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[05 Dec 2007|08:38am]
[ mood | determined ]

So, I'm thinking of writing here again, now that I've moved back to India, found a job, and things are a bit more settled. The question is... who still reads this thing? And what do you want to hear about? Leave a comment please!

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Crazed hippies you say? [22 Apr 2007|07:58pm]
[ mood | amused ]

ETA: For a somewhat more condescending take on the whole situation...

 Today I was happily sitting in the sunshine next to a pond in Golden Gate Park. There were tadpoles and ducks in the water and redwinged blackbirds on the reeds, and I was reading a new book, and all was right with the world. After a bit my roommate appeared with a daisy in her hat, and her hair in two little pigtails, and we went on a walk, admiring the sunbathing turtles and the bright flowers, la lala laa,  when we noticed that everyone else in the park seemed to be walking towards us, going in the opposite direction. We'd been looking at the people too, of course: the dogwalkers and the rainbow tie-dyed tshirt wearers (this is San Francisco after all); the families with kids out for a Sunday afternoon picnic, with their baseball bats and frisbees; the evident tourists following the scenic route. But now, the people walking down the path seemed strange, even for SF. The rainbow t-shirts and long flowing skirts were multiplying exponentially! Everybody suddenly had a lot of hair, and the air was alive with the jingling of bells and beads, and the scents of patchouli, pot and incense. We looked around and more and more people were emerging from the bushes! And here were M and I, like salmon swimming upstream against this great tide of hippies.

 Soon we came to a hidden grassy cove, that was absolutely seething with people in woolly bobble hats and llama wool shawls, embroidered shirts and batiky skirts, dreadlocks, multicoloured afros, chains of beads and bright bandanas. There seemed to have been some huge event that had clearly just finished, and the people were streaming out, some down the path we had just emerged from, and others into the road, where policemen with whistles were directing traffic. We peered and looked, and saw an enormous row of portapotties, and makeshift booths rigged up with wood and Indian bedspreads that had evidently been used to sell things and we sniffed the food smells that were somehow drifting through all the rest of the perfumes, and we tried to eavesdrop on the people around us, but were no closer to figuring out just what kind of event brought so many people here together. And everybody looked so pleased! Not happy, not excited, just...pleased, little smiles on their faces, and an indefinable air of satisfaction. Almost smug. A group of guys passing us asked "so, did you have fun?" and we sheepishly confessed that we had no idea what was going on.  So, predictably, we got an avalanche of "dude!" "you should have been there!" "it was so cool!" and then some details: "man, it was Earth Day!" "Bob Marley's son was there!" Also, unfortunately predictably, we got  some condescending questions:

Guy 1: They were playing hella cool music -- you guys know who the Grateful Dead are?"
Us, in chorus: Of course!!
Guy 2: Hmm. Oh. Well they were playing! For free! It's the biggest thing here, all these people come every year, didn't you know? 
Us: no...
Guys: Well, you'll know next time, right?
Us: right.... 

Then we stumbled upon the drum-beating, djideridoo-blowing, acrobatics-performing,  ritually-chanting, chakra-invoking  love-fest.  A man lay flat on the ground, eyes closed, while a woman sat at his feet, also with her eyes closed in concentration placed her palms flat on his knees and pelvis and chest, and another person with a djideridoo sat at his head and blew it at his skull. Another woman stood upright on the knees of a very tall man; she leaned out at a forty-five degree angle, and they held hands and maintained the pose for minutes on end. A gang of people climbed up a tree and stood on the limbs, chanting something. The drum-circle beat on, while hundreds of other people, children and dogs swarmed across the field, some trying to leave, others setting up fires and blankets, and several handing out leaflets and giving speeches.
So we scurried away, up a hill, and found a deserted Greek-style pavillion and sat till the sun was gone, reading, and writing, and watching a wedding procession in the distance, with the bridesmaids in slinky blue mermaid-y sheaths and the bride herself a large white puffball, mincing through the enormous pavillion in her high heels like a glob of whipped cream sliding across a pancake, until the sun was almost gone.

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Life in SF [20 Apr 2007|04:41pm]
So, I have been here for two weeks now, and I thought it was time to write a bit about the living situation. Life here is rather like my post-bac year when R., P. and I all lived squished together in a room in Galesburg with an enormous black cat and everything was beautifully beatnik and full of good food and laughter and really uncomfortable living arrangements that seemed funny and charming rather than pains in the neck. Like then, I live in a one-bedroom apt,  except that this a sort of half-basement, with the kitchen growing out of the living room, and a bathroom, a seperate bedroom with a door, a back garden which we share, I think, with the other apartment dwellers, and a hallway. The laundry is in the garage, and the mail is in little boxes with locks in the front. There is more light in the apartment than there was in my house in Chicago.

 The inhabitants include a cat and a rabbit. The rabbit is confined to the linoleum areas of the kitchen, unless supervised, and tends to be rather despotic and demand vegetables and petting every time you come into the kitchen. The cat is a waif that my roommate took in some time ago; she has a name, but she only pays attention if you say "Caaaat" in a high-pitched, plaintive, wail, much like her own. She is a orange and brown calico and extremely tiny, and also extremely friendly and "talkative." I think she suffers from narcolepsy; she certainly sleeps more than any cat I've seen -- but she likes to constantly be next to whoever is in the house and she also likes to lick people's noses if she possibly can. If you come in, or go out, or say anything, or turn on the light, or make an unexpected noise, she will speak, and she almost speaks in sentences. My roommate and she have long conversations very often. At the moment, the inhabitants also include a colony of fleas, so everything is covered in diatomaceous earth. Apparently the cat had fleas when adopted, and though we put flea medicine on her and the rabbit, they didn't leave the house. They don't bite us and are becoming fewer by the day though.

 There are two couches and futon mattress in the living room, and I sleep there. My roommate has the bed on the floor of the bedroom. (It is nice to be on the floor again). The room is painted a cool blue, and feels very airy, even though it's only barely at ground level. There is also a desk in the bedroom in a corner under the window, and my little corner shelf with all the gods and goddesses and an incense burner. There are funny jutting ledges all over the two rooms, which we use as bookshelves, and the walls have photos taken by my roommate, and gorgeous art R. has drawn and there is a beam that goes at a 45 degree angle from the wall to the ceiling that we have covered with colourful chunnis. There is an enormous walk-in closet in each room and we have two dressers. There is also another desk in the living room, but at the moment we don't have a chair for it, so I tend to use the other one when I am writing by hand, and we just use our computers wherever we are sitting at the moment. There is suddenly, miraculously, a working internet connection in the house.

 The kitchen is a tiny, much like the one in Galesburg. There are lots of cabinets but no drawers, so cutlery and knives are always getting in the way. We are going to put everything in big yoghurt containers or something, and put those in the cabinets I think. It's hard for more than one person to cook at once, but we manage to cook at least once a day and we have a cleaning schedule that seems to be working fairly well so far. (I think my house in Chicago was much cleaner, but I resented doing every single thing there; here it is more cluttered, but we argue about who *really wants* to wash the dishes or sweep the floor, not who should be doing it this time). We share groceries and cooking, which is an enormous relief after living in a perpetual Cold War about which shelf of the fridge belongs to whom. We tend to eat a lot of rice and lentils and an absolutely insane amount of chickpeas, because M. is always worrying about getting enough protein I find it a bit ludicrous, but maybe she is right to worry about it; my entire family (except me for some reason) suffers from anaemia.

 So, yes, this is my life at the moment. Expect more updates soon about talking parrots and the SF transport system and the beach and the flowers and the crazy crazy hippies.
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The letter D [08 Mar 2007|05:54pm]
[ mood | contemplative ]

starstealingirl gave me the letter D to wrie about. This is a surprisingly hard letter. Here's what I've come up with, so far:

1. Delhi. If I have a home town, it's Delhi: the capital of India for several thousand years, settled as a city since the Mahabharata, built upon itself, layer upon layer, hugely sprawling, crowded, noisy, dusty, but with leafy lanes and huge old trees, full of the contented sleepy rumble of the pigeons and scream of parrots across the sky, sharp-edged with winter frost and glaring summer sun, shrouded in fog and romantic with blue thunderclouds; New Delhi, respectably middle-class, a bureaucrat with black-framed glasses and oiled hair; its family enthusiastically nouveau-riche, while Old Delhi is an impoverished artistocrat, lean, wearing a dhoti and frockcoat, looking back at the days of its greatness and wondering what to do with the gaps in its teeth.  I love Delhi, in spite of all the hypocrisy and what-will-people-say and the keeping-up-with-the-Sharmas, which drives me mad every time I'm there. I dream about it, try to write about it, am despairingly incapable of being objective about it. I sometimes wonder if I could ever live there again, (visit, yes, but live?) and at the same time, imagine truly living there, learning all of it, knowing all the history and the forgotten monuments, walking around in the labyrinth of Chandni Chowk without getting lost, mugged or killed. For the most part, I am an outsider wherever I go, and I like it. I am comfortable in that role.  But Delhi is the only place that seduces me with the idea of, fitting in, for once, even though I know that it's just an illusion and that to fit in, I would have to change just as much for Delhi, as I would for any other city in the world. The only difference is that Delhi can make me change, if I let it, while none of the others can.

2. Dorothy L. Sayers. Golden age British mystery writer and religious scholar, creator of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, and a generally eccentric figure. Gaudy Night is one of my touchstones for academic and intellectual integrity, and was the first book I read that even began to articulate any of my dissatisfaction with the idea of marriage as the ultimate goal for a woman, and for a very long time was the only thing that gave me any hope that not all relationships between the sexes were doomed to be either a case of a) doormat (female) and tyrant (male) or b) cats and dogs spitefully clawing at each other throughout eternity. And all this in some of the best -- most intelligent, witty, moving, cruelly accurate -- prose I've ever read.

3.Dictionaries. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with dictionaries, probably because when I was young I was told to look up spellings in a dictionary, something that's almost impossible to do if you don't already know how to spell. But when I discovered that dictionaries also told you the stories of words as well their spellings, they turned from the only frustrating books in the house to one of the most fascinating. I love discovering the connections between words, and through that, between languages, between religions, cultures and economies. I love the "aha!" feeling of reading something in a language I don't know well and suddenly figuring out what it means because I know how to recognise the root word and think of a derivative in English. The thing that I will miss most about leaving academia is the automatic access to the online Oxford English Dictionary, even though I have, at home, a pocket Latin dictionary, an enormous French one, a standard German one, a pretty awful Hindi-English one, and two much used and battered English ones, both from Oxford University Press.

4. Dappled. This is just a favourite word. I think of it in Hopkins' poem Pied Beauty: the first line is "Glory be to God for dappled things," and then in the Simon and Garfunkle song "I've no deeds to do, no promises to keep/I'm dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep." I wrote the longest paper of my undergraduate career on the poem, and my toes curl in delight at the song, and it's definitely the image of dappled things -- sunlight on the ground, deer, fish swimming through shade, that appeals to me.

5. David Bowie. That voice. The knowing blue eyes. The blink-and-you'll-miss-it outrageous personas. The campness of the music. The sheer androgynous energy of his body language. I usually don't  care very much for any of these things on their own, but somehow, if David Bowie is involved, it's a different story, and I have been known to obsessively listen to or watch his music.

IIf you would like a letter, comment and let me know.

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Questions [06 Mar 2007|09:51pm]
[ mood | contemplative ]

callunav, the "Top Ten/Top Five" meme: I have, in no particular order, the top five questions I'm tired of answering:

1. I care about how my name is pronounced, and will correct people politely, if needed, but I've realised that sometimes it's just not worth the trouble (e.g.: if I'm fairly sure I'll never see the person again). That said, I get tired very fast of introducing myself and then having people ask "Do you go by something else?/ Do you have a nickname?/ Can I call you <insert horrible cutesy diminutive> instead?" with the implication that my name is too hard to handle. It is three syllables, all of which occur regularly in standard English and it's also spelled exactly the way it's pronounced. I don't think it's too much to ask that you pronounce it the way I do, even if you've never seen it before, or have only met people who use the short version.

 2. "Where did you learn to speak English so well?/ Are you from England?/ Why do you have a British accent?" It's not the question so much, as the incredulity at the answer that I am tired of. I learned to speak English in India. My parents taught me and we had to speak it in school most of the time. Yes, I know, I've lived in other English speaking countries, but really, I learnt it in India. My first memory of being in England -- at the age of seven, at Heathrow, five minutes after the plane landed, -- is of an air-hostess asking me this exact question. Also, for the record, it's not a British accent (just ask someone from England). It's a perfectly normal Indian-speaking-in-English accent, technically known as Accepted Indian Variant.  Most people in India don't sound like Apu from The Simpsons.

3. While we're on the topic, questions about cows, peacocks and elephants, oh my. Yes, there are cows on the roads, and yes we go around them. (Seriously, what else would you do? Would you just ram into a cow if it were sitting in the middle of the road?) No, we don't have our own elephants/ride them to school/ live with them. (A billion people, each with their own elephants? They certainly wouldn't be endangered species then...) Actually, yes, there happens to be a place near my house where there are wild peacocks, or were until a few years ago. No, that doesn't mean that I live in a rainforest/jungle/have to walk to school barefoot in the dirt. No, nor does it mean that we sacrifice them. (Hinduism? Animal sacrifices? Not for at least the last couple of thousand years....).  To be fair, I've only been asked these a handful of times, but even once goes a long way.

4. "You're not one of those feminists, are you?" (This is usually asked when I announce my intention of not getting married any time in the near future, and never ever having any children). Those feminists? The ones who believe that women should have a chance at education, equal opportunities and pay in the workplace, a say in what they spend their lives doing and decide themselves whether to marry or not, to have children or not, and think that there's no reason they should automatically have to do the dishes and laundry as well? Yes, absolutely, I am. What's your point?

5. "What is your thesis about?" I know it's petty, and almost everyone who asks this is genuinely interested (in my life, if not in the topic), but a) it's annoying to keep repeating yourself and get the same polite nods almost every time and b) I hate, with the power of ten thousand burning suns, the feeling, in academic circles that your thesis/dissertation equals you. In other places people ask "what do you do" and think that they know which mental pigeonhole to shove you into with the answer; in academia they ask "what is your thesis about?" to do the same thing. It's almost never a question that leads to a thoughtful response, which makes me almost want to cry with frustration when I think about how much time and effort and thought one actually puts into writing the damn things.

f you feel like it, comment saying "Top five" or "Top ten," and I'll give you a category of things to list.

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[03 Mar 2007|05:35pm]
[ mood | stressed ]

 Hmm, I seem to own a lot more things than I realised I did.  So much for the idea of living like a Buddhist monk, travelling through life with a begging bowl and a pen-case. (Pen-cases are indispensable: scholarship and weaponry all in one elegantly carved wooden box). I bet Buddhist monks never have to worry about setting up fish tanks by remote control either...

 I am happy that since I rearranged my fish tank, I see my kuhli loaches quite often. I tend to see them most in the mornings when I turn the lights on, and then again in the evenings when I turn them off, which is not surprising, given that this is when I feed them too. But what is surprising is that they stay out in the open, diving in between the pebbles of gravel and rooting around under the java moss, for at least ten minutes at a time. Given that I've had them more almost a year, and rarely seen more than a blur of orange and black while changing the water, this is quite wonderful, and I tend to wind up brushing my hair while sitting in front of the tank.

 While we're on the topic of pets, last night my roommate's cat decided to spend most of the time asleep on my chest. She never does this. Usually she will sit on the bed, near me, and she's been known to squirm her way under the blankets, but sitting on top of any humans lying around is completely unprecedented. I am trying to decide whether this is a sign of approval and I should be flattered, or whether I've now been relegated to the status of furniture. She is good at these ambiguous signs of affection: some months ago she started to lick the back of my hand, "grooming" it, I thought; something female cats in particular will sometimes to do to other cats and humans. But then again, that's exactly what they do to their prey: that rough tongue can skin and tenderise a dead rodent pretty effectively. (It certainly gets to be a bit much after the first minute). So: she thinks I'm a cat bed? or a particularly recalcitrant piece of food? or she really loves me? Who knows the inscrutable mystery of cats?

 Back to the salt mines...


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[27 Feb 2007|09:10pm]
[ mood | busy ]

I am apparently moving to San Francisco. I knew this already, of course, but it's only just beginning to sink in, as I actually start making numerous lists. (Those of you who know me from college will remember that every time I took something from my bag, it would come out festooned in scraps of paper: lists of "Things to Have Done Already" usually). I'm not quite to that level yet, but have made promising starts on:
"Things to Pack"
"Things to Sell"
"Things to Give Away" and
"Things to Get Rid of, Somehow" as well as
"Things to Do" and
"Things to Get Other People to Do."

So far, today, I have looked up convoluted bank information (my bank apparently doesn't exist in California), plane ticket information, train ticket information, postage information and fish food information. Things I've learned: Washington Mutual has fewer fees than any other bank in the area, plane tickets and train tickets to SF cost almost exactly the same amount at the moment, the post office's website designer should have a good time coming up with further levels of Hell in the afterlife, and the realm of frozen fish food would give the most pretentious foodie nightmares.  (Chopping up frozen brine shrimp, I can understand, but did you know that frozen water fleas are only to be served marinated in a semi-frozen sorbet of salt water...?)

I really really really want to take the train to San Francisco. I know, it takes three days to get there, instead of 5 hours, but apart from that, what real reason is there not to take it? I like the idea of actually travelling across the country: seeing what lies between Chicago and San Francisco, the idea of spending three days being able to think and write about what I'm doing, three days alone and afloat, neither here nor there. If I knew how to drive, I would have rented a car and driven across the country, stopping in out of the way places to have lunch and looking at the land around me, actually having the possibility of adventure, instead of getting on at one grey terminal and off at another. Everybody I've mentioned it to, so far, has reacted as if I'm utterly insane (apart from R, my fellow idealist). Is this completely impractical? starstealingirl and vera_pavlovna, do you have any advice from your Amtrak experiences?


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[15 Feb 2007|08:25pm]
[ mood | contemplative ]

I sometimes amuse myself by imagining the cities where I hope to live in, at various points in my life. They have to be cities: I'm not that fond of being surrounded by lots of people in small spaces, but I need to be in a place where there are good museums, libraries, used bookshops and theatres and where I can find adequate, interesting vegetarian food, both in restaurants and as eclectic ingredients in shops so that I can cook in comfort. They have to be urban areas also, because I want to be able to take certain things for granted: I don't want to have to defend my disinterest in the organised religion of the area, or worry about where to get adequate birth control, or have the nearest abortion facility be hundreds of miles away and considered a dirty secret. I want to be able to walk around on my errands in the streets alone -- yes, walk, so no US-style suburbs, or cities without public transport, thank you, -- without an escort, male or otherwise, and only a necessary amount of worry about personal safety. I don't care about weather, within reason, or about language (you can always learn new ones), or about being close to family/other Indian people. After five years, rural and small town life in the US or really, anywhere else, holds no further charms for me. I live in Chicago now, and I think I am done with it. No particular regrets or animosities: just done. 

 So far, my list is headed by, in no particular order, London, San Francisco, and Vancouver. I've been to all these cities, and feel like I know them well enough, not just as a tourist, to actually envision daily life there. Now I'm trying to see what they have in common: large multiracial populations, reputations as centres for the arts (ok, that's a bit of a stretch for Vancouver), natural beauty, (yes, I know, but I like London's architectural beauty), lots of fog and rain, thankfully, oh, and yes, obscenely expensive prices. They are all English speaking -- the next tier on my list is full of non-English speaking cities dotted around Europe (all the capitals of Western Europe!) and India (Delhi, Calcutta, Bombay, Bangalore), and Quebec (Montreal and Quebec City both), so maybe this is more of a factor than I realised at first. It's true that when I think of libraries and bookstores and theatres, I'd rather they have a lot of stuff in English. They all have temperate weather, compared to the extreme ends of the thermometre in Delhi and Chicago, but I honestly think it's the presence of drizzle that appeals, rather than the absence of blizzards or baking heat.

 What I can't understand is the cities that get left out. New York, for example. Too big? Too busy? Too much personality? Ottawa and Toronto and Sydney and Melbourne and Tokyo and everything else in the UK apart from London. Not enough of a personality, maybe for the Canadian ones; at least they struck me that way when I was last there, but why not Tokyo for heaven's sake? Why not Madras? Why not Manchester? Who in their right mind would turn down the entirety of New Zealand? Why are some places such bright beacons on my mental map of the world, and others so insubstantial?

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[13 Feb 2007|12:54pm]
[ mood | thoughtful ]

  I made myself a food icon, because well, I seem to spend a lot of time thinking about it, and I really, really like looking at spices.

 Recently, I baked a loaf of white bread, which has turned out to be almost impossibly soft and white and fluffy -- it's like eating bread meringues! I think I'm going to save it for sandwiches, it's too unnerving for anything else.

I also made one of my favourite comfort foods -- matar aloo.
It's basically potatoes and peas, in this case in a tomato-y sauce, rather than dry, with the usual indian spices, and it's ridiculously easy to make. Eating it on a cold day takes me straight back to winter days in Delhi, with the smell of smoke and fog in the air, and a perpetual air of tea-time hanging over the dim afternoons. For once, I managed to make it taste like my mother's cooking -- usually I don't have the patience to cook like she does, always over a very low flame, until the tomatoes absorb all the spices and oil and then start leaking it out again, and the potatoes are so tender and moist that the skins slip off when you touch them with a spoon. My grandmother's cooking couldn't be more different. Her style is slapdash, all hastily chopped vegetables, and oil slopped in, and not heated enough, with enormous chunks of ginger floating together among the potatoes. I think we all use roughly the same amount of spices, (it's hard to tell, when none of us ever measure it out), but my food always seems to be a shock to the tongue; the spices never resolving into quite as smooth a blend, and the sauce a separate entity from the vegetables.

I don't have the patience or the serenity to cook like my mother always. If I'm quite honest, I wonder sometimes, if I even want to eat such smooth perfection all the time! It makes me think about my mother as an enigma: what sort of person must she be to cook like that? To evolve a style of cooking that's so meticulously careful and aware of each ingredient, at each step of the process but at the same time ends up focusing on blending everything together so completely?  I can fill in some of the blanks, of course. There's the fact that she minces all the chillis and ginger very finely, because when she was very young, my sister wouldn't eat if she could see that there were spicy things in the dishes. I can picture her laying out her ingredients with the precision and order of a scientist planning an experiment: the ginger and green chillies cross-hatched, in their own heaps in a single square plate of stainless steel; the diced tomatoes loosely heaped on the chopping board; the potatoes cut into long curving eighths, floating in a bowl of water; the peas in a steel dish with high sides, and the kadhai of hot oil on the stove. She never formally taught me to cook, but everything I know about it -- at least about indian cooking -- comes from watching her. And yet, I find myself thinking of her fundamentally as a stranger when I actually think about why she approaches cooking like this.

 I like cooking best when I have someone to talk to, and it shows in the absent-minded way I work; more often than not, I will be listening to and looking at my friend while throwing in the spices, or speaking and gesturing with the ladle as I wait for the oil to warm up. I have the habit of talking from my mother; she would call me to talk to her about school and gardening and what I was reading, as she peeled and chopped vegetables, and I would wind up sifting through the rice or the daals for insects and stones, or shelling the peas and surreptitiously eating the smallest, sweetest ones. But when it came to the important part of any indian dish, the chhaunk, when you roast the spices and tomatoes together, she'd be single-minded in her concentration, ignoring my chatter, or telling me to go away from the fire.  I'd look at her carefully watching the bubbles of oil in the kadhai for the exact moment to start putting in spices.  They would be on the counter next to her left hand, ranged in their jam bottles, the lids already off and out of the way. Everything would happen very quickly -- the cumin seeds would go in first, and start sizzling, a sound that counterpointed the dangerous red of the chilli powder and bright yellow of the turmeric that were put in next. When I cook, I tend to wait too long and have to rush to get all the spices into the pan before they start burning and sticking to the bottom, but she never hurries and never pauses. Grey-green coriander powder, beige mango powder, dark brown garam masala, they all get scattered in evenly, never sticking or charring, and the sound calms, becomes quieter, and more purposeful. By the time the tomatoes finally go in, it's like the expected crescendo of a song, and the whoosh and steam of the wet juices doesn't seem out of place -- or scatter droplets of hot oil over every surface.

 After that, it's just a question of patience: waiting for the tomatoes to cook down, and then adding the potatoes, and after a bit, the peas, and water to all simmer together till done. And finally, the salt, something that both she and I always leave until the last, no matter what we're cooking. Neither of us likes to hover over the food while it's cooking, apart from to stir it occassionally. She says that the best way to keep a working kitchen is to clean up as you go along, so this time is for capping the spice bottles, and putting them away, rinsing out the bowls and knifes, (all the peelings have already been thrown away), and preparing for the next thing -- the second vegetable for the meal, the raita, laying the table, wiping the counter tops... All of these were things I could help with, when I was young, like I could help with cleaning the rice. The all-important alchemy was in the spices and oil and that part was my mother's domain; her lab bench, her boardroom, her proving ground.  I never actually cooked anything until I moved away for college. She aims to reconcile everything together, and does it beautifully, with the effortlessness of long practice. I don't quite know what I am aiming for, as I follow the same steps, but it's not homogeneity.  

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Calloo, callay [09 Feb 2007|07:21pm]
[ mood | ecstatic ]

I have running water!

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How all the internets do conspire against me [08 Feb 2007|07:19pm]
[ mood | silly ]

People with hotmail accounts! Can you access yours? Do you have a full complement of emails? I cannot get into mine four tries out of five, and when I do, it refuses to show me emails that were there yesterday and that I haven't deleted. Is it just me?

After tiring of fickle hotmail's inconstancies, I flitted off to peruse other things. I had a deliciously snarky thing to say in ongoing online banter, and spent some time polishing up the HTML and looking up my quotes, only to be told, "Your browser sent a request that this server could not understand" and then shunned by the browser for the rest of the day.

Also, still no water. I am sure that somehow, circuitously, this too, is the fault of the internets. I shall retire to quill pen, papyrus and squid ink in dudgeon.

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[06 Dec 2006|08:54pm]
Feel free to tick as many things as you like!
Poll #883637 Grinch poll (The Grinch is a victim of bad press. I think he's trying to stop the evil capitalist take-over of Christmas. Victim of evil capitalist bad press, say I).

Which "Christmas carol" should be buried and strewn with salt and forgotten forevermore?

Little Drummer Boy (one more ta-rum-pum-pum-pum, and...)
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Santa Baby
Frosty the Snowman
All I Want for Christmas is You
Something else I will mention in comments.

Which "Christmas tradition" should be thoroughly scrapped?

Salvation Army bell ringers
Christmas music as the default hold tune on the phone
Fake reindeer horn headbands
Women on TV in "santa-themed" lingerie
Rampant commercialism
Something else I will mention in comments.

What would make the "Christmas season" more bearable?

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Damned mob of scribbling women [15 Oct 2006|07:29pm]
[ mood | quixotic ]

I bought a book of stamps today, after a long while, and now I'm itching to write letters/postcards etc again. I love writing by hand; emails are fun to play with, but there's something wonderful about the ink flowing from the pen and the telltale compression of the space left on the paper. I love being able to change my writing: sprawling and lazy in one letter, cramped and excited and eager to get everything in, in another. I love the unintended flourishes and blots of the ink (I can't write decently with a ball-point pen); the way words trail off in the tails of the "g"s or stop short, sharp and emphatic, with the dash across the t. And probably not surprisingly, I love wiggling my way through s, and m and w and z, the pen corkscrewing and curling madly. I actually miss writing exams by hand, now that everything I write is a twenty page paper, Times New Roman font, sized at 12 pt, with one inch margins all around. Three hour sessions of boring discomfort during the A-Levels and GCSEs were at least made bearable by the fact that I'd covered page upon page with my writing, which is not neat, or pretty, or even particularly individual, but still is clearly a part of me, and anyone reading it can see where I was excited about the question, and where it didn't matter, and which questions I skipped over and came back to, cramming in the answers hurriedly, with one eye on the clock, and which ones I painstakingly mapped out, and where the answer is a single contemptuous word, and where I hesitated and crossed out things and wrote them back in. I don't think anybody would care enough to analyse an exam paper like that, but I like the process of writing; watching my thoughts come out of my hands before I'm quite aware they're in my mind, and then watching them set on the page, firming, like jelly.
So, here's the deal: you send me your address at questioncurl@gmail.com, and I'll write you a postcard in the next week or so. (This applies to people outside the US too!) You don't have to do anything in return, though if you decide to write to someone else, I'm sure they'll be pleased. And you do have to put up with my vile handwriting.

Um, I don't expect this to happen, but if I do get deluged by thousands of eager postcard gatherers, I'll write to the first ten people who email me.

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Politics and poetry [13 Oct 2006|07:26pm]
[ mood | contemplative ]

 I found this poem in an old copy of The Sun Magazine today. It's by Robert Bly, a poet who tries to use the traditional ghazal form in his English poetry, and at least in this poem, it works. But more than form, it's the actual message of the poem that caught me -- I feel as if I've been asking the same question since 2001: why does no one cry out?

Call and Answer
August 2002

Tell me why it is that we don't lift our voices these days
And cry over what is happening. Have you noticed
The plans are made for Iraq and the ice cap is melting?

I say to myself: "Go on, cry. What's the sense
Of being an adult and having no voice? Cry out!
See who will answer! This is Call and Answer!"

We will have to call especially loud to reach
Our angels, who are hard of hearing; they are hiding
In the jugs of silence filled during our wars.

Have we agreed to so many wars that we can't
Escape from silence? If we don't lift our voices, we allow
Others (who are ourselves) to rob the house.

How come we listened to the great criers -- Neruda,
Akhmatova, Thoreau, Frederick Douglass -- and now
We're silent as sparrows in the little bushes?

Some masters say our life lasts only seven days.
Where are we in the week? Is it Thursday yet?
Hurry, cry now! Soon Sunday night will come.

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Post-Papaya Ponderings [13 Oct 2006|02:32am]
[ mood | silly ]

 So, inspired by Rachana, I've been thinking about food and meals and particularly, breakfast. I don't eat breakfast regularly, but oddly enough, it's one of my favourite meals. The thing is, my Platonic Ideal of breakfast involves a ripe papaya, a fork and a good book. The last two years or so in Delhi, I would have chopped up papaya cubes for breakfast every day and then go to school, and I still think it's an elegant breakfast, the way maths formulae are elegant: quick to prepare and eat, tasty, not messy, sweet without being overwhelming, and just enough food to last till elevenses. 

 This is the problem: neither American breakfast food, nor American schedules allow me the luxury of elevenses, or any other non-official meals. In India, there were a variety of tiny meals: Fruit/toast at about 7:30 am, a biscuit or more fruit at 10:30, tiffin (a small sandwich or a samosa) at 12:30, home for a proper lunch (rice and daal or pulao followed by fruit) by 3,  another handful of nuts of biscuits at 6, a large lingering dinner (chappatis, daal, two vegetables, yoghurt, fruit) at 9, and so to bed. Since I've been here breakfast is most often nothing, given that my options at Knox were 1) something very sweet and rich, like pancakes/ice cream/cereal/hashbrowns  or 2) bad cardboarish fruit. In Chicago, there are days when a bowl of oatmeal and dry fruit and honey is absolutely necessary for warmth in cold winter mornings, but it's still a pain in the neck to make and eat, and never quite fills me up in the right way.

 Yes, I know. There is nothing whatsoever in the world that prevents me from eating a variety of other good, tasty, filling, quick things for breakfast. Toast and honey. Granola/cereal. Fruit and yoghurt parfaits. Milkshakes. Uttapam. Grits. Pita and hummus. Pancakes. Freshly baked bread. Apple slices wrapped in cheddar cheese. Eggs, in a multitude of sinful ways. The list goes on. I like all those things, and will happily cook them or buy them and eat them, sometimes even for breakfast, but I still can't make them into my breakfast of choice. None of them work exactly properly for me. I'm picky, and papayas apparently took over my soul during my formative years. 

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[04 Sep 2006|07:22am]
Poll #813692 Summer's Life Hath All Too Short a Lease...


I'm meeeeeelttting!
The sun! It burns!
It's not the heat, it's the humidity
I want an underground dungeon. Carved into an iceberg.
Something else?

Summer drinks you manufacture yourself (ie: no frozen cans, powders, syrups, etc):

Rice/Almond/Soy Milk
Shakes and smoothies
Fruit Juices
Hard Liquor
The Blood of your Enemies
Something else I haven't thought of?

Summer sounds you won't wax nostalgic about?

Lawn mowers
Cats in heat
Ice cream van
thunderous rain
muttering clouds
traffic horns
the World Cup song
something else that you can't wait to forget?

Smells from this specific summer

newly mown grass
bread baking smell
fresh rain
baking asphalt
rotting trash
dusty roads
a crowded bus/train
stagnant water
an open kitchen door
coconut oil
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Recent Events [07 Jul 2006|03:35pm]
[ mood | okay ]

My roommate had gone out of town on the 1st, for the Fourth of July long weekend, and I was alone at home for a while. On Saturday night, there was a prowler outside the house at something like 3 am. I lay in bed, rigidly, listening to him walk around the house and pause at each window, wondering if I was imagining things. When he got to my side of the house, and I could see the light of his torch off to the side, I grabbed the phone and hid in the bathroom and called 911. The operator sounded highly skeptical.

Her: So why do you want the police?
Me: There is someone outside my window! He's been walking around the house, stopping at each window!
Her (bored): Is it a male or female.
Me: Male. I heard him clear his throat.
Her: So you haven't actually seen this person?
Me: No! And I'm not going to go closer to the window to get a look!
Her: Ok, fine, I'm sending a car.

When the police came they said they'd found a guy loitering in the area and could I identify him? No, not from just hearing his footsteps and throat clearing! Then they asked me other questions accusingly: Was I alone? Did I actually live alone!? Eventually, they carted him off and gave him a warning, and let him go, and I gibbered for a bit and then called greenblackevil (who was the person most likely to be still awake that I knew in Chicago) and gibbered at him over the phone until it got light enough to fall asleep again.

A couple of days late, I got mugged. I've been tutoring people for the GRE on the side, and I usually go to their neighbourhood and we meet in a Starbucks or something. Anyway, I did that on Monday morning and the girl paid me, and I had an envelope full of money from these tutoring sessions that I was going to deposit in the bank on the way back. So I was walking along, heading for the El station, when a random black guy stepped out of an alleyway in front of me and said "Give me your bag." I was this close to just ignoring him and walking past, when I saw that he actually had a gun. So, of course I handed him my bag, and hoped that somebody would happen along soon (this is actually a really safe uptown neighbourhood, right near Andersonville, and it was about 11:30 am!) He sort of ripped open the bag, and the first thing that came out was the unsealed envelope with all the $20s in it, and he didn't even bother to search any further for wallet or cell phone etc -- just grabbed the envelope, tossed the bag aside, and ran. Which is very good because my keys are attached to the wallet and I'd have had the devil of a time getting back into my house with my roommate gone and me obsessively locking every window.... Anyway, I called the police, again, and gave them a description and they were very professional and reassuring, and basically said to not expect to see the money again, though if they ever catch him, they might want me to identify him, and then I went home and gibbered again on the phone various people. I also refused to be alone at night until V, my roommate, returned. And now V is back, and I am going to spend the weekend in Galesburg with friends, to recuperate from the highly focused crime wave that seems to be following me around.

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Drama! [29 Jun 2006|09:10pm]
[ mood | contemplative ]

On the bus today, the driver asked a woman to fold her stroller, so that other people could move through the aisles. She grumbled a bit, but folded it anyway. A couple of minutes later, she unfolded it and put her baby back in. The driver growled at her, and she said "I'm getting out."  So he pulled up to the stop and opened the doors and waited. The woman continued to slowly wipe off her son's hands with an antiseptic baby wipes. The light changed from green to red. Everybody who'd got on to the bus edged past the stroller and wedged themselves in wherever they could find place. The driver kept the doors wide open. People began shifting impatiently, and glancing at teh empty doors. The woman showed no sign of noticing, as concentratedly absorbed in her baby's hands as a cat. The light changed again to green.  Finally the driver said "Here's your stop!" The woman looked up, slowly, and said, with a faint smug smile, "Naw, mine's at Lake." There was a moment of dead silence, as we realised that this was evidently a contest, and the woman appeared to have just won. She turned back to her child, with the smug look still on her face, and someone in the back tittered unwisely. You could see the exact moment at which the driver decided that he wasn't going to give in.  He didn't say or do anything, just looked at the doors, still wide open. The light changed from green to red. Gradually all the conversations died down, and soon everybody's attention was concentrated on the state of the bus. Some people hadn't been following the little battle up in front, and they squinted up to see the traffic lights, saw that they were red, shook their heads, and turned back. Others, who had, stared at the driver, who looked stoically out of his window, and then at the woman, who was now rummaging unconcernedly in her purse.  The lights turned green.  Cars began roaring by, and now there was a definite air of impatience in the bus.  Another woman, also with children, though no strollers, asked loudly from the back. "what's up?" The driver shouted back that he was waiting for a passenger to get off the bus. People turned and glared at the woman, who said again, "Lake's my stop" with all the implacable air of someone stating a fact. The driver said he wasn't moving till the stroller was out of the bus. The woman gave a lazy shrug and said into her cellphone,  "I got aaaaallll day."  There was another moment of dead silence that burst in a babble of indignant yells and frustrated sighs: "Well, I don't!" "Hey!" "Come on!" "You're kidding!"  and half the bus began talking loudly in Spanish and English, explaining the situation all over again to each other.  We waited through another change of lights, but the driver was hunched down in his seat, clearly refusing to budge, while the woman was now announcing loudly that she was on the CTA's complaint line. Another bus pulled up to the stop and we began to reluctantly get off this bus, people slowly shuffling around the stroller, grumbling all the way, and climbing back  on to the other bus. When the lights changed to green again and we finally pulled out of the stop, the first bus was empty, except for the driver, still hunched in his seat; the woman, bolt upright, talking into her phone but clearly aiming her words at the driver; and the baby in his stroller, peacefully blowing spit bubbles.

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Random recurring thoughts today: [28 Jun 2006|04:35pm]
[ mood | cheerful ]

1. "I should get up/go out of the house/get some work done....maybe after a couple of minutes."

2. "I want to eat blueberries.... there are none in the fridge. Maybe they will magically appear if I open the door an hour later"

3. " Why is there an ominous black shadow behind my curtains/under my sofa/on top of the aquarium!? Burglars! Dementors! Demons with glowing green eyes! Oh, it's the cat." She hides when there is thunder in the air.

4.  "Mmm,  I <3 fountain pens."

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