Thursday, April 28, 2011
“Hutt! Hutt!” says the man and my chestnut stead starts slowly up the lush mountain slope. Sitting astride, tightly clutching the reins was I-a petite, city girl who has so far never traveled on anything that walks (not considering piggy-back rides).
Twigs snap beneath crushing hooves, a cold breeze teases by hair, burrs cling hungrily to my sweater and branches stretch out their verdant arms slyly towards me; their fresh, leafy fingers brush me lightly, reminding me of a lover’s gentle, seductive first caress.
The horse and his keeper, both with their heads seemingly bent in deep thought, solemnly plod through the wilderness on dry, narrow paths hewn into the ground by mountain streams that gush down in the summer months. The conifers appear to have conspired and entwined together in a determined effort to filter out much of the sunlight. Although a few slanting shafts of golden light do manage to evade them and play hide and seek with me.
Sounds of human life gradually fade away. My ears are filled with the buzzing of alien insects and an occasional flutter of wings accompanied by shrill bird calls. A gentle hop across a small rivulet here, a mighty step over a huge boulder there - higher and higher we climb. Until finally we halt. We have reached our destination.
I take a few cautious steps and come clear of the green canopy. A few more and I wouldn’t be here, writing. But then, that is precisely my intention. Indeed the sole purpose of this long horseback journey.
My escort sets up the paragliding equipment and proceeds to enlighten me on the basics. For someone who eyes roller coaster rides with apprehension, I listen attentively with a hammering heart and with symptoms of acrophobia. Suddenly, he signals that I am ready. Am I? I ask myself. I remember the numerous failed high jump efforts of mine. I always run up to the pole and then…stop! I could never make myself jump. So will I do it now? Was I really ready to leave behind the safety and security of solid ground?
With a prayer, a shiver and a rush of adrenalin, I run to the cliff’s edge, grit my teeth, will my eyes to stay open and jump! For a split second I flounder. My lemon yellow parafoil forms an arch above me and then gracefully, graciously I rise, defying gravity. Like an eagle drifting lazily, I float. Snow capped peaks wink in the sunlight, miniature villages look up at me with envy and a meandering river gives me a silver grin.
“I wandered lonely as a cloud,
That floats on high o’er vales and hills”
Only, it is not loneliness that I feel. It is solitude. About 2000 m above sea level, in Solang Valley,Kulu Manali-India, I have conquered my fears. I look down and smile upon Earth like a benevolent God.
I gently hum the Carpenter's "I'm on top of the world, looking down on Creation".I am at peace.
A gauzy swirl of clouds envelops me. I surrender to the embrace.
Image Courtesy: www.dreamstime.com
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
I love getting comments from readers on my blog. Of course I prefer positive remarks (Who doesn’t?) but constructive criticism is also appreciated. Now, I know that there are several visitors to my blog, who enjoy reading it but don’t actually leave any comments here for whatever reasons (laziness? Shy? Dunno how to?). However when they happen to meet me or see me online, they let me know how much they like my writing, which really makes my day :-)
Of course I have a stats monitor which shows me details such as how many visitors I get and from which part of the world etc. But when people actually think of letting me know that they like reading my blog it is indeed very encouraging. That is predominantly the reason behind this post.
I can generally spend hours together doing something which many think of as “uncool”. (Actually make that, do a lot of things which most people would term uncool! ) And that is…watching cookery shows!
Starting all those years back with some tacky and dull cookery shows on Doordarshan to the spunkier Samaiyal, Samaiyal on Star Vijay, I used to watch any cookery show that I came across. I was soooo into this that at one point I even considered taking up catering technology! Anyway thanks to my brother's words of wisdom, better sense prevailed and I did not do that – coz knowing me, I probably wouldn’t have had the energy and stamina to stand and slog away in a hot kitchen for a long time!
The fact that I actually enjoy watching cookery shows continuously baffles my husband who often wonders “Aren’t you bored?!” Well, no! I really take pleasure in watching the chefs create something delicious. Each chef has a different stlye and their signature touch. Sometimes the dishes are new to me, sometimes I already know how to cook them, sometimes I copy their recipes, sometimes I don’t. I would't even call myself a food lover because really I don't eat much at all. But irrespective of whether I am going to make the dish shown or not, I watch the shows anyway!
I think that there is so much to know about a country’s culture, history and tradition by looking at their food and their way of making it. You can see how one dish from one part of the world has been derived from or influenced some other dish from another part of the world-and the culinary borders blend and merge into one another. Some foodie facts are intriguing; some are fascinating while still some others simply succeed in just churning your stomach! You pick up all kinds of trivia! Did you know, for example, that Jamaican and Moroccan cuisines use a lot of spices common to the Indian palate? While we have dosas the French have crepes. Or that Molligatawny soup is supposedly the British pronunciation of “Molagu thanni” in Tamil or in plain English pepper-water? Or that there is an Italian pasta dish called Puttanesca which literally means “in the style of a prostitute” – because according to one theory, it is quick, easy and spicy! Hmmm ;-)
In recent times I have moved from watching cooking shows on TV to the Internet. After lurking anonymously at various websites I finally subscribed to not 1, not 2 but 4 cooking channels so far!(Well it’s free anyway!). I never leave any comments on their videos, which obviously they have taken a lot of time and effort to make, post and administer. So I thought that I would show all of them my appreciation here on my blog. And in case any of you are interested, you could also look them up!
One of the very first cookery videos I saw online was from those 2 smart and savvy ladies at Show Me The Curry. These 2 Indian ladies are settled in the US and cook mostly Indian dishes. Even if they make dishes from other cuisines they customize it to suit the Indian palate-which helps a lot!
Betty’s Kitchen, is another show I follow. The cooking and explanations are done by Betty a retired professor while the filming is done by her husband Rick. She is from Kentucky and speaks with a distinct southern drawl. Initially I used to wonder as to why she was speaking so slowly until I realized that it was her accent! A really sweet and charming lady who barely looks 50 but is actually 60 plus! Her food is mostly American.
The next one is Titli Nihaan. A British lady who is well traveled and is open to trying out different dishes from different cuisines from all over the world. She hosts Titli’s Busy Kitchen and I really enjoy her spontaneity and sense of humor! This is one crazy old lady who definitely cracks me up!
Here comes the famous Nigella Lawson! She is yummy and whatever she cooks is yummy too!In fact she has earned the nickname of being the queen of food-porn ;-) I love her no-nonsense, down-to-earth, hands-on approach to cooking. Above all I absolutely adore her British accent (no matter what Russell Peters comments about the English accent!)
Last but not the least, comes Laura Vitale an Italian cook. Sigh! Sometimes I wish I was born in Italy! Their flawless olive toned skin, silky long hair, sparkling clear eyes! Oof! And they get to eat all the cheese in the world! Lol! Anyways Laura is a very energetic, beautiful and friendly cook and I love hearing her pronounce the names of the Italian dishes, well in Italian as they should be!
I notice that I have only listed female cooks. Although I do watch men cooking, I guess I somehow prefer it if women cook! (Pre-conditioning?!) Of the men I would pick Sanjay Thumma from Vahchef for his absolute passion towards food and cooking as well as Chef Damodaran, who kinda looks like a dark Santa-minus-the-beard! Both seem to be jolly old fellows who would love to dig into a huge plate of food at any given time! I do not like the other famous chef Sanjeev Kapoor mainly because his shows are in Hindi, which I don’t follow. Also I haven’t gotten down to watching a whole lot of other celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver, Nigel Slater, Julia Child (Although I did watch Julie & Julia, which I found to be charming!) Maybe I will someday ;-)
And then of course, there is the whole world of extensive food blogging, drool-worthy food blogs, wonderful food photographers and talented food bloggers! Well, that is something for another day!
Image Courtesy: www.dreamstime.com
Saturday, April 2, 2011
I am terribly scared of ghosts. No idea whether they exist or not-nor do I want to find out! I have never seen one (Touchwood!) but I have done my fair share of experimentations with Ouija boards and stuff like that. I refuse to watch horror movies simply because if I do watch one, then for atleast a month I keep looking over my shoulder, imagining unknown monsters lurking in dark corners or unseen eyes that follow my every move. Call me naïve or gullible but the fact is that I hover somewhere on the middle ground when it comes to believing in ghosts and spirits. So it is indeed a little surprising that I actually like hanging around in graveyards.
I have never been to a cremation ground but I imagine that it won’t be a pretty site to witness. But on the other hand, I somehow feel that a graveyard is very peaceful. Back home in Chennai, the Kilpauk cemetery is home to some near and dear ones. So it gets a little too personal for me and I don’t really fancy going there unless I have to pay my tributes or to get buried myself. But there is another really old cemetery behind St.Geroge’s Cathedral on Cathedral Road. It was just behind my school and I have spent many a afternoon wandering among tombstones, much to my mother's chagrin!
Once inside the cemetery it is easy to forget that you are in the middle of one of the busiest roads in Chennai. All the hustle and bustle of Mount Road fades away and you are engulfed in a blanket of peace and serenity. It is an island of tranquility, with a green canopy and sun-dappled cool spots. The graveyard has lots of greenery-probably because all the plants and trees get ample nourishment?-and it is really calm and quiet in there. All you can hear is the rustle of leaves and the chirping of birds.
Some of the tombs date back to the pre-independence era while some are relatively new. Some are well maintained with flowers and melted candles surrounding them, while others have been long forgotten and are crumbling to ruins. Some have been built with expensive marble and gleaming granite while others are more humble with just a slab of plain cement. I wander around these tombs, pausing here and there to read the epitaphs. Some epitaphs are poetic or elaborate while some are terse and formal. I look at the birth and death dates, figure how many years the person has lived and wonder at their lives. Who was this person who has become one with the Earth now? I try to imagine what his/her life was like. Did they get to achieve all their dreams and hopes before they died – or were there any unfulfilled wishes? There lies a lifetime ensconced in a 6 feet wooden box deep down under the grass. A lifetime filled with what? Smiles and laughter, joy and contentment? Or tears, disappointments and failures? I only hope that it was the former.
Please Note: A graveyard, as I said can be pretty desolate. So if anybody is tempted to explore, especially if you are alone, do make sure that you stick to the more open and brighter areas. Be aware of your surroundings and resist the urge to drift away into some obscure corners. No, not because an evil spirit is going to possess you. Sometimes in life one needs to be more careful of the living than the dead. If you notice someone observing you or loitering around you then better make a quick exit!
On a completey different note, someone told me that there is a belief in India that our dead ancestors come back as ravens, which is why they are served food during special days. So when I was in the cemetery I noticed loads of ravens all around. Think there is any connection?
Image Courtesy: www.dreamstime.com