Saturday, November 22, 2008

Plane Miserable

Travel gives us knowledge, experience, a deeper insight to life. Following the recent travels of the author (no, no, not just from the laptop and back), she is able to vouch for this.

Air travel is not pleasant. Majestic view notwithstanding, the entire process is truly not the most enjoyable. One is closed off within the claustraphobic confines of the aircraft, served smelly food, and that myth about goodlooking staff?: it is a myth. All in all, it is an experience which the author would prefer to get over with in a hurry. But fate conspires to make us dance to it's decidedly wayward tunes (rather like those old westerns where the villain keeps shooting at the good guy's feet making her/him jump around.)

The author learned first hand the unpleasant nature of that double edged sword called Papers. For the uninitiated, the Visa/ Residence/ any other heavy wieght paper, is not merely a guarantee of welcome and a ward against instant deportation on stepping on foreign land. No ladies and gentlemen, you malign and underestimate them if you think so.These papers are also potential instruments of torture. If the officials at the check in/ immigration counters have had their meals on time, not fought with their spouses or not engaging in their customary(pun intended)sadism- then one is
safe. But if you happen to be like the author during her recent flighty experience... she extends her deepest condolences.

After joyously relieving the author of a thousand rupees in the name of the mythical User Development Fund (yeah right), the officials were pleased to inform her that her residence wasn't valid since she hadn't entered the foreign land in six months.( Weird Kuwaiti rule). The author's uncannily clairvoyant father had prophesied such an event and she was duly armed with a charmed official document.Which was sadly written in arabic. To cut a long story short, she ended up waiting for approximately a quarter of an hour while the airporters slowmotioned their way to their inner sanctum then slow motioned back, got the paper transalated, photocopied, laminated, photographed, finger printed, faxed...

May be Hiro Nakamura had made an appearance when she wasn't looking, but somehow the author actually got to get to the baggage check-in counter before the flight left; where the only question was (bless their mercifully mercenary hearts) whether the UDF was paid. Triumphantly armed with boarding pass and immigration form, the author marched up to the immigration counter. Which is when things began to really go downhill.

To begin with, the officer who decided that this was his day to bother, spoke only in telugu. While the author struggled unsuccessfuly to comprehend, the officer slapped her passport and papers back on the counter and said three succint words "Visa not there". No, she didn't scream. Reasoning didn't work, but the man finally understood that "yes she has boarding pass so she can be allowed through." His face fell momentariy at the deprival of a treat, but brightened again ominously. "Go get airline person. NEXT!"
And that was that.
Trudging back to the check-in counter, the author was forced to wait for an hour for the appearance of one Rahim, who apparently had the answer to all her problems. He never turned up. While waiting interminably, the author had the good fortune of coming across the Charmer. This individual was carrying 10kgs worth of extra baggage. Appearing to be a classic Excess Baggager(refer to previous posts) at first sight, the Charmer turned out to a completely different species. Apologetically, almost Frisky-like, he began to remove stuff from his decidedly huge box when he "accidentally" chanced upon a box of biscuits among his items. Which he "casually" offered to the officials at the counter all the while enquiring about their work, their family, how he is so successful etc. It was a pro at work. The officials didn't stand a chance. The baggage was checked in, excess weight and all, without the slightest problem. Amazing!

While this interlude provided brief entertainment, it also drove home the fact that the author had been much longer than she needed to. And apparently the barely controlled rage made some impression because they not only looked vaguely intimidated but also immediately got someone. The irony of the entire episode is that they happily let the author through without a mention of Visa problems this time even though the person who came along was not the big boss or whoever it is they wanted the author to bring along. And after traversing all this, what must await her but the beaming neon face of a sign that shouted FLIGHT DELAYED.(the vague sound you hear in the background is the gut wrenching scream of the author, and the other sound is that of her hair being torn.)

Ah well, the flight did take off and the author did reach her destination without further mishaps. Since that is the case, she should have nothing to complain about. Milton had it right when he said "...They are also served who stand and wait.". What he forgot to mention was the pure agony of the standing and waiting part. Especially to ones heels. Well, atleast she has both feet firmly on the ground now.The rest can rest. C'est la vie.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Payasam Penchant

My grandfather was the consummate storyteller. You could have heard the same story a million times from a million other people. But no rendition could hold a candle to my grandfather's. In fact most of these renditions did happen by candle-light. The load-shedding hours were Prime time at Vellat House. But then, being the fount of all knowledge that he was, my grandfather was never deterred by something as silly as time when it came to telling a story. Besides, no story is as good as a spur-of-the-moment one. It was through such a moment that my brother and I got to hear this one.

Somewhere in the misty reaches of time,it had been lunch-time. Which meant my poor mother was busy trying to herd my brother and me to the dining table. Well you couldn't really blame us.We were young. We were on vacation.There was so much field and fallow to explore. And great food is a lovely thing, but in those pre-hostel days it wasn't that much of a bait. With some quick maneuvering and deft use of the one-eye-brow-up routine (she made us shiver with that one), she actually got us to sit still and placed a plate in front of us before we escaped. And since my grandmother was the greatest cook since since cooking was discovered, we weren't complaining much. We enthusiastically piled our plates and had made some headway into our attack,when my brother whiffed a whiff of something delectable.

"Mmmmmmmmm... what's that smell..." He slurped.
My grandmother swelled imperceptibly with pride.
"Chakka payasam." she smiled. The smile died a quick death and was resurrected as a frown when it was greeted with a loud chorus of "EEEEEEWWW!"

Chakka- jackfruit- is one of the superstars of mallu cooking. It can be eaten as fruit, morph into curry, transmogrify itself into sabzi, and even reappear as dessert in the form of payasam or chakkavaratti. And later in the evening, it will return as chips, or back as fruit again. You can't escape the chakka. My brother and I were not really averse to it in most forms. But we were a wee bit dubious to the payasam. And hence the "EEEEEEW!"

Wincing at the double glares we were getting, my brother and I were preparing to face the wrath of the furies, when my grandfather saved us.
"Ah you shouldn't say that," He said between a bite of succulent ladiesfinger,"Chakka payasam is the king of payasams."

Apparently our disbelieving expressions were expressive.

"Really!" he insisted, eyes twinkling behind his thick rimmed glasses as he swallowed another morsel of food, "It's true. It was my father's favorite. But he didn't like it in the beginning either."

Our ears pricked up, and my mother let out a silent groan. The prospects of our finishing our meal anytime soon diminished considerably under the ensnaring influence of my grandfather's story telling.

"Yes..." he said, pouring more sambar onto his rice, settling into his story. "When my father was very young, he had to go for a wedding. At sadhya that followed he was a little distressed to find that one of the payasams was chakka payasam. But it wasn't such a great problem. After all, all he had to do was to tell the server to not pour it.

"It was a great sadhya. Everything was perfect. He was enjoying himself thoroughly. He had just finished cleaning off his third helping when, before he could say a word, the passing server dolloped a slop of chakka payasam right in the middle of his leaf!"

Here he paused dramatically and slurped on some drumstick while my brother and I let out enraged gasps. Yes, he knew how to work up the drama factor really well. He let us go on in the indignant vein for while and then got back to the story.

" Yes, he was furious!And he showed it!
'What have you done!'He shouted.
Apparently the server was a rather slow person.
'What sir?' he smiled benignly and dumped another ladle-full onto his leaf. The fact that the person on the other side of the leaf was squeaking indignant squawks seemed to have lit a candle wick somewhere in the server's cobweb ridden mind.'You don't like it?'
'No I don't like it!And now you've gone and put such a lot on my leaf!You mggfyffiuggg...' And the rest were sputters of rage.
The server scratched his head apologetically and said 'Oops.'
Which naturally sent the already irate guest into a whole new planet of rage.
'Well... don't worry' he continued, looking vaguely troubled at the rather scarily angry person in front of him. 'Just move it off to one side of the leaf and take whatever else you want.'
This rather simple solution,which had skipped my father's mind, took most of the wind out of his angry sails. He scowled and did as suggested and found the idea quite plausible. Except-
'Now it's on my hand!' he huffed at the server who was still standing by to see the effect of his advice.
'Well...' the server drawled, scratching his head again. 'Just lick it off.' At that moment he was called off to another side of the hall, leaving my father grimacing at his payasam coated palm.
Since it was already on his hand, and since he was planning on eating some more food, my father decided he might as well lick it off and get on with his gastronomical exploits. Taking a deep breath and steeling his tastebuds,my father licked off the payasam."

At this point my grandfather decided to prolong our suspense by leaning over his plate and cleaning off the last pools of sambar from his plate. We of course, obligingly chorused demands for him to continue. Satisfied that his plate was curry free, he leaned back and picked up where he stopped.

"He licked off the payasam, and realised it didn't really taste all that bad. But he wasn't in the mood to to follow up on that. Now that his sullied hand was taken care of, he looked down at his leaf- and was not happy. The pool of payasam was too close to the aviyal. He moved it off to another corner, and licked off the offending payasam. But now it was too close to the pappadam and pickles. So he moved it off to the other side and licked off his palm. Ah that's better. But look the inji thair is flowing into it! Oops! And he quickly moved it off to a safer location.

As it turned out, by the time he was done manouevering the payasam around his leaf- there was no payasam left. And, he had to admit it to himself, he was rather sad that it had gotten over. As if on cue, he espied the erring server passing by under a cloud of sweet aroma. He gestured madly at the man. The server caught sight of him and quickly came to his leaf. My father squirmed uncomfortably in his seat and cleared his throat a lot and finally mumbled at the server 'Couldeyehevsumore?'

The server blinked slowly and smiled a smile that he quickly hid. 'Here you go sir' He said, as he poured a ladle full of payasam and then darted off to another end of the hall.
And that is how my father first fell in love with chakka payasam."

Just then Karthyayani our grandmother's woman Friday walked in with a vessel wafting the distinct perfume of payasam. After a story like that it was difficult for us curious children to keep away from the stuff! My grandfather smiled indulgently at us as we slurped off several ladles of payasam. Our grandmother beamed with pride and my mother let out a sigh of relief.

Chakka payasam has remained one of our favorites ever since. Even now when we go back to Kerala for vacations Karthyayani makes it a point to make it for us if there is jackfruit around. May be she thinks that would make us miss our grand parents less. It doesn't, but it helps soothe the hurt to remember good times like those. And I'm sure they serve chakka payasam in heaven.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Party

Smaller and smaller the world gets
As we shrink into our selfs
-if they exist.
I take my pick, make my choices.
The night's darkness has nothing
On what I see
In your eyes
Staring at my painted face
From within the framed prison
Of the glass.

We spin in tune to the rush
of our blood, and our jewels
jingling and tinkling-
chink chink...
The chink in our armours
Meld into the skin on our backs,
Making stabbing easier.
And may be less painful.

The lights blink- black and white
Blotting the grey world out.
And the roar of the music
Tunes out reason (that pain in the head).
Festooning our faces with grinning fangs,
We soak in the madness of the static night.
Growing steadily drunk on amnesial vodka,
We drown the shadows within us.

We rise and fall to the beat,
Keeping time with the beads of sweat
Racing each other down,down
drip, drip,dripping.
You kiss the closest person
And call it love.
Declare it so loudly,
That you can't hear yourself
Tell you otherwise.

The night turns to day.
Muscles finally buckle.
Swaying and stumbling,we sashay back.
Laugh light laughs,
Unfurling like cigarette smoke,
That make you cough and choke.

Back in front of the framed
Glass prison,
I look and see a new face.
The paint is chipped and the varnish peeling,
But you-
Your eyes-
Still unyielding, accusing.

Right up till then I'd forgotten,
I'd lived something else,
Someone else.
But one look into your eyes,
And the haze lifted.

The party truly ended.