Travelogues- Italy and its Food

Priorities and objectives- the essence of every travel plan. During the many trips I took with my family, the patriarchs around us would insist on seeing every sight there was to see because of a question they perceived from their social circle, “You went all the way to abc and didn’t see xyz, such a shame?”. It was another thing that by the time we were done, we were tired enough to want another vacation. The sum total of these experiences made me a solo traveller. While my leisure trips have been few and far between, whenever I did travel on business, I spent little or no time sightseeing preferring instead to rest and try the local cuisines.

So as a Europe trip came to be planned for a conference, I was certain that I wouldn’t deviate from my usual approach to travel. Instead I remembered a show I used to watch from my childhood on Discover channel. This show focused on children in various countries as they practice for a dance they would perform at a local festival. Another show focused on the food habits of people around the world, told through the eyes of a child in a local family. I wanted that experience and I would either travel for that or not travel at all.

See I am not judging the ones who do go to the local tourist spots. Furthermore, I am not undermining the beauty or the significance of the local tourist spots. But the pragmatist in me doesn’t see value in standing in a long cue for a long time and being able to see the place thereafter when my ankles and feet are about to give away.  Travel to me is stepping out of my comfort zone, trying the local food, meeting the local people and getting to see the place that is not designed, molded and tailored to meet the stereotypical expectations of foreign tourists.

Italy was an absolutely stunning experience that way. I was lucky because my friend,  was coincidentally visiting his home town in Italy around the same time and he offered to show me around. To give you a background- this friend happens to be a member of the niche and elite community of space political scientists. While I have always known him to be exceptionally brilliant, learned and with insights of my own country that I wouldn’t know, this time I saw the Tuscan in him. Warm, friendly, hospitable, great sense of humour and exceptionally humble. If anything, meeting him and his family was perhaps the highlight in itself.

But it certainly wasn’t the last. Let me begin with the food. The pizza and the pastas were of course lovely and authentic- very different from the Italian food in India. But more importantly, I discovered that Italians like Indians don’t see food as just means of sustenance. Community and family experiences are defined around meals. Neither is to be hurried nor is it to be neglected. A typical get together there involves elaborate meals, usually spread across several courses- starting from the appetizers to pasta to the main course to the salads and the post meal liquor.  Even smaller day to day meals are prepared with much attention and dedication. The food is not just the product of an effort, but the product of emotions. The objective of a meal is not just nutrition, but camaraderie, friendships and to facilitate conversation. The Italian doesn’t just eat, she lives through her food. She doesn’t merely value her meals, but respects it. In other words- like in India, the meal is a social catalyst and a community bond.

Nothing demonstrated it better than the very first dinner of pasta, salad and dessert my friend, his partner and their 4 year old son hosted for us. Rich with flavours, yet mild on heat, the pasta was made with herbs whose names I regrettably don’t remember and cooked firmly yet delicate enough to melt in one’s mouth. Each and every morsel of that pasta left an experience to the senses- the appearance of the white pasta with the green herbs, the feel of how firm and how resolute it was, the fragrance it emitted and at least (but certainly not the very least), the unbelievable flavour it released with every bite I took. The salad, the dessert and the finger food in the meal were no doubt just as thrilling if not more. But after that meal of pasta, I think I will cry every time I taste the local pasta in India.

Italian breakfast options are many. But I can stereotype and perhaps classify them into principal categories- sweet and savory.   Having a little bit of a sweet tooth for breakfast, I went with the former category. Most of what I tried involved a pastry with cream filling. Either the cream filling had vanilla or chocolate flavouring. But what stood out was just how moist the cream was and just how delicate its pastry covering was. Like steel through butter, each bite was easy considering how delicate the pastry was. But make no mistake, each bite was rewarding with a sensual delight. I felt different emotions after each bite, ending with profound sorrow at having finished what I had set out to experience. As I reflect on those breakfast meals, I have only one sentence to say, “I have truly lived my life”.

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The beverage accompaniments were no doubt fantastic. But to me the discovery was Prosecco. Italy’s answer to Champagne, Prosecco packs flavour and finesse to give character to the overall food experience. I don’t drink to get high. But be it with beer or scotch, its the overall feeling of my nerves freeing up that I enjoy with the single pint of beer or a small helping of scotch. However, with Prosecco, the emotion I felt was celebration. One falls in love with the world with every sip of it.

But behind every delightful meal, there are delightful people. Nothing represented this better than Tuscanny. As we met the friends and family of my friend here, we realised that the many wonderful experiences that the meals inspire are in turn inspired by  the goodness, warmth and hospitality of the people behind it. Like in India, my friend was reprimanded by his friends for not taking me to their farm or to the place they liked. Mention something that you liked and they would gift you that right away. While I felt crippled and even guilty for being unable to speak their language, the Tuscans welcomed me into their lives and treated me as their own.

I can go on and on about Tuscanny, its people and their food. But neither do I have the words to convey my gratitude nor do my readers have the patience to wait through such long posts. So let me simply just conclude by saying this- Ti Amo Italy 🙂

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Does time run out?

6 years- the time between my paternal grandfather being operated on and my maternal grandfather being operated on. If anything embodies time, then it is the experiences around these two grandfathers.

 

Back in 2011, just before my paternal grandfather passed away, he was operated on for a blood clot in his brain. In the days that followed, we vetoed the idea of an attendant and between my father, my brother, my uncle and I- we took turns being his attendant while my mother and my aunt ensured his timely meals and nutrition. All in all family effort. At 68 kilos then, I lifted by substantially heavier grandfather and did so with ease and effort. When he passed away- I was distraught with grief, being my first experience around bereavement.

 

But 6 years later, as my maternal grandfather recovers from a hip replacement, I, along with my family, had to ensure the services of an attendant as my parents are old themselves and my back suffers from a spinal disc herniation. My maternal grandfather himself represents the inevitable authority of time. As a person he is disciplined without compromise. Gets up at 4 am, goes on his walks in the morning and evening, consumes healthy food and does not suffer from diabetes or blood pressure- the two inevitable characteristics of Indians. As far as I recollect, he never compromised on his television shows or access to newspapers, no matter who had to make the sacrifices for his benefit.  He ruled his business and his home with authority, honour and while biased, he did his best trying to keep it together for his children. Yet time has caught up to him. He is frail and needs assistance to walk.

 

With these experiences, I have realised what a gift my parents have ensured for me. By ensuring their independence and my basic necessities, I now have the time to reflect on time. Time will run out, but I have the luxury of a choice. Either I can be conscious of its slow passing or live in a way where my time runs out before I know when or how.

 

You can see what the other writers of the LBC have to say in their respective blogs.  MariaPravin and Shackman, Ramana

 

Dear LBC writers, apologies for the delayed posting. I was caught up travelling for a conference and later for a small two day holiday to Italy and between cliff diving and gorging on pasta, couldn’t find the “time” to post.

 

Sunrise or sunset

Yameen Rasheed, a name that hardly rings a bell. But not too long back, the news reported that a dynamic blogger, activist and Maldives popular satirist happened to be found murdered on the 23rd of April, 2017. He was 29 years of age.

 

His brand of satire breathed optimism and humour in a struggle that is anything but funny. In the fight between Saudi sponsored radical ideology and scientific rationalism and human rights, Rasheed, though principled, used satire to keep things lively but focused. Take for example this post from the month of November,

Court to begin trial on MDP leadership election

Alhan Fahmy wants the court to force MDP to hold an election and choose a new President and VP – asserting that the terms of President Nasheed and party deputy leader Mohamed Shifaz are over.

Now, I honestly don’t know if there’s any merit to Alhan’s case. I’m way more fascinated with Alhan’s strange sense of entitlement to the party’s top position. Why would you want to be the leader of a party where, clearly, nobody likes you?

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Just think about it. Alhan once held a public rally, and literally six people showed up. I have had more people show up to my birthday party – and I didn’t even invite anyone! (Also there was no party. And it wasn’t even my birthday)

The last election he contested, he barely managed a double digit vote count in a seat he had previously represented.

And instead of humbly accepting this public drubbing and trying to rebuild his base, he instead goes: ‘Fuck this shit – I’m going to aim for the party’s very top position’

That’s not how it works, Alhan. That’s not how anything works.”

While clearly taking a dig at a leader who lacked popular mandate, the self depreciating humour around the birthday party that wasn’t, was such a breath of fresh air. I will miss his writing incredibly.

 

You might be wondering, what is Yameen to me? After all, bloggers are under threats across the world, Bangladesh and Maldives being closer to home. Truthfully speaking, I had no idea who Yameen was until I met a friend of mine in Singapore who was from the same institution where I completed 12th grade. She was Yameens classmate and introduced his work to me during our conversations when we met.

You see, Yameen was her classmate and a senior of mine in the very same institution where I completed my 11th and 12th grade. One of my greatest regrets will remain that I knew him only by his blog, the daily panic, than in person even though he was just a few classrooms ahead of me and despite having friends in common.

In such a short span of time in his life, Rasheed made a name for himself through courage, exemplary integrity and resolve to a cause that could not be shaken, even as the ruling government threatened to “use the truncheon in lieu of conversation”. An extraordinary life full of accomplishment, in his death, he has left a role model almost impossible to emulate.

Everything that begins must end and that is the rule of nature- but when a man like Yameen Rasheed rises, his light burns so bright that when it dies out, it leaves a void. To the men and women who plotted and executed his murder, Rasheed will remain alive for a long time to come because through his words, he has transcended the limitations of time.

May his satire reign supreme and may the spirit he represented burn brightly in every Maldivian out there!

You can see what the other writers of the LBC have to say in their respective blogs.  MariaPravin and Shackman, Ramana

How to argue…. or not to argue like sunshine

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I know I promised a blog about nothing. I intend to honour. This post is about me and therefore about nothing.

Call it a bad habit, but sometimes I can’t help this compulsive behavior on my part. Rest assured though, I fully intend to seek professional help for this compulsive need to express my knowledge and experience through the medium of writing. Without further due, allow me to get to the point.

So, I made the mistake of expressing an opinion about a serious issue, death penalty for rapists. While previously, I would torment only my friends on facebook with such useless thoughts, lately I have felt the need to provoke the larger world out there by making such posts public.

One particularly kind lady countered my anti death penalty stand by suggesting that leaving rapists alive would contribute to them victimising more women. So my bad habit kicked in and I cited the experience of the FBI whose study of serial sex offenders fine tuned investigation and prosecution tools improving the speed and efficiency of apprehending suspects and convicting them.

Now I consider myself a good debater, being a lawyer and all. But this time, I confess, I got owned. The said kind lady responded to my citations and arguments with a single line that literally “trumped” (pun intended) my point, “Don’t talk political bullshit to me sunshine”. As I crawled into my ego’s metaphorical bed to lick my mental wounds and cry like a child, I was consumed by the singular need to talk about my background and experience in assisting law enforcement with investigation and prosecution of sexual offences. But then it hit me, I am a speck of dust in the kind lady’s… actually in anybody’s world. Of what use or worth am I or my supposed wisdom?

So I did what any sane self respecting individual would do under the circumstance, I simply acknowledged her excellent come back, thanked her for helping me remember maternal love by calling me “sunshine” and picked up the number of my therapist who I intend to call to help me with my compulsive need to write about stuff like the death penalty.

Its a different world ladies and gentleman and to not reason is to survive 🙂

10th and 12th exam results- To the other guys!

South Indian parents remember God the most during summer break every year, which is when the infamous 10th grade and 12th grade results are announced. Every time I came close to complaining about the stress of 10th and 12 grade exams for children, people wasted no time telling me that no matter how profound the child’s anxiety was, it was nothing compared to that anxiety which parents feel when it comes to their children’s exam results. Well I guess this argument is not without merits.

Between Rao uncle’s daughter who won the 100% attendance award (poor thing spent her childhood trying to earn validation for herself, ever since she disappointed her parents by being born a girl) and Anu aunty’s son who cried for two entire days because he lost a whole of half a mark in his math final exams (With a 99.5 instead of 100, the gap between the second rank holder and him decreased by an abominable and shameful 0.5 marks), I can understand why parents feel competitive. It is not our success or failure, it is the success or failure of their genes. I now concede that when the ladla aka project child prodigy fails to make it to IIT-Kharagpur, or makes it to IIT-Kharagpur only for computer science instead of Electronics and Communications, the parent’s are clearly to blame, for the following reasons,

  1. Failure to eat the right kind of brain food before conceiving. Dal cannot be a substitute for fish, vegetarian values notwithstanding.
  2. Failure to consult the astrologer as to the best time to attempt procreation. Not only did the child turn out to be a daughter, but she chose fine arts, all because of the astrologer not supervising and recommending the right time to have intercourse.
  3. Location, location, location- if only the venue for the amorous encounter was the study room instead of the bedroom, the soon thereafter beta would not be sleeping all the time and would actually be studying, for purposes other than curing insomnia.
  4. Failure to cross breed. When horses from different pedigree and regions have sex- the resulting progeny is smarter and faster. But when daughters are routinely married off to maternal uncles over generations and cousins marry each other as well, the results are often disappointing. Generations of intra familial marriages due to our ancestor’s poor socio-economic vision have compromised the quality of the parents’s genes and therefore by definition, that of the children as well.

The above list is no doubt illustrative only and not exhaustive. But truly, when a child scores well or does not score well, it is the parents to blame.

So to all the children who have the privilege of having just one college option instead of many, the ones who provide the meaning to the term “plausible deniability” in the parent’s dictionary, the ones who made the mistake of being happy, to the ones who are offered the sympathetic and almost comically insincere “don’t worry, its the ones who don’t score that do well in life” and to the one who set out to become a child prodigy but became a prodigal son instead- remember its not your fault, its your parents’.

So don’t kill yourself and certainly don’t despair. Instead do as any responsible adult would, blame it on some one else. Motivate your parents to see their failures and their poor upbringing. Remind them that sending you to the neighbouring Prema aunty’s tuitions instead of buying the subscription for the IIT alumini driven online tutoring led to the debacle.

Help them realise the error of their ways- Did your mother check your father’s report card before agreeing to marry him? Because if she had shown that concern and diligence, the father’s lack of aptitude in mathematics would have been a deal breaker. Did your father not realise that your mother holds only a Bachelor of Arts and not a Bachelor of Science? If he had thought about his marriage logically instead of being enamored by your mother’s good looks and virtues, today you wouldn’t have invited the shame of scoring well in social studies but losing your shit in science.

Your 90% versus the neighbouring kid’s 98%, would not have happened if not for parental incompetence. And if you think that your options have become limited, that you will command less dowry during your wedding and will probably have to settle for becoming a lawyer instead of a B.E., MBA stud that you thought you would become- you are probably right.

But honestly, life is not so bad on this side of the achievement spectrum. If not anything else, you get to write a blog and address children facing their 10th and 12th exams. Its not a bad place to be…… No really its not. What? I mean it. Really…………………

This will go on until I convince myself. Excuse me.

History, the rascal

 

Allow me to begin my expressing how good it feels to write for the LBC again. I found that with my character and virtue being loose and all, my perspectives would be relevant to the loose blogger’s consortium, whose members are, unlike myself, virtuous enough to invite me into the fold.

 

History and me, until recently had a nice and intimate relationship. What I lacked in math and chemistry, I made it up with a flair for history. Its of course another thing, that more than my bad scores in mathematics, my good scores in history was the cause of shame in my circles 😝 Never the less, during my teenage years, I spent countless hours reading articles on various historical subjects on Wikipedia. Be it stories of Shivaji or Emperor Ashoka- it kept my focus away from the culture of alcohol, drugs and cigarettes in high school and instilled values (which I now find are as impractical as they are addictive). But history has evolved now, hasn’t she.

 

History has now become a politician. You will see History making an argument that hindus must rise to fight the jihadist-marxist-communist conspiracy. You will see History making inflammatory speeches in Andhra Pradesh about how Muslims in India would be able to crush the Hindu majority in a span of hours. History has joined hands with the radical to become the drug that induces intoxication in people, distracting them from the vision for the future. Where once history refrained from taking sides, from passing judgement and from provoking people towards violence, distrust and conflict; now she is neither impartial nor dispassionate. From being a medium to document human history objectively, she has become a mischief monger.

 

So how do we remind history of its proper place in our world? Is it even possible? For that the jihadist, Marxist, the communist and the Hindu must actually sit together and conspire over a cup of tea and ensure History ceases to intervene in our present and in our vision and design for our future. If we cannot detach ourselves from the experiences of our ancestors, then we are doomed to come in our own way while we walk the path to progress. History tells me, we are not capable of such smarts. I am waiting to see us prove otherwise.

 

You can see what the other writers of the LBC have to say in their respective blogs.  MariaPravin and Shackman, Ramana

Why can’t I write anymore?

Well the answer is simple- I have nothing much to say. I happened to review my older blogs which I have closed because I was unable to bear the shame of my younger self’s thoughts and opinions. What I saw from those dark years was how deeply everything affected me. From the Lokpal movement to developments in my personal life- I remain surprised at how naïve and how easily affected I was. I had a political stand, I was sensitive and I really did, for some unknown reason, give a care.

Where I am today- my political stand reads “undecided” and my personality trait reads “exhausted”. Where once the news struck a nerve, my nerves have become numb (quite literally too, thanks to a slip disc). I sought inspiration back in the day. Now I seek funny dog videos. Where once I felt stimulated enough to emote anger and passion, these days I only find it within my means to laugh at everything that once provoked my anger and disgust.

The news itself provokes little except a shrug. Who does one trust after all? I stopped watching news for information and instead saw the jingoistic legends (the plural refers to the man, the ego and the legend popularly known as the Holy Trinity) on screen as the inheritors of Ekta Kapoor’s questionable legacy involving mothers in law and daughters in law learning to empathise with each other through the seven or eight seasons of sheer agony. I find myself happier and contented ever since I withdrew from that nation which constantly “wanted to know”. I thought I will instead focus on myself. Who am I?

After much Jedi Training, I have begun to discover answers. For one- the jedi training taught me balance and I learnt it well. Therefore I decided to put these new skills to good use and become a professional fence sitter. But that then led to another problem. You see, while being on the right invited the ire of only the left and being on the left invited the ire of only the right, being a fence sitter has invited the ire of everybody. A simple post highlighting the goodness within both the right and the left, got a krav maga expert and a popular artist attacking me on both sides of the fence I was sitting on and my survival instinct couldn’t help but wonder if the only way out of it was to go up.

Eureka-therein I learnt my lesson. What the artists and the deadly martial artists of the world taught me is that I am an observer in a grand social experiment. Between the road rage on the roads and the ideological rage on the internet- threats get traded and words get exchanged, but very little action is taken. In this experiment, I saw democracy and all it could achieve- nothing. Therefore, my role perhaps is to be the housefly that simply buzzes around observing through its many eyes, nothing. Hence, the writers block and today, I find the cure.

This blog going forward is likely to be about nothing….. only because that has not been done before right.

If I were to become a leader

 

There is something a lot more dangerous than the politicos and the leaders shooting their mouths off on air and stages- the feeling that I can do their job better than them. Not only is that a lie, but the belief, if any, in such fiction would ultimately result in my face dripping with water from a puddle after a less than gracious fall into the ditch.

But I have the benefit of being surrounded and knowing many individuals well entrenched and very good at being politicians. I mean that as a compliment by the way… pinky swear.

These shining examples of abundant competence demonstrate certain qualities that set them apart as leaders- a) Superfluous use of the word “introspection” without a clue as to how it must be practiced, b) Absolute lack of a sense of humour- mention the word cattle class and consider yourself downgraded, c) A rather strong spine, literal and metaphorical. After all taking the right side (which could be the left or the right, but not necessarily right) requires more backbone than the nerves which flow northwards of the human body d) Loyalty- to justify the unjustifiable, d) Genuine faith in oneself and one’s intentions to do good (also known in common parlance as denial), e) Resisting the urge to poke fun at the fans and instead be grateful for their mindless following, f) Most importantly- the awareness that a spirit of inquiry unlike matters of faith must be private, confidential and at best unexpressed.

To be able to bat for Rahul Gandhi’s abilities, blame election defeats on EVMs or justify a statement that argues that evangelists, jihadists and communists bond over a common hatred for hindus (also known as the Jihadist-evangelist-communist conspiracy)- requires skill set and talent no doubt. But more importantly it requires conviction and the sincere faith in the completeness of these ideas and arguments. The difference between Donald Trump, a leader and Kellyanne Conway, a follower is that Kellyanne Conway pauses a second, takes a gulp before uttering the words “alternate” and “fact”. Au Contraire, Donald Trump is the alternate fact.

Think about it. Having to constantly watch what one can say and do. Not being able to crack cruel jokes, having to be sensitive, pretending to care all the time, not being able to flirt with a member of the opposite sex and certainly not being able to flirt with a member of the same sex. Pressure to be married. Pressure to remain unmarried. Watching what one eats, lest the origins of one’s shit inspire a political scandal worthy of imprisonment. Politicians have it tough. Heck, it is quite appropriately a dog’s life.

I digress. Am I a leader? Not too long ago- I had an interesting conversation with a facebook acquaintance who found my cynicism and sarcasm, rather dull, negative and unsurprisingly irresponsible. The insight in his statement starkly contrasted my own lackadaisical belief that I was expressing myself as an amateur writer and a substandard comedian. It provoked an existential question. Am I a role model? Should I then consider politics or leadership or responsibility?

But unlike the Idi Amins of the world- delusion was soon replaced with reason. Role models made my childhood miserable. Those snooty rank holders with 100% attendance and a pathological hatred for leisure, afternoon naps, cartoons and cricket made leave of absence at school and just the love of hobbies, seem like liabilities. The fact that they were statistically more suited for depression, suicide and existential crises was constantly cited to highlight how inappropriate my own zest for life and a happy childhood was. “At least they will be depressed in an IIT campus”, society told me.

I promised myself as a child- I would not shoulder the karma of having an innocent child be told by his/her parents and his/her teachers that his/her inadequate existence fares poorly in comparison with my own inadequate existence. Rather, I prefer the job of the black sheep. Push the standards to the ground so that everyone can rise above it. Make the leaders look good. Thats the destiny of every member of the Guard of the blacksheep.

It is the information age ladies and gentlemen. Greatness beckons, but how many will answer the call of your nature? Don’t led the turbulent waters of life toss you around. Instead, stand your ground, lead others through the currents and find the banks of greatness. Work hard to discover the faith in the human condition. But remember- to succeed, you need the other guys. The ones who sleep soundly when the turbulent waters transport them. They are the silent guardians and the watchful protectors. They are the heroes you don’t deserve, but need. They are the black sheep…