Sunday, 26 July 2009


get me that bottle from the fridge, amma would say. and i knew which one, the one that was on the top rack right under the freezer, inaccessible in a corner despite the fact that it was used daily. and i'd duly walk back to the kitchen with it, and she would carefully remove the top layer of cream off the curd she'd left to form overnight, and put it into the bottle in my hand. i'd stand there wishing there was a bit more, since seeing the bottle get filled was a pastime for me. id watch the white line of the top of the cream creep up all the way to the lid, day after agonizing day. sometimes i'd be asked to do the chore of transferring the cream, and i'd deliberately put in a little curd as well, just to push it up a few millimetres.

a bottle would get filled, but it wouldnt end there, another would get added. the agonizing process would repeat itself, then another bottle would be added. depending on the size of the bottles available, this would happen three to four times. and every day in the two or three months that it would take to reach this milestone, i'd watch the lines creep up with obvious impatience, look at the filled bottles with a certain satisfaction, and await the future. and finally, the day would come, usually a weekend or a holiday, when i would be asked to bring all the bottles at once.

and i would move at previously unknown speeds to the fridge, try and grab them all at once, and race to the kitchen; there was no time to waste. i knew what was next, the run to the store room to get the wooden thing that i still dont know the name of. followed by the big aluminium pot. when all was in place, amma would start. when we were younger, she would tell us the story of how devas and asuras churned the seas for amrit, or the story of how lord krishna used to steal butter as a kid, as she churned the cream for butter. which would soon start making an appearance as a big lump in centre of the pot, and she would take it out as one big ball and place it aside. i hated the butter, it was a mere obstacle to be crossed before the destination. id wait patiently while lump after lump of butter was placed aside. and look with concern at the bottles, which i would have to help with washing and drying, despite the fact that they served me well in my objective thus far.

now the good part would begin. the lumps were put into a large frying pan, and heated till they melt, while i sat on the stool in the kitchen and watched with equal measures of impatience and fascination. the aroma would soon fill the kichen, then the house, and soon you could catch a whiff from the gate outside. i suppose i did get a bit high on the smell, i wouldnt know. id just sit there till, at last, the golden ghee would be poured out into umpteen smaller bottles. when each of their lids were closed, and when each was safely stored away, i'd reach what i was waiting for. rice would go into the pan, mixed around in the residue with all the heart disease producing black bits, and i'd have the world's best ghee rice for lunch. and the months would seem worth every second.

good things happen to those who wait.. :)

Thursday, 9 July 2009

How to kill a baby bulbul..

Since I mentioned the funny story in my last post, a few people asked me to reveal one where i was the culprit. I dont normally do these public demand thingies, but since this one was hilarious in retrospect, and since it's popped up despite my best efforts to hide it, i thought i might as well relent :P

Once upon a time, long before i expanded the list of animal species i had eaten to thirteen (counting the fish kingdom as one, else i wouldnt have a number to put up here), i used to be an animal lover. not that i was vegetarian (far from it, i was one of the few who could go to the chicken shop, pick out the chicken, watch it get killed and still eat it), but our house used to constantly have its share of injured pigeons, kingfishers, tortoises, crows, hummingbirds, squirrels and finally, the protagonist, bulbuls. most were unsuccessful hunting attempts by the neighbourhood cats, some were picked up from the roadside and from school.

bulbuls used to nest at our house every year. in fact they're so comfortable with the house, and amma is so adjusting that we regularly have these guys making nests on lamps inside the house. which usually means that we sit in semi darkness to accommodate the bird, and achan has to interrupt his shaving so that our tenant can leave via the open window near the wash basin. so as kids, we naturally considered these our pets, and everyone knew how many bulbuls we had at home.

so naturally, when an abandoned baby bulbul that hadn't even molted yet was found at school, i was called first to take a look at it. not that i knew much about the birds, despite having lived in close quarters with so many of them. but you know how it is as kids.. saw the bird, took pity, and had to do something about it. the first step was to get it to a safe location, which meant home. the most important hurdle was our PT teacher mr charlie, who had this amazing ability to muddle up any animal related situation. in fact, any situation, come to think of it. so it was smuggled out in the school bag, with important books left back at the desk to make room for the bird. that the bird produced an improbable amount of shit during the ride in the van and ruined the remaining books in the bag didnt matter one bit; we were on a mission.

i had a collection of abandoned nests of different birds, and i picked out one that i knew was a bulbul nest, and proceeded to make the little bird home in it. but there ended my knowledge, i had no idea what to do next. and we didnt tell amma since we'd figured she'd disapprove since the bird was too young. well as kids you dont tell amma anything anyway, especially if you have even the vaguest indication you could get into trouble. but maybe i should have. we kept the bird away from sight, and kept checking on it everytime we could get away. finally it was dawning on us that we would have to feed it something. and though i knew that birds ate worms, in the panic of the moment i forgot that perhaps, and decided to call in an expert.

enter VK, hero of the earlier story, who was the biggest animal lover and rescuer around, someone i genuinely trusted on these matters. it was he who figured that tortoises liked to eat mom's hedges (called khufia or something). with that kind of a formidable resume, it was inevitable that i'd call him. so i called, explained the bird situation, and asked him what do these things eat. he said they'd eat anything. i had no idea that he was talking from his experience with parrots or something, who apparently would eat a lot of human food. and he im guessing didnt understand the gravity of the situation, especially how young the bird was. "anything?" slightly incredulous question. "anything." assured answer. so i asked him a more specific suggestion, and he asked what i was having for dinner. chapatis, i said. so it was settled then, little birdie was having dinner with us.

so i slyly made off with the first chapati mom cooked under the pretext of not being able to wait since i was too hungry, and went straight to the nest. and started feeding the bird tiny tiny pieces of chapati. now this led to a second phone call situation. VK was called again, to ask how much i should feed it. he confidently told me that as long as the bird opened its mouth and did that thing little birds do asking mommy to feed them, i should feed it. disaster.

even though kids break a lot of rules, there are times when u stick to the book like it were the bible. this was one such unfortunate occasion. the bird had downed about one and a half chapatis before i realized maybe i should stop feeding it. it did keep opening its mouth the moment i went near its nest, but then considering that i ate only four chapatis for dinner, it didnt somehow seem right that a bird the size of my palm would eat one and a half, and still ask for more. i have heard various theories on this in later life, including that its a reflex for baby birds to open their mouth when they sense movement near their nest, so that their mother would feed them. i also heard a theory that birds dont eat chapatis, period.

sad to say, the bird was in bird heaven by morning, and i was devastated. and knowing the trouble we'd get into for this, the body was disposed of with enough discretion to make the KGB proud of us. i dont remember how exactly the story got out, but then soon i was laughing stock, and that doesnt trade well on stock exchanges. the story did die a natural death until strange alcohol related processes in one of my friends' head brought it back to life, and my laughing stock is trading higher these days. i have done no further rescues since then, except once make a call to pfa in ahmedabad to let the experts take care of a cow. it's one of the things i really regret and would give anything to reverse, but then again, in a strange dark and maybe even gerald durrell-ish sense, its also one of the funnier stories from childhood.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Travel notes, mostly useless

shouldve typed this up long ago, but now that the papers i wrote it on are getting worn out from lying around in the depths of my bag, i think its finally due

McLeod Ganj - i swear to god we were received at the bus stand by lionel messi. well, the resemblance was uncanny to say the least. though it must be said that it took me at least five minutes to link the guide's face to lionel messi, and as a hardcore messi fan, i'll never be forgiven for that. Reluctantly, we didnt take Messi's hotel. It was dank and pylee swore there were suspicious stains on the sheets. So we went to the Tibetan Ashoka Guest House instead. For fifty bucks a head, i can tell you honestly that you will not find cosier accommodation elsewhere in the country, probably the planet. I'm usually averse to tourist guide books, but I have to grudgingly thank Lonely Planet for this find, and Amrita for lending it to us.

Monks - the most chilled out people on earth. Maybe these are the superficial observations of a casual visitor, but i think i can see why people from all over the world are attracted to their culture. They seem to have this ability to take everything in their stride. I couldnt sense, for instance, the ego and stubbornness i had seen in sadhus from my brief experience with members of that breed. the monks here seemed happy, had a polite smile for you anytime, and had embraced things that life threw at them. email, bikes, sneakers and crocs to name a few.

Thukpa - I've always had the opinion that this is the king of all tibetan food, filling in every sense of the word. rarely have i gone to a tibetan food joint without tryin the thukpa there. the ability to show off my mad chop-stick skills is an added attraction, of course. But i think, no im pretty sure, that i have had the best thukpa i'v ever had (or ever will) in my life so far at the Aroma beer bar in Mcleod. If i go ahead and try to describe it, there's a good chance i'll fail miserably, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

HRTC Bus Ride - According my esteemed co-traveller manu a.k.a. Mathew a.k.a. SI Mathappan, all buses on earth are crewed by two people : conductor Rajappan (pronounced rayappan in true blue mallu style) and driver Dasappan. (extra driver would be affectionately called spare Dasappan). we were taken from Dharamsala to Manali by none other than Lewis Dasappan, who was HRTCs driver in F1 before they left the sport to focus on public transport in himachal. But Lewis seemed stuck in F1 mode, since he seemed to find no difference between his bus and a McLaren F1 car, especially on the winding hill roads. The sound of bus tyres squealing is something i had never expected to hear except on BBC's Top Gear maybe, and I am deeply indebted to him for this new auditory experience. Few drivers scare me, and he was one of them. Coming from me, that's saying a lot.

"We should've fuckin' gone to a beach" - ever seen the movie snatch? remember the repeated refrain of "i fuckin hate pikeys"? the aforementioned line was my refrain for this trip. each time we ran into any sort of adversity, this was said. It must've been an overdose of goa trips, cos each time we were too cold, or too tired, or too broke, this phrase was uttered, accompanied by visions in my head of little cocktail glasses with plastic umbrellas in them. And i fuckin hate cocktails.

Film Photography - I have a film SLR. when i needed a camera, digital SLRs were useless and ridiculously expensive. so I went for a then state-of-the-art Nikon F-80. When every tom dick and harry around me had a digi SLR a coupla years down the line, I half heartedly extolled the virtues of old fashioned film photography. But now, Im sorta full hearted. I like the uncertainty of it. I'll never know how the shot turned out until I go to a GK Vale in bangalore. Maybe iv loaded the film wrong and the entire damn reel might be blank. But then again, good things happen to those who wait, so maybe the reel will be brilliant. My fingers will be crossed till i pay Mr Vale for his services and pick up the envelope from his shop. Its also an uphill battle for film photography. Even in touristy locations like Manali, film is hard to come by. To compound things, i decided at nine in the night that i have to have to have to photograph the hills silhouetted by the lightning, so i went out for film. And i had to search eleven shops (and a cyber cafe as a last ditch effort) spread over two kilometres before i found two overpriced rolls of ISO 400 film. I climbed back up the hill to our guest house vowing that I'll hold out even when shooting on film becomes much more of a hassle than it already is.

Signage and Hoardings - Sometimes when i see badly photoshopped shop and advertisement hoardings, as well as signage boards with poor english, i get this quixotic urge to arm myself with a laptop and vinyl printer and three horseloads of vinyl sheets and go about correcting those. Then i realize we would lose the charm of these places and would all turn into some boring place like germany. So, Child Bear it shall remain.

Plastic -At all the places i travelled to, i couldnt help but notice that the air was clean, and for all practical considerations, unpolluted. the ground was another matter though. plastic and garbage greeted us everywhere we went, including at supposedly secluded places like the tse chok ling monastery and gulaba enroute rohtang. i cringed and cribbed each time i saw plastic, almost reaching boiling point when a bunch of plastic bags ruined what was otherwise a stunning view of a river on the route to rohtang. the cribbing continued till i reached a wine shop and bought booze for the night's party, and realized that thanks to the recent ban on plastic bags, we would have to lug six bottles up the hill to our guest house. then i cribbed for the lack of a solution for this problem. I guess im too used to civilization. And it is an interesting problem, since my attitude is hypocritical in that i was using tons of plastic back in bangalore for my convenience, yet was demanding that the local populace not use any at all so that when i visit their neck in the woods (when i get tired of bangalore), i should have a decent view. dont expect me to become an eco activist overnight, but i'm guessing i'll spend more than a thought in this direction in future.

Tiger Eye Guest House - Even lonely planet didnt catch this one, despite it being in existence for ten years. we stumbled on it by accident thanks to the efforts of mr Piles, and immediately ditched the popular dragon guest house in old manali that we were considering till then. sure, the dragon had a better garden and view, but this was something else. the approaches to this place looked like something out of the movie roja, the terrorist camps to be specific. narrow gullys bordered by old wooden houses, cowsheds and firewood piled high led us to this gem of a place to stay in. the caretaker was a lovely old lady who mothered us to the point that even the normally rambunctious mr Piles was reluctant to party before she went off to sleep, in order to avoid gaining her disapproval.

Man U - Im surrounded by manchester united fans. Im the lone Gunner+Barca Fan in a sea of Man U idiots. two such Man U fans were travelling with me, and kept pointing out others who were wearing Man U merchandise. I've always wanted to pull their mightier-than-thou legs, and looking at my friend nithin's Man U skull cap, i may finally have the answer : man chested uniter.. saying something gay sounding like that should surely ruffle their feathers. Addendum : that backfired worse than a north korean rocket. they were ruffled, but recovered quickly to attack both my clubs, Arse-anal, and B-arse-a. Damn. I should think these things through.

Planning - How much of a trip should be planned? should it be micromanaged to the last detail, or should there be no planning at all? I guess we saw both sides of that in this trip. It was fun that we didnt have any initial plans except to find snow and make a peg of whisky with it, but then it wasn't fun that we couldnt go to the kibber monastery and lahoul-spiti since we forgot to check up on something as elementary as the prevailing weather conditions there before we set off. The lonely planet book was useful, admittedly, but the fun parts of this trip, as well as other trips we're done, were the ones where planning never even entered the picture. it is a bit of a dilemma then, since neither proper planning nor the near complete absence of it can guarantee a successful trip. of course, if it really came down to me, i'd burn the book, hop on my bike and go, most likely having forgotten my repair kit at home.

The rain - sometimes i hate the fuckin rain. sure, it was really really pretty to see the hills bathed in a freezing foggy drizzle interspersed with hailstorms, but on the other hand it ruined my planned paragliding session. Just as we reached the Solang valley for a short and expensive bout of paragliding, everything turned gray and murky and no paragliding happened. even if the rain had nearly killed me by starting after id taken off for paragliding, i wouldnt've held a grudge, id probably have cheered.

Horses - cliche, but beautiful creatures. i felt a bit guilty about having to use them for the trek up to the ski slopes, but since there were no other modes of transport available except for foot and a ridiculously overpriced maruti gypsy combined with the fact that we were four slackers with weak lungs and hardly any exercise, there was no option. we would never have been able to drag the heavy ski equipment up the hills on foot anyway. I had a nice horse whose name i couldnt catch from the incoherent speech of our guide, so i christened him gandalf since he was white and since i had forgotten the name of gandalfs horse anyway. and he liked to eat ice so the convoy stopped at his whim quite a few times much to my amusement and glee. it must also be mentioned here that we had a moment of sheer terror when something (we believe inappropriate advances by its rider, pylee) irked the horse at the end of the convoy and sent him running along with the rest of the horses. we held on for dear life while the guide managed to catch up and slow them down. i may now have a vague idea of the stuff cowboys are made off.

Kids - we had nine of them for company on the train trip to delhi. And ill miss them all. one looked like the kid from little miss sunshine, another like the 'there is no spoon' kid from the matrix. each had enough mischief up their sleeve to terrorize a fair sized town, so nine in a coach was pretty intense. pylee literally had kids trying to hang on to his long hair, and that is only a slight exaggeration. but they made the journey loads of fun, and we played cards, hide and seek and generally engaged in a lot of delirious nonsense that these tiny ones were able to create out of thin air. 36 hours flew by, and at the end we'd all grown kinda attached to each other that a coupla the kids wanted to take us home with them.

The mandatory funny story - each time my school friends and i go on trips like this, one or the other old obscure story gets dug out. this time it wasnt my turn, thankfully, but the story is funny as hell. this was when we were in tenth standard, and tuition on weekend afternoons were the norm. one of our friends, for privacy's sake we'll call him VK, had dialup internet at his house, and it was a novelty then, and it also meant we had access to porn. so the guys would all gather at his house after tuitions and wait patiently while dialup brought up the pictures one pixel at a time. then it was distributed via floppy disks. so one day, another friend was called up by VK. he claimed to have found the ultimate in computer technology, he could erase the clothes off a clothed girls pic. the second friend in question, N, was naturally intrigued and went over to see. and VK opens microsoft picture editor, and using a blur tool of some sort, starts working on a pic of some actress. he started scratching downwards with the mouse starting at her neck.
the folly was realized when they passed the area where her nipples should have been, and the two quickly figured they were merely spreading the colour from her neck. legend has it that VK kept trying until he almost got to her waist, but ill put that down to exaggeration. sitting in the balcony of tiger eye guest house with a few beers at night, this story popped up, and i am happy to report that beer, like milk, can come out your nose.

a few short ones..

skiing - looks easy, deceptively easy. bloody tough. falling is not fun, and getting up is even less fun.
apple cider - try it. try it. try it. beats beer any day. and i'm trying to figure out how to brew it :D
shooting stars - saw two on this trip, as opposed to 7 or 8 on the earlier goa one, and then forgot to wish on the second one. not that its worked so far.
himalayan trout - ranks in my top five fish, along with pearl spot, seer fish, crab and shark. and coming from a mallu for whom fish is vegetarian, you could believe the recommendation.
phones - not really necessary. i hope my boss wont read this on the blog.

this wouldve been longer, but i lost one sheet of paper with my notes on it. oh well, guess u were spared.