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God’s Will

The church was packed to its fullest and beyond. There were people lined up along the periphery. The ones who couldn’t squeeze into the main cathedral were in other rooms and watched the service on their devices, as it was live streamed.

But none of this was unexpected. Over the years, Brooke and Herb, especially Brooke had collected this large community of people as she moved through life. If warmth and love were to have a face, that would be that of Brooke’s. It is difficult to pin it down, but some people are just special. She is that person. And every person she has ever met, she has made them feel special and loved. For a petite, mild mannered person, she is a force that takes one in and puts them at ease instantly. A friend to children and parents alike, she is reliable, resourceful and very real.

I first met Brooke, about 13 years ago as a co mom at the school. Our children were classmates and continue to be through High school. She was pregnant with her fifth child soon after we first met. Over the years, I’ve often heard her proudly say that she has 7 children; 5 of them she birthed, and for the oldest two, she cheated as she inherited the girls from Herb’s previous marriage.

As if 7 weren’t enough, she volunteered at every school event of all her children and eventually went on to become a preschool teacher at the day school of the very same church where we all, as in every person she has touched with her kindness and presence, had gathered this afternoon for the service of remembrance of her first born, Will Thomas.

Two weeks back, our community got the devastating news of Will’s passing. A very bright young boy, all of 21, Will, like his parents, had gathered his own village as he grew up in the neighbourhood. The masked crowd at the church was a testimony to this family’s large heartedness.

He must have been in so much pain and lost all hope that death must have seemed like a more a comforting place. One would never know what must he have been going through in his last moments. Death is so final, irreversible. He must have surely known that, he was very intelligent. He also knew he was loved, he had to know that. But then sometimes all the love in the world just isn’t enough.

As we all sat there, praying for his peace, I couldn’t help but think what I had avoided even admitting to myself: It could have been anyone’s child. What does a parent do when their baby takes such a drastic decision on their own? As much as we as parents tell our children how amazing they are and how beautiful the adventure of life is, are we saying it enough? As we ourselves wade through the occasional tough waves of life, are we making it loud and clear to them that this too shall pass? How do we know that when we tell them that no matter what the concern, they can (and must) talk to us, are we driving the point through?

As I looked around and saw so many of Will’s friends there, each one breaking down at some point, it warmed my heart to see how they comforted each other. Most of his siblings came up and shared some lighter moments they shared with him; a lovely way to remember their brother.

This day ended with the crowds moving outdoors and enjoying a picnic in the lovely weather, a great way to share the grief and celebrate his life. May Will find peace and his family find a way to accept his will.

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A little 5”x 8-1/4” luxury

It’s been over ten days since I bought myself a new diary. Along with the diary I also bought a new pen.

It’s been a while since I actually bought a diary. While I write a lot, it’s usually in notebooks, spiral bound, I’ve just never afforded myself the grown up luxury of a spanking new diary. Correction: I’ve bought a few, either for Maithili or for work or sketchbooks. Just never a good diary for myself. Not quite sure why. Perhaps I know why.

So I planned a trip to the art supply store, determined to buy one. They had several racks of the brand Moleskine. These always remind me of my college friend Kunal. Everything about him was so stylish. His bags, his home, the polish on the furniture… he had tiles on his wall skirt which were specially brought in from Delhi with a very unique print on them, if I remember correctly. He would always have a collection of Moleskine notebooks, leather stuff, etc.And his hand writing was bold, clear and sparkled on his fancy stationery. The point is, we didn’t find these notebooks easily in India then, and even if we did, they were expensive. It never crossed my mind then and it never crossed my mind now that I could get one for myself. Moleskine always remained illusive, for no apparent reason.

So ten days after finally buying my first branded notebook, I hadn’t yet written in it. Somewhere in my sub conscious I have it embossed that I could only write in it with bold and clear printed handwriting. Until last year, I could write well. Recently I have struggled a bit with it. So I avoided writing in it. Each day Maithili would come and check in with me. So today I finally christened my first big girl notebook. The handwriting isn’t pretty, but I realized that a notebook is no good if I don’t use it.

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Sir: 2021

Over a year back, I accidentally stumbled upon a trailer of a Hindi movie called Sir. This is not to be confused by another Hindi movie with the same name in the 90s.

The trailer looked attractive to me, with simple characters, simple dialogues, conveying the theme of the movie; two people from very diverse social strata finding love and comfort in each other. After searching all over the internet for it, I eventually gathered that it had yet to be released, much to my dismay.

Last week, it surfaced on my Netflix feed. Only this time the name was modified and was now titled, “Is love enough, Sir?” Wonder why they felt the need to add a tag line.

Over the years, I’ve grown to accept the malnourished diet of Hindi films we are offered; unrealistic dialogues, hideous sets and costumes, repetitive plots and fantastical worlds. So for someone who is as parched as I am, I am always so eager to find some relief.

So coming back to Sir, or Is love enough Sir… it has all the elements of a Hindi potboiler. Rich boy meets poor girl, they fall in love against all odds and now what happens in the end or as the Gujaratis say “chhelli fight” translated literally as the “final fight”. Typically there are only two options: either they are united for life or they are not, which in case of Hindi movies was death either by suicide or murder by disputing families or something equally bizarre.

Sir is the same fantastical, unimaginable story we all love to cling on to, but only in a very real set up. The rich boy’s house is a swanky, tasteful apartment in Mumbai; the art house equivalent of a mansion with curved staircase, then there is the quintessential father who is against the union and suggests the hero to leave and go back to the US to avoid the murder of social hierarchy versus the standard melodramatic misunderstandings created to cause temporary separation of the hero and heroine, then there is a momentary intrusion by the other woman which in this movie seemed an out-of-place, under developed after-thought. The usual colorful nosey extended family is shrunk down to squash playing and wine drinking friends with a SOBO accent.

But in spite of all the masala cliches, it still worked for me. I enjoyed watching a movie without the distracting “noises”. No dramatic background scores or lip synced songs, no designer sarees for the maid, no heavy dialogues swung at the viewer, no cleavages, no shirtless macho men, no flashing car brands; and yet it showed the class difference clearly. Both the worlds were portrayed realistically. It seemed as though the camera was simply filming real life situations. The supporting characters on both sides were delicately posed without being a burden to the storyline.

The show stealer was of course the female lead, Tilotima Shome. Perfectly cast, her physicality was so well suited for the role of a young widowed maid Ratna; petite, tiny framed, with a modest appearance. She reminded me of the sea of real women I had seen on local train rides back in the day. These women were all so content and happy that they had an indescribable glow. They all seemed to carry dreams in there eyes, just like Ratna, which was so adeptly portrayed by Tilotima. The character is a self respecting, self reliant maid with a child-like innocence and earnestness, all of which were caught so spot on by the actress. Small nuances where she is content when he eats 4 rotis with the rassa of the mutton curry, or when he accidentally walks in on her when she’s swirling in her dress in his room… I am a fan for sure.

The very urban Ashwin is equally well played by the male lead Vivek Gomber. His initial hesitation, apologetic embarrassment caused by his own kind, and eventual resoluteness were well balanced by the actor.

Lots could be said about our limited idea of social acceptance, but i just enjoyed watching it for its unrealness.

Needless to say, the director has made great choices. And since everything has to eventually relate to food, a food analogy would be: A fantastical story without the extra tadka on top, somewhat like French Cuisine: dramatic but with subtlety of flavors.

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Panch Phoron and the East India Company

Last week while I was shopping at my Indian grocery store, they were cleaning their refrigerators. They had several long doodhi or lauki also known as bottle gourds that were getting brown at the edges and

asked me if I’d like them. What a treat to get a basket of veggies I thought and without any hesitation, I took them all.

As a child, I remember eating doodhi in various forms; a vegetable side, koftas and even as a dessert in the form of a halwa. But ever since my early failed attempts once I moved to the US, I stopped using them. I just couldn’t get it to have a cohesive texture. So I gave up on trying. 

But now, I had a moral responsibility towards this free basket of semi brown gourds. I decided to ditch trying the recipe I was used to as a child and start afresh. 

It was afterhours at the Verandah on a Sunday evening. The kitchen was clean, the staff was out of the door and I was in no rush to get home. Another compelling reason to cook it then was the new wok, Beijing wok, to be precise, that I had just bought a few hours ago from the big Asian mart across town. A visit to the Asian store calls for its separate post, for another time. So coming back to the gourds, I started with peeling them. Then I researched for a bit, and picked a recipe that didn’t have any grains or ghee, to keep it Vegan and unadulterated by allergens, in case I decided to serve it on the Verandah menu the upcoming week. 

It started with a blend of whole spices known as Panch Phoran, or five spices, consisting of saunf or fennel seeds, jeera or cumin seeds, kalonji or nigella seeds, methi dana or dried fenugreek seeds and sarson dana or black mustard seeds. I already knew this is going to be so aromatic. This blend is very similar to the spices we use to pickle our onions. I also learnt that this is mix commonly used in cooking in Orissa and Bengal.

The recipe I was following, specifically asked for using pressure cooker, but that would beat the purpose. I had to christen the wok so I went forward to take a cook’s equivalent of poetic liberties and proceeded with the wok. Another little addition I made was to crush the dry roasted Panch Phoron lightly in my spice grinder, before going ahead with the rest of the cooking. Then came in oil, tomato puree, ginger, chillies and some ground spices. As this was frying, and the kitchen perfumed by the fragrance of the spices, I had to try it, even without the gourds in it. 

One morsel in my mouth and I was transported to Bengal of 1700s, when the East India Company first set foothold to trade spices among other goods. Suddenly I felt an empathy for the Brits. Who could resist the magic of these spices? To come to think of it, these very spices that were merrily cooking in my wok, were collectively responsible for the British Raj in India and eventually the fate of modern India! Somehow it all made perfect sense and, even though just for a moment, I had made peace with the British rule in India. 

The sizzling of the contents in my wok, woke me out of my reverie, and I went on to add the lauki and watch it cook away. It did take a little longer as I took a detour by skipping the pressure cooker, but then it was all worth it. Gourds were utilized, wok was inaugurated and I did some time travelling. The delicious dish was the cherry on the pie. The final tasting, this time with the gourd in it, reminded me of some fabulous meals I had devoured in Kolkata, definitely because of the Black mustard seeds I deduced.

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Movie Review: Tezaab (1988)

2 hours 42 minutes later I can’t remember which one of us suggested Tezaab and how we all agreed to watch it. But we did. Agree and watch it.

I still remembered the tag line from back then: A violent love story. And they weren’t kidding: Violent dialogues and acting that hit you in the face; jarring clothes, makeup and hairstyles; loud background score and the offensive length of the movie. It had every element possible to make it an arduous chore. But in spite of it, all, the movie was surprisingly likeable.

The movie is the journey of Mahesh Deshmukh’s transition into Munna followed by his redemption. Simple plot, complicated handling. The movie goes from present times to most of it in flash back and jumps back into the present at some point. Anil Kapoor in his Bumbaiya bhaiy ishtyle sails effortlessly in spite of mouthing some heavy duty dialogues. Madhuri Dixit, the love interest, does her job as well as any other heroine in the 80s and 90s would when portraying the damsel who is always in distress. Anupam Kher as her greedy, alcoholic father was a good choice. He was perfectly spineless and set the stage for the big guns. The chief villian, played by Kiran Kumar, was more handsome than menacing. He kept showing up sporadically through the movie’s length and refused to die. His absence wouldn’t have mattered to the plot. Suresh Oberoi as the good police inspector did what he was supposed to do: appear dutiful and help Munna redeem himself. There was a sister of Munna who hammed her way through every scene. Then there was a plethora of the hero’s friends played by some good actors such as Johny Lever, some Marathi movie actors and Annu Kapoor. Chunky Panday as the endearing Baban gets my vote as the best surprise in the movie. He is effortless, charming and the bff everyone should have. He even gives up his life to save our hero. This was totally unnecessary but then so were many other elements and characters in the movie such as Mandakini who appeared briefly serving no purpose. Baban also gets to lip sync an evergreen song, So Gaya yeh Jahan, which was often sung thereafter around campfires during many school and college trips. Talking of songs, one cannot talk of Tezaab and not mention the popular Ek Do Teen. It had taken the nation by a storm. It is catchy no doubt. It made Madhuri Dixit THE Madhuri Dixit. And it hung in the air of the Bombay I grew up in during Navratri season for years to come.

The movie had all the elements displaying the art of movie making during its times: Lack of continuity, henchmen around the hero as well as the villains, corrupt police, never-ending scenes. Every actor was spewing the dialogues assigned to them with such ferocity as if that was the last time they would be allowed to speak in their lifetime. The image that comes best to my mind is of the sport of squash: smash the ball with a vengeance into the wall. It was often painful to watch. Violent indeed.

I was partial towards the movie because I am a die hard Anil Kapoor fan. He is sincere in his study of Munna, honest to the character and his craft, seems to enjoy his job always. His confidence is admirable. One has to be self-assured to adorn ridiculous clothes and appear macho.

After the movie if I were to choose one element that made a lasting impact on me it has to be hair. Yes hair. There’s no dearth of it here: hair styles of the women actors, their wigs, the flowing manes of all the men: the hero, his side kicks, villians (except Anupam Kher of course), henchmen, everyone’s peek-a-boo chests and the most unforgettable memory of Anil Kapoor as the swimming instructor displaying a bush on his arms and back.

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Untitled

It’s 1:00 pm on a generic Wednesday afternoon. I am sitting on the bed, contemplating what to do. There’s lots to do, some necessary, some not. In the distance I hear the rest of the family on their respective phone calls and online classes. They have busy lives. I’ve seen so many zoom call pictures recently. Until last week, I wasn’t aware that zoom is an app. I thought the word was used to describe zooming in. It wouldn’t have made a difference anyway. I’ve no one to be on a zoom call with.

Then suddenly I get a video call on good ole WhatsApp. It’s my brother. Actually it was my 3-1/2 year old neice calling me. I suddenly felt important that I’d have my own little zoom call now. She was very excited to see me answer. The first thing she said to her dad, my brother, was, “Look daddy, I told you she’d answer the call. She is never busy!”

Ouch!

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Movie: Taxi Driver

Film folks often sight Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver as a movie that changed them or a movie that led them into their movie careers. So it seemed like an obvious first choice of must-watch movies for a teenager wanting to study the art of movie making. My first time as well.

I liked watching it but I didn’t quite understand what I liked about it. Or why it is regarded as a fine movie. But I have a feeling I will be thinking of it tomorrow morning. So without further intellectualizing it, here is what I thought.

Set in the rough hoods of the seventies New York, the tone and pace of the movie depict the monotony in a lonely Taxi driver’s life. Robert De Niro took it further with very little movement on his face expressing the boredom of leading a purposeless life. This must take some skill to do nothing much and yet do just enough.

The camera rolls steadily with no dramatic variations which once again contributes perfectly to the theme of a lonely monotonous existence in a big city. The lack of any background scores has to be one of my favorite thing about the movie. A scene where De Niro shoots a mugger in a convenient store is treated so matter of factly where the situation itself provides the drama. A very young Jodie Foster is simply brilliant in the few scenes that she had: Confidence, defiance and occasional vulnerability peeping through her face and body language.

The theme of the movie will always keep it contemporary. Boredom and seeking a purpose in ones lifetime will be trending in the present at any given point, making this movie always relevant and relatable.

Typically the first watch is to get an overall sense and scope. Also it decides if I will give it another shot for noticing the nuances. And this one I will for sure.

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Julie and Julia; Maithili and I

With a lot of time on our hands and and wide range of platforms offering an unlimited range of movies, Maithili and I have decided to watch a lot of movies. It isn’t different from what we do typically, but this time we will watch them together and write about them. Write anything about them; review them, analyse them… anything.

So the movie for tonight was Julie and Julia. This movie had the two main things that excite me most: food and idyllic cobblestone windy streets with old buildings, of Paris in this case. The fact that it has New York City as a character only made it more delectable for me. As for Maithili, if she were to pick only one thing in the world to take with her anyplace, it would be butter. And butter they had in plenty in this movie. It may as well have been named Julie, Julia and Butter.

The movie started with Paris late 40s when Julia Child and her husband Paul relocate to Paris through his work. After a brief insight into their loving relationship with one another and food, the gears shift to New York City, Queens telling the tale of a contemporary couple Julie and her husband Eric set in early 2000s. Theirs is an equally loving marriage with her love for cooking as a highlight. She is looking for a reason to feel alive and finds it as she cooks and blogs about her journey through Julia Child’s French cooking cookbook of 534 pages.

The movie toggles back and forth between the two cities and eras and ladies and their love for food via which they discover themselves.

I found Amy Adams as Julie very endearing, sincere and identifiable. I can see why the makers of the movie snuck in the delicious food visuals such as beef bourguignon, Rasberry Bavarian cream, the cooking of mushrooms in a red wine and cream reduction and many more in the New York portion of the movie. After all it is no easy task to match the ease of Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci teamed with the unmatchable romance of Parisian air. I have to say, what got me to watch this movie (for the third time this time) was the food. Until we decided to analyse it. What I kept wanting more of was the story of Julia Child. All I know of her is through this movie, but in spite of the legend that she is she seems very real and an inspiring.

Of course we did our bit of indulgence. We paused the movie for a little bit and did what we were supposed to do: melted some Jamesfarm butter (the one that they use in the movie) in a cast iron skillet, let some rosemary add flavour to it, toasted some bread, melted some grueyere, heated some bechamel sauce leftover from our dinner earlier in the week, added some capers, and feeling very accomplished, used some pretty plates from the hutch and ate as very saw our four characters eat in their settings.

The movie hit the right cord, got us to eat a delish butter laden piece of bread and we kept out promise of writing about it.

Tomorrow is another day, another movie. Until then…

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Flipping thru pages

Off late I’ve been making way too many posts on social media plugging in the Verandah in an attempt to keep the fire burning, literally, in the kitchen. So in an attempt to change the vibe, I decided to post a more personal picture; of my home, photograph collection, tea sets and so on. Something…anything to keep the people engaged. I added the book I had picked out of the shelf last night for a more real effect.

This is a book I had started to read two years back on my trip to India. The bookmark was at page 65. It was a fat book and I was slightly embarrassed at the lack of my progress.

As I sat down snuggly in my chair and started to read it, I often chose to get distracted by Instagram and Facebook. Finally I began reading. Ten pages into it, a folded sheet of paper fell on my lap. It was something I had written on my travel to India in February of 2018, Banaras to be precise. It was written on the letterhead of the hotel we stayed at. I had no memory of this. To my surprise it was written in Hindi. Banaras was towards the end of my journey and I suppose writing in Hindi might’ve been in an attempt to hold on to the nostalgia a little bit longer. I am highly influenced by Gulzar, as any blue-blooded romantic of my generation would be. Dare I say, the style of this piece was very influenced by his style and I had attempted to weave some heavy duty poetic thoughts with some very colloquial words. It intrigued me and I kept reading it aloud. My son who was next to me paid no attention to it. He did ask me somewhere if I was reading in Hindi. I said yes and showed him this piece of paper. He was rather perplexed as it was written in English but read in Hindi. I suppose this might be a plight many of us find us in after moving away from India.

Coming back to my written piece, it was full of melancholy. It had captured the emotions one goes through at the end of a journey; full of a sense of sadness and relief and reflection. In spite of the general gloom in it, I had managed to pull myself up with the hope of self reliance.

As I sit on my comfy chair, I realize that I have lived the past year just as I had planned on living it two years back: full of self reliance, taking responsibility of my actions, patience and acceptance. It is an interesting ride to say the least.

As I write this, I also realize, yet again, I have closed the book I had started to read. Only this time it is ten pages out! And that I take it is a success!

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Aai: As I see her and feel.

By Maithili Sule

Adjective:

Aai is volatile, passionate.

Color:

I feel she’s a Magenta. Intense.

Action:

Aai is that intense and abrupt impulse to throw an antique piece of glass, the horror of destroying something so beautiful followed by the desperation in trying to reattach every single shard, using wood glue.

Temperature:

She is the feeling one gets when one is sitting in the sun, back exposed for all, slowly soaking up the sun’s rays, as the icy cold of the lake is slowly forgotten. So to put a feeling to it, you begin with an abruption and then slowly a warm pull that leads to a calm nothingness.

Number:

If numbers were to have personalities, she is like 16. She is cheery and a perfect square. Square is someone who knows what they want and eventually get there.