Idli for President!

The first 20 years of my life, I hated idli. Oh, for my international readers, this is idli. Idli is to a south Indian what toast is to most Caucasians. Anyway, I hated it. What’s there to like – it’s bland, it’s a boring white, it’s not crispy, there’s no oil involved! Boh-ring!

And then I got a job and moved cities. From home, I went straight to this city called Hyderabad where the nearest idli was at least 20 km from where I lived. When you’re a single girl, on your own in a big city for the first time, dependent on public transport, it might as well have been 2000 km. For almost a year, I didn’t eat good idli. The ones I did eat were not even in the same food group as idli. I missed the buggers!

Then wedding happened. And hey, my mother bought me this wet grinder to make my very own batter and all my idli fantasies took flight again. Heaven.

Without further ado, here’s my idli journal. These were made in the course of the last month or so. See. And enjoy.

Idli, with Sambar and chutney. The Holy Grail of South Indian breakfast.

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Idli, with Chicken curry. Typical breakfast fare in a Telugu household when the son-in-law is visiting.

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Idli, with Peanut chutney. This is my childhood, at my maternal grandmother’s house, on a plate.

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Idli, with Pappulusu. Rayalseema fare. Comfort food when you miss Mommy.

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Idli, with Kurma. This is my humble idli making the most of a parotta-chapati invasion from the North.

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Idli, with Kumbakonam kadapa. Native of Tamilnadu but very joyously adopted into a Telugu household!

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Idli, made with oats, with Tomato pachadi. This is my idli adapting to the health conscious 21st century.

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These are just the ones I made and had the patience to take a photo of before stuffing my face. There are countless other accompaniments and variations of the idli, it’s actually ridiculous.

So, let’s raise a mug of sambar and a spoon of chutney to this most humble, unassuming of breakfasts – to the humble idli, which let’s the accompaniment take all the credit, while silently being the rock (not literally, mind you) on which they all flow.

Idli for President!

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Book Review: The Wildings

The Wildings
The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked up this book solely because of the author – I’ve read her journalistic work and found them engaging and good. And I also had just finished another book by a journalist (Jerry Pinto) and was completely wow’ed by it. But the similarity between ‘Em and the Big Hoom’ and ‘The Wildings’ ends right there. While the former is a prose-lover’s paradise, the latter comes off as young-adult popular fiction and not really a great novel. Nothing wrong with being YA or popular fic – just that it wasn’t what I had in mind when I picked it up.

The idea of a cat world, where humans are just the props in the narrative, is genius. I read the blurb and I instantly bought and started reading it. I liked the attention to detail in terms of the ‘lifestyle’ and habits of all the animals involved in the plot – it was well researched (I can iamgine the author stalking cats to figure out how they lived and it’s not easy!) and well thought-out. The characters were good, too – cats, cheels, birds, people – all of them. But…but.. 🙂

…just a few pages into the book, I realized that I wasn’t enjoying the book as much as I expected to because the words were merely words – there was no vivid imagery, no playful hide and seek between the author and reader, nothing that made me stop and imagine for a second what the words were hinting at. If I wanted to read a tree being described as just a tree, I wouldn’t read fiction; I’d read an encyclopaedia, no? So that was my problem (because I’m a sucker for good prose, to the extent I can put up with a lousy story if the underlying prose is like poetry!) and it was more pronounced in the first half where the story was meandering around to the big set up and the wild, albeit expected, climax.

I also had to contend with Roy’s style of changing PoV midway in a paragraph. One line we’re seeing through Beraal’s eyes and a fullstop later, it’s through Mara. I found that a bit distracting because it doesn’t let us get comfortable enough with a character, to empathize more. It’s not bad writing, it’s just a very jumbled way of going through feelings and somehow it didn’t sit well with me.

After a point, I gave up on the prose and just read for the sake of the story – not my most favorite thing to do, but it was all I could because I didn’t want to give up on the story, per se. And I quite enjoyed the plot, mind you. So, by the time I finished, I guess I was generally ok with the book.

Am I nitpicking? Maybe. Because it’s such a letdown. It could have been so much more because the underlying seed of the story is a great one. But, alas, the curse of lackluster prose.

By the way, if you are a cat person, you should definitely pick this up!

The last few lines may be a spoiler – be warned! 🙂

P.S: For some reason, this book reminded me a lot about Harry Potter :-D. Similar circumstances, similar good-cat, bad-cat, teacher-cat thing going on and the big ‘war’ at the end, with the good-cats almost losing and then, thanks to the ‘hero’, winning. But that’s ok, I guess. Harry Potter is a great story! 🙂

View all my reviews

A penny for two thoughts?

A couple of thoughts that got processed over the past few days, interestingly both related to books in a way –

I was reading a book review (this one) and it made me realize that motherhood has made me weak-hearted in some ways. It’s another matter that I’ve become brave on certain other fronts, but let’s leave that for another day. So this book –  from the review, I could imagine it would be a nightmarish read. The kind that would twist your insides and make you want to curl up in a corner and die. And I’m almost sure it wouldn’t have been so if it weren’t for the mother part in me. Because, and I’ve been noticing this very often, every time there’s a person in pain, I end up seeing my son’s face.

Those child beggars at the traffic stop that we’re so used to seeing that it’s part of the scenery now? I notice them more. And I can’t bear it. It’s a very uncomfortable feeling. The closest description would be someone holding your heart and squeezing it till you feel nothing but an emptiness there. Slowly, that emptiness travels to your gut and there are some moments of weightlessness, like just before a fall. You’re this close to breaking down and then the light turns green, you drive off and remember to breathe.

I don’t recollect being like this before my son was born. It’s a bit like the character May in Sue Monk Kidd’s ‘The secret life of bees’ – she takes empathy to an extreme level wherein she starts to feel sad as if she herself were enduring the pain, even if it was actually happening to somebody else.

So, yeah, to quote what I had written as a comment on the book review, my tolerance for pain or sadness has gone down a lot. It’s probably because of this feeling of helplessness that after that moment when he came out of the birth canal, my son is on his own. Yes, I’m here for him but I can no longer shield his body with my body. I can no longer nourish him with mine. He’s another person – OUTSIDE of me. And he can be in pain, all on his lonesome. And THAT, by far, is the most scariest thing ever for me.

Sentimental, much? Ok, I’m stopping.

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The other one is on this article, about those weirdo children’s books we reading-parents come across all the time. I say ‘weirdo’ because, even though the language is fine, the books themselves are an empty read – there’s nothing to remember or learn, other than the actual act of reading to the little person in your lap. I could identify so much with what’s written in the article! Like this bit –

The problem is that young children have terrible taste and enjoy garbage. Another problem, which compounds the first problem, is that they want to hear the same books hundreds of times in a row. So for all the joys that storytime can offer, it frequently entails a kind of dismal self-abnegation that’s too excruciating even to describe as tedium—an actively painful sense of my precious time on earth being torn from my chest and tossed into a furnace.

It’s so so true. And I also agree with the part that we tend to buy books that we remember from our childhood – but the thing is we’ve forgotten what the book is about and we only have the nostalgia of seeing that book when we were kids. And, honestly, when we come across the stories now, my first response is usually ‘What the heck?!’. Like the one about the goat kids and the wolf – the wolf eats up the kids but the Mother Goat then goes and cuts up the wolf’s belly, takes out the kids and sews it back up, with stones inside. Say what?! I had to change that entire bit to say the wolf stole the kids in a bag and the Mother Goat saved them by tearing open the bag. Why couldn’t the story have used bag instead of belly? Which kindergartner needs that kind of gore?! And how am I to explain to him later that you can’t just cut open stomachs and sew them back up with stones stuffed inside? As if I don’t have enough tough questions to answer as it is.

That said, I feel we shouldn’t THINK too much about the content, as long as it is written in a coherent manner, with tasteful illustrations and without any general bias or prejudice. Just like those umpteen nursery rhymes about old men being thrown down the stairs or little boys indulging in eve teasing (yep, those are rhymes. See this.). The article refers to ‘The little engine that could’ as one of those ‘terrible’ books – I don’t agree! 🙂 It’s a story about how an engine breaks down and the toys in the train try to hail some other engine to pull them up the hill. Most engines give some reason or the other and go away without helping. And along comes a little engine which hasn’t really pulled a big train but is willing to help and try! It’s a bit adorable, actually. I’ve read it many times to my son and recently, in a different context about helping me with chores, he just said, “Like the little engine helps, Amma. I help.”. What more do you want of a children’s book, eh? So, yeah. Let’s just screen the books for language and child-friendly content and let the kids have some fun without worrying about morals and lessons and what not. They have their entire life ahead to deal with that!