Wednesday, August 25, 2010

To market! To market! (HT Brunch - Sun Aug 22)

The Hindustan Times did a lovely story this weekend, on "Hidden Cities" - little known delights of Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore.

I thoroughly enjoyed taking Mignonne, the writer who covered the story, on a walking exploration of Bhuleshwar and Kalbadevi.

These vibrant areas of the city constantly surprise me - even when I think I know it all, they throw something new at me. This time, on the walk, it was a little signboard in Mangaldas Market, that said "Extra Gully".

Mangaldas Market is one of the largest wholesale fabric markets in this area - a somewhat addictive experience if, like me, you have a thing about fabrics. It is divided into little lanes, and each lane has a number that helps orient you in the maze. I've been there several times, but this was the first time I saw this little board - Mignonne pointed it out to me. An Extra Gully - a builder's quirk, perhaps, but firmly declaring its presence :) We are here too! say the shops in this lane! All you have to do is follow this arrow!

I had to squint up to look at the board. Hard to spot!

The sign is in English, Devnagri and Gujarati. By its very nature it reminds me of the multi-cultural mix of traders who have made this area their home. Muslim, Parsi, Hindu and Jain traders, all use the Gujarati script. Marathi-speaking dealers use Devnagri. English is commonly used by all these communities...notice that the word Extra is English; and so is the word Gully...that doesn't stop anyone from understanding it and writing it in whatever script they want!

On the walk, I also took Mignnone to one of my new favourites - a fantastic little bindi shop near the TBZ store, called Tanvi.

What fascinates me about this shop is how they constantly have new products. How does one innovate in something as simple as a bindi? Apparently, the possibilities are endless.

For example, I spotted this bright orange box amidst other bright boxes, and asked "What is it?" Kya hai? "Khol ke dekho madam", said the guy at the shop. Open it and see.

The box that caught my fancy

So I open it, and ta-da! It's a Bindi Wallet, with a little mirror on top for me to admire my forehead.

Given how expensive fancy bindis are, a wallet to keep them all in order is a practical idea, but what evokes my admiration is the design effort that has gone into making the wallet attractive and appealing. Clearly, this is designed so that it is perfect as a part of a bridal set, or maybe just a wonderful embellishment to a woman's dresser.

And if you find the bindi wallet too large to carry around, here's a tinier version, to slip into your purse :) Notice how the design is more no-nonsense, perhaps it is meant to appeal to the working woman of Bombay? :)

Go wow 'em at the office, girl!

And that's not all. The world of bindis extends beyond the forehead, to hair ornaments, anklets, tattoos for the arm and back...and all manner of body art.

Body art in every colour you can dream of

There are new designs every couple of months.

I see the stocks of bindis and tattoos constantly changing, and marvel at the design impetus behind it. It is the market itself that drives this design. The Indian woman - with her love for all things colourful, and her readiness to try new things - is at the heart of these products.

Photo of me which appeared in HT Brunch - at Tanvi Bindi Shop.

Tanvi is a wholesale shop, but you can see how the entire business is geared towards appealing to the women of the city. "Yeh chalega kya"? Will this work in the market? This is the single-minded question that drives all of Kalbadevi and Bhuleshwar into a frenzy of innovation and change. More power to this machine, then! May it thrive and prosper!

P.S. If you want to read the full article then it is here, with many interesting other tidbits about Bhuleshwar.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What's it with women and cameras

I was chatting with my friend Derek this morning when he said, hey I bought a new camera lens.

What is it, I asked him, what did you buy?

It's a SIGMA something something, he said.

Actually, that's not what he said. He correctly named the exact model. But I usually get a dazed look whenever anyone reels off any numbers. So only the Sigma registered and I kinda lost the rest of the plot there :)

Anyway, Derek is off happily experimenting with this new super-zoom lens.

Talking to him, I felt that sharp familiar twinge I always get when I hear about cameras. When are you going to buy a better one, Deepa, I asked myself.

For two years now, I've been wanting something better than my point-and-shoot. But I haven't gotten around to buying it.

It's not that I cannot afford it.

As I was chatting today, I finally realised the real reason I haven't bought a camera in two years.

Guilt. With a capital G.

My ultra-conservative-about-money upbringing doesn't allow me to spend a hundred thousand rupees on a gadget.

And it's more than that. I also realise the real problem is that I'm unwilling to spend on a gadget that is purely for me. No one else in the family will use that camera. It's going to be just my own personal toy.

An expensive toy. That will lead to further expenses as I get into accessories, more lenses, photography lessons...

Guilt, guilt, guilt.

A peculiarly female thing? I guess a sociologist would have a field day over this. After all, this is a country where women eat last, after they have fed the rest of the household. Where women consistently undervalue themselves and their interests.

But is my guilt over an expensive purchase a female thing? I know many women who indulge themselves to death; usually in the form of jewellery or clothes or shoes or purses. They're buying fancy mobile phones these days as well; and cars and laptops. Many of these are women who don't have careers; it is the husband who brings home the bacon, so to speak. There is no guilt over these purchases - instead there is just pride and vanity, blessed by social sanction. Clothing and jewellery are a woman's way of telling another woman how rich she really is.

Unfortunately, that logic doesn't extend to womens' cameras. You can't show them off to other women, you see? :) Fancy mobile phones, even laptops and cars, you can show off. But the only people who seem to really understand cameras are men :)

Men really understand expensive toys, don't they? My male friends almost always egg me on to buy that new camera, and most of them offer advice on what model to buy.

My husband definitely has fewer qualms about expensive toys than I do. As I type this, the Bose he bought sits there twinkling at me. Before that, there was the custom-configured Wharfedale. But hey - to be fair to him, it's just two things in all our years together. So does he have guilt too? I *think* so. He certainly has the same ultra-conservative-about-money upbringing! Maybe that's why we don't squabble about money matters :)

Anyway, I think my camera story is drawing to an end. Why? Two things have happened - first, a new Croma store just opened near my house. Which means I am just ten minutes away from my camera. And second, we finally exchanged our credit card points for 35,000 rupees of Croma vouchers. Which means my guilt trip just substantially lessened :) Watch this space!

P.S. All advice welcome! Budget is anything upto Rs 100,000 for relatively light camera and decent zoom lens.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Dummies Guide to Sabudana Khichdi

Let's face it. Sabudana khichdi is the easiest thing to make.

Strangely, I totally *suck* at it, producing a gooey mess every single time, instead of a happy light breakfast. It's a complete mystery, because I am otherwise a competent and creative cook.

Thankfully, with the arrival of my new maid, the sabudana khichdi in our household has morphed into a work of art. Since Shravan is here, in all its supposed holiness, and people are buying sabudana by the kilo, I thought this a good time to produce this Sabudana Khichdi for Dummies.

Note that I am merely recording what my maid is doing, I'm not cooking. I'm convinced I'm jinxed when it comes to this sabudana thing :)

Step 1: Sabudana soaked overnight

Aha. Hang on there, because this is the first stumbling block. Most recipes will tell you this soak overnight stuff. The real trick though, is to Know Thy Sabudana. The right amount of soaking (1 hour in our household, but 30 minutes in some others) is required. After this, you drain all the water out, using a colander, and you leave the wet sabudana in the colander overnight. When you come back in the morning you'll find that the sago globules have morphed into fat moist little delights, waiting to be cooked.

Step 2: The Ingredients - Cumin, Lemon, Chillies, Peanuts coarsely ground, coriander for garnishing

There's a missing ingredient in this photo, which is a boiled potato (optional, strictly speaking, but hey, who doesn't like potatoes? And it adds a nice extra texture). By the way, the ground peanut thingy? The more you add the nicer the whole darn thing tastes.

Step 3 - Heat oil in kadhai, add cumin.

Easy, no? The thing is not to burn the seasonings, so keep the flame low, wait for the oil to heat up, then add the cumin.

Step 4: Slice chillies lengthwise

If you're in a household of brave men and women, you can chop the chillies into chunks, or chop them really fine for a spicier dish. I prefer not to be surprised into biting chillies, so we slice them this way to spot it easily.

Step 5: Watch green chillies sizzling in oil. Careful. The pods tend to pop when hot.

Step 6: Add the sago. No, it doesn't stick to the sides of the pan, but cut the flame to as low as you can.

Step 7: Squeeze lemon

My maid and I don't see eye to eye on this lemon business. To me, lemon is something you squeeze at the very end, like a garnish, after you take this thing off the flame. My maid doesn't have any such qualms, and adds lemon anywhere anyhow. Given that her food is outstanding, I should just sit back and let her do what she likes, right?

Step 8: Add salt to taste

How much, really, is "salt to taste"? Different salts have different saltiness, so this one, my friend, only works by trial and error. The golden rule is of course, Less is More. Go easy on the salt. Err on the side of caution. And so on.

Step 9: Bring on the ground peanuts. The more the merrier.
This is also the time my maid brings out the boiled potato, cuts it into tiny squares and pops it into the mix. I've also seen potatoes added at the beginning, just after the green chillies. That seems more sensible to me, but hey, what do *I* know.

Step 10: Give it a good stir. Watch it go from white to a happy brown.

Sabudana cooks quickly. In about 5 minutes, the sago turns translucent, which is when you know it's done. But it also sticks a bit to the sides of the pan, so you have to keep stirring.

Step 11: Chop coriander into bits for garnishing

Step 12: Serve hot

This is important. Cold sabudana is like biting into very dead fish. Hot, steaming, spicy, with the fantastic smells of coriander, lemon and chilli, that's how to eat this thing.

And the best way to eat it is plain. Maharashtrians ruin it, according to me, with a ridiculous sweet yoghurt dip to go with it. But hey. Whatever floats your boat.

And now to breakfast....