Thursday, September 20, 2007

he comes home on saturday and departs on sunday- the elephant god

om sri ganeshaya nama:

last saturday(15th september) was the day of ganesh chaturthi.i was returning from orissa where i had gone on work.while driving back home,i spoke to my daughter who informed me that she and her mom had bought a beautiful ganesha idol and were installing it in her home.she wanted me to come over and do the official puja.after all,i am the uncrowned priest of our family! whether it is a sacred thread ceremony,wedding,seemantham(baby shower),or the naming ceremony i am there around. my family members are reassured that should something happen to the chief priest and he doesn't turn up at least i am there,as a back-up, to see the function through.early this year my mom-in-law was greatly relieved when her archbishop(our family priest's pet name) dropped out at the last moment for an important religious function and i was available to substitute him. i am grateful to my family members to repose so much of faith in me.

during this month,many devotees take a vow that they will not kill any rat.mumbai's rodent population is massive. and for ten days they breath fresh air.the rat is the official vehicle of lord ganesha. each hindu god/ goddess has his/her own vehicle.the chairman of the bmc health committee is worried that eliminating rats,which they regularly do, will attract lord ganesha's curse.he has issued a diktat. "no killing of rats till visarjan(immersion) is over on ananthchaturthi day(25thSeptember). the joy of the rats knows no bounds. indeed they are having a field day.

lord ganesha's rat is lovingly called mooshika.actually he rides a elephant god riding on a mouse.isn't that a huge paradox? and how does hinduism explain this puzzle? the sanskrit word mooshika is derived from the root'mush' which means stealing or robbing.our neighbour prez(musharaff) has no doubt an appropriate name. mooshika represents fear and nervousness. by praying to lord ganesha his devotees can earn his grace and overcome their fear,doubts and apprehensions. assured in the belief that the 'vignahartara' will remove all obstacles from the way.the rat is a destructive pest. and lord ganesha is around to keep the mouse under check. according to puranas,when lord ganesh was a child,a big mouse started terrorising all his friends.lord ganesh trapped him with his lasso and made him his mount.

mooshika was in his earlier birth a 'gandharva'(celestial musician). by mistake he walked over the feet of a rishi called 'vamadeva' who was absorbed in deep meditation.the rishi lost his temper and cursed that the gandharva be transformed into a mouse. later, when he calmed down, he promised mooshika that he will attain salvation one day by being the mount of lord ganesha.

my daughter had prepared some delicious modaks(lord ganesha's favourite) which we offered to the lord and did an aarti. the next day,again after puja,we took the idol to girgaum chowpatty and immersed it in the sea.there are young boys who volunteer to take the idol quite deep into the sea and immerse it. i hired one of them and walked with him till the water had reached my waist level and then handed over the idol to him for a safe immersion.

'ganpati bappa morya,putch varsha lavkar ya' (dear lord ganpati, our salutations to you,do come early next year). mumbai is in a joyous mood celebrating its biggest religious event of the year.matunga's gsb mandal had decked up its 21 feet ganesha idol with jewellery valued at rs 7 crores.60 kg gold and 175 kg silver.and 'lalbag cha raja' is no less wealthy. and do you know that if lord ganesha's trunk is turned to the left,it indicates spiritual blessings. and if it is turned to the right,it indicates prosperity,health and blessings.

lord ganesha is also called vinayaka because he was born without the intervention of man.vinayaka generates jealousy in shiva and provokes him to day ganesha is beheaded by shiva.parvati is inconsolable in grief. and when shiva resurrects parvati's creation and appoints him as the leader of his followers(the pati of the ganas),ganesha represents the change in shiva .from a recluse hermit(hence parvati had to create ganesha from the turmeric in her body) to a householder.ganesha is the intellectual.unlike his brother karthikeya who is a superwarrior.he has an elephant's head,a pot belly and a serpent tied around his stomach.these signify shiva and shakthi,a merger of the god and goddess.soul and substance.wealth and wisdom are his wives(riddhi and siddhi). his daughter is santoshi,satisfaction.the rat which is symbolic of human problems of life is kept at bay.

why an elephant head? elephant is indra's signifies material abundance.elephants flank lakshmi,the goddess of wealth and prosperity,gajalakshmi.shiva is known as gajantaka.he who flays the elephant and uses its thick skin as his angavastra(upper garment).

lord ganesha is the god of learning and knowledge.through devotion to him one learns to be responsible,to differentiate between good and bad and develop farsightedness.he teaches discipline.he is easily pleased.just by offering him a little durva grass.this grass collected from mount kailas came to lord ganesha's rescue when after swallowing the great asura anlasur,he suffered a burning sensation in his stomach.anlasur was creating havoc swallowing saints,sages and innocent people alive.even lord indra could not contain him.all the gords rushed to lord shiva who suggested that only lord ganesha could help them as he was potbellied and could swallow anlasur.the moment he ate the durba grass the burning sensation vanished.

he is pleased to grant one's heartfelt desires.he is very fond of modak.modak is derived from two words,mode meaning pleasure and 'k' denoting a little bit.something that gives pleasure even when it is in a small quantity.he is fond of jaggery too.

whoever offers durba grass to lord ganesha becomes like kubera,the god of wealth.whoever offers rice and paddy achieves success and fame.and whoever offers a thousand laddoos to lord ganesha has his personal desires fulfilled.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

monkey menace-maa, look it's everywhere!

quite often one reads in the newspapers about the havoc that monkeys cause.mumbai has witnessed about 15 monkey attacks in the last three months.though generally they attack in groups,in these cases this monkey is a serial-attacker.10 children and 6 women were bitten between dadar and mulund.monkeys are suspected to be passing through some behavioural changes.with depletion of fruitbearing trees,monkeys seem to be leaving their groups and venturing it all alone in search of food.

when i lived in goa for about three years, the fruit-bearing trees and vegetable plants were constantly raided by the food-seeking monkeys.there were atleast forty to fifty of them who would reach my garden after i left for work and leave before i returned i was living alone,they had a field day.their articles of attraction were the bananas, mangoes,guavas and chikkoos.a colleague of mine tried to shoot one of these monkeys who was regularly invading his bungalow much to the consternation of his family.the reaction from the group of monkeys was so vigorous that he was at his wits' end in dealing with the problem .he left town for a while and the problem subsided.

monkeys are intelligent beings and one cannot mess around with them. my policy was to keep them at a distance. neither would i encourage them nor would i antagonise them. that policy paid.they didn't bother me too much.but the administrators of our colony decided to get rid of this menace once and for all.they brought an expert from rajasthan who promised 100% success. the day he arrived,all the monkeys disappeared.he waited for one full week.they did not return.not even one of them.he left in desperation and after disappointing all the residents.a few days after he left they surfaced and were up to their usual pranks.

a group of monkeys has recently been harassing women in kenya. also,it is reported that they are destroying crops and causing a food crisis in the village of nachu. the local mp has urged the wildlife service to help contain their aggressive behaviour. when he told parliament that monkeys were harassing women he caused some laughter.

back home in himachal pradesh, farmers have taken to guns to fight the monkey menace.they are virtually shot at sight.the farmers of nauradhar tehsil of sirmour district never wanted to kill the monkeys.but seeing the apathy of the officials,they decided to go for the kill without obtaining prior permission.they also went on a state-wide agitation demanding the lifting on the ban on export of simians.the ban was imposed in 1978.the population of monkeys has risen from 60,000 in 1980 to 3,17,000 now.annual loss attributable to the monkeys is rs 150 crores.

kim dang hoon,a south korean tourist, filed a complaint last month in a police station in varanasi for the recovery of his reading glasses. the tourist claimed that it was stolen by a monkey.the police said that the only evidence they could find was a broken glass in the was impossible to initiate any action against the monkey,they said.however kim has been pursuing his complaint so that he could make an insurance claim.

new delhi suffers from a serious monkey menace.they seem to have become a serious 'security threat'.last year the ministry of defence found some of its top secret documents scattered all over the place one morning. a cabinet minister could not enter his house for many months because the monkeys would not let anybody enter the house. in the presidential palace,a dark faced langur monkey was used to scare away the rhesus monkeys!

pragati maidan,new delhi was the venue for a fashion week early this month.this was the 10th edition of the fashion week.participating designers came with collections looking cool.tarun tahiliani,well-known fashion designer indulged in some theatrics.he brought monkeys(humans in disguise) to the runway.he kickstarted his show with the national anthem.

in india monkeys are worshipped as well as ridiculed.we have a monkey god in lord the same time they are looked upon as objects of fun.monkeys by nature are prone to antics.they jump from branch to branch with lightning speed.when young, our parents often admonished us saying "don't behave like a monkey".when we sit down to concentrate on some work and we are easily distracted it is proof that our mind indeed is like a monkey.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

the power of the pungent bulb

man has been cultivating onions for food from the dawn of civilisation.the ancient egyptians worshipped them. the concentric rings and the spherical shape of the onions were supposed to symbolise eternal life. the dead were buried with onions to enable them to wakeup in their afterlives thanks to onion's strong scent or odour whichever way you look at it.

onions have travelled a lot.they went to greece where they were used by atheletes and gladiators who used them to lighten their blood and harden their muscles. it has been proved that onion has medicinal properties for preventing/ curing a whole lot of ailments. on the other hand in india the people were a bit lukewarm to onions. it was considered taamasic food and blamed for stimulating baser desires. but in the last 500 years or so due to the impact of muslim and british cultures,indians have acquired a taste for onions and have assimilated onion as part of their food habits.though for the orthodox among hindus and jains, onion is still taboo.

onions can be consumed in many can eat them raw with salt after slicing them. they can be fried with batter and eaten as onion rings or also as a vegan french onion can have them in vegetables and also in sambhars.

in india, onions are politically very powerful.onions have proved to be india's most politically sensitive crop. they can keep goverments going or cause their collapse. if the prices shoot up beyond a point,the government's defeat in an election is certain. governments are careful not to upset the onion cart. because it can bring tears-both literally and politically.

besides hoping that the prices are kept under check by the government,there are many ways to arrest the watering of the eyes when you slice through an onion.some wear goggles,some put them in deepfreeze before slicing,some even light a candle on the cutting board,some also meditate. all in the hope that the strong odour that gets released while slicing due to the enzymes are reduced and the sulphur gas allicin which irritates the eye gets suppressed. onion is a tear-jerker indeed!

i love onion sambhar particularly when the baby onions are used.with idli it is an explosive combination.i take them raw too with green mirchi and salt considered to be a poor man's daily vegetable.also french onion soup and onion rings are my favourite. i remember vividly when i first visited my daughter l at charlotte,north carolina,where she was studying.we went to a restaurant in the school campus and the only thing that we two could eat were onion rings!

when you have potassium,calcium and magnesium along with vitamin b,zinc and iron in onions, it can only do good for you. when i go to my doctor to have my bp checked,sometimes,i press a sliced onion under my arms and it works. the doctor is pleased to see that my average bp has come down. i tell him the trick and he has a hearty more,he says.the onion that you love will kill you.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


vada paav is mumbai's most popular choice of fast food.and the city's fitting answer to the burger.the story goes that one ashok vaidya got an idea.he split a pav and pushed a batata vada into it.presto,it became an instant success.he had his outlet near dadar railway station.he must have become a rich man.

many me-toos have cropped up.for a city where more than half the population lives on the streets,if you have got your mix right,you cannot go wrong.the vada is a potato-based patty.potatoes are mashed and mixed with green chillies.some ginger and mustard seeds are also added and fried in a is served hot squeezed into a spilt paav and redchilli powder and mint or garlic chutney act as accompaniments.i often buy vadapaav when i am returning home from work from the mtnl vadapaavwala at flora fountain.he produces vadapaavs like a machine.he has a phenomenal reputation.two of these can keep you going for three to four hours.

at home when gb asked me the other day the menu for breakfast,i exclaimed "why not bonda paav". bonda is the south indian version of batata vada.popularly known as mysore bonda. and gb who hails from konkan is adept at it. so in a jiffy,she whipped out hot mysore bondas sandwiched between two pieces of was hot-temperature wise and contents wise.and there was curryleaves chutney as accoutrement. i was embarking on a long journey to orissa and there couldn't be a better way of insuring myself against any hunger pangs en route.if you haven't tried this before.i urge you to give it a will be thrilled.

cook the potatoes.peel the skin and mash well. add salt,turmeric powder and mix.cook the peas.chop finely the onion and green chillies and grate the ginger.separately heat oil in a kaddai.splutter mustard seeds.add green chilli,ginger and stir.add the chopped onion,saute well.add the mashed potato and cooked peas. mix well and cook to heat it through. add the garam masala and chopped coriander leaves.mix well.remove from stove.this is the basic vegetable mix to make is the same for cutlets and patties too.the recipe has been taken from "andu paatti's cookbook" by andal rangaswamy.a heaven-sent guide for novices like me.

and now make small lemonsize balls of the veggie mix.mix half a cup of chana dal flour,half a cup of rice flour,half a teaspoon salt,half teaspoon chilli powder and add enough water to make a thick batter.heat oil in a kadai for deep frying. dip a potato ball in the batter,coat it well all around and slide it into the hot oil.add 5-6 bondas in the oil and let them fry. when done a little turn them around and fry until they are evenly golden brown all around.when done scoop out the oil.fry the rest the same way.serve hot with coconut chutney or tomato sauce.

if you haven't made mysore bonda before,go wouldn't get an easier way of preparing it.and after the hot bondas have been scooped out,wedge them inbetween two unsuspecting paavs.and then you have a giant of a bonda-paav in front of you. maker's pride,neighbour's envy.

Friday, September 14, 2007

i love sprouts

they have long been famous for being a superb source of research has established that they have curative abilities in them.they contain highly active antioxidants that do not allow the DNA to get destroyed and also protect us from the effects of ageing.sprouts like alfalfa,broccoli,radish and clover contain plant compounds which protect us against disease.

sprouting dates back to 3000BC in China.the Hunzas of the Himalayas known for their very long lifespans and freedom from disease have sprouted seeds as one of the essential ingredients in their diet.

they prevent bone breakdown by increasing bone formation.they have demonstrated benefit for pancreatic and colon cancers.they lower blood cholsesterol and fat.they help in cardiovascular diseases and also stimulate the immune system.

the seed by itself is a storehouse of food energy. when soaked in water,a whole range of enzymatic action unfolds.the stable nutrients are transformed into life components. they are now young new plants.and you can find them in all shapes and colours.they taste good and provide a good amount of energy.a welcome "health food", i buy them off the shelf from our club stores. or from 'godrej natures basket'. you can sprout them too at home. all you need is a utensil,some fresh water,a few seeds and some warm place. voila! in three to four days' time you get a delicious forest of nutritional power.

in addition to proteins,they have vitamins too.after sprouting,the vitamin content goes up by about four times.and you also get minerals,calcium,fibre,zinc and and iron which are latent in the seed.and when kept in indirect sunlight,sprouts produce can eat them in inumerable soup bases,as salads or just plain raw.just eat them it will do wonders to your health.

Friday, September 07, 2007

'spices and flavours'

about a fortnight back, s and i decided to go out for a lunch to give gb a much-needed break. i had read a glowing review about a vegetarian restaurant at worli serving "lipsmacking appetisers and mocktails" and was eagerly looking forward to visit the place at the earliest opportunity.

when we landed there around 1pm on a sunday there was hardly anyone around excepting a bunch of four rowdy boys sitting in a corner,smoking the hookah(supari and some essence) and playing music through the cellphone speaker loudly unmindful of the others in the restaurant. the waiters were chatting with the boys and didn't even ask them to stop playing the music when we arrived. i had to put an end to the deafening noise. though tranquility prevailed for some time, i was completely put off by the lazy demeanour of the staff and their sloppy attitude. the place had been disinfected with phenoyl.the smell made me feel that we had come to a hospital and not a restaurant. we took a seat in the corner,far away from the bar and i noticed that the sofa next to ours had a torn upholstery. we looked at each other and wondered whether we had made a wrong choice. i assured s that the food will be good(rajasthani style in shuddha ghee); so let us turn a nelson's eye to the brats around and the rather poor standard of service and housekeeping.

the steward came in casually,took our orders in an inattentive and nonchalant manner and then disappeared for quite a while.we had ordered some starters and it took ages for these to arrive.and then the main course.while s settled for some biryani, i decided to be somewhat adventurous and ordered some mexican food.the food was not bad but the service and housekeeping left a bad taste in our mouths.

what a pity! excellent location.quite a large space.midpoint between suburb and downtown,could have been a nice trendy restaurant. and the cash counters would have been ringing. instead you have a dead place. in hospitality services,once you earn a bad name,you are sunk. i am sure many would have had similar experiences with this place.a mixture or shall i say a khichdi of moroccan and indian interiors.the only plus point was the food.but the minuses were so many that i would give it an overall minus rating. we had invited our daughter and son-in-law to join us. i was relieved when they called to say that they had another engagement to which they were already committed.

there is a family room or reserved section which has lowstyle seating.the centre of the table was a heavy grinding stone from rajasthan presuambly.the various artifacts and lamps did not jell at all.polished wooden sleepers from the railways have been used as base for the furniture to give it some sort of an antique look.

while leaving,i left behind my comments in the guest-book. i hope the owners take cognizance of what i have said.there is no greater dampener in a restaurant than lazy servers who make you feel unwelcome. there are many potential pluses going for the place.they could be converted to make 'spices and flavours' true to its name and a winner.

those who write reviews need to be more just can't get carried away by a few good things.the review must be balanced and objective; giving due consideration to all factors that make dining out a pleasurable experience.decor,ambience,courtesy,service,food and price point must be properly evaluated before the final marks are given. i enquired whether i could meet the question met with a blank expression from the face of the steward. we then left. a big disappointmnet to the high expectations raised by the review.

Monday, September 03, 2007

the evergreen guavas

i have always been fond of guavas.during our schooldays in kolkata we used to refer to them as pyaaras.kaccha pyaraas and salt made a terrific combination.when we lived in chembur in mumbai, we had a guava tree that was planted by my mother in our kitchen was a perennial source of guavas. while in kolkata recently,i could not resist the temptation of buying a few guavas.unlike in mumbai where you do not get big sized guavas,in kolkata they are available in plenty.these are grown extensively in west bengal,bihar and up from where most of the guavas sold in the streets of kolkata come from.

thousands of years ago guava trees were found in central and south america.they spread from there to all parts of the world. it is said that 'incas' and 'aztecs' were extremely fond of guavas. peru is credited with having developed the technique for planting of guava various excavations, seeds of guava have been found with other grains reinforcing the fact of its antiquity.birds and monkeys are very fond of guavas.guava trees grow extensively in rain affected india,guava is extensively grown excepting in the hilly areas.allahabad is famous for guavas besides its certain rural areas guava is not sold by weight but a few of them are sold for a rupee.

known as the 'fruit of the poor',it is rich in vitamins a,b and is not generally known that the amount of vitamin c in guava is much more than in citrus fruits.and it also has high amounts of calcium.even tea is made from guava leaves.from seed to rind the full fruit is edible,though the rind is slightly bitter.the middle is the sweetest. it is also helpful for diarrhoea and as an antidote for is antibacterial and an astringent.also regular consumption of guava can bring down the bad cholesterol level in the also helps in keeping the skin smooth.hence face creams have some guava in them! even the guava leaves have been found to be useful for extracting a blackcoloured liquid which is used to manufacture dyes used for colourprinting of textiles.

ripe guavas are delicious when they are eaten raw.icecream,beverages and jellies are also made with guava.when a few slices of peeled guavas are added to apple pie,it gives a special fragrance.they are added in salads and also served as a starter when stuffed with cream cuba their leaves are used in barbecues.

guava tree and fruit have religious and puranic connections as well. on shivarathri,alongwith fresh milk and bilva leaves,plantain leaves and guava fruit are offered to lord the jambhukeshvara temple in tiruchi,one of the five lingams is situated directly under a guava tree.

already wellknown throughout the world,the guavas have become more famous thanks to kiran desai's debut novel "hullabaloo in the guava orchard' .

Sunday, September 02, 2007

shukto-the quintessential bengali dish

it is the traditional bengali dish. though i lived for nearly fourteen years during my childhood in kolkata and have been visiting this great city atleast six to seven times a year on work, i had never tasted shukto till very recently.we have a fantastic bengali cook,nirmal,in our nonveg colleagues go ga over his cooking,particularly when it comes to hilsa and chingdi.i had heard a lot about shukto and that a bengali meal normally starts with shukto and hot rice.i decided to have it for breakfast and asked nirmal to prepare it. he was taken aback as all these days i had never asked him to prepare this typical bengali dish.

i think he did a fantastic job. i loved every bit of the shukto. it reminded me of our avial. though the tastes are entirely different. it contains uchche(bitter gourd), jhinge(ridge gourd), drumsticks, bagun(brinjal), mooli(radish), aalu(potato), kachkola(green banana), string beans, fried neem leaves and peas. tomato, zucchini and khas khas are also added. the other ingredients are ginger paste, panch foran(mustard,aniseed,fenugreek,cumin and onion seeds). sugar,coriander,milk, mustard paste and plain flour are also added.eaten alongwith rice the potpourri of the vegetables and spices in shukto exuberated an unique flavour.

the bitterness of shukto helps in purifying the blood,cleansing the palate and letting the digestive juices flow.all the tastes described in ayurveda are encapsulated in the shukto.bitter gourd balances the kapha and stimulates the liver.with so many virtues going for it, i wonder why it hasn't become popular among other communities.

when i was young,i hated bitter gourd. i actually started eating bitter gourd after my mother passed away. in our sraddha food,bittergourd sambhar is the first item after serving of tur dal with rice. since then i have been eating fried bitter gourd with onions which our cook prepares very well. i must get the recipe from nirmal and pass it on to our cook gb. a bengali cook is, they say, judged by his shukto preparation. nirmal came out in flying colours. will gb also learn to prepare as well? i have developed so much of a liking for shukto that i might even one of these days step into the kitchen and become a 'ek din ka bawarchi!'.

chitrita banerji in her book "life and food in bengal"(courtesy my friend rums from delhi) mentions about mukundaram chakrabarti's 'chandimangalkabya'. it contains a passage in which on a winter morning lord shiva asks his wife parvati to cook him an elaborate vegetarian meal. the first item in the menu he wishes to have is a bitter shukto made with aubergines,shim(a buttery textured bean) and margosa leaves .the bengalis have been following lord shiva's love for shukto to this day .though only for lunch and never for dinner.