Saturday, December 31, 2011

What if the Mayans were right?

Have you heard about the World ending on December 21, 2012 as per the Mayan Prophecy? Chances are that you have. For the last few months and specially after the movie 2012, there have been a lot of discussions on the 2012 phenomenon which the Mayan calendar (or its modern interpretation ) holds.
The 2012 phenomenon comprises a range of viewpoints according to which disastrous or transformative events will occur on December 21, 2012. To some, this date is regarded as the end-date of a 5,125-year-long cycle in the Meso-american Long Count calendar. Various astronomical alignments and numerological formulae related to this date have been proposed. Another interpretation of this transition is that this date marks the start of time in which Earth and its inhabitants may undergo a positive physical or spiritual transformation, and that 2012 may mark the beginning of a new era. Others suggest that the 2012 date marks the end of the world or a similar catastrophe. Scenarios suggested for the end of the world include the arrival of the next solar maximum, or Earth's collision with a passing asteroid or a planet called "Nibiru". It will definitely remain a subject of curiosity and debate what Mayans meant by the “end” of the calendar. Whatever little I know of that civilisation, it seems unlikely that such optimistic and scientific civilisation was actually thinking of an end as –THE END. But one would not know till the date arrives (and hopefully passes on).
But reading about this, and generally joking on this phenomenon, made me think. We all have heard the famous saying -

“Dance as if no one were watching, Sing as if no one were listening, and live every day as if it were your last”

But few of us are able to live lives like that.

There have been many imaginary takes on the last part of the saying “ every day as if it were your last.” I know at least half a dozen movies, plays and books where one central character (mistakenly) gets the impression that he is going to die in a day/ month / few months and that has a comical and dramatic change in the way he lives. People also attempt to list out things they would like to do before they die....but what would you do if you know the end is fixed and you know about it. Just as an experiment, let us imagine that your life is going to end tomorrow night. You have 24 hours to live. How would you live? Would you wait for the hour to approach with fear and panic or you would be calm and cool about it. May be you’d like to have your last party with friends. May be you’d like to spend all the money lying in your bank account? Depending on your personality type- this can be a funny, curious or sickening thought.

I for sure know I would not care about the “important” and “urgent” things on my work table. I would also ignore the decorum and conduct becoming of an officer. I would rather go out and enjoy the pale sunshine of winter. Observe people passing by. Eat what I love to eat (read fattening and more fattening dishes) and go and meet the people for whom I care (but usually forget to call/meet). Come to think of it, I may also give a piece of my mind to few and give unsolicited advice to few others. Write mails to all my crushes and write a will for my huge collection of comic books. Laze around at home and may be sitting pretty updating my Facebook status (through my newly acquired android phone), when the time comes.

Then I extended the experiment and started imagining how others would react to such a situation. Hubby dear (being rational and proud of it!) would definitely discard such nonsensical prophecy, but somehow, if brought to believe, would rush to make his essential phone calls (LOL!). Mom may even worry about the remaining food in the fridge and a particular colleague would pay last visits to the big bosses in HQ. A friend in media will give 6 new ideas how to cover the event of the Doomsday and my walking partner would be depressed to know that after so much efforts to lose the Kilos she won’t live to fit in that new dress. My dear brother-in law will jump to catch his last nap and another girl I know would be “really sorry” that the world is ending and she can’t stop it. The list can go on. The experiment cheered me up endlessly on this winter morning.

But on a serious note, I know at the end of the day my thoughts would be somewhat echoing the sentiments expressed in John Denver’s famous song “Poems, Prayers and Promises”.

“And I have to say it now, It’s been a good life all in all

It's really fine to have a chance to hang around

And lie there by the fire and watch the evening tire

..........And talk of poems and prayers and promises

And things that we believe in .

How sweet it is to love someone, how right it is to care!

How long it's been since yesterday, and what about tomorrow?

And what about our dreams and all the memories we share

The days they pass so quickly now...Nights are seldom long

And time around me whispers when it's cold

The changes somehow frighten me still I have to smile

It turns me on to think of growing old, for though my life's been good to me

There's still so much to do"

(listen to the full song here .)

NB: Whether or not the Mayans calculated it right – we definitely have another New Year to welcome tomorrow. Wish all of you the very best of 2012 ....with or without the doomsday. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cook it up Babe!

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.
Harriet Van Horne
For many like me who cook three times a day and love it, cooking is an expression of our personalities. It somewhere defines us. It is part of a tradition, a culture and always a welcome topic of conversation. I can talk, preach and watch cooking without getting bored for hours. Even the thought of cooking is so happy and of course happier is the sound and aroma coming out of a busy active home kitchen. It’s heartening to see that cooking as an art is finally getting its due. It’s no longer what a housewife does or an act of bare necessity, a symbol of a woman slaving unpaid and un-praised - at least for many of us. Of course there are others who love to eat and hate to cook- both with same intensity. (I would consider this types suffering from a personality disorder) Then there is another variety, who hate to cook, hate to eat and for them all talk on food is trash (I do not dislike such folks; I pity them for being such uncultured fools).

But for those of us for whom good cooking is like a prayer- pious and selfless, a whole new world is unfolding. I was born in a house where food was an evergreen topic of conversation. Each season had its special dishes, pickles, sauces and sweets. My family would go to any extent to ensure we fulfill the gastronomic rituals of eating Kulfis and chaats in the summers, Pakoras and Ghevars in Rains and Carrot-Halwa, cakes and Gur sweets in the winters. Then there were family recipes of particular curries and koftas, rice pudding and stuffed parathas. No wonder when I think of seasons, I think of food associated with it. Even my memories of particular days are intertwined with memories of food cooked on those days. There was a typical menu for my birthday which falls in winters and another typical menu for holi day in the month of March and so on. Of course, festivals have little meaning without the food that comes with it. The food preferences and recipes differ greatly in different families but still we all crave for home-cooked food some day in our lives. In variably the definition of home-cooked is what we ate in our childhood days.

As I said earlier, cooking is finally getting recognition. It remained a neglected art for centuries. Many of us have heard of painters, singers and writers of various ages in History. Can anyone tell me names of some legendary cooks? Say who in Noorjahan’s kitchen came up with the divine recipe of Gulab Sherbet. Or who baked the first Bourbons in the Royal French Kitchen? Little was known or written on these topics before. But now in recent years a lot of research is going on to discover our culinary past. There is of course still a good scope to document and research our old recipes and their origin, the history and the art of cooking in various regions and how it defined the people who ate these dishes.

Talking of legendary cooks, I must acknowledge that one very admirable fact about Bengal is the respect given to the cooks in that province. Right or wrong- but they do know and recall which shop/ who invented Rasogulla? And one which day their popular sweet Ledikeni (named in honour of Lady Canning – the sweat was prepared for the first time by sweat shop owners of Burdwan in honour of Lady’s visit to the town)) was first made. Many years back the first cooking expert I heard about was Tarla Dalal. She came to my life through a cook book which accidently landed up in mail one day and stayed with us. Her vegetarian recipes came very handy for the bunch of us when Mom left for my eldest sister’s place and the cook fell ill. Those were my earliest memories of independent cooking. But even before that as kids, Mom allowed us to make one samosa or make one chapati as part of our play. I was in College when I met my cooking Guru- Kamie auntie. Our very generous neighbour who spent time and effort to my half baked (literally) attempts towards baking and more. It was she who made me fall in love with cooking as an art, to read about recipes, to compare them and to talk of cooking equipments.

Today I watch at least 6 cooking shows on TV and regularly glance through the recipe sections in magazines and newspapers. I also browse food blogs and have my favorites too. Recipes are a treasure trove to explore. Every family has them. Some comes to us naturally by watching our moms and Grand moms cooking, others are acquired on inquiry from aunts and sisters (in my case even uncles and brothers). Nowadays you can also download some more recipes from net and even share them with friends. For me Nigella Lawson and Nita Mehta are no less celebrity than Barak Obama or Shahrukh Khan. I watch the shows reverently and read the books as “pep-me-up” reading.

Interestingly the love for cooking no longer remains a “women’s only” trait. Though in my family and many others, the male side has been actively involved in cooking…. It was by and large a woman’s domain till recently. I was so pleasantly surprised to find a friend in my Italian class proudly declaring that both her dad and her sis are chefs. Even in popular culture, the image of woman cooking and men eating is changing.
Another very visible change is the globalization of cuisine. In India we no longer just eat Indian. We experiment with our own dishes and adopt the foreign ones too. Even in other parts of the world there is a lot of awareness and acceptance of various cuisine traditions. Even fusion cooking is getting popular which kind of mingles the best of all to create even better.

There is a lot I can write about cooking, about the changing face of our kitchens, the legendary cook books and favorite recipes. But for now, in this festive season, let me just ponder over the fact how a hearty meal can reconcile all differences and makes a man feel more charitable toward the world than any sermon. My cooking pals would vouch for me that a well raised soft cake made by you can fill you with so much happiness that can hardly be compared to most things and phenomenon of the human world. But recipe is just a tool to create the magic. As Madam Benoit noted in her famous cook show: A recipe is only a theme, which an intelligent cook can play each time with a variation. In my culinary journey, the variations have at times turned disastrous and on other times amazed me at my own fluke. They say that the magic lies in the hands. The same recipe will give different results with different cooks. Some even believe that even the cook’s emotions and feelings have an impact on the outcome. I do not know that for sure, but can certify the therapeutic side of cooking. It’s a great stress buster. It engages all your senses and is a very fulfilling experience.

Cooking traditions are an astute index of a family’s lineage in my eyes. Great families have always been proud of great family recipes and the family kitchen. As they say- you are what you eat.