Thursday, March 28, 2013

Skywatch friday # 3 - Sky or land?????

The Swiss Alps. Though a little less flamboyant than the mighty Himalayas, it is no less a spectacle. This is the view from the top most point of  Pilatus 'Kulm' near Lucerne. 'Kulm' in Swiss German means hill.

What do you see? The sky? Or land? Or both??

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Our world Tuesday #1 - Water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink!

This picture captures a day in the life of the people, living in a remote village in the state of Orissa, India. This village is located on a thin sandbar with the brackish water lake Chilika on one side and the Bay of Bengal on the other. Though surrounded by salt water, the ground water is still sweet! The catch is that the secretion rate is painfully low. so, these people dig pits in the sandbar and wait for hours together to get a single glass of drinking water. Extremely tough lives. You can read more about my trip(trek, actually) to this place here.

Tough lives, yet big smiles!

This post is my first entry to Our world Tuesday. Lovely meme!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Weekly photo challenge #1 - Future tense

When I came to know about this interesting topic, I was instantly reminded of this particular picture. This was shot at the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage in Srilanka. Elephants wounded in war, orphaned calves, diseased elephants - you can find them all here. It is very heart-wrenching to see so many of them with severe deformities. This is probably the largest herd of captive elephants that you can see in one place. This little calf was born in captivity - doesn't she hold the promise of a better future for herself and her herd?

The glimmer of hope

The biggest herd one could possibly see anywhere in the world

Happy family

Elephants bathing in the Oya river, Kegalle, Srilanka

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Please, let there be light!

She was standing at the bus stop, waiting for her bus to arrive. As a bus neared the stop, she tried to figure out if it was her route. Alas! She could not read the number board. She had been experiencing this for a few days now. It seemed as though the world was gradually blurring right in front of her. In the next few months, she completely lost her vision. Doctors exchanged glances, raised eyebrows. Diagnosis:  ‘Retinitis Pigmentosa’. She was blindfolded for life.

When one door closes, another opens. When one sense shuts down, another sharpens. In fact, all the others do. Undeterred, she pursued her passion for music. She developed an uncanny ability to memorize long verses and passages. She exercised great sense of caution in whatever she did. She completed her formal education and landed a government job. She learnt cooking. She got married and mothered a handsome boy. The lady in question is one of those women who inspire me in every way, every day. She is someone who is very close to me and my heart. Holding her hand and guiding her has been one of the most gratifying moments of my life.

What I find terribly unfortunate is that her condition is irreparable. But there are so many others who aren’t that unfortunate; there are those who cling on to hope.  Hoping that they would get an eye for transplant. Some die after living a life of unfulfilled hope.

So where are these eyes? Where do they come from? They come from dead people, WITHIN SIX HOURS OF DEATH. They come from all kinds of people, - young, old, people who met with accidents; people who lived to die a natural death, people who had cataracts, people who had eye power etc. All these eyes are perfectly fit to be donated. But considering statistics, they don’t seem to come in great numbers. This is one area where demand grossly exceeds supply. Even those, who pledged to donate their eyes, leave the world without their last wish fulfilled, just because some relative thought eye donation is gross or someone felt too embarrassed to bring up the topic or simply, no one bothered.

Image courtesy: and google search

Charity begins at home. Change begins at home too.  Here are a few things that each one of us can do to help change the situation:

1. Bust the myths. Donating eyes does not leave scars. Nor does it disfigure the face. In fact, one cannot make out that the eyes have been donated. I've personally witnessed this in my family, so take my word.
2. Don’t hesitate to talk about it with the close relatives of the deceased. It’s okay if they think you are a bad person. It’s OKAY to be called a bad person if there is hope of someone regaining vision.
3. Store eye bank numbers in your emergency number list. If you are in India, just remember you can dial 108 and they may be able to guide you. You may be the bereaved, but do not let your emotions overcome you at the moment. Think about it – your loved one will continue to see the world through someone’s eyes.
4. Spread the word. Remember, pledging your eyes isn't a big deal. Actually donating them is. Actually calling an eye bank on time is. Talking to your friends and relatives and making them donate their loved one's eyes is.

An NGO, which has been striving for this cause is NayanaJyothi, founded by the very enterprising Mr. Jayaraman.  They have been attacking the problem at various levels, be it awareness, logistics, training and implementation etc. and have been successful to some extent. I’d like to help this organization in whatever way I can and play a small part in their strides towards a noble goal and cause.

A life lived in dreams,
In hues of black and white,
Let the colours splash,
Let there be light!

Mortal bodies as vehicles,
Immortal souls alight
Leaving behind the eyes, for
Let there be light!

Endless days of hope
And a life fraught with fright,
For all those tormented souls,
Let there be light!

Millions of lives
Struggling day and night,
For all those who deserve,
Let there be light!

Image courtesy: and google search

P.S 1: Did you know? Every pair of eyes taken from a person is used to illuminate the lives of two! Yes, eyes are so scarce that even if the receiver is fully blind in both the eyes, he gets only one eye.  (The team from the eye bank who came to take my granny's eyes told me this)

P.S 2: This post is my small contribution to the 'ISB iDiya-Indiblogger Indichange initiative'. Find more details about this here.

Malini's eye view - Indiblogger TOI bloggers meet - Bangalore

We bloggers dwell in the virtual world. We flock together. We emote together.  The only hitch is that we do not know each other. At least I do not, being a new entrant in the blogging world. Hence, when the Times of India - Indiblogger meet in Bangalore was announced, I was more than happy to grab the opportunity. This was my first chance to meet my virtual acquaintances in flesh and blood. 

This meet was not just any other blogger meet. It was a meet for a cause. A discussion on' Bangalore for Women'. While I was expecting mostly women, the number of men in the room was quite a revelation. (To be honest, I thought they'll just sign up on a whim and just not turn up. Sorry guys!) In fact, both genders were well represented. 

There was hardly any ice breaking needed, as for many, it was their second or third meet. But for me, this was the first time, so it took me a while to get used to the environs. Especially, people expect you to introduce yourself by saying your name followed by your blog name! Quite amusing. Within a few minutes, I got into the groove.

The session started off with Mr. Franklin Joseph giving a lightning talk on women's safety in general. He requested women to carry off themselves with confidence rather than cower with fear.

The talk was followed by a discussion on women's issues plaguing the city. Overall, it was a very meaningful one. An intriguing thing that I observed was that a lot of people who had turned up had come to voice a specific concern. That ensured that a broad range of topics were covered. Here are a few pointers from the pre-lunch session:

1. Safety of girls with special needs. A lady blogger brought out several valid points and also mentioned how grossly under-represented they are in the special schools meant for them. 
2. Significance of knowing self-defence and exuding confidence, especially for the differently abled. 
3. Child sexual abuse - many mothers voiced their constant fear of keeping their children safe. Some also talked about safety in housing complexes.
4. Safety in public transport especially buses and autos. One lady blogger narrated how a ‘Good Samaritan’ auto-driver helped her reach home safe. 
5. Problems that the working women face in Bangalore. This section was again well represented. Problems in procuring a rented house, problems at workplace etc. all were talked about. A lady blogger narrated a shocking incident which clearly brought out the stark reality.
6. One topic that attracted a lot of opinions was the dressing sense of modern women. While a section argued that women are free to wear whatever they want, a few others opined that ladies should exercise caution when deciding on their attire. 
7. I had been there to voice a specific concern as well -  public toilets and sanitation facilities, especially for the poor and lower middle class women. I also talked about the lack of safety and sanitation facilities in upcoming construction project sites and the slums around the same.
8. Sexual assault on women. 

The post-lunch session saw three of TOI's editors sharing space with the bloggers. Mr. Narayanan Krishnaswami, one of the editors, provided his insights into the topic and explained what TOI is trying to achieve with their focus on 'Bangalore for Women'. The editors also solicited feedback and suggestions to help them make their campaign better and here are a few highlights from that brainstorming session:

1. More coverage on the root cause of the problems.
2. More workshops to educate and spread awareness among women.  
3. Setting up a helpline/Spread awareness about helplines that exist to protect women.
4. Partner with schools and help in inculcating knowledge about good touch/bad touch in children. 
5. Tying up with other forms of media such as TV and radio to spread awareness among the different sections of the society.

In a nutshell, it was an afternoon well spent. However, I couldn't help but think how far-fetched the practical solutions seemed. All problems and potential solutions discussed revolved around a fulcrum - a fundamental change in the way the society treats women. But 'society' is something that even we are a part of, right? So, I strongly believe that kind of a change must start at home. Every home, which includes ours too.

Teach our boys to respect girls.
Teach our girls to distinguish between good and bad touch. 
Apply presence of mind in difficult situations. 
Never hesitate to help a woman in difficulty.
If the maid's daughter stopped going to the school just because she attained puberty, try talking to the mother. 
If someone abused/bad mouthed the girl in the bus, just don't be a mute spectator, but do the bare minimum, at least give a cold stare.
Refrain from passing judgemental comments just because a girl wears western clothes.
Blog and spread awareness!

Those are a few things that we can change about ourselves. We may not necessarily be able to bring about a tangible change in the society, but a small effort in that direction will certainly go a long way.

Camera critters #2 - The imprisoned bird

Hey! You there? Set me free.....Would you? Please......

Location : Lady Hydari Park, Shillong.

This is my second entry to the very popular camera critters meme.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Skywatch Friday #2 - Cloudy twilight in Zurich

This is one of of my favourite pictures. A picture of the Zurich clock face and the river Limmat on one rainy evening. Doesn't this picture ooze beauty?

P.S: Did you read the time on the clock? It's 8:45 PM and it's still twilight! It was one of those peak summer days!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thursday Challenge #1 - GREEN!

Really glad to take part in this week's Thursday challenge meme. Theme of the week: GREEN!

These pictures were shot during my visit to Shimoga district in the state of Karnataka, India. Shimoga looks heavenly and the greenest of green during monsoons. This place is also home to the highest waterfall in India - The mighty 'Jog'.

Can it get any greener than this???

GREEN paddy fields

The lone tree amidst the misty green fields

Happy plants soaked in the shower

Monday, March 18, 2013

Camera critters - Photo entry #1

My little labrador's first long drive. And guess what, he met some one en route.  He seemed to be interested, but the other one didn't bother at all! Poor puppy!
Wanna smooch?

That's little Toffee with his first squeaky toy. He loved it to such an extent that he chewed up the whole thing, bit by bit though!

His first toy

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Grooving to 'Amma wake me up' in Shivaranjani raaga!

"Amma wake me up kaalaila nine o’ clock shopping poganum lip gloss vaanga...."


I happened to hear this tamil song from the album ‘Vathikuchi’ for the first time today. More than the rib tickling lyrics and the super stylish voice, what attracted me was the quirky tune. This song, set to tune in the rather melancholic raga Shivaranjani, is anything but melancholic. It is groovy, peppy and makes one shake a leg instantly. Such an intelligent usage of the pentatonic raga has been made by none other than Ghibran, the newbie composer who shot to fame with his ‘Sara Sara Saara Kaathu’. If we consider the other popular songs based on this raga, it is not surprising that most of them are slow melodies. Here are a few that come to my mind:

  • Oru jeevan dhaan un paadaldhaan – Naan Adimai Illai
  • Tere mere beech mein – Ek Duje Ke Liye
  • Ponmaane Kobam Yeno – Oru Kaidhiyin Diary
  • Dil Ke Jarokhe mein tujhko bithaakar - Brahmachari

I haven’t heard the other songs of the album but I feel this young music director is someone who holds a lot of promise.  A guy to watch out for!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

பிஞ்சு மனசு

பஞ்சு முட்டாய் வேணாம்ஒரு
பென்சில் லப்பர் போதும்
பர்பி காசு வேணாம்ரண்டு
பாட நோட்டு போதும்

சினிமா கொட்டாய் வேணாம்ஒரு
சிலேட்டு கொண்டா போதும்
சின்னதா அதில் கிறுக்க ரெண்டு
பலபம் கொண்டா போதும்

லட்டு திங்க வேணாம் லாலி
பாப்பும் கூட வேணாம்
லொங்கு லொங்குனு இஸ்கூல் போயி
படிச்சு வந்தா போதும்

தம்பி சுமக்க வேணாம்என்
பைய சுமந்தா போதும்
பாப்பா பாக்க வேணாம்என்
பள்ளிய பாத்தா போதும்

மேச சேரு வேணாம்
மண்ணு தரையிருந்தா போதும்
குண்டு பல்பு வேணாம்
குட்டி விளக்கிருந்தா போதும்

மச்சு வீட்டு புள்ளய போல
பச்ச சொக்கா வேணாம்
அது படிக்கும் பெரிய இஸ்கூலில்
ஒரு இடம் கிடைச்சா போதும்……

இதை நான் எழுதக் காரணமாய் அமைந்தது, இன்றைய ஹிந்துவில் வெளிவந்த  RTE தொடர்பான இந்தக் கட்டுரைதான். நம் தலையெழுத்து அவ்வளவுதான் என்று பெற்றோர் நொந்து கொண்டாலும், பெரிய பள்ளியில் படிக்கப் போவதாகக் கற்பனை கோட்டை கட்டி வைத்திருக்கும் அந்த எண்ணற்ற பிஞ்சு மனங்களின் ஏமாற்றத்திற்கு யார் பதில் சொல்வது?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Sky watch Friday - My little cloud with a silver lining

I stumbled upon Skywatch Friday, thanks to travel blogger Mridula. Who doesn't love watching the sky change hues! Here is one of my pictures.

Location : Shillong, Meghalaya

Every cloud has a silver lining. A rain cloud is no exception.

The wait for love....

This post has been mentioned in the 'Tangy Tuesday Picks'  section - March 19, 2013  by BlogAdda. Thank you! Being a newbie, this means a lot to me.

All set. She'll be here today. My home will be her home. I had identified and earmarked her living space.   It would be her very own cosy corner, where she would grow and blossom and radiate waves of joy and happiness. Her breath of life would purify my soul and air. Waiting for her to be here. Waiting for her to come home and fill my heart’s crevices with bliss.


She’s here. Finally. I had brought her home all by myself. Though I’m pleased, innumerable questions swarm my mind. Will she like it here? Will she belong here? Will she be happy growing up here? Pensive and apprehensive, I approach her. I fondly caress her delicate parts with motherly love and she seems to respond! As her tiny, frail feet touch the earth, I observe her. She looks content. She seems to be enjoying the chillness of the ground beneath her.   Her calm demeanour soothes me. All is well. All she needs now is ample care and love.  Beautiful, bright and sunny days lie ahead.


This wait makes me tense. The wait for reciprocation of love. May be it sounds unfair, but for all the care that I showered on her, expecting  some warmth in return is certainly not asking for too much, is it? All that I yearn for is a single smile. I wait for that first smile. The smile that would pilfer my heart.  Is she giving it today? Doesn’t seem like it. May be tomorrow? Fingers crossed.


It is still early in the morning.  I slowly sneak up to her.  As the first rays of the juvenile sun kiss her reddish face, I behold that wonderful sight. Her first smile. A gush of ecstasy spreads in me as I take her in my hands. Yes, as I cup the beautiful blood red rose flower in full bloom with my palms, I realize that my hands are trembling. She has given back love! Why wouldn’t she -   after all, isn’t she the embodiment of love?


P.S: This is born from my love for rose plants. More than anything else, they make me nostalgic. I generally love watching plants grow and especially when it comes to roses, the first bloom totally enthrals me.  At one point in time, I had over 15 rose plants in my garden though I have only a couple of them now in my small balcony. I potted a couple more today and that’s what inspired this post. 

Now, go back to the third paragraph and read the first line. That’s exactly how I feel now!!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The billion dollar Pulao – Biriyani – Fried Rice confusion!

The other day, I had been to a Darshini (one of the many standby restaurants in Bangalore) where I happened to order a 'Biriyani'. As we were waiting, the boy at the counter announced “Veg rice ready”. As expected, what came to the table was a blob of yellow rice with some under-cooked beans, tomatoes and carrots. Needless to say, it was miles away from a Biriyani.

In several parts of India, especially South India, the words ‘Veg rice’, ‘Pulav’, ‘Biriyani’, ‘Tomato Rice’ and ‘Brinji’ tend to be used interchangeably. To add to the chaos, there are innumerable posts in the blogosphere that chronicle about the ‘Best Pulao ever made with left over rice’ or ‘Instant cooker biriyani’ and one cannot help but wonder what is what.

I was in such a situation a few years back. However, I wanted to get a clear idea and hence decided to do a bit of research J. Here are my research findings peppered with a bit of history:

  • Pulao is derived from the Turkish word Pilaf. It is the Indian answer to the Turkish/Persian rice challenge. Pilaf/Polow is a staple in many middle eastern and Balkan countries. The traditional recipe calls for boiling aromatic long grain rice with vegetables or occasionally, meat. The criteria for the dish to be called a Pulao is that the rice has to be fluffy, long-grained and non-sticky and the flavours mild. Hereafter, you won’t feel stupid and left out when Vicky Ratnani teaches you how to make a great Pilaf on NDTV Goodtimes!
Veg Pulao with Raita

  • Biriyani entered India with the Mughals. In fact, it is said to have been invented in their kitchens. For a rice dish to be classified as Biriyani, it has to satisfy the following criteria:    

  1. Fluffy, non-sticky long grained rice to be used.
  2. Loads of spices to be used.
  3. Generally meat based, but can be vegetarian too
  4. Most important!!!!!! – HAS TO BE COOKED ON DUM! Rice and veggies cooked separately and then layered and cooked covered in low heat to infuse the flavor into the dish. This holds especially for the non-vegetarian versions.
Veg dum Biriyani, ready to be mixed and plated

  •  Fried rice is of Chinese origin. Ha! Don’t we all know that, courtesy, the many ‘Chainese Frid rice, Gopi Manchoori stalls’ all over the place? Fresh cooked rice is too moist to be fried. Hence, the best choice of rice for this dish is left over rice or rice cooked and cooled for a couple of hours.  The second most important and often overlooked need is a hot wok/kadhai/pan.  Thirdly, the sauces play a significant role too - soya, chilli, schezwan etc.  and oh yeah, vinegar shouldn't be forgotten. Just by adding gram masala and ginger garlic paste and frying rice on a hot wok, one cannot expect to have a plate of ‘Fried rice’!
Fried rice served with stir fried Tofu
  • Tomato Rice - This is quite popular in South India, especially as a lunchbox favourite. This can be loosely equated to a Pulao having only tomatoes, onions and garlic and devoid of all other vegetables.
  • Brinji or Veg rice - These terms are used mostly in Tamilnadu. They are the 'raw rice' equivalents of Pulao, but with fewer spices. Bay leaves and fennel are the commonly used spices.

Henceforth, if you are ordering a plate of biriyani at a restaurant, you will exactly know what to look out for! What’s more, you will know how to protest when someone tries to pass off a plate of pulao for fried rice!

Watch out this space for some delectable Pulao/Biriyani recipes!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Pasta 101 for the Indian cook!

Humble yet yummy spaghetti

Pasta. We all love it, don’t we? There’s definitely something fascinating about the different shapes and sizes. Though made from the same raw material, mostly Durum wheat or whole wheat, the various shapes lend varied textures to the final dish, thereby making it extremely inviting. Not just that, the shapes cause your creative juices to ooze and overflow just like that gooey white sauce in your yummy macaroni! Cooking pasta isn’t rocket science, but requires a little bit of thought, at least initially. The cooking times differ. The sauces differ. However, once you get the basics right, the possibilities are endless. Here is a guide to those who are just getting ready to experiment.

Choosing your pasta

The Italians have spent a lifetime inventing pasta shapes and sizes, I guess. Here is an almost exhaustive list of various pasta shapes and sizes. The ones commonly available in India (Bangalore, to be precise) are Spaghetti (strings), Penne (rods), Macaroni (elbows), Fussili(spirals), Farfalle(butterfly). If you are new to cooking pasta, you can just pick up one of the cheaper 'Bambino' varieties like Macaroni or Spaghetti. Once you are confident, you can invest in the more expensive imported brands like Barilla and Agnesi. They taste more authentic and offer more options – Fettucine (this mostly contains eggs), Tagliatelle, Machcheroni, Rigatoni, Trinette, Lasagna, Gnochchi and so on. They cost anywhere between 125 and 400 rupees for a half kilo pack. While fresh pasta is made with eggs and flour, the dried ones in the store are mostly devoid of eggs. So vegetarians, don’t worry!

So which shape to use? My opinion is that the rods and tubes go well with chunky veggies while the strings and flat noodle like pasta gel well with gooey sauces.

I generally pick up my pasta from one of the following outlets:

1.     Nature’s basket, Indira Nagar
2.     Nilgiris, Brigade Road.
3.     Food World Gourmet, MG Road

Penne tossed with Zucchini and Broccoli

Cooking your pasta

Every pasta shape has its own cooking time. In most of the international brands, the cooking time is specified on the pack itself, right below the name of the pasta. In general, the thinner/shorter the pasta, the quicker it cooks.  Here is the method:

Boil water in a large pot with enough salt required for pasta. SALT HAS TO BE ADDED AT THIS STAGE. Put pasta in boiling water (and not before that as it will become soggy and sticky) and cook for 5-7 minutes until it is done. The pasta should be cooked but not soft. Drain all the water immediately and pass it through running cold water. Drain the water again and mix in some extra virgin olive oil so that each pasta is coated with oil to prevent sticking. This method applies to all varieties. Extra care should be taken with lasagne as they tend to stick to each other and tear if left unattended while boiling.

If you are cooking spaghetti, DO NOT BREAK IT. It isn’t Vermicelli.  Boil salted water in a large pot and add the spaghetti. If the spaghetti sticks out, it’s okay. In a minute or two, it will start softening and you can gradually push it inside the pot.

Making the sauce

1.     Olive is the choice of oil for pasta. In the Indian market, you can find both cooking olive oil and extra virgin olive oil. While cooking olive oil is used to sauté veggies and stir fry, the extra virgin olive oil is used for drizzling and seasoning. Never overheat olive oil as it spoils the taste and flavour. I buy Borges, Farell or Musa Olive oil from one of the above mentioned stores. Watch out for ‘Buy 1 Get 1’ offers or 5 kg super saver packs if you are serious about Italian cooking.

2.     There are many different choices of sauce for pasta, especially for meat eaters. Italians call this ‘ragu’, which is primarily made of some meat and tomatoes. However, for vegetarians, most sauces are based either on tomato+cheese or milk+cheese. Knowledge of a basic tomato sauce recipe and a basic white sauce recipe should get you going.

3.     Dropping veggies directly into the oil without any ‘tadka’ or ‘thaalippu’ may seem weird initially. But yes, that’s how it is! Please refrain from adding mustard, cumin, turmeric, asafoetida or any ginger-garlic paste. Then, you will end up having a masala desi pasta.

4.     Herbs are to Italian cooking as ‘Tadka’ is to Indian cooking. They impart loads of flavour and nutrition. You can add any of these - mint, parsley, sage,  basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano. I find that thyme and rosemary go together well as is the case of basil and oregano.

5.     Vegetables that can be used include leeks, zucchini, squash, peppers, baby corn, sweet corn, spinach, asparagus(it costs a bomb in India though), green and black olives(pickled in brine) , broccoli, cauliflower, aubergine (brinjal, the big fat purple ones). Don’t use hard vegetables like beans, carrots etc. or Indian veggies like gourds, chow-chow they don’t go that well with pasta. Leeks belong to the onion family but are milder and sweeter. Zucchini tastes more or less like cucumber with lesser water content.

6.     When pasta is done with white sauce (popularly known as the Bechamel sauce), then some recipes call for baking. In such cases the pasta has to be cooked ‘Al dente’, that is 80% cooked. The best pasta for this purpose is macaroni or any similar tube shaped pasta as it oozes sauce when you bite into it. Yumm!!

7.     Pasta is a little bland to the Indian palate. However, you CANNOT and SHOULD NOT add chilli powder and garam masala to spice it up. You can add black pepper powder or Jalapeno peppers (available in all gourmet stores, pickled in brine) for the much needed zing. I sometimes even drizzle Tabasco sauce or Mexican salsa on my Italian pasta but that’s your choice.

8.     Cheese is an important ingredient for pasta, the most popular choice being Parmesan. However, vegetarians need to know that Parmesan cheese isn’t vegetarian. It is traditionally curdled with calf rennet, which is of animal origin. Hence when you buy Parmesan, read the ingredients carefully – if it says microbial rennet, then it’s ok to buy. Most of the other cheeses in the Indian market such as Cheddar, Gouda and processed cheese are curdled with whey or lime juice so feel free to buy them.

I think enough has been said. Before you dismiss  my post as too long, let’s get cooking! Here is a recipe for a basic spaghetti in tomato basil sauce. This would serve 3-4 people.


Spaghetti - 250 gm
Fresh Basil – a few leaves, finely chopped
Cooking olive oil - 2 to 3 teaspoons
Ripe tomatoes – 5 to 6, pureed
Extra virgin olive oil – 1 to 2 tablespoons, for seasoning
Butter (or) Margarine - a dollop
1 big onion, chopped
6-7 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Salt, pepper
chopped jalapeno peppers if you want it spicier.


1. Cook pasta as per the instructions above.
2. In a pan, heat cooking olive oil + butter on medium flame. Add the finely chopped garlic and sauté for some time. Add onions and stir fry till they become translucent. Add the pureed tomatoes and bring to a boil.  Add basil, salt, pepper, jalapenos and season with extra virgin olive oil. Stir for 2 min.
3. Add the pasta and toss it till the sauce is coated on all the pasta. Sprinkle some grated cheese(parmesan/cheddar) and serve immediately.

Whole wheat spaghetti in a tomato basil sauce, served with sliced olives

Happy cooking!

Friday, March 8, 2013

One train, two perspectives

The vanity attached to doing or attempting something before others do is exhilarating. That way, I should admit I’m even a bit jealous of all those veteran bloggers who took up to blogging years ago! Coming to the point, I pride myself on being one of the early adopters of Bangalore's Metro rail system. Having ridden the metro trains in Paris, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Rome and Kolkata, I was yearning to ride one in my own city. This dream came true with the flag-off of ‘Namma metro’.  'Namma metro' became 'nanna' metro in just a few days of its launch.

Bangalore Metro trains. Courtesy: Google image search

The glossy stations, spic-n-span platforms, prim purple trains, blinking auto  turnstiles – all may seem normal to a well-travelled Bangalorean, but to the average Indian, they are still eye candy and larger than life. That also explains why the train was running full for the first few days despite the little distance covered.  A ride on the metro is still on top of the weekend to-do list for many people, including families with children.

Talking about the ride itself, it is a smooth one, no doubt. But to me, it is a ride that is thought provoking, enlightening. One may ask why. This is why. For the first time in Bangalore, we have a place where people from different rungs of the society congregate.  Men in business suits and women in stilettos, construction labourers, loud and giggly college girls, sari and flower clad ladies, families with children - all travelling side by side makes for a very interesting, uncommon sight. It evokes in me, a sense of relief. Think about it, this city is known for being extremely hostile to the urban poor and the middle class(read, the Ejipura eviction). In Bangalore, even buses have classes. The poor ride the ordinary buses and Pushpaks while the Vajras and Vayu Vajras cater to the elite crowd. The rich turn to  malls, bowling alleys, multiplexes etc. for recreation while the poor still go to cubbon park, lal bagh and museums. The urban poor's hands are tightly bonded; they are the ones bearing the brunt of the rising social inequality. Be it basic needs like conveyance, sanitation and health care to recreational activities, their options are grossly limited.  Thanks to this new mode of transport, they, for a change, have a clean place to hang out without shelling out a bomb.  After all, isn’t it cost-effective for an entire poor/middle class family to hop on an a/c train and enjoy the joyride than do anything else in this expensive city?

Well, that is just one way of looking at it.  I’m sure the college girls are complaining already. The lewd stares from men are certainly bothering them. As the network expands to include the length and breadth of Bangalore, ‘Namma metro’ is likely to build up its own repository of harassment stories.  Even the plush people from posh areas may not be very amused. The other day, there was this lady who was visibly annoyed by the little boy constantly peeking into her laptop; and there was the mother of the boy, who was occasionally comparing her hairy hands to the other woman’s waxed hands. Bangalore’s inequality packed into one shocking frame!  Yes, shell-shocked I was, but relieved by the promise the sight held. The promise of bringing the city’s elite closer to the poor. The promise of making them FEEL equal, at least in some sense.

Today, with a meagre station count of 6 covering less than 9 kilometres, the system isn’t that great or happening yet.  However, a few years down the line, I can visualize it becoming the lifeline of the city and people taking it for granted, when I would proudly proclaim, “It used to be my metro. Now it’s our metro!”

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The case of a bitter butter fruit

Yes, this post is about my tryst with an avocado, better known as butter fruit in this part of the world. Having developed a keen interest in exquisite dishes and enchanting cuisines in the past few years, I've been experimenting with 'exotic' fruits and veggies left, right and center. The latest in this list is the butter fruit. I'd rather like to call it the bitter fruit. My first experience with avocado had gone that sour, sorry, bitter.  However, after some research, I realized it wasn't the fruit's mistake after all. It's in its nature to taste bitter when raw(looks bright green), taste better when ripe(green with brown streaks) and again taste bitter when over ripe(dark green with a more pronounced brown tinge). Strange indeed! 

Very ripe avocados. Courtesy: Wikipedia

Hmm, what do I do with these now?  I hate wasting food, so I was, of course, hell- bent on using it. My Guacamole dreams might have been shattered this time and the avocado might have been unripe, but the time was ripe to invent a desi guacamole. Now take my word, this was one mast desi guacamole! Absolutely no bitter aftertaste!

Now for the brief recipe: Deseed two avocados and scoop out the white part. Blend it to a smooth paste along with a glove of garlic, a couple of shallots, a green chilli and half a cup of yoghurt. Transfer contents to a bowl and add salt n pepper to taste. Now add a pinch of chat masala, half a spoon of amchur and some fresh mint leaves. If you don't have these three ingredients, you could simply add my very own secret ingredient -  a spoon of jaljeera powder! Squeeze half a lemon into this and voila! You have your desi guacamole!

Dare to dream!

Updated on 29th March 2013:  This post has been selected as one of the top 10 entries in the International Women's day blogging contest conducted by Sulekha. Details here.


Radha was fuming. It was official. She will not be leading the new project.  Than the sense of betrayal, the unreasonable reason that her boss had quoted for not choosing her was more vexing.

“Look Radha”, he had told her earlier during the day, “You may be consistent, you may be enterprising but what I’m looking for is commitment. That’s where I think Suresh fares better.”

When Radha dared to ask him what made him think so, pat came the reply, “ You see, Suresh is unmarried and fully committed to work. But you know…you… have other commitments; I mean family…, kids…. This project has very strict deadlines. If your child falls sick and you suddenly go on leave…like how you did a year ago… hmm, hope you get the point…”. His words reeked of chauvinism.

Radha was dumbstruck.

Six years ago, this very same corporate life seemed like a bed of roses. A fantasy turned into reality.  A programming job in one of the IT majors. Not sure if that was what she wanted, but she, for sure wanted to ride the wave. A first month salary that was way higher than her father’s last drawn salary. Whether well-deserved or not was a question deserved to be asked at that point but remained unasked. As a multi-talented, intelligent and diligent person, Radha basked in her new found financial independence and expressive freedom. She almost bordered on being a workaholic. In addition to working hard, she gave vent to her creativity too, participating in office cultural events and what not.

Lives change. Hers did too. The sugar castle started crumbling, slowly but surely.  As work became more and more hectic, the changes in her personal life sheared her from her work more often than she wanted. Marriage, pregnancy, miscarriage, maternity leave etc. crossed off several days from her working calendar. Radha had to admit it – she was not really enjoying this life. When in office, her mind lurked around home and vice versa. She just remembered how long it had been since she penned down anything. It used to be her favorite pastime. “What was the last book that I read?”, she thought. She felt as if she was being whisked away into a gloomy black hole.  

“Enough is enough”, thought Radha. This was it. The incident had driven her into the retrospective mode. “What makes me stick on to this job? Do I take pride in being a technologist? Well, not really.  Creativity is my forte. Then what, money? Hmm, how do I make money and still be entitled to living a guilt-free life?”

Radha thought hard. Then it dawned on her. The power of internet seemed to be the panacea for all her woes. With the moral support of her understanding family and to her boss’ utter dismay, she succeeded in getting a 6 months long sabbatical. She weighed her strengths – she had a flair for writing, had a working knowledge of four languages, could design logos and doodles and had a leaning towards jewelry designing too! She went ahead, enrolled herself in many freelancing websites and subscribed to their feeds. She established the much needed contacts – she interacted with many writers, translators and designers on social networks and local hangouts. Her semi-orphaned blog too got a new lease of life; she started posting almost on a daily basis, all the while aggressively marketing the same.

The first 2 months were almost dry. But soon after, work and hence money started trickling in. She took up a part-time, work from home job as a social media consultant – her job was to update the company’s facebook, twitter and blog accounts. While this ensured a fixed income every month, she got ample time to hone her skills and be on the lookout for fresh work. She understood that not all her hobbies could fetch her revenues – she had to be really good at what she was doing, keep doing it consistently and most importantly, stay afloat and visible. Hence she stuck to writing and translation.  She eventually learnt which jobs required lesser time and effort yet paid more. She figured out how to spot that one interesting, well-paying piece of work from a host of other mundane jobs. She also built up a loyal clientele for her niche skill – top class regional language translation work combined with excellent writing abilities. Through her friends in the media, she landed on a regular ad-scripting contract. She definitely wasn’t making as much as her well-heeled job, but it was a glimmer of hope.


Radha has quit her full time job and established herself as a good freelance translator. Her company is very happy with her blog posts and status updates. Her monthly income is a little over half of her corporate salary, but her heart brims with contentment and a sense of accomplishment. Financial independence + Quality time with family + creative freedom. What more could a woman ask for!!!!


Courtesy: Google image search

Radha is fictitious, but has shades of me in her. Having successfully established a work-from-home career in the past 2 years after many years in the corporate world, I bet it’s a realizable dream. However, here are a few words of caution:

1.       Freelancing/working from home requires a great deal of discipline. If you love lazing around/sleeping, then this may not be your thing.
2.       You have to be critical of yourself, almost all the time. The day you feel you are the best, is your doomsday. However, be confident and exude this confidence when bidding for a new project or talking to a prospective client.
3.       There are zillions of jobs out there – be selective. Apply due diligence. Do what you think you can do best. Translation, Social media consulting, focused writing(food, travel, web, media etc.) designing (jewelry, clothes, accessories, websites, furniture, logos, pamphlets, brochures and more), tailoring, painting(for sale), dubbing etc. are some good options, especially for women.

Now, dare to dream! Dare to quit!

(This is my entry for the Sulekha blogging contest - 'Alternate careers for women')

Monday, March 4, 2013

A humble beginning....a diary note.

It started with a humble yet divine tasting choco cupcake - my love for baking. Though I've been cooking ever since I was about 9 years old (There was no Masterchef series then!) initially because of compulsion and later exultation, I've hardly ever ventured into this unfamiliar territory   - it wasn't because of trepidation or anything, but sheer ignorance. Following several futile attempts at baking ready mixes and producing burnt rocks and gooey masses, I’ve finally gotten to a point where I can produce a decent looking, fairly tasty cake. I find baking scientific and cake decoration artistic and creative.  I'm recording this post here as a diary note, to serve the purpose of motivating me to bake more, every time I visit my blog. Let’s see how far it goes!

The Aura of Athirapilly!

Being a South Indian, I’ve grown up to watching Maniratnam’s movies. Those who are wondering who he is can read up about him here.  To cut it short, he is one of India’s finest film makers. Before I digress further or you nod your head in disapproval, let me tell you this – quite a few of his romantic songs have one freaking awesome backdrop – A gorgeous river and a wet, wild waterfall.  And that was where my husband and I were headed to, that weekend.

Maniratnam's magic wand - the milky misty Athirapilly!

Athirapilly. Yay! It was almost like a dream come true. But wait…! What about the tickets? Every Friday, a major chunk of Bangalore’s population migrates to rest of India, with the keralite group forming a big part of it. If you chance upon a confirmed ticket at the last minute, it has to be called Will of Providence (or whatever you deem fit). We weren’t so blessed or lucky but we had OUR will; we found OUR way. First of all, no ticket, so no child. Yes, I had to leave my 5 year old son behind (with his grandparents, of course). Second, our way was neither via Ernakulam nor Thrissur, it was via Calicut and that too, travelling by the most uncomfortable means – last row of a rattling government bus! Strong-willed, ain’t I?

We boarded our bus to Calicut at Mysore road bus station. We were supposed to reach Calicut early the next morning, so that we could catch our connecting train to Chalakkudi. But Mr. Murphy was working overtime plotting against us; hence it so happened that our bus was delayed by over 3 hours. Add to it, the check post delays, the extremely bumpy ghat roads etc., which sealed our fate. We missed our train and arrived in Calicut by noon.

Feeling itchy and sweaty (blame the humid weather in Calicut), we chalked out a plan B. Take a train to Chalakkudi and then a cab to Athirapilly. Sounded perfect, but was impossible. There wasn’t any train to Chalakkudi at that time of the day. Okay, no problem, plan C!  Calicut to Shoranur, Shoranur to Chalakkudi. Phew! This plan didn’t fail us. We reached Chalakkudi by 4 30 PM.

By the time we reached Chalakkudi, we were almost drained out, both physically and mentally. To our surprise and relief, my husband’s friend, who lives in Chalakkudi, had come to receive us. As the entry gate to Athirapilly closed by 5 30 PM, he directly took us to the Athirapilly falls. His two little children had tagged along with him, in anticipation of meeting my son and that I was feeling guiltier than ever needs no mention.

The trek from the main gate to the head of the falls was a short yet sweet one. Soaking in the sights sounds and smells of the forest around us, we treaded towards the falls.  It was the month of November and the falls had a good volume of water. One may choose to go down further, to watch the mighty descent at a closer angle and we did just that. And we definitely weren’t disappointed. The colossal rocks at the point of plunge turn the silvery, docile Chalakkudi river into a frothy, milky maniac, roaring and trumpeting as she plummets, only to be tamed again by the boulders silently resting on the river bed. The glorious panorama, with the sun setting in the background, along with the spray of fresh, herb-scented mist is sure to remain etched in my brain cells forever. I knew it the very moment I beheld it.

The plunge

The rest of story isn’t as dramatic, or I should say, I didn’t attach that much drama to that part. I had traveled all the way to see where the noteworthy director’s celluloid figures had actually danced and that mission had been accomplished. I was satisfied. The next morning, we visited the relatively meek Vazhachal falls, Kodanad elephant sanctuary, Kaladi Adi Shankara temple etc. and then boarded our train to Bangalore from Alwaye(Aluva) station. As the train took me farther and farther away from Athirapilly, I realized that a tiny portion of my soul had permanently been  left behind – lurking around the place.
The portion of map inside the rectangle roughly indicates where we had been to.
Image courstesy: Nivalink and google image search. I DO NOT OWN THIS IMAGE.

Now for the FACTS:
Athirapilly, almost always mispronounced as Athirapally, famed along with its mellower twin, Vazhachal, is easily the most popular tourist destination in northern Kerala, in the dense forests of Western Ghats. It is midway between Ernakulam and Thrissur and can be easily reached from both places by train. Believe me,taking a train is more comfortable than a bumpy bus ride. You may also choose to rent a cab from Thrissur or Ernakulam. As of this date, the cab guys charge anywhere between 10 and 12 rupees per km for a non a/c car. If you are coming to Ernakulam by train and planning to take a cab to Athirapilly, then it is advisable to alight at Angamali station. It is a much shorter drive from here and you will save on the cab fare. 

There are quite a few hotel options in Athirapilly but most of them are luxury ones, the more notable ones being The Rainforest and Ayursoukhyam. We stayed in a rather humble resort known as Kanova Resort(formerly known as Richmond resort), which offered us an a/c room for Rs. 2500/night with complimentary breakfast,  quite cheap by Athirapilly standards. Any place devoid of too much luxury works for me and this one, by the river side with a spacious room and simple, tasty breakfast provided good value for the money spent.

Hope this helps and do let me know if this post inspired you to visit Athirapilly!