. My mom was not much into cooking for several years due to various reasons, so when she finally got the full kitchen duties on to her plate when I was 10 or 12 years old, she experimented a lot. Sometimes those experiments resulted in events like too-spicy things, which she then tried to “fix” via jaggery. Mom is a big one for this fixing, and is quite adept at it. I am too. One of my #covidlockdown skills has been to repurpose the morning’s kootu into a lip-smacking dal for the night’s chapati. I pride myself in the complexity of flavours in Mysorean food, particularly mine. So when someone tries to pour disdain with this sugar comment, it riles me up. I know that sugar, in many instances, helps bring out one or the other flavour, but yes it irritates me because it is a trivialisation. And you do NOT get “Mysore Rasam” by adding sugar to the rasam that’s currently boiling on your stove.

It is likely that, as I am a vegetarian, I have not had the opportunity to taste the full scale or variety in Tamizh food. As I have anyway slotted myself above, I bravely add this comment as well. Usually, I am the sole representative in a room full of Madrasis (in the true sense of the word, people from Madras, born and brought up, went to school here, spent a few years away maybe, at most, but back here again, talking about Drive-Through Woodlands and its halcyon days), and I struggle. How do I convey to them my deep dark feelings about how their food pales in comparison to mine? It literally does. For e.g. the yellow-tinged tamarind rice here vs. the fiery brown one my aunts or mom (or heck! ME!) make. Tamizh food should also come with the warning “no copra has been harmed in the making of this food” – how do I convey to this room what they are missing by not including this awesome thing? Do they even know what copra is? (Hint: It is not a snake)

So let me bottom line it here. Those paroxysms of joy you are feeling thinking about rasam, whether it is soup or not, I don’t indulge in them. And nor will you, if you know that world over people, married to Tamizh Rasam, are settling for an imitation. The real rasam powder is brownish red, yes, many red chillies are incorporated, the coriander is but a small subdued presence, bowing to the superior flavours of the other things in it. Dal, mashed, a handful, is invariable. Pieces of tomato float on top. The jeera is tadka-d in ghee and floats alongside. Fresh coriander leaves are abundantly sprayed. You can drink it, it will unclog the sinuses, but you better not, mix it with hot rice, for heaven’s sake.

(I don't believe a word of what I read here.