“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The secret of great cooking

Parvati away at Ernakulam, helper on leave – the two of us, father and son, have to manage things at home. I make Dosa and chutney for breakfast. K says,-’ Acha, nice dosas!’. I smile at him, though do not divulge the receipe. The thick batter was originally for idlis; I diluted it for Dosas, and as expected, it became too watery. Usually a little Atta flour would thicken the batter back, but I couldn’t find any. Improvisation is a key factor in home cooking. I found a pack of leftover Puttu podi; powdered rice for making that special Kerala breakfast item, Puttu. I boiled a little water, added the podi to it to make a thick paste and then mixed it with the Dosa batter. A sprinkle of turmeric powder, crushed ginger, a little Chicken Masala (Yes!) and the Dosas were transformed from their usual bland selves to something with a divine fragrance and taste!

Long ago when Parvati was carrying and exhibiting that voracious appetite typical of pregnant women, I used to make her delicious stuff, especially omlettes. To the eggs would go thick cream, turmeric powder, garlic & ginger paste, salt, finely chopped vegetables such as carrot, tomato, cauliflower, cabbage, coriander leaves etc, etc. The omlettes would come up golden brown and fluffy soft with Amul butter. ( If I believe in anything, they are turmeric, garlic, ginger and curry leaves) Parvati would oblige me by leaving not even a morsel and a blissful look on her face.

In the ensuing years, I would occasionally pop into the kitchen and make something. Chicken curry, Rava uppma, chutneys etc were my forte. One day Parvati asked - ‘How come the stuff you make tastes so good? You use much too oil, don’t you?’ How silly! She asks questions and answers them too! I tell her- ‘ No, there is a secret ingredient that I add last’. ‘What?’ I tell her - ‘Love’.

This is not to say that women of the house, who usually has the run of the kitchen, cook without love. But they don’t add it into the dish, you know. Cooking is part of the daily chores and they have only enough time to check the salt and spice and palatability of the food. When I go into the kitchen once in a while, I cook for my family and all the time I cut the vegetables or marinate the chicken or add masalas or fry onions – all the time I am thinking, is it going to be good, can I add a little of this and a little of that and would it taste all right? And then with a flourish I lay it before them and watch furtively for that first reaction and then heave a sigh of relief when they say, ‘Wow!’.

You see, there is a lot of love going into that.

*************** Balachandran V, balanpnb@gmail.com

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The real and the fantasy

Discussing the poems over a couple of drinks, my friend asked - 'Bala, this estranged wife thing, what is it?' I said we had a tiff. 'I would never write that and show it to my wife', he said. 'And that about strangling a lover and all. You shouldn't write such things.' I explain to him that all that is not necessarily real and true, I stretch my imagination, add a dash of this and a dash of that, some may be partially true, some a figment of imagination, what i fantasize. Like in my teens, I had this huge crush on Hema Malini, then the reigning super star. I am talking about the early seventies. My books were neatly covered with her pictures, my walls filled with her posters, I would look oh-so-longingly at Hema Malini's eyes and lips ( her torso was always so modestly draped with clothes - I suspect whether she had an oomph figure) for hours. She is still a looker, now in her sixties. But my everlasting devotion was totally for Waheeda Rehman. Even now, I can watch the song sequences of those old 50s & 60s movies of Waheeda and get into a mood. Just see the 'Choudvin ka chand' scene! Can there be a woman with a face more beautiful than Waheeda? There is such sensuality, senstivity and spirituality about her face and expressions!

Fantasies are escape routes. You very well know you are never going to get anywhere near Hemamalini or Waheeda Rehman. And the fact is that Waheeda is now a sweet old lady in her early seventies. So what? I have the time and the inclination, friend! In between moments of the monotonous drudgery of my mundane life, I take a break into the fantasyland. I am not going to live there forever, though. Because the real stuff isn't that bad either.

The problem is with the reader who knows me in person. He/she would try to link this word to that incident and this phrase to that memory. The reader should delink the writer from his write. ( many people are using 'write' as a noun. Have to check if this is correct.)

I remember the days long ago, when, after watching a Western at Sree Kumar Theatre, guys would come out of the hall, swaggering, their arms loosened and hanging slightly curved as if they will come out blazing with their .45s.

These pages, my friendly reader, is my fantasy land. The internet is my magic mirror; I have been passing through its gates so many times, for so long, that I don't know which is real and which is fantasy. Frankly, I don't care. I am happy, whatever it is, where ever I am. Just let me be. Don't judge me on the basis of what I write. I could be a brilliant con artist, a Jack-the-ripper, child molester, or an embodiment, a paragon, of virtues. Read, if you like. And then leave it. Make me happy by leaving a comment...
***************** Balachandran, 25.4.09, Trivandrum

Mornings, at Six

If you had a good night’s sleep,

There is nothing welcomer

Than the break of the dawn.

To lie on bed, watching

Eyes half-open, at the darkness

Paling, leaves of the Jack

And further away the Mango

Filtering just enough light

So that your eyes do not hurt.

There are always the birds.

Sweet tweet of the Robin

Sunbirds chirping, peering at flowers

Cuckoos always so flustered,

Plaintive, like mothers in kitchen

Scurrying about in the morning

And the omnipresent caws

Of the crows –

One will love even the crows

On such a morning.

Mornings are always so cool.

Bitterness of yesterdays,

Burdens to carry today

Bleakness of the future –

For a gentle moment, all pains are gone

As curtains flutter in the breeze

And the strains of hymns waft in.

I hear the soft taps

Of his nails

As Tommy comes up

And then the door is rudely pushed open

As Sancho comes barging in,

Ahead of his father.

The wet slurps, soft whines

And then the nuzzling on the ears -

What could be a better way

To begin a day?

The telephone rings –

My love, to say hello.

************** Balachandran, Trivandrum 25.04.2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sentiment and Reason

Sentiment n. Mental feeling; emotion;tendency to be moved by feeling rather than by reason; verbal expression of feeling. Sentimental a. given to indulgence in sentiment and its expression; weak, sloppy.

In its forty- first year in possession, my Collins New Gem Dictionary, still spells out facts of life to me in the same dispassionate tone that it has, when as a young boy I would scurry through its pages for smutty words and meanings. 41 years it has been with me, my father's little present. Grappling with Agatha Christie's 'Ten Little Niggers'; unbearable suspense frustrated by unintelligible words - father would say - you skip the words you don't know the meaning of, you will get the hang of the story. Later, after finishing the book you can look them up in the Dictionary.

Later, as a hot-blooded adolescent madly in love, I would flip through my Collins to make sure that I have written what I really wanted to say. Didn't have a Thesaurus in those days.
Many dictionaries and thesauruses and later Wordweb in the PC and so many other tools of the language, I still rummage through the mess in front of me on the table, for my little Collins.

Then there was the hilarious day long ago when I was unmarried and unwilling to be castled, when my mother oh-so-tactfully asked me if I were in love again and that too with a Christian girl. I was flummoxed and asked her what she meant. Nothing, nothing, she said, only that you are reading the Bible all the time - my Collins, with its leather binding could be easily mistaken for a Bible... In a way, it is my Bible. I have carried him where ever I have been stationed. There has been not better gift from my father - in the first page he has written - To V Balachandran - no 'dear son' or such affectionate phrases - he must have meant me to take it with all formal gravity, seriousness of a dictionary.

The other day, a close friend of mine quoted to me - 'Sentiment distorts'. I retorted - 'No, it doesn't, it only makes things human'.

I have often been amused at the many instances in my life when people advised me not to be sentimental. Like what I have said above about my dictionary, I would be said to be being 'sentimental' about it. In the days of committed environmentalism, again this caution - ' act with reason, don't be sentimental'. In the days when I was in love with a girl - ' you are being stupid wasting time and sentiments over her'. I go off on a long trek to Himalayas, i am so so passionate about Himalayas, again these smart people would say - ' you are wasting money and energy and risking your life - be reasonable - save up money and buy a car or something'.

They were right too, in most cases. Yet, what I am, what I had been and what I would like to be, is to be sentimental about everything. Let reason come after it. In sentiments lie the awakening, in passion lies the seed of thought and action. Without sentiments, I would be like a salted, dried mango. Sentiments rush through like blood, giving life and meaning of life to me, I want to live and not just survive...Sentiment is feeling, feeling for the animate and inanimate, for the tangible and the intangible, for a dog and for the universe. Sentiment is, to be. Broken down I am, yet I will rise my head and my spirit to my last breath.

Maybe later a day will come when I am detached, detached as J Krishnamurti behoves us to be. Even in such a detached stage, we are sentimental, because it is such feelings that decides for us to be attached or to be detached. I cannot look at a waterfalls and think of it as such and such cubic feet of H2O rushing down at such and such velocity, and producable of so much of Megawatts of electricity. I cannot look at a tree and think of it in terms of tons of firewood. I cannot look at my dog and think of him as a security utility. I cannot marvel at the magnificence of nature and think in terms of the survival value that it gives. I have to love them all and feel for them all and wallow in sentiments and in the rush of emotions that sweep over me, be grateful and then act, with reason, to protect and preserve all that I love in whatever little way I can.
************** Balachandran, 09.04.2009 Trivandrum

Remembering railroads...

Remembering railroads... (Originally written in 2001)

In the early seventies I lived in Mavelikkara, a small town in central Kerala. Our ancestral home was by the side of the main railway line that runs through the small state in the southern most part of India, like a nerve-end. Though a good 75 mts. away from the tracks, one could feel the house shuddering when a train rattled by. Ammu, my pet goat, never got used to the trains. She would jump and strain at the rope and try to run up the low, slanting coconut palm she was tied to. Karumbi, our black cow, who didn't care for me much, would give a low moo.

Motion is one sure sign of life. The fluttering of a leaf in the breeze, water dripping in drops, a new-born baby shaking its limbs - movement is life!

As a little boy in the sixties, when I came to Mavelikkara for the holidays, one of my main pastimes were to place pieces of mettle on the iron rails and watch the train pass over them, crushing it to a fine dust. John, my friend and a few years my senior, told me about the night when he kept a big boulder on the rail track and the 1230 Express that overturned and fell right into the paddy fields on the other side......

In front of our house the tracks curved to the left. And John said of the countless young women who jumped before the 1230. Every friday night, all the maruthas(ghosts) meet right under the little culvert and dance with lights on their heads. Want to see them? Come to my house at 1230 sharp. And then one friday night, my mother, who then was in her thirties, walked all the 3 kms. from the railway station to our house. Couldn't get a taxi. All alone. Horrified, I asked her if she saw the Maruthas. Frowning, she said, 'you mean the frog catchers with their Petromax lights? There were a couple of nasty dogs, though'. In her mid-seventies now, mother confuses me for her husband and my sister for her mother.... And John died last year to the bullets of Kashmiri terrorists...

***************** Balachandran.V, 30.09.2001

Friday, April 3, 2009


Dictionaries are books of revelation.

You never knew what words really meant

You took them for granted

You assumed

You had always thought so

You thought that’s what people meant

Until told otherwise by the dictionary.

Shall we look up the word, ‘friend’?

The word, in my hitherto life I have used

So wantonly.

I assumed it meant what I thought I felt

For certain individuals I liked more than others.

Certain individuals who were in my thoughts

More often than not.

Those for whom I felt affection

Those for whom I ached

For whom I would relegate my personal priorities

From whom I wanted respect, love and care

To whom I could say anything (mostly) I wanted

With whom I could be what I wanted ( I thought) to be.

Memories of camaraderie, of shared moments of life

Your happiness mine

Your sorrows mine -

Yet, dismaying – I realise I, have to be there

Separable from you -

Always, there are you and I...

Disheartening - that I, am there

In everything I think of you...

The I with you, my friend, you see

Is the friend that you want me to be

Not me, not me, not me in my entirety.

The bottom line, my friend,

Is never to take each other for granted,

Though, in moments rare, be grateful -

Nothing more, but be grateful

That we are there in our times of need

Or even, just that we are there...

Somewhere reachable

Just like the dictionaries

When you grope for the meaning

Not of words, but of life...

*************** Balachandran, Trivandrum 03.03.2009

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Loving you

'How do I love thee?' she asked

and proceeded to count the ways.

'How silly!', said I, 

There is only one way -

Seamless, boundless, like sunshine.

Sunlight, streaming through the leaves -

Or like this dewdrop perching

On the tip of a leaf, so precious!

********* Balachandran, 02.04.2009, Trivandrum