18 August 2009

The argumentative pedestrian

Allow me a rant.

I walk everywhere. Work, grocery store, tailor, frame shop, fruit seller, vada pav... everywhere. And the one unifying theme of this experience is the utter disrespect and disregard for the pedestrian by vehicles of all types. Like a torrent of angry gushing water they stop for nothing, least of all the traffic light. The best way to deal with most things in urban India is a deep breath and an unshakable faith in Karma, but today, I had a reluctant break down. While crossing a wide road with oncoming traffic I was dazzled by headlights and assaulted by horns in spite of a fierce green light proclaiming that pedestrians have right of way. So, I let loose a string of strong litany on the first available two wheeler. Here is the not so pleasant part; I was abused in return.

What to do?

The simple middle class alternative is to push my discomfort to a corner and buy a car. But I'm not ready for that. Why should I be? I have fairly strong legs that carry me wherever I go and can easily finish my entire range of shopping in one big loop. What really bothers me most is that there is nothing we can do to change this. The people I normally cross the road with are workers or drivers, sent by their memsahibs to hop across the road while her Innova blocks the road. They don't have time for a dharna and certainly don't want to engage with the traffic cop. The traffic cop himself looks quite pained - wouldn't you be if you inhaled particulate matter while on your feet all day long and had to listen to incessant honks while at work?

One option, which I am fond of, is building over-bridges. The downside is that people with disabilities cannot use it. But it would help the pedestrians cross easily and at their own pace.
Drivers might also benefit. Most people behind the wheel complain that pedestrians step out from nowhere and prevent the flow of smooth traffic. I try my best to cross at Zebra crossings but there are certainly some places where there is no provision for one, in which case I do hop across as soon as possible at the narrowest point or when no traffic is going fast enough to hit me.

The situation is bad: for the drivers and pedestrians, yet I see no action plan to make things better. I could write a letter to the newspaper, the most impotent action for an activist or make a huge placard and do a sit down but no one will accompany me. What an amazing bummer!

16 August 2009

Barley Cutlets

For my friends S and E, who took care of me and served me delicious food, always. Everything in London was special because of your love. Thank you.

A vegan (unintentionally) recipe. Adapted from S's recipe for Barley Cutlets.

1 cup barley
2 tbsp finely chopped dill
2 tbsp finely chopped spring onion shoots
1 tbsp finely chopped green chillies (more if you like it hot)
2 medium sized potatoes
oil to shallow fry

1. Soak the barley in water for 10 - 12 hours. About 1:1 volume water: barley.

2. Pressure cook barley and unpeeled potatoes for 3 whistles. This might be mysterious if you don't have an Indian style pressure cooker. Essentially, you are cooking the barley till it's crunchy yet edible and potatoes are soft.

3. Empty into container and shove into the fridge, uncovered. I did this rather on the fly because my barley was ready late at night and I didn't want to make the cutlets right away. But this act was fortuitous as my fridge is a good dessicator and by the next morning I had a easily workable goo. If you have water left over in the barley after cooking or have cooked it on the stove it would be best to discard as much water before putting it in the fridge.

4. Bring mixture to room temperature. Add green onions, chillies, dill and salt to taste. Mash together. Check for taste. The mixture is ready to eat at this point but it's not in the most appetizing form!

5. Heat oil in a pan ( I started with 2 tbsp for 6 cutlets; once the pan was ready though I only put as little as half a tsp for subsequent rounds).

6. The tricky part is making the cutlets. You could use egg as a binder but because the mixture felt easy to use I went without it. Take a portion in your palm (size of roma tomato), squish to make cutlet shape and plonk on to the pan. This is messy and it will stick to your hands. Use your ingenuity for getting it on the pan. If you have made thalipet or akkeroti you'll find this similar in texture. It looks something like this on the pan:

7. For the first round I make chunky cutlets, like thick salmon cakes (see above), but later on it became clear that smaller sizes were the winner. So, you are aiming for a final size of Marie biscuits; those are Astro's favorite, I might add.

8. Wait patiently for one side to be crisp and brown. This is essential. If you try to turn too quickly it will start to break and resemble barley crumble instead of a cutlet. Turn over gently and brown the other side evenly before serving.

Tada! The inside will be a bit soft but the outside should be crunchy. We ate ours with Maggi hot n sweet, but pudhina chutney would have been a tastier accompaniment. Also, a dash of crushed peanuts would have made the cutlets even better.

Lastly, I dearly wish Amma (my grandmother) were here to taste this. She's the true foodie in my family.

6 August 2009

Packing and Unpacking

I have finally got about 95% of my things from various homes into the one at Hyderabad. When I was packing the things I didn't know where they would end up and so, it was hard to decide what I wanted to keep and what went to my auction or to Salvation Army. Now, after a year of living without much of my stuff I can say that I missed none of it. As we grow up we feel that there are some things that define us so well and belong to our personality; without these things we would feel incomplete. But the truth is that if you have the money you could re-create everything over and over again in different destinations. So, I don't think it's the money issue that prompts us to hang on to most things, well not the primary reason anyway.

I belong to that brand of people who are possessive about their books and keep them in immaculate condition, devoting as much to thinking about how to organize my home library as world peace. Yet, for all practical purposes my silly books are not rare editions or out of print books. They are run of the mill and can be purchased from any decent bookshop. So, the conclusion is that we hang on to things out of sentimentality. Sentimental. That feeling also deserves closer inspection. What is sentimental if not an attempt to hang on to a memory that we think deserves special mention? Yet, even without that material possession in your hands it's possible to recreate that memory. The synapses just have to make a special connection in your head.

As I grow older I am certainly adopting a very simple approach to memories. For me, it's got to be written and that's the only form I really need. The rest - pictures, music, fancy serving bowls and a first class chopping board can be recreated. I'm curious to find out if that will change if I have a family. Because that's the only sentimental relationship I am yet to experience and wonder if a clinical application of my new found material-free life would be possible.

Well, that was my procrastinating post; I am yet to unpack most things and I feel like the only decor I have at home is one of card board boxes. The only message I wanted to get across is that if you have lost something valuable or can't decide what to pack during your next move just remember that everything can be recreated. Travel light!

P.S. I think I may miss my chopping board just a wee bit more than what I would like to admit! :)

4 August 2009

Right to Education

this should technically be a tweet. But,

The Right to Education bill has been passed in the Lok Sabha. A more in depth look into what that means in practical terms in the next post.