A cup of tea, all nice and buttery

Somehow salty tea always reminds me of that saccharine sweet, a-tad-too-sentimental (and definitely not my kind :P) SMS forward: A guy takes a pretty girl on a date and he is so nervous he asks the waiter for salt in his coffee. She asks why, he says it reminds him of the saltiness in the sea he grew up nearby. The girl, obviously, (insert eye-roll here) is quite touched. They fall in love, get married, and he never musters the courage to tell her that he really doesn’t like salt in his coffee. And then one day, he dies, and she finds a letter from him:  (copied verbatim from just about everywhere on the internet)

“My dearest, please forgive me, forgive my whole life’s lie. This was the only lie I said to you — the salty coffee. Remember the first time we dated? I was so nervous at that time, actually I wanted some sugar, but I said salt. I never thought that could be the start of our communication!”

Long story short, he drank that horrible, horrible coffee for forty years out of his undying love for her. And whenever someone asked her how salty coffee tasted, she would say, “It tastes sweet.” (Aww…) Okay! If you’re still around, and haven’t sworn to never come back here again, salty tea isn’t as uncommon  as salty coffee. No one has (yet) written a sugary-sweet love story about it though, which is kind of sad. Drinking butter tea is a much-loved ritual among Tibetans and Kashmiris (who prefer to call it nun chai) . In monasteries dotting the Himalayas, Buddhist lamas down several cups a day through the winters. I remember having a delightful cup of the beverage on a chilly morning years ago, at a monastery in Gangtok, Sikkim. While I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone (it’s a bit of an acquired taste); the warm buttery flavour melting on your tongue, coupled with the startling realisation that tea doesn’t have to be sweet, makes it worth a try.

So today morning (er, do not ask when my mornings begin… ) I had milk and tea leaves boiling away to high glory when I realised I was clean out of sugar. Hmm, why not try some butter tea? My recipe (makes one cup): ¾ cup water, ¼ cup milk, 1 tsp tea leaves,  ¼ tsp salt, a few shavings of butter, and a small chunk of Toblerone. (The last item because I thought the tea would need a bit of sweetener, and besides, doesn’t chocolate tea sound awesome?) Boil tea like you usually do, and when it’s the right shade of golden brown, add the butter, salt and chocolate. (Traditional recipes call for churning the tea with yak butter in a churner/blender.) Give it a swirl, take out your fancy cups, and there you have it, delicious butter tea!

Tales of an Insomniac

I could fill almanacs with the things I do when I cannot sleep.

Take the other day, for instance, when one sleep-deprived night led to me crashing early the next. Surprise of surprises, I was wide awake in a few hours. A most vicious cycle it is.

So with nothing to do, and because I had fallen asleep with my laptop beside me, snug as a pillow; I opened the browser and began surfing aimlessly. And for some reason I started on cookery blogs.

Who in their right minds reads cookery blogs at 2 in the night? People like me. Sugar-starved chocolate-crazed people like me. So there I was, reading how to make crepes and crème brulee (and religiously saving pages for a better day), when I came across the five-minute cake. A cake in FIVE MINUTES. A fluffy, yummy, chocolaty cake; ready before you could say Jack Sparrow. Oh, the beauty of the idea!

Why not make one right now, I thought. As if on cue, my tummy let out a small growl. But a cake, at this time of the night? Eggs and flour and butter and the whole schmazel? What if mom thought a thief broke in? Cake wouldn’t taste so good with a saucepan-shaped bulge on my forehead.

(I occasionally make midnight chocolate mousse, a super-easy recipe learnt from a friend in college when our only available equipment was a 17th century electric stove. The name arose because the call-of-the-mousse always comes at twelve in the night. Even then, a cake is a whole new ball game.)

Anyway, I crept downstairs, trying my best not to step on those tiny lizards that pop up in the summer.

I opened the fridge and counted the eggs and butter.

And my eyes fell on a can of tuna.

I knew what I had to do.

Out came knives, tomatoes, onions and a generous helping of mayonnaise.

Two stuffed tuna sandwiches later, I was happily asleep in bed.

First Impressions

Tada! Here I was, at the Asian College of Journalism. India’s best journalism college, according to the better informed. I stepped into the foyer of the imposing white building, and the first thing I heard was a distinctive nasal voice.

“You know what happened to me when I was traveling to Chennai?”, and so it went, in a sing-song, clippity-clap fashion, like an over enthusiastic teenager on a school trip. I looked around the reception area. On top of the stone table that filled half of the sunlit hall perched a tiny specimen of a girl, all of five feet and two inches, regaling a bunch of twenty-somethings with some shitty story. Her audience seemed to be lapping it in. Or perhaps they were being polite to her, it being Day One and all.

Then she saw me.

“Hallo there! What’s your name?”

Twelve pairs of eyes turned to me. “Um, hi, I’m…”

And then everyone else offered their names and degrees and places of origin. Pointless exercise, really. Apparently none of the authorities had turned up yet (Strike one, ACJ!), so they were lounging around and getting to know each other. I dragged my luggage to a corner and joined the group of shiny happy faces. Miss Clippity-clap had done her B Tech and worked at some brain-killing tech company before throwing it all away to come to this dump. That would make her, what, forty-five? She hardly looked fifteen, with her riotous mop of black hair and seventy watt grin. She had forgotten to bring her certificates, and for some reason it did not bother her at all.

“Really? It was written in the letter??” she asked.

No, we all just like lugging our certificates around. Damn proud of our credentials, you know.

“Duh? Of course you had to… didn’t you read the letter?” I said.

She cocked her head side ways, closing one eye like she was concentrating very hard. “Nope, I guess not carefully enough!” and she broke into a grin.

At that moment the receptionist walked in and everyone clamoured to her desk. I lost my new friend in the crowd.

The next I saw of her was late in the evening at the hostel, I was going downstairs with a couple of people I had just met.

“Hi! Come down, man, everyone’s in the lawn!”

Her smile lacked the seventy watt brightness of the morning.

“Mm… I think I’ll pass for now.”

She slipped away into the corridor, dragging her feet as she went.

PS: This was a class assignment about what I think would be someone’s first impression about me. Does it come anywhere close? 😛

               ***************

What NOT to do in a departmental meeting

Hi everybody. This is Frank Sinatra, reporting live from a departmental meeting. This is what we (the small fry) do during these meetings: write pen and paper blogs at the back of our conference pads. The more talented ones draw caricatures of the big boss and pass the sheets around. At this moment, twenty five of us are seated in an air conditioned office discussing the best way to name standards. No, not what standards are to be followed. Not who should be responsible. What to NAME them. The polemics of this departmental meeting hark back to the time of Greek philosophers who spent fruitless hours arguing over how many angels sit on a pinhead. Such an erudite way to spend man hours!

In this context, I would like to present a few valuable lessons siphoned off from these ‘knowledge-gaining sessions’ (sic):

Lesson No. 1

Don’t occupy the front seats. Even if you work in a company where the senior managers claim not to mind (lucky you!); you are just drawing attention to yourself. The only palpable result will be that you will have to keep getting up to wipe the white board and (this is the worst) occasionally draw charts and pie diagrams to prove somebody else’s point. Or you might be asked to draw something and explain it yourself, and then what will you do??

Besides, there is the obvious lack of space. Eye rolling when the bosses speak nonsense and passing defamatory comments are only safe from the far far end of the room.

Lesson No. 2

Ask no questions. If you do, you will be turned into a case study and dissected till you wish you could disappear. Because the big fry never expect such impudence.

“Do you have any doubts? Please free feel to ask.” When your boss says such a things he is joking. Trust me. In fact he is merely listening to how his booming voice echoes off the round table. He is not, I repeat, he is not looking to clear your doubts. This is merely a primer for the upcoming line, which will be, hold your breath, “Since everybody is clear on this, we can move on to the next slide…”. Don’t fool yourself into raising a hand and cause his irascible temper and breath to flow down everyone’s noses.

Lesson No. 3

Keep a pen and paper handy so you can pretend to write notes and look attentive if someone happens to glance at you. Also useful for doodling and creating true-to-life caricatures. From personal experience I can vouch that the gentle drone of boss-speak is very conducive to poetry writing.

Lesson No. 4

This one is for the females: loosen your ponytail till it covers your ears, plug in those earphones and enjoy. Remember to keep the volume low enough to hear if the head honcho asks something to you. And if you’re caught, flash that disarming smile you keep handy for the traffic policemen who catch you taking triples down M.G. road.

(For the guys: Sorry. No long hair, no flashing smile, ergo no music.)

Lesson No. 5

Ask no questions. Didn’t we cover that already?

Yup, that’s about it. Keep these points handy and you are fully equipped to last through marathon team meetings!

And I always wondered why...

From a Die-Hard Fan

(To the honourable school Principal next door)

Dear Father,

               I love your kids. I really do. I love that they bang away on the drums and give erudite speeches in the wee hours of the morning. Amazingly talented kids. Day and night they regale me with the latest film songs and keyboard recitals. Speaking of which, why do all the kids play only Fleur de Lis? All huge Beethoven fans, eh?

             I must admit, nothing beats the high of a few thousand kids bashing away at my ear drums.

Cauliflower fritters and a Pennukaanal

Malathi rolled out chapatis furiously, distorting them into African countries in her vengeance.

“Do you think she will agree this time?”, Suresh mumbled, flipping a chapati on the tawa.

Pinnelaathe! She has to agree… such a good offer.. how can we let it go just like that…”

“But the boy’s only a B.Tech… “

Boy’s only a B.Tech… I told you we should never have let her do a Ph.D.! How will we find someone that qualified in our community?”

Their charming daughter strolled in wearing pink nano shorts.

Ayyo.. this girl… the Menons will be here any moment… go and change!”

“Why Amma, some special occasion?”

Husband and wife stared in momentary confusion. “Ilya mole.. but wear something decent… this is not your States… ”

Amma, but it’s so damn hot…”

Malathi pushed the girl out of the kitchen before she could protest further.

“You’re not telling her then?” Suresh asked. He had long given up pretending that he had a say in anything.

Malathi put a finger to her lips. “Shhh… if she comes to know, she won’t even meet the boy.”

Chapatis out of the way, Malathi proceeded to fry cauliflower fritters and press them into Kleenex tissues. How she intended to get through the charade without Anitha realising the truth was anybody’s guess! In a short while the doorbell rang.

Suresh opened the door. Sure enough, it was the Suitable Boy and his mother. And Velliama and Velliachan and Elayamma and Elayachan. They looked positively aggrieved at not having brought Tommy the Pomeranian along.

“How nice to see you all… come in, come in.” Suresh peered out of the door to make sure that was all of the battalion.

Huffing and puffing, the battalion settled down. The Suitable Boy was a stringy young man with a half-grown pencil moustache. His clothes were the latest in high street fashion: three piece business suit with Bata chappals. His name was Kelappan.

“Up to what class has Anita studied?”, Kelappan asked.

Malathi glared at him with more fury than she had attacked the rolling pin.

“What class! Pee-Yech-Dee from University of California…  and you’re asking what class…”

The boy threw a beseeching glance towards his mother, who was noisily crunching cauli-fritters. This was a new development.

“Mmm… uh.. my son also done engineering… Very clever boy. Gold medallist in college. Did your daughter get gold medal?”

        Gold medal? Malathi coloured with shame. Her Anitha had a B. Tech and an M. Tech and a Ph. D to top, but what was the use without a gold medal?

“Where is Anitha?”, Kellapan’s mother asked. She was terribly dissatisfied with the arrangements. What ever happened to the good old days when the girl brought in tea and Marie biscuits, shyly smiling at the prospective mother-in-law?

“One minute, she’s coming… Mole,” Malathi shouted from the stairwell, “Aaraa vanne nokku!

Anitha flounced down the steps. The would-be-mother-in-law had a heart attack when her would-be-daughter-in-law came to meet her in a T shirt and Polaroid glasses!

Amma, there’s a lot of people here…”, Anitha whispered.

           Suitable Boy’s mom took over the scene.

“Anitha moley”, (every prospective mother-in-law thinks the girl will be utterly impressed by such sycophancy) , “come sit here with me. Do you know to make sambar-paripu?”

And like a flash of Tide detergent illuminating the screen, Anitha understood. A pennu-kaanal! And no one had bothered to tell her! She leaned forward (mummy-in-law’s tummy kind of blocked the view) to the scrawny lad sitting on the other end of the couch.

“Hello, Mr…”

He cleared his throat. “Kelappan.”

       Kelappan!! Even his name was a lottery ticket!

“Maybe the guy and girl would like to speak to each other,” Suresh suggested, and the two tacitly walked to the adjoining room.

“Kellapan, where did you do your B. Tech?”

Actually… I am diploma from Marudamalai University.”

“What? You don’t even have a degree?”

“Degree diploma… same only no?” the boy squirmed.

Anitha stared at the pencil-sized thirty something. So this was the grand explanation. Degree diploma same only no??

“GET OUT! Get out of here this minute!!”

Fortunately for her, Malathi was just as scandalised. The Suitable boy, rendered unsuitable by his lack-of-degree, was unceremoniously shown the door.

Amme… how could you arrange a pennukaanal without even telling me??”

Moley… I’m soooo sorry. That woman made such a fool of me. My son did engineering.. my son got gold medal… bloody fool!!”

“It’s ok Amma..”, Anitha chuckled, “at least you agreed to kick him out!”

Pinne… like I’d let my daughter marry a diploma!” Without skipping a beat she added, “Moley, you know  Sharada Aunty was telling me that they are looking for a girl for her nephew. How about a doctor this time??”