Jun 202010
 

Predominently cooked in Kerala, the southern state of India, Aviyal, classified as the vegetable stew, is a regular diet of the mallu population. It is unfailingly served at their festivals, the Onam and the Vishu. Being a fan of south Indian cuisine by heart, I decided to tryout this dish at home myself, with some tips from my colleague, Madhukumar.

Reminiscing, I see that it had been a very strange introduction to this dish for me. The year I was at the cochin shipyard for my marine training, I was fed upon, with this cuisine, almost every third day. The cook always kept the vegetables raw, and the ingredients, especially the coconut, were less in quantity, not enough to bring out the actual taste of this dish. Most of the trainees hated it, and we even joked that eating this food was a kind of training, to prepare us for the food during our sea life. We actually experienced the true taste of this cuisine on the day of Onam, when the cook, put all his hearts, and the required ingredients in it. Later I was served it on my honeymoon in cochin, and became a fan of it.

Here is Madhu’s method without further delay by my boring stories.

You Require :

Yam, Bottle Gourd, Raw Banana.

These three are the important ingredients. For rest, well it’s a stew, so anything goes.

Here, I must warn you, that if you are a novice, stick to known vegetables. In the novel, Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome, the author describes a situation, wherein he, along with his friends George and Harris on a river trip, were preparing scrambled eggs, and being their first times at it, they ended up introducing all sorts of food items in it. Seeing this, their dog Timothy, brought a dead rat as his contribution, which they almost wanted to try, but decided against it, since they had never heard that being done before. That was the funny side, but stick to basics if you can’t imagine how the vegetable will contribute to the taste of the Aviyal.

So here’s what I used(to feed my family of five, which include 4 voracious eaters):

I didn’t have Yam, so had to do without it, but would have gone for 1/4 a portion of Yam.

1/4 portion of bottle gourd

2 medium sized Raw Bananas

1 good, ripe red tomato

1 Potato(I used two due to lack of Yam)

4-5 French bean sticks

1/2 carrot

Fistful of green peas

2 teaspoon of turmeric powder

2 stem of curry leaves

2 green chillies

1 coconut

2 teaspoon of cumming seeds

2 tablespoons of coconut oil or vegetable oil( Coconut oil can be avoided if you don’t like it in food, but believe me, it adds good flavour to this dish)

Stems of Cilantro for green texture and the aroma

Salt as per taste

Drumsticks if you like( I avoided them since I feel that they give out fibres in to the dish, which almost messes up the looks and feel)

How you go about it :

1. Peel off the skin from potatos, carrot, bottle gourd, yam and bananas.

2. Cut the carrot, bottle gourd, french beans and bananas in to juliens.

3. Cut potatos and yam in to cubes, to give the fill to the dish.

4.  Cut the tomato, whichever way you want. Why should I constrian you when it’s your dish.

5. Take a deep bottom pan, and heat it. Remember to cook the entire dish on medium flame. Put about a cup full of water in the pan before adding vegetables, to avoid burning the vegetables. Add the potatos, tomato, peas(can be introduced later if you want them full in the serving dish), yam ,bottle gourd, french beans, carrot and bananas. Cover the pan and keep on medium heat.

6. While it cooks, grate the coconut. Add curry leaves, cummin seeds, chillies cut into small pieces and cilantro leaves. Grind the ingredients adding some water to make smooth paste. Keep aside while the vegetables cook.

7. After about 5-7 minutes of steaming the vegetables, add turmeric powder(and the green peas, if not added before) on the top of vegetables and cover it up for further cooking. Allow the vegetables to be medium cooked before mixing the turmeric. Yam and potatoes take longer to cook, so keep them as the measure for properly cooked vegetables. Doesn’t matter if the tomatos melt away.

8. Once the potatoes and yam are properly cooked, add the coconut paste prepared earlier, and mix it well. If the outcome feels dry, add little water to get the creamy texture.

9. Pour the oil on top of it all, and allow it to cook further, covered  and on medium heat.

10. Add salt as per taste and mix well.

11. Garnish with cilantro leaves. Serve hot with appam, iddi appam, dosa or even with steam rice.

Here’s how mine turned out

Enjoy your Aviyal!!

Jun 192010
 

We all in India know how the private transport operators hold us to ransom, time and again, to increase their fares. The most recent incident being that of autorickshaw(hereafter referred to as auto) drivers in mumbai threatening to go on strike, if base fares are not increased from rs. 9 to rs. 15. This is been in the backdrop of the governments decision to hike the CNG prices by rs. 6. I, along with many other commuters, feel that this demand is very steep, even though I do not require to use their service often. Lets analyse the situation.

1.  It a commonly known fact that CNG, as against petrol, is a very efficient and clean fuel. The government has pushed for this fuel owing to its low cost and cleaner exhaust. The cost of running a vehicle, especially a transport vehicle, is very less on CNG as compared to petrol and diesel. Even then the base fares for auto drivers running on CNG are same as those running on petrol. An increase in CNG price translates to very few paisa additional running cost per kilometer.

2.  While I was discussing this topic with my brother, he informed me about a particular conversation he had with an auto driver. As per the figures that the driver gave out, the returns on running an auto on petrol were about 125 rs. per litre of petrol(petrol costs rs. 50 in Mumbai). Compared to that the returns on running an auto on CNG are rs. 175 on an average per kg of CNG(CNG costs rs. 25 per kg). So clearly there are huge margins in operating an auto on CNG. But the auto driver revealed that one of their “leaders” was pushing for this hike, even though others were against. Infact, one member of the union has suggested that the base fares, instead of being increased, be reduced to rs. 6, so that more commuters would be attracted to auto. But the member was silenced then and there, reminding of his state of origin(this proves how deeply this state divide is rooted even in the “united” union).  Though I cannot vouch for the statements made by the auto driver, I feel these calculations are quite accurate.

3. While discussing this issue, the subject of transport in singapore came up, and my brother informed me that the government has levied heavy taxes on private vehicles, so that the commuters opt for MRT(mass rapid transit) or public buses. I would suggest that the India government goes ahead and agrees with the demands of the auto union. But they should also control the number of autos plying on the roads. Also the government should do something to the number of autos stationary at their designated stands, which normally are located just outside the suburban railways. A control in their population can very easily make some road for public buses which the commuters will prefer to autos, due to less cost and easy availibility.

4. Let me recite the problems we had at our place with transportation. We had a very good state transport bus service plying in our area, which is around 5 km from suburban train station. But around 10 years back, people started getting restless waiting for a bus, which started getting delayed time and again. Many times there were incidents of buses being cancelled due to one reason or the other and people got fed up. Then one by one, commuters started to opt for the auto service, which was rare initially. But seeing the growing demand in our area, more and more auto service was given to us. The fares were kept exactly same as the bus fares, and people, with a blind on their eyes, were attracted to it. Within few years, the buses has very few patrons, and ultimately many services were stopped, citing non feasibility. Our social leaders, went just short of kneeling in front of the commuters, in request to continue using buses. But ultimately, all the buses to our routes were stopped. Now was the chance for auto drivers to get their wishes. First of all the fares were increased for day journey, with and additional charge for night drive. Drivers started taking 5 passengers( three on the back seat, and two on both sides of the driver) to start the journey. Then came the six seater autos, which we call Dum Dum, which ran on diesel. The drivers wouldn’t start if the auto was not filled with 10 passangers(8 in the seats meant for 6 and 2 on the left of the driver). People with broader bottoms, and even pregnant ladies were made to sit in very small and uncomfortable seats. There was no use complaining, else the driver would ask the commuter to get down, and make seat for some one who would not complain. All this while, the RTO chose to turn blinds eye to these broken rules, with a wet hand for the traffic police stationed near the junctions. Finally again after years of struggle by our social activists, the buses, though limited in number, have started plying in our area. Men, who had opted for motor bikes, due to harrasement at the hands of auto drivers, have stopped using this costly transport and chose the red and yellow bus, provided by the government of maharashtra. We expect higher number of commuters this monsoon.

Though this story diverted me from the original point, I feel that its important for commuters to use public transport, hence I narrated it. All in all, the fare hike demand is irrational. A question to the union leaders. If you demand for a hike in fares, when fuel prices are hiked, do you reduce the fares when the fuel prices go down? I don’t know. I didn’t see the fares going down, when the petrol prices went down from the high of rs. 51 per lire to rs. 46 per litre.

Jun 132010
 

I was enquiring my colleague a couple of days back why he had not updated his blog for quite some time, and his answer was that he was going through writer’s block phase. That left me pondering. Was that the case with me? It seemed to me that few of my recent posts were not from the heart. There weren’t much efforts. I now feel I could have improved upon the one on legalising betting in India. And the ones with all the videos inserted, merely seemed like fillers. I could have done away with those. And why did I even announce to the world about Nadals fifth win at the french open? It is not as if I am the only source of news and the first thing my readers do is log on to the internet to check my updates before having breakfast.

Yes, it seems I am definately going through a writer’s block, or a blogger’s blog in this case. Though calling myself a writer would be a bit of an overstatement. I have been neglecting my blog for quite some time now, citing one reason or the other to myself. Sometimes it was that I had not composed myself enough to publish. Or may be the problems with my internet. Sometimes I feel I am diversifying to much, while at other times I seems to be concentrating to my region. Sometimes the lack of subject or even plain old lazinesss is the reason.

There are lots of drafts in my blog at this moment which can be updated. But calling them a draft would be a change in its defination entirely, because these drafts contain only the titles. No body. The thoughts are in my head. But am unable to phrase them in correct sequence to justify the subject. I have been determining, and procrastinating, to finish these “drafts” to publish meaningful posts which might help me release myself from this mental block. But……

…..even as I compose this post, the writer’s bock really blocks me from going ahead.

May 282010
 

Since there was some time for the train to arrive at our suburban station, three of us were squandering our time on political and social debate. The arguments drifted from one point to another, including, our local politics or the state of the government affairs(We the people of India, have a say in everything. Doesn’t matter if we are not heard to, because the value of words is determined by the depth of our pockets and not by the truth in our ideologies). At one point the discussion my two friends was about the slow pace of judiciary system where one was of the stand that the cases took too long to clear, while other felt that high profile cases were cleared faster.

What was I thinking at that point, I don’t remember, but I came up with a story that Kasab (see?  to be on wikipedia, you need to either score runs like Tendulkar, or be a one time terrorist, one who has bumped off Dawood Ibrahim from the top of India’s most wanted and hated list) who is languishing in Indian jail, was not being brought to justice fast enough. Above that, his stubborn demands were being fulfilled by India. Just few days back, as he was complaining of high summer heat, the 1.5 tonne air conditioner of his cell was replaced with 2 tonne model. My friends knew that no such incident had happened, but the story was catchy. Later was we were discussing with our fellow travellers on the train, again politics and shit, my friend brought up this Kasab “incident”(made up one.the 26/11 one was for real). And atleast 8 people heard what he said.

Now I calculate. Aleast 40% of these 8 will narrate this to other 8 and so on. I would say aleast 20-30% of them will be fool enough to believe it. And then the made up news, will become a rumour, and a rumour turn to news. If things go out of hand, we will surely see few T.V. channels airing “exclusive”(read staged) videos and pictures of a delivery van outside the arthur road jail, and people unloading the 2 tonne air conditioner from the van.

Thats how rumours turn in to news in “India”n TV. A true example is setup by Amit Verma on his India uncut. Read the first section, and you will agree.

May 272010
 

The appearance of the real Sachin Tendulkar on the microblogging site twitter, has delighted his fans in India and world alike. People login quite often, to check out the little master’s status and follow him through his life. And the master blaster, thought infrequent on twitter, he logs in and responds to few of his fans once in a while. Already he is credited to collecting 67 lakh rupees for the cancer foundation, just by publishing the initiative on the site. Such is the value of his words.

As with the physical fan base following a star through out his stardom, Sachin might find it difficult to keep up with this virtual fan base. At present, he has more than 3,00,000 tweeter’s following him, and he manages to communicate with few of them. We have seen how a celebrity is haunted and mobbed by the followers at the gates of his house, or at an outing which he wishes to keep private.

Similar things could happen on twitter.

Sachin will login one day to find himself spammed with thousands of messages in a single instance, from the followers burning the idiomatic midnight lamp, waiting for their hero to come online. It will be difficult to reach out to the genuine fans and keep the spammers at bay. Webrazzi’s, the web avatars of paparazzi, will be waiting for the master to type few words, and bend them as per their requirements.

Sachin’s doing well now by being inconspicuous right now. But he won’t be able to avoid above situation, if he has to maintain his regulay activity on twitter.

P.S. : Sachin, if you read this, don’t get scared of what I typed above. It’s just to motivate you to continue to score on the twitter.

May 222010
 

It was one of the worst days for Indian aviation. The news of the Mangalore plane crash left us all shocked at the office. I wouldn’t like to give hyperlink to the details of this news, cause you might have heard/seen it on media.

But as I reached home in the evening, I was shocked much more to see the media, building up the accident for their benefit. I saw a video conferencing being arranged on a particular channel, where in the host seemed to have got in to a heated argument with an official on the matter of safety at the airports. The anchors were even even daring enough to guess the reasons for this accidents, where as I feel, no one has any technical knowledge. I even saw a tv anchor flying a miniature sized plane on a picture of a runway, depicting the incident.

My humble request to these channels is to stop all this nonsense as there are people have near and dear ones who might be watchin it on tv. How sick will your presentation look to them? You are fighting over the safety of building the airport at such unsafe place, but did you ever cover this faulty project when it was underway?

The plane has a blackbox which records all the voyage data including few last conversations. It will take few days, may be months, to analyse the data and find what went wrong. Will the tv channels give enough coverage at that time, and try to bring the guilty to justice. Or will it be wrapped up in the coverage of another celebrity wedding, because the plane crash will no longer be a high profile case for them.

If we remember, justice is yet to be delivered to the union carbide victims, but how many media channels are interested in highlighting the case, is known to all. It seems that the media waits for the things to happen, so that they have something to cover.

And Mr. Patel, forget your political stunt of resigning on moral ground. Is there any justification for resignation?

May 212010
 

Summer….Oh it’s so hot these days.One of the most boring period of life for office goers. The heat becomes unbearable even in India, and people take this opportunity to cool off at hill stations around my country.
That being said about grownups, summer is the time most of the school kids wait eagerly for. It brings the much needed break from schools and studies and, heat or not, lots of play time.

My childhood summers were just plain days, with lots of activities like cricket(bat-ball, as we called it), and sometimes, kicking football in the evening on the neighbouring ground. But one of the activities which brought lots of pleasure, and some relief from the heat, to us kids, was swimming.

As mentioned in my earlier posts, I am a villager, and we donot have recreational facilities like swimming pool. There might be lots of swimming pools in those days(When Mumbai was Bombay, and the trains ran empty) in the city, but the only swimming pool I knew, and used, was the one a kandivali in Mumbai. The only swimming facility in our villages were the common irrigation wells used for watering the farms. Now this wells are very big in side and even reach as much as 20-25 fts in diameter. Also they were very deep and always held more than 6 feets of water during peak summers. These wells used to turn in to a playground for grownups and kids alike during summers and provided for ther basic desires of swimming.

But I had a problem. I was afraid of drowning. And above all, I was afraid of heights. To get down to the water level, we had to step down on the flat stones mounted on the sides of the well. These stones were just enough wide two feet, but spaced far apart, about 2-3 fts. Using these facility to go down was not a worry for grownups. But we, the short legged kids, had to sit down on the steps and stretch out our legs for the next step. Thinking this to be an almost impossible feat, compounded by my fear of height, and complexed by the fear of drowning, I avoided going near the wells. It was a common tradition to throw children who feared water, into the well( with other people already inside). That child, once inside the well, would almost always get over his fears.

But I was not thrown in to the well. I used the kandivali facility, since my dad’s school, St. Francis D’Assissi, Mt. Poinsur, had arranged swimming classes for students of their school.
I was thrown in to the deep side of the pool, lifering around me, by my dad’s friend, while the children got in to it using the steps in the shallow side.

I managed to come out, and was thrown back in again. That was his last throw. I never came back out, guessing his intensions. Within seven days, I could swim across the pool and in few days more, along the length without the life ring. But by the time I was ready for my village well, my life ring was punctured, and my father wouldn’t buy another.

So I went to the well one summer afternoon with my brother and friends. The journey was covered halfway on shaky legs, and remaining half by dragging me to the well. I promised to enter the well on my own if they promised not to push me(of course, there were elders in the well, cooling off and supervising). Now, I must describe the life ring in villages. Its either two coconuts tied to each other which provide enough bouyancy, or two oil containers made of plastic. The plastic ones were rare since we used postman oil, which came in metal drums, so wewere left with only one choice, coconut. I doubted the ability of those  two coconuts to help me float. I tied the float across my waist, and took my own sweat time to lower myself to water level. Each step took about 2 minutes, with one leg down, then back up again, then other down, no no difficult to balance, then back to first leg. And each of my step was vibrating at resonance.

Finally in to the water, I felt I had conquered somthing big. Slowly I picked up swimming without the floats, or had to because the floats were rotting off. And the swimming sessions kept on extending, sometimes going as long as 2 hours.The cooling effects, and the exercise that swimming gave us in those days had no substitute.
The summer swims continued all throughout my school and few college years. But as more and more people started to have jobs, the attendence at the wells declined till a point that there would be only 2-3 people swimming.Finally, I was one of the people to drop of the well swimmers list due to job. Later I did get to swim in a swimming pool on my ship, but that swim has no comparison with the swim in a cool well.

Due to lack of usage, the well has become dirty, and is only fit for irrigational purpose. Face lifting it is not worth as there are no people with enough spare time at home.

I still yearn for the cool summer swim in the well…

May 182010
 

One of the experiences that every sea fearer has during his sea life is, being duped at some foreign port. No one has been spared of it, some for a small amount, some to a large extent. But a sea fearer always forgets the loss, comparing it with the very high salary he earns, and taking it as a part and parcel of his life.

I was duped once, off 50$.

It so happened that our ship had reached the port of longkou in the northern province china, and in the evening me along with few members of our ship went out for a round of the city. The very first store that we were taken to by the agent stocked electronics, and my eyes lit up seeing the display. I got particularly interested in a pen drive of capacity 32 GB(it was the year 2007, and 32 GB was unheard of)which was on sale for 85$. I tried to haggle the price but couldn’t get it below 80$. Now, I was in china, so wasn’t sure of it’s authenticity, so didn’t want to buy it unless I got it for cheap. By the time more of my fellow crew came besides me and showed interest in the pen drive. After a bit of haggle, the shopkeeper finally agreed to sell it to us for 50$ if we bought 5 pieces. We were four of us and we knew we could convince someone to buy one more on the ship. But we had a condition that we would check all the drives first and if all found ok we would buy. The shopkeeper was ok with that but informed us that he didn’t have those many pieces right at that time and would deliver it on our ship and we could pay at that time. Better for us!!

Or so we thought….

As we informed our other officers and crew on board, our captain became interested, and since it seemed to be a good deal, he called up his son in India, who immediately asked him to get two pieces. Our chief officer informed that he was duped by such seller on his previous ship, but when we informed him that we would check the drives before paying, he himself wanted one. So now we needed 7 pieces and we informed the seller through ships agent to bring 8 pieces so that we had a buffer of 1 piece if any found to be not working.

The seller came onboard and handed us the pendrives which we started testing one by one. We transferred about 18 GB data in to each one and checked that the properties showed 18 GB used and about 12-13 GB free, which it showed and we were satisfied. We handed over the cash and I went for sleep. By that time the seller had left the ship and we sailed out.

I woke up with plans to transfer my entire music collection to the pendrive to relieve me of th DVDs. And I did so in the officer’s lounge computer. As I entered the engine control room for my duty, I saw the duty motorman, Gerry Delrio, worried. After handing over the watch(handing over the duty is called as handing over the watch, in watchkeeping terms), the fourth engineer left, and the first sentence that I heard form the motorman’s mouth was,”Third!! We are F@#&%d!!!”

I didn’t understand what he was saying. He explained that the data was not going into the pen drive that he had. I told him that I had successfully stored just a few minutes back, and he asked me to verify it. I inserted the drive into the engine room computer, and saw that the folder were there on the drive. I browsed to one of the folder. and Oops!! No file in it. Thinking that the folder might be empty from the beginning, I browsed to another folder. Empty!! I checked the properties of the pendrive and found that it had occupied 18 GB with lots of folders, but it showed 0 files. Thinking that formatting it would solve the “error”, I formatted it. Only to find later that the capacity had come down from 32 GB to 20 GB. My heart sank. But all was not lost, since 20 GB was a good deal for 50$. Again I moved some data to the drive. Again I could see only folders, no files. My heart sank.

I carried out the formating number of times in a hope to rectify the situation, but each time the capacity reduced to 16GB, 10GB, 4GB, 1GB,128MB!! And finally, the computer gave up and stopped detecting the drive.

Same thing happened to all the people who bought it. Now I was worried two folds. I had paid for the captain’s pen drives and he was yet to return back the 100$. But within a couple of days he gave me back my money. A week later, the chief officer checked his drive, and came to know that he too was duped. He was a happy man till then, since no one had told him about this comedy. Or tragedy if you call it.

We had been duped by professionalism of the chinese sales person, and a shiny casing announcing a Sony Vaio Pendrive!! We were “Made” in China.

May 142010
 

Many of you might have read the novel Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, which revolves around a character named Yossarian who finds himself stuck on to a battlefield without relief. And his every attempt towards his disengagement from his assignment leads to a catch 22 situation and a failed attempt. Catch 22 is a situation where in you need to carry out one out the few actions, but any action you choose will lead to an unwanted situation.

That was bit theoretical and not well phrased but  should serve the purpose of explanation. I had read this novel a few years back on my first ship. But I remember it today along with the catch 22 situation we had to face in our school days.

We had a very disciplinary nun, Sr. Rebecca, as the principal of our Pope John XXIII high school. She was the kind of person who never took talk backs from her students. “Don’t argue with me” were the words repeating, now and again from her mouth, just like the repeatedly running flash news on the bottom of a TV screen. And “wham”!! A good “pasting”, as she called it(punishing with a cane lash on hands), would follow. I always prayed that I would never want to be in such situation.

But God works in mysterious ways!! I had to face her once.

It so happened that I had scored less marks in a particular exam, and my father, being a teacher, wanted to find out where I had gone wrong. So he came to visit the principal one day and requested for my answer paper set, so that he could check it at home leisurely. Those were the days when open day(open day in India, is the day on which parents are asked to visit the school before results declarations, to gauge their child’s performance) was not a fad, so the principal initially refused. But later after a bit of talk she agreed and called me over the intercom. I went to her office, where she asked me to collect the papers from her or the vice principal at the end of school. So I went after the school to collect them, but was told by the vice principal that the principal was out and the papers were locked in the storage and could not be handed over to me. I came home empty handed, and was scolded by my dad, who thought that I didn’t go to collect the papers.

Few days later the principal entered our classroom on regular visit. She was already angry as she entered, and I being the person sitting near the entrance, became the object of her anger. “This boy’s(even though she knew my name very well, that was not important here) father came to me and requested to give him this boy’s exam papers. I took them out of the storage, but he is yet to collect them after so many days. They are still lying in my office. Tell me why didn’t you come? TELL ME!!” I manage to word out a feeble explanation which went, “Sister, actually I…..”, and stopped there. Because already it was, WHAM!! “Don’t argue with me.”

Catch 22 isn’t it?

May 132010
 

I am thrilled to announce the directorial debut of my friend, Savin Tuscano. His film Vroom, The Adventures Of Smarty, The Magical Car, is set to release tomorrow, 14th May 2010. Am looking forward to viewing it soon. And I wish him the best wishes for success in his venture……

…..Good going Savin.

%d bloggers like this: