Happiness in a jar

Papaya Jam 1

My latest obsession is making jams. Luscious, lip smacking, fresh-as-the-fruit-it-came-from jam. A month ago Mum left a dozen gooseberries (amla) soaked in water on the kitchen counter, with explicit instructions to drink it every day. Them gooseberries sat pretty on the counter for a week till I remembered. By then, they were soft and mushy and I didn’t have the heart to throw them away, so into the kadhai they went.

That’s when I learnt something interesting: making a small batch of jam is one of the easiest things to do.

It definitely is easier than it looks, once the pectin and sugar have worked magic to transform into glistening jelly. The recipe is easy-peasy: take an equal proportion of fruit to sugar, cook the fruit (diced, mushed or pureed, it’s your call) in a bit of water. Since gooseberries are harder to blend than most fruits, soak it for a day or cook in water till a little tender, before removing the seeds and pulverising the fruit in the blender. Once it’s softened, add the sugar and lime juice (the juice from a lemon would do for a cup of fruit) and let it come to a rolling boil (on high heat). Don’t skimp on the sugar, as the reaction between pectin and sugar gives jam its jelly-like consistency. If the mixture looks watery even after boiling for several minutes, it probably needs more pectin: add a squeeze of lemon or orange.

The major ingredient in jam making is pectin, found naturally in citrus fruits. High-pectin fruits gel faster.  Over-ripe fruits have lesser amounts of pectin, so they don’t set as well. Lucky me, I started with amla, which any Indian mother will tell you is brimming with Vitamin C (as well as pectin).

Continue reading “Happiness in a jar”

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Shoes

They were small shoes

Size three, at the most. Scraped with mud

tearing at the corners

soles weathered from hours in the unforgiving sun

from the dust of the assembly ground

dirty white, buckled shoes

bathed in blood.

0

All art is useless

In 1890, a fan wrote to Oscar Wilde asking him to explain a sentence in the preface of The Picture of Dorian Gray : “All art is quite useless”. How could a writer say something so callous? Did it not put to question his own existence? Wilde’s reply was both relevatory and magnificent in its brevity.

“A work of art is useless as a flower is useless,” he writes. Its purpose is not to educate or influence. A flower blossoms for its own joy. “Of course man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower. It is not part of its essence. It is accidental.”

Lippincott doriangray

Below is the transcript of the letter. The complete letter can be found on Letters of Note :

16, TITE STREET,
CHELSEA. S.W.

My dear Sir

Art is useless because its aim is simply to create a mood. It is not meant to instruct, or to influence action in any way. It is superbly sterile, and the note of its pleasure is sterility. If the contemplation of a work of art is followed by activity of any kind, the work is either of a very second-rate order, or the spectator has failed to realise the complete artistic impression.

A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers. Of course man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower. It is not part of its essence. It is accidental. It is a misuse. All this is I fear very obscure. But the subject is a long one.

Truly yours,

Oscar Wilde

We Talked to Our Kids About Souls

A wonderful post about nature and souls, and the joyous instincts of children.

Butterfly Mind

Swinging Bridge at Babcock State Park, West Virginia, autumn on andreabadgley.com Swinging Bridge at Babcock State Park, West Virginia

“Hey Mom, are trees living things or living beings?”

Our nine year old son looked into the forest then up at me as we hiked side by side along a gurgling brook. His dad and sister walked a few steps ahead of us. Upstream was the Glade Creek Grist Mill in West Virginia, a rustic wooden building with a pitched roof. Today its wet planks were framed by yellowing autumn trees.

“I guess that depends on what you mean by living being,” I said. “I think of a being as — ” I tried to think of words that would be familiar to him. I failed. “As a sentient being — something that has a soul.” The path was littered in gold, red, and toast brown leaves, and I kicked at a drift with my leather hiking shoe.

“Personally, I think of trees…

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Nobody’s cats

stray cats
they answer to no one
they eat what they get
they sleep where they can.
stray cats
are nobody’s cats.

they come in all colours
tawny, pepper, mottled, grey
their eyes like glass marbles
that pierce through the dark

they turn up whimpering
when there’s fish on the stove
they set up their own song
a caterwaul for bones

they have litters on the terrace
tiny things born with eyes closed
you pick them by their scrawny necks and fling them out
but they always come back

stray cats.
hungry-eyed, ever resourceful
never petted.

A smile to remember

charles_bukowski

we had goldfish and they circled around and around
in the bowl on the table near the heavy drapes
covering the picture window and
my mother, always smiling, wanting us all
to be happy, told me, ‘be happy Henry!’
and she was right: it’s better to be happy if you
can
but my father continued to beat her and me several times a week while
raging inside his 6-foot-two frame because he couldn’t
understand what was attacking him from within.

my mother, poor fish,
wanting to be happy, beaten two or three times a
week, telling me to be happy: ‘Henry, smile!
why don’t you ever smile?’

and then she would smile, to show me how, and it was the
saddest smile I ever saw

one day the goldfish died, all five of them,
they floated on the water, on their sides, their
eyes still open,
and when my father got home he threw them to the cat
there on the kitchen floor and we watched as my mother
smiled

A wild horse in the sun

JumpingRide A Wild Horse

Ride a wild horse
with purple wings
Striped yellow and black
except his head
which must be red.

Ride a wild horse
against the sky –
hold tight to his wings

before you die
whatever else
you leave undone
once
ride a wild horse
into the sun.

Hannah Kahn (1911-1988)

I came across this poem many years ago, in a Reader’s Digest story about a child growing up with Down Syndrome. There is something so urgent about these lines. It remains one of my favourites to this day, even though I don’t really get the opening stanza. Why must the horse be purple and yellow and black, or any other colour?

But the rest of it – oh! It sings to me: at least once in your life, you must do something wild and unimaginable, something that you will be remembered for for the rest of your life. Whatever else, you leave undone, once ride a wild horse into the sun. At some minute level, I feel this is my purpose in life: to do that one impossibly crazy thing that will change something fundamental in the world. Am I setting myself up for failure with an aim so lofty? Will I ever do something that momentous? Who knows? All I can do is try.

Agustin and his father with the tractor they built.
Agustin and his father with the tractor they built.

Hannah’s daughter Vivian had Down’s syndrome and Hannah spent much of her spare time working with the differently abled. In the Reader’s Digest story, What Love Can Build, the boy’s mother takes courage in knowing that the poet too faced the tribulations she did. Her son Agustin loved trucks and cranes, and her husband decided to build a tractor along with him, even though how much his son could be a part of the project was uncertain. The poem, she felt, expressed perfectly why she decided to go with her husband’s proposal: “… everyone should have a chance to make one impossible dream come true.”

I leave you with a gorgeous scene at the end of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, where Spirit, the wild mustang, leaps across the canyon and into the sun:

Source: What Love Can Build by Meg Laughlin, from the Miami Herald’s Tropic, June 21, 1998. Subsequently edited in Reader’s Digest, p. 80-84, May 1999. © 1998 Miami Herald. A link to the original article is available here.

The Booksellers of Bangalore – 2

Back again with more haunts for those of you who get high on the scent of books:

1. Goobe’s Book Republic: A short walk down from K.C. Das Sweets on Church Street, you can spot an intriguing sign on the pavement:

Goobes final

Haha. Cracks me up everytime. Goobe’s is cool: a funky little store in the basement, with quotes on reading pasted at random places. The wall rack when you enter the basement and the graphic novel posters give it a happy vibe. They were bringing in piles of Narcopolis when I last went, as Jeet Thayil was coming over for a music session and would be signing books. Thayil or no Thayil, it’s a fun place to rummage for books. After all, there are “so many books, and so little time,” like it says on the ledge.

2. Atta Galatta, Koramangala: One of the few bookstores in Bangalore which promotes books in Indian languages. Set up by Lakshmi Sankar and Subodh Sankar, the bookstore stocks Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Hindi books, as well as Indian writers in English. When its not being a quaint brick-red store with a tiny little cafe, with comfortable seats that invite the reader to settle down with a book, the store plays host to dozens of book readings, workshops on topics ranging from dance and theatre to candle-making and paper quilling, as well as various events for children. You can sign up for their newsletter thebookstore@attagalatta.com to get updates on weekly events.

3. Eloor Library, Infantry Road: Eloor is one of Bangalore’s oldest lending libraries. It’s so familiar to Bangaloreans that most subscribers seem to think a book from Eloor is intended to be kept waaayy past the due date. Customers pay 10 per cent on each book borrowed, over a flat membership of Rs. 800 a year. They have a pretty good collection of adventure novels and fiction. And not to forget, a huge stash of Mills &  Boons. Just saying. 😛

4. State Central Library, Cubbon Park: A gorgeous library in the middle of a lush green park; doesn’t it sound like a dream? The Central Library is reference only, meaning you can walk in and pick a book off the shelf without a membership. Goes without saying that you have to leave the books back when you go. A striking building that represents much of old Bangalore, the Central Library celebrated its golden anniversary recently. It is generally occupied by students preparing for examinations of one hue or the other. The collection of books on world history, politics, etc. is impeccable, though a little more seating area would have been appreciated. Also, nice people who enabled free WiFi on Brigade Road and other hangouts in the city, how about bringing wireless connectivity in here, where someone might actually use it?

While we’re on books, the ten-day Bangalore Book Fest is back after a year’s gap at the Elaan Convention Centre, JP Nagar. Definitely worth a visit.

(The first part of this series can be found here.)

~ I don’t fear that I may cease ~

My Silent Muse

I don’t fear that I may cease,
To be.
I fear when I no longer am,
She may forget to forget me,
Searching for a face,
In my broken mirrors,
And then slashing her lines,
In these scattered glass fragments,
Of my old photograph.

I fear they may print my name,
In small obscured letters on page three papers,
Just below the adverts of my killers,
On anniversaries obituaries,
To be erased the very next day,
By hordes of people,
Rushing for the brazen indelible mark,
On their finger nails,
Auctioning their souls once more.

I fear she may behold,
In her frozen moments,
My scarred face,
That has turned to dust,
Long after mother stood alone,
On that solitary window,
Awaiting my, never to be, return.

I fear the kid,
Who grew tormented by poking bunkers,
And watched his sister molested,
By the dark uniform, blacker heart, gun trotter,

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