December 27, 2005

Water, water everywhere ..

One can never quite get used to drinking water straight from the kitchen tap, even after years of living in phoren lands where it is the Done Thing. It just seems wrong somehow. Theoretically acceptable but disconcerting in practice, like Meghna Kothari’s snake-dance in Bride and Prejudice.

One appreciates fully that the liquid in those pipes is unlikely to harm an individual who has devoted a large part of his existence to consuming items of questionable edibility at roadside outlets of questionable legality back home. At the same time, one cannot help remembering with a certain nostalgia the ritual of filling the paani-bottles every other morning. An oddly comforting if tedious rite involving family and Filter.

Our Filter, you see, was more than a domestic appliance. He was an institution, an avuncular presence, a member of the family. Much of the credit for the good health of the denizens of the home was given to him, that grand old Guardian of the Waters, Nemesis of Unhygienic Micro-Organisms, Ruthless Exterminator of Potentially Parivaar-Threatening Vermin. Wary NRI cousins would proudly be told to drink their Rasna without fear, for the water in their glasses was surely purer than driven snow. Doctors would be ordered to rule out water-borne diseases before they made their diagnosis, for it was inconceivable that germs could escape the Filter’s watchful eye.

A few years ago the Filter was replaced with a modern water-purifier gizmo. One has always been suspicious of this new intruder. Inflicting “chemical treatment” upon the family jal-supply hardly seems appropriate, given that people are going to drink the stuff. And reverse-osmosis sounds like something either too evil or too explicit to be discussed on a PG-rated blog*. But who can argue with Science?

In any case, one’s fridge here is stocked with a row of old Coke bottles, each filled to the brim with pristine, cloth-filtered water. No telling what strange phoren impurities these pipes might harbour.

* One just decided that this blog shall be PG-rated. One does not think there are any children in the audience, but if you happen to be below thirteen one advises you to fetch your parents so the good folks can warn you how not to turn out.

December 26, 2005

Dear Sinter ..

The blogosphere, it appears, is embracing the festive season with much warmth. Everyone's in on it, all the way from meghalomania to 2x3x7. So, on this fine twenty-fifth, one shall depart from custom to post something that can be described, at least by those of an accommodating nature, as relevant. Yes. One shall divulge, to anyone who cares to listen, how Christmas is celebrated in this part of the world.

Christmas in the Netherlands isn’t about gifts. It’s about spending a quiet time at home, with the family. With large, profusely-decorated Christmas trees, good food and soft music. It’s about togetherness and goodwill, not about crass commercialism.

But wait, says the gentle reader. What about Santa Claus? How are Dutch kids persuaded to behave themselves? How do they learn the nuances of letter-writing and the art of presenting themselves in the best possible light without sounding unduly boastful? And, pray, what happens to their old stockings?

These concerns, if felt, are largely unfounded. For Holland has its own gift-giving patriarch. His name is Sint Nikolaas, generally shortened to Sinterklaas. And he .. er .. wraps up the gift-giving on the fifth of December. One presumes that this gives the children enough time to vivisect their newly-acquired trinkets and finish their candy, so they can focus on putting their best foot forward when distant relatives* show up at Yuletide.

One caught a glimpse of Sinterklaas when he came to town a few weeks ago. He is large and corpulent, and he has a flowing white beard and a red robe. But there the similarity to Santa ends. For he does not go ‘ho-ho-ho’, he does not carry a sack of sweets, and he is generally more dignified of apparel and bearing than is good ol’ Santa. He is not associated with reindeer, sleighs, elves, or the North Pole. Rather, he is supposed to come down from Spain each year (in a steamboat, no less) with his helper, Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), who gives out yummy goodies to the nice children and none to the bad.

It is, of course, no coincidence that Sinterklaas and Santa Claus sound very similar. The myth of Sinterklaas travelled with the Dutch settlers of the seventeenth century to the New World, to the city that was then New Amsterdam and is now the Big Apple, where it merged with the legend of the jolly old gentleman who goes by the name of Father Christmas in Britain to this very day **, and was then subjected to a variety of influences ranging from the Ghost of Christmas Present (Did Dickens intend the pun? Did he?) to Coca-Cola to give us the Santa we know and love.

Wishing all of you a wonderful holiday season and a great year ahead.

* One has often wondered if the children here feel the many and varied emotions that we of the Desh feel when it comes to distant relatives. One shall inquire forthwith and inform the gentle reader in due course.

** Father Christmas is now accepted to be the same figure as Santa, but it seems his genesis lies in ancient Anglo-Saxon myths that can be traced back, ironically, to pre-Christian times.

December 16, 2005

Lapsus calamitatum

The Padrino sat alone. He sipped his Amaretto di Saronno. Took a puff at his Cuban cigar. It was midnight, and he was at the Club. Right where he should be.

Vai così, he told himself. Good going.

She’d asked him if she could have their picture taken. Together, like, him and her in the same frame. Yeah. “Pretty please?” she’d said. In that cute voice, with that accent. Straight from the Queen’s mouth. An English rose, this gal. Perfect.

She’d asked him to wait while she went to fix her makeup. He sat right there, unblinking. Nonchalant. Debonair, even. A few minutes passed.

“Shall we?” A female voice piped up. Right in his ear.

She’d made him jump. Composure, he told himself. “Sì, of course,” he said. “Certamente.”

The waiter clicked the pictures. “Cheese!”. Formaggio. He hated formaggio.

They sat down again. She wanted to talk.

“You’ll keep these photos, won’t you?” Damn. Why’d she have to be so sentimental?

But this was important, this question. The sorta thing they warned you about back in Sicily. He needed to say somethin' grand. You know, somethin' profondo. Somethin' she wouldn’t forget in a hurry. Somethin' she’d wanna jot down someplace.

But English wasn’t something he’d ever fancied too much. Not his thing. Not his thing at all. Never could manage pithy. Not in English.

Suddenly he remembered. The skinny Indian kid at the office. Yeah. He’d let the Padrino in on a secret – he’d said that it was possible to take an Italian word and use it in an English sentence to impress the bonnets off those Brit chicks. He’d even said .. let’s see, what had he said .. there are people in the English-speaking world who learn Italian for the express purpose of embellishing their conversations with the odd 'magnifico'. Or somethin’ like that.

The Padrino thought about it. He trusted the kid.

So he turned to the lady. He looked her in the eye. He took a deep breath.

Yes, we will print these pictures and we will keep them forever. As a legacy *he paused for effect* for our posteriors.

December 10, 2005

Till death do them part

A matrimonial advertisement on the site of a leading webmail provider informs one that Maya, 25, is a surgeon and basketball player who believes in a relationship that’s based on trust. Another site reveals that Smitha, also 25, is an associate editor who bakes delicious cakes. However, after a careful study of their photographs, one swears upon all that is dear to oneself that these two are in fact *adopts low Hitchcockian tone* the same individual. She must be really eager to get on with the nuptials.

In other news, the following has been spotted on Wikipedia's main page :

Did you know .. that Socks the cat belonged to Bill Clinton while President of the United States?

And, being in a particularly sadistic frame of mind right now, one shall subject the unsuspecting reader to the *drum-roll, trumpets etc* PJ of the week:

Q : What did Sanjay Dutt say when he met Hector Hugh Munro?
A. O Saki Saki re … Saki Saki .

December 02, 2005

Cutting corners

One is astounded to find that, outside the great Desh, almost nobody brews tea like it should be brewed. They instead dunk a dubious little tissue-paper bag supposedly full of tea-stuff into hot water and hope that something will happen. It does not. They might, in an effort to achieve a semblance of palatability, add milk and sugar to the concoction. After which, just to save face, they force themselves to drink it.

Now despite all that has been said and all that has remained unsaid about one’s culinary skills in general, it might be pointed out in all humility that one is something of an authority on the art of brewing tea*. For one’s recipe is taken from no less a figure than Rameshbhai, that fine specimen of chaiwalla-hood, he of the redoubtable larri-galla that lies snugly in that little lane off Ashram Road in the Hometown. He sells, for the princely sum of three rupees**, the most mouthwatering cuppa ever. Steaming hot, with just that right hint of ginger and cardamom. And it is never to be drunk from the cup. No, we frown at such jejune practices. For the liquid is to be poured into the saucer and slurped with suitable sound effects. If you happen to be perched sideways on your two-wheeler, the experience is complete.

Admittedly one is but a poor parody of Rameshbhai when it comes to preparing the potent infusion. But one is still a force to be reckoned with. One has actually fed one’s brew to several friends here (one hears the gasps of surprise that greet the implication that one has a social life, but lets them pass) and it has been uniformly and heartily appreciated. Really. Unfortunately the individuals who have tried it are not regular tea-drinkers, so one has no real adherents yet. But one is hopeful that someday one shall get hold of a diehard tea fan and convert him from teabag-user to tea-brewer. Finally one has a Mission.

* It appears that “tea” is one really global appellation – the words for tea in most languages are very similar because they’re all derived from a single Chinese word. (The word is pronounced somewhat differently in different parts of China, hence the difference between tea and chai.) Of course you always wanted to know that. Or maybe you already did.

** The equivalent five eurocents wouldn’t even persuade a chap here to let you sniff his tea. His teabag tea.