Drops from heaven.

I was never an athletic kid. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy being outdoors, it’s that I didn’t want to be chained to a set of rules that governed a particular sport. I wanted to sit and daydream. I liked being indoors, drawing, reading, looking out the window. And the view from the window is never better than when it rains.

My love affair with the rains started a little late in life. When I was 16 or 17, when I was in my first year of med school. Being in a boarding school in the north of India, as a kid, I missed out on the crazy monsoon common to the west of India, where I live.

The first year of medical school was a crazy time for me. The syllabus was huge and time was at a premium. Our finals were in July, coinciding with the fury of the monsoon. The exam schedule was relentless, no breaks between exams. I used to start studying at 9 in the morning and typically, my day ended at 3am the next morning. There were times when I’d be frustrated, the brain would refuse to soak in anymore information and slowly start to delete whatever I had uploaded in the recent past. My brain can be a real pest sometimes.

In those days, window air conditioners were the norm, you know the ones with their metallic square butts hanging outside the window. So, when it started to rain, there would be this lovely splattering sound you could hear, like you were sleeping under a tin roof. For some reason, I found that noise very calming. Almost as though the rain arrived to purge the fatigue from my mind. I’d lean back in my chair, close my eyes, take in the sound and be refreshed in a matter of minutes. The perpetual smell of coffee in the room, the cold temperature of the AC, fat medical books and the sound of rain, my own little world of happiness.

And the rain had an uncanny sense of when I needed it. Days when I was most frustrated, I’d hear the pitter-patter and smile to myself. Days when I feared the worst at an exam, it would start raining, reassuring me that it would all be ok. And it always worked. Days when it rained, I found myself more motivated to do well, more aggressive in my answers, more imaginative in my essays. It became the Robin to my Batman. If it rained, you couldn’t beat me. Period. I was like a med school Michael Schumacher. Yes, I live in my own little mental happy place.

More than all the selfish reasons for which I love the monsoon, there are quite a few others as well. I love how an overcast sky makes even a small Indian town feel like London.

I love how all the plants in the garden look freshly scrubbed. I live in a dusty town and the leaves are usually covered with a thin layer of dust. The monsoon washes it all away, revealing all shades of green. On our porch, we lower the old school bamboo curtains, drinking masala tea in the evenings. You feel like you’re holidaying at a hill station.

For most of my teenage years, I lived at my grandmother’s house. A specialty of hers during summer and the monsoon is lightly roasted groundnut. Then, ideally, when they’re still warm, crack them open and munch on the peanuts within. Juicy with a slightly charcoal-y flavour. Team that with a tall glass of chilled Rose sherbet with a little squeeze of lemon. Perfect.

Have you ever tried the Alphonso? It’s the King of mangoes, actually, the King of all fruit. Beautifully golden, packed with flavour. It’s like an explosion of India in your mouth. The only problem with monsoon is that it signals the death of the alphonso. I know people who actually get upset at the first rains because it is a sign that the supply of their favourite fruit has now dried up.

We have frangipani trees all over our gardens at home. It drizzled a little last night and already the trees look more alive. The flowers look so fresh.

I always try and get a few of the season’s first raindrops on me and on the people I love. Hoping that it brings them and me good luck for the rest of the year.

Wherever you are in the world, I hope that now you shall also look at rain as the harbinger of all things good in your life. And I hope that you shall also try to get a few drops of the first rain on yourself and your loved ones. God bless.

View from my kitchen

View from my kitchen

Rose sherbet with a hint of lemon

Rose sherbet with a hint of lemon

Lightly roasted groundnut

Lightly roasted groundnut

The King of fruit. The Alphonso.

The King of fruit. The Alphonso.

The sun breaking through...

The sun breaking through…

Bamboo curtains

Bamboo curtains

Frangipani

Frangipani

Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

Some food photos from Paris

All this blogging about food made me dig up some of my pictures from our trip to Paris.

The picture of the bottle of water is from the cafe in the Versailles palace. This sparkling water is ‘Chateldon’ and if you look closely, has the image of the Sun on the bottle cap. That’s because, King Louis XIV, drank only this water, which came from the mountains in the volcanic Auvergne region of France. As regards the taste, well, it was carbonated water after all. Though it did seem smoother than Perrier or San Pellegrino, maybe it was just psychological.

The dessert is also from the cafe at Versailles. Fresh berries, full of tang, offset by the rich, creamy custard.

If ever in Paris, you have to eat the roadside crepes. With or without nutella, it will make you want to dance. We satisfied our crepe craving when we visited the Sacre Coeur, in the lovely Montmartre district. Hot crepes on a cold and windy evening.

It is a joy to watch Parisians shop for groceries. They tend not to buy from large supermarkets. Most Parisians are loyal to a their vendors. This ensures that they get the best produce. Watching them buy fruit by the roadside, feeling for the softness of the pears, smelling the apples, checking their ripeness is a joy.

Also, if you’re on a diet, try to keep your eyes closed while walking around. You’ll pass by a patisserie more often than not and their meticulously baked croissants, bread, pastries are sure to lure you in. Closing your eyes may not help because the smell of freshly baked bread is quite irresistible.

Also, I’ve always had avocado in a salad or as guacamole. This is the first time I had guacamole as dinner by itself. Surgically cut into perfect halves, with the pit removed, you drizzle some olive oil over the avocado, scoop out the innards with a spoon and let it melt in your mouth. Tastes like butter.

Oh oh, I’m hungry now.

20110511-050112.jpg

20110511-050121.jpg

20110511-050130.jpg

20110511-050141.jpg

20110511-050208.jpg

20110511-050525.jpg

Look what Mom got!

My folks just got back from their summer holiday in Europe. They went to Austria, Prague, Amsterdam and Paris.

Paris. What a beautiful city. Just being in Paris makes you feel more cultured. Parisians live well. By living well, I’m not implying that they have an extravagant lifestyle. But Parisians spend their money on quality products. Seldom shall you see a Parisian throw away money, however little, on a factory made product. They like their things hand-made and elegantly designed.

So, Mom brings us a box of macarons (macaroons) from Laduree in Paris. Monsieur Laduree was the man who created the macaron in Paris in the early 1900s. Mom got us a box of assorted ones, lemon, green apple, chocolate, pistachio and my favourite, Caramel. A bite of the caramel macaron can transport you to gastronomical heaven. You’re at once bombarded by the soft sweetness of the caramel ensconced in the two chewy halves with a slight salty aftertaste. Magical.

She also got us Rose petal jam. From a place called ‘Au nom de la rose’, meaning ‘In the name of the rose’. I haven’t had the time to try it yet. It’s wrapped so beautifully, I don’t feel like opening it. They wrapped the jar in a green tissue, put it in a lovely bag with rose petals and also put in a long stemmed white rose in the bag. Who does that? It’s the experience that takes your breath away.

Also, my wife is a big fan of mustard. So, there was also some Dijon mustard for her. She didn’t seem too interested in the mustard though, she was too busy admiring her gift from a certain LV store on the Champs Elysees.

There’s also some citrus dessert thing which also I haven’t tried. I will be sure to write about that too, if it is good.

Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

My dark fascination with death.

I have always been fascinated by death. I don’t really know when it started, this pre-occupation with mortality. The earliest I remember being seduced by the thought of death was in the mid-eighties. Indira Gandhi had just been assassinated by her own bodyguards and the assassin had been sentenced to death. By hanging.

Being all of four, I didn’t really know what hanging meant. I asked my Dad and he explained. Me being curious, I asked for all the gory details. He told me how they would get a last meal, be taken to the gallows after midnight, their face covered in a black cloth, hiding their pale, bloodless, fear-ridden face. The lever was yanked by the hangman and the body would plunge. The eyes would be pushed out of the sockets and the man would lose control of his bladder and wet himself. Maybe my Dad didn’t go into so much detail but he was pretty elaborate. He was shocked the next day when I drew a picture of a man hung by the neck, eyes bulging and pee running down one leg.

I was mesmerized. Not at the thought of someone dying or justice being done. I was fascinated with the image of a man knowing he was going to die and not being able to do anything about it. The concept of a last meal, ‘Who would want to eat anything?’, I thought. I wondered about the mother and the family of the guy about to be hanged. What must go through their minds? Would they close their eyes and imagine the pain? Would they dream about the cold, shivering face of their son or brother? Would they wish that they could hold his hand through this ordeal, this journey into the unknown? Would they silently pray and pretend that the journey would be peaceful, knowing in their hearts, that it would be anything but?

Much later, I would renew my interest in Indira Gandhi’s assassination, when I visited Delhi and went to Indira Gandhi’s house, now a museum. They’ve displayed the saree which she wore when she was shot, the bullet holes clearly visible. Goosebumps.

Over the years, this death obsession has come and gone. If I come across something gruesome, it usually haunts me for days. I try and imagine myself in that position. When Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a suicide bomber, there was a picture in India Today of the moment just before the bomb went off. Rajiv had a smile on his face, bending down to greet the person touching his feet. I would pretend to be Rajiv in my mind, bend over and imagine how it would feel to have my head blown off.

If by now, you think I’m some sort of weirdo, you would not be entirely wrong.

In our second year of medical school, we had forensic medicine as a subject. This entailed us having to attend post-mortems for two weeks. Post-mortems are depressing, and stinky. Really stinky. My friends and I used to douse a handkerchief with a perfume one of us used to carry (Boss by Hugo Boss) and hold it to our noses. I still can’t use that perfume to this day, takes me back to the autopsy room. In related news, if anyone wants that bottle of Hugo Boss, it’s yours.

One day, we were in the autopsy room and there was a body of a lady who had just been burned to death by her in-laws because her parents didn’t meet their dowry demands. Her time of death was 11am and here we were, at 1pm, staring at her body. All I could think of was that, 2 hours ago, this lady was screaming away. Crying in pain. When the autopsy commenced, they opened up her stomach to collect the stomach contents and half digested bhindi (okra) flowed out. The doctor conducting the autopsy casually spouted “Oh look, her lunch.” I almost lost mine.

As a resident in obstetrics and gynecology, I was posted at a peripheral hospital, where we lost a patient to postpartum haemorrhage. I knew that patient, followed her for more than 6 months, we had a relationship. There was no indication beforehand that she’d land up with such a complication, no effort was spared in her resuscitation. She just bled away. On being informed of her death, her husband didn’t know how to react. He said “But she was fine this morning, she made lunch for me, didn’t have any problems… How did this happen?” Medically, it’s hard to explain that sometimes, shit happens. Sometimes, you’re just destined to be a statistic, against all odds. Looking at that clammy, ashen body, suturing the wound of this now dead lady, I couldn’t think. I was imagining what her last moments must have been like. Slowly, the lights fading.

There would be many such times when I’d go back into this death spiral. But, a few stand out.

Recently, on the 26th of November 2008, Mumbai was attacked by Islamic extremists. It was shockingly close to home. So many people that we knew were at the Taj or the Oberoi hotels. Some of them we knew very well, one in particular. This upstanding gentleman was on his way to the airport when he was called back by his friend to meet up at ‘Tiffin’, the upmarket restaurant at the Oberoi. Apparently, he sought his counsel for some business affair. He was one of the persons herded up by the militants and hauled up 20 flights of stairs and then shot. They were all made to stand against a wall and were fired upon. The friend who called him there, survived, by pretending to be dead for 4 days, ignoring the decomposing smell of his friend’s body and those of 20 others next to him. I always imagine that they never really would’ve thought they’d die. Something would happen, some rescue, maybe an elaborate prank. After all, who ever imagines their death at the hands of terrorists, taking a bullet to the face?

Do you guys remember that Nina Ricci perfume ad? The one with the gorgeous russian supermodel, Ruslana? The one featuring pink apples? Ruslana committed suicide in 2008 and is now the subject of a documentary. I read an article in Newsweek about it recently. Ruslana killed herself by jumping off her balcony. The funny thing is, she didn’t just take a step off her balcony. Her body was found 8.5 meters away from the building edge. She didn’t just jump off, she ran and leaped off, almost soared. Flew to her death. No traces of alcohol or drugs were found in her blood or urine. Insane.

Is it wrong that this fascinates me? Does it reflect an inner fear or some forgotten emotional trauma? Am I wrong? Do I need help? I’ve never felt the need to get myself assessed because of this. The fascination has never escalated beyond the point where I felt the need to do something stupid.

Till the time there is death I guess, there will always be death voyeurs. I’m not a death voyeur but I certainly won’t turn my back on a gruesome scene. I have this incessant need to know everything about it. What they felt, I’ll never know. But, I’ll keep imagining it.

Ruslana, the russian supermodel

Indira Gandhi

The Taj attacked.