Wednesday, 23 February, 2011

Evolving roles among three generations of women...

It came to me while trying to make aloo parathas a couple of evenings back. While battling with the dough and the rolling pin, I was remembering with envy the skill with which the ladies in my family perform this task. My mother says that she learnt how to roll a perfectly round chapati  in her early teens. My grandmother had to make more than fifty chapatis every night for a family of twenty members. And here I was, their direct descendant, rolling a paratha for the first time in my thirties and making a mess of it. I did not know whether to be ashamed or perversely proud!

Growing up in pre-liberalized India, it was natural for our mothers to stay at home and look after the house and us. Marriage and homemaking, reminiscences my mother, were matters in which she along with the women in her generation (1960/70s) were not given much choice in.  Women in average Bengali families were brought up and educated with the sole intention of managing her shongshar/sansar (household).  In fact, my mother continues, her generation of girls who went out to work, were seen as poor or unfortunate or 'too modern'! 

Not that managing a joint family with all kinds of cantankerous members was easy! Her days were long and tiring-- organizing meals, tending to  regular dropping-in-without-prior-announcement guests, looking after an invalid father-in-law, raising me and my brother and socializing with my father's varied groups of friends. I remember the tantrums I used to throw if dinner was not to my liking or how my mother had to cope with various members of the joint family, with a cool head. My father has always been a very involved husband and did more than his fair share in running the house. But the primary responsibility was always Ma's.  My brother and me, we often rued the fact that how Ma would have made an ace diplomat and how India lost one of her promising bureaucrats to homemaking! When I speak to my mother about her youth, what comes out strongly is her regret in not having choices in life! Be it college or an arranged marriage at an early age, it was all dictated by my grandfather. Maybe that is why she decided that I, her daughter would have all the opportunities that she never had and live life in my own terms.

Still, my mother says that she has had an easier life than her mother, my grandma. Orphaned at an early age, four siblings were split among relatives. My grandmother was sent to live with an elder cousin brother who was a bureaucrat. With his family, she traveled around the country. Then in her teens she was married off , her in-laws lived in rural Bengal. So from government bungalows of  Delhi and Lucknow to a mud house in Seerandi village of Bengal's Birbhum district. That too without the husband, my grandfather worked in Kolkata, she was in the village to look after her in-laws. Also money was tight in those days and my grandmother always had to run her household with minuscule budgets.

My grandmother being the feisty lady she is, completed her Inter examinations after marriage, studying the whole night, after pulling an eighteen hour work day-- cooking three meals for twenty people and other household chores. She had three children, was/is a skilled dress maker, embroidered and knit like magic, a movie buff (she still remembers each and every one of Bimal Ray, Pankaj Mallick, Kanan Devi and Uttam Kumar movies), a huge football fan (Mohonbagan Club) and loves reading Bengali novels and poetry. She loved playing cricket as a kid, but the widowed aunt with whom she lived soon after her parents' died, put a stop to that. So instead she turned umpire! I often wonder what my grandmother would have made of her life, if she had even half the choices that I had!

Asked about choice, my grandmother gives a tentative smile. I can feel she is a bit unsure, I pester. "We were not given choices sonaburi (my dearest granddaughter). We knew our role in life and family and strove to make the best of it." Yes but imagine a time in your childhood/youth when you could study as much as you wanted, go to college, not get married till you were ready...It sounds a little blasphemous to my traditional dimma (grandmother) so she starts a lecture on the importance of husband and family in a woman's life. But once she had blown off her steam, the conversation turns to lovely it could be if she could go to college and study, she muses wistfully! Coming back to homemaking, my grandmother says that right from childhood they were groomed for the time when they would be running their own households. During her time, Bengal of 1940/50s young girls were taught to cook, to sew, to maintain a budget-- so that they could in future run a household successfully. Even education was seen as necessary so that she could help in the primary education of her own children!

Born in late 70s, I grew up, free of gender discrimination, sent to a co-education school, was taught to fight it out fairly in life. Nor did I get many extra perks for being a girl. My mother spent substantial part of her energy in educating and pushing me. I remember as a child whenever we would go by famous colleges of Kolkata, my mother would say 'one day you would come to study here'. Seeds of self confidence were being sown right there! My parents not only supported me in my career, most times they staved off inquisitive relatives when they pestered me with questions of marriage. In fact my mother always used to threaten me that she would never let me marry till I finished my Ph.D.! 

We sure have come a long way! Not only in my family but in other Indian families as well. Women have not ceased to be homemakers, rather men have been sucked into the role too! Thankfully the division of labour is no longer so watertight. Also as families become nuclear, there is a lot more scope for a woman to have her say. In our shongshar/household of my husband and me, if I do not feel like cooking,  my husband cooks or we eat out. In my grandmother's time this would have been unimaginable!

On the occasion of International Women's Day, I want to pay homage all those brave and spirited Indian ladies who turned homemaking into a fine art--managing big families under severe restrictions, working long and hard hours without much appreciation, often facing discrimination and torture, yet using their talents to make their lives interesting and carving a space for themselves in the midst of opposition and hostility. Most importantly for daring to dream and passing those dreams onto their daughters. Concept of homemaking is changing rapidly in India and we, the modern Indian women, have it way better than our grandmothers and mothers. We have choices they never had, we take up opportunities, they would have never dreamt of. 

Saluting the past and eagerly looking forward to the future.

I am tagging the following non IL bloggers to participate in this contest:

Anubha who writes @

Sapphire who writes @

Saturday, 19 February, 2011

From the Chapel Market...

We were going for a meal to the Indian Veg Bhelpuri House, an all-you-can-eat buffet of  Indian vegetarian food near Angel, a couple of Saturdays ago. This place has authentic Indian food, their loochis/puris are awesome, tastes  like straight from mom's kitchen. Their vegetable curries taste just like the food served as prasad/bhog in temples all over India. This place is run by Bangladeshi gentlemen and we have become great fans of their food. Anyways, on our way we had to cross the Saturday market at the Chapel Market. These are the stuff I picked up from the market.

 By the time we got back home, a couple of flowers had fallen off from the bunch, I made a South Indian Uruli style arrangement with them.
 Picked up an aloe vera plant...the shopkeeper promised that in three four months time I could dig out the leaves and use them. I have big plans to make my own aloe vera paste. Wouldn't that be exciting? Till now I have always read about aloe vera creams, now I am going to make my very own! Wish me luck...
Finger puppet...isn't he cute...I am sure my grandma and my mom can easily make these, but since I am sewing retarded in every which way, I feel happy buying them! The guy manning the stall told me that they are handmade in Guatemala. So now we have a piece of Guatemala with us.

Wednesday, 16 February, 2011

Malaysian food at Penang Satay House, Turnpike Lane

The first time we went to Penang Satay Hous was a disaster. I do not even remember the food, only that they made us wait for 30 mins for the starters and one and a half hours for the main food. By the end I had a headache and just wanted to go home.  My husband who is more patient of the two of us was sure that their chef had not turned up or was having a temper tantrum, or there was a mutiny in the kitchen... his list of possibilities were endless. The waiters kept saying sorry and that the food was on its way. Whatever. I did not care, I wanted to get out. We knew we were not coming back. Bad brush with Malaysian food!

Until an evening when  we were tired, tempers were short, we had to cancel a booking in another restaurant and we were in the area. We had a friend with us who wanted to have coconut-y curries, and assured us that she would not mind the wait. So with a little trepidation we went back to Penang Satay House. It was the same head waiter who showed us to a table.

The restaurant is one of those dimly lit affairs, the place is decorated with batik wall hangings which were pretty nice.

Like the other time, a place was pretty full and they seem to have devoted regulars who chat happily with the owner and the head waiter. I was hoping that since they are almost always full and seem to be having so many regulars, they usually are prompter with their service. Our last meal was hopefully an exceptional disaster. My hopes came true...this time round the service was impeccable, the timing was just right between the courses and waiters were really friendly and helpful, without being pushy.

First they served a complimentary basket of prawn crackers. Then our food came.

I order these friend chicken dumplings- they were good. They did not have any steamed version on offer, I wish they would introduce the steamed ones, they are way more tastier and also healthier!

Our friend ordered prawn skewers. She said they were good, I tried the peanut sauce which came with it, the sauce was really good. My husband ordered a chicken salad,  surprisingly I do not have any photographs of that. The salad was good, crisp and spicy. Within seven/eight minutes came our main food.

Pork and vegetable curry for husband. The pork was tender, the vegetables crisp and very fresh.

Nasi Goreng-- Malaysian/Indonesian fried rice to go with the pork. I do not precisely know what is the difference with Chinese fried rice, but it certainly is different in taste.

I ordered crispy Malaysian chilli chicken with sesame seeds. Now I am a bit obsessed with chilli chicken, where ever I go, if this is on menu I order it. By now I have tried all kinds of chilli chicken. My verdict for the Malaysian chilli chicken was it was very different from all other chilli chickens I have had, mainly because of the use of a lot of tomatoes. The sesame seeds added a nice flavour. The dish was hot and spicy and tangy. I would order this again, most definitely.

 Our friend ordered this prawn curry in coconut sauce. She loved it. We both tried it, the curry was flavoured with a very known Indian spice apart from the coconut. Finally my husband pinned it, it was coriander and maybe a little turmeric because of the colour. It was nice, and mostly importantly our friend seemed to love it. She also ordered Nasi Goreng to go with the prawn curry.
Crispy fried noodles with chicken and mixed vegetables. Now I have a history with this noodle dish. While a student in Toronto, I used to live just next to a family run Vietnamese restaurant. I fell in love with Vietnamese food, specially the clear spring rolls and this noodle.Once back in India I used to crave for this a lot. So when we shifted to London the first thing I did was find out Vietnamese restaurants and have this dish. So whichever restaurant I go to, if this is on the menu I order it. To my pleasure found it here and promptly ordered. The noodle was just right, crispy with enough gravy to soften the noodles and full of fresh vegetables like bok choy, peas, cauliflower, mushrooms etc. Ah I can happily have this every day for the rest of my life! I need to learn how to make this.

We also order a red wine to go with this. Since I am not a wine aficionado I cannot even remember the name. But it tasted nice, light and fruity. I did not regret giving my usual jasmine tea a miss. By the end we were all full and sated. It was lovely meal and we would most definitely go back again, hoping for this level of service.

Italian at Piccolo Diavolo, Soho

My husband went to this restaurant with his friends and ever since he has been promising to take me there. We finally went on the Chinese New Year as we wanted to avoid the crowd in China Town and good thing we did, we saw long queues outside each popular Chinese restaurant once we hit the celebrations. We went without a booking on a Saturday afternoon, but thankfully did not have to wait at all.

The restaurant is really cosy with quintessential Italian feel and look. The tables had the red and white checked table cloths and fresh flowers. The place was almost full and the two waiters were rushing all around.

We decided to skip the starters and my husband ordered a pepperoni pizza while I ordered the wild mushroom risotto with garlic bead, washed down with a glass of rose wine for me and house white wine for my husband.

I have been craving for a plate of risotto for sometime and the one that came was awesome. It was rich and creamy, full of flavour and cheese. I have had risotto that was overcooked, making the whole thing a mess, but this one was just rightly cooked and the rice was firm and did not stick together or become a pulp, yet made a gooey whole. The portion was so big, that even a glutton like me could not finish it. The garlic bread was actually pizza dough full of garlic flavour, very different from the garlic bread we are used to having in American pizza chains.

The pizza that they served my husband was superb. It had a thin crust and not an over load of topping, but just right. I did not think my husband could all of it by himself, but he did and also the risotto that I could not!

The pace of the restaurant was very relaxed and no one rushed us. After the meal the waitress tried to tempt us with dessert-- cheesecakes and tiramisu. Since we were sitting next to the refrigerator we could even see the goodies stored inside. They looked tempting and she told us how the strawberry cheesecake was freshly made and all gooey. But I was stuffed and had to pass it. By husband had an espresso and we decided to hit the Chinese New Year celebrations.

We had a lovely meal and we are definitely going back there. The head waiter was a bit too busy, so much so that he hardly had the patience for us to finish ordering! But the waitress made up for the guy's rudeness and abruptness, she was very friendly and attentive. She definitely made our experience enjoyable. Though at the end of the meal the head waiter did come back and checked on us.

Tuesday, 15 February, 2011

Korean food in Naru

Yesterday as part of Valentine Day's celebrations, my husband planned a trip to see the exhibition on Tower Bridge and also a Korean meal. More on Tower Bridge in another post.

He booked a table for us at Naru Restaurant on the Shaftsbury Avenue which we reached after a bus adventure from the Tower Bridge. The restaurant was three fourths full and the waitress showed us to a cosy table for two. Mostly there were couples, except for a large group of youngsters.

The ambiance is nice with a lot of light to see your way around, which I prefer way more than those dimly lit places where you cannot even see what you are eating! They had cleverly used a mirror to make the place look bigger than it really is. The decor is nice and light, making the place intimate and warm. The waitresses are very helpful, attentive and friendly.

Now the food-- for starters we ordered:

Jap Chae, now this glass noodles stir fried with assorted vegetables was what attracted us to Korean food in the first place. In Oxford a Korean friend of ours had made this for a party and we loved it, so we had her Jap Chae as the standard. This Jap Chae did not disappoint us either. It was good, made with fresh ingredients. I felt I could finish the whole plate and ask for some more. But it is pretty rich, so it fills you up quickly.  One small thing which I felt was that it had too much pepper in it.

Tuk San Juk which are deep fried pork dumplings. Now dumplings if not well made can taste horrible with the dough thick and stretchy and the filling inside all dry and non juicy. But these were just right with the dough light and crisp and the filling inside was juicy and very tasty. I would have finished all of it by myself if the Jap Chae was not there.

For me it was the usual Jasmine tea.

My husband chose an Aloe tasted like a drink made with cucumber, only sweet. It was our first aloe vera drink and by the end of the meal we were both thankful for it.

For main my husband ordered a pork stew which came with multi grain rice and the fiery red sauce in the next photograph. The stew was hot (we were duly warned) and flavorful, filled with veggies and tofu but sadly there was not much of pork visible. Maybe they had cooked the pork so much it had dissolved into the stew. It tasted very different from anything either of us had ever had before. I think next time we would give it a miss.

This fiery red sauce was awesome!
I ordered this crunchy fried chicken in a red sauce, served with lettuce. This was awesome. It was hot, slightly tangy, very firm and a winner. I did not know how to eat this with the lettuce, so made little bags with the lettuce, put in the chicken pieces in them and had them. The lettuce added a crunch and also slightly brought down the heat. We both loved this chicken, next time we go to Naru, this would definitely be reordered.

By the end of the meal, we were so full, that we skipped by the green tea ice cream which we were planning to order. It was a great meal and made our Valentine's day special. We cannot wait to go back there.

I loved the ceramic dishes and pots in which the food was served. I was meaning to ask the waitresses whether they were from Korea, forgot, next time.

Only drawbacks are the loos. Women's loos were clean but super small but my husband said men's loos were stinking, so much so that he doused himself with anti bacterial gel after coming back. Which is a pity for a restaurant otherwise this good!

Wednesday, 9 February, 2011

I Want...

To live life my way;
To create my own universe;
To be absolutely free;
To smile always;
To be with my loved ones forever;
To see the whole wide world;
To create a home;
To fly far far away;
To be someone on my own right;
To dream the most vivid dreams;
To imagine the impossible;
To write a profound novel;
To paint the most incredible picture;
To read all the books in the world;
To soar away with mesmirising music;
To love like there is no tomorrow;
To spend every moment with my soulmate;
To be loved for who I am;
To be absolutely responsible and irresponsible;
To live every moment;
To have no regrets;
To preserve every tiny memory;
To catch a rainbow;
To pin down a cloud;
To sleep like a baby;
To die happy and young.

Thursday, 3 February, 2011

A Trip to the Royal Observatory

A friend came to visit us a few weekends back and trying to organise a Saturday's entertainment was a little difficult  since she has lived and been to visit London many times. Luckily she had never been to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich so we settled for that one. The weather prediction ranged from sunny to heavy rains, thankfully it chose to be a usual cloudy, grey day.

Once we came out of the Cutty Sark tube station, there were ample directions to show us the way. The area which is known as the Greenwich Village is very pretty and quaint with loads of nice shops and cosy cafes and restaurants and also a covered market where a Saturday market was on at full swing. After five/six minutes walk we were facing the gate of the park and a long trudge up the hill awaited us. It seemed rather a lot of walk but the hill seemed gentle enough. Do not be fooled by the gentle hill, soon all three of us were huffing and puffing. But there were so many others walking along and the park is rather nice, so without too much grumbling we reached our destination. The view from the top is worth every bit of effort in walking up that hill.

Some of the photographs:

 Photo taken from down below...
 The view of the rolling park

 Another view of the park with the Royal hospital in the background and a hilly short cut that people have created for themselves

 Now the real telescope

 Check out Bombay! By the way that is the Meridian Line in copper I think. Remember all those complicated sums that we had to do in Geography class in school, involving latitudes and longitudes? Standing here, I went back to those school days :)
 The clock...
 A slightly different view, dusk is falling...
 What they say about the view...
 Before we knew it, it was dark and all the lights came on and it looked all the more amazing...
 See the green laser light? Well it is the meridian line, lighted up like that in the dark. Isn't it really cool?
At 1p.m. every day they sound a gong, I was disappointed to have missed that. But then when I saw in view in the dark and the laser light, I was glad we came late enough to get a day view and also an evening view.

Apart from the line, there was two/three museums displaying various kinds of clocks, astronautic instruments and there is the Planetarium next door, which we covered as well. 

Wednesday, 2 February, 2011

Nooks and crannies of our London house.....

Since moving to London I have been promising my family and friends to share some photos of our house. Had taken some way back but have been too lazy to post them. Recently during Christmas our friend Anurita took some lovely shots of the house, so finally with her photos and mine I have assembled a virtual tour of our not-so-new-London home.
Our house from the front after a heavy snowfall....
The entrance.... too stark and white....
Some Christmas lights, a Buddhist flag and we are set.... I had bought these hanging birds from Sarojini Nagar Market, New Delhi way back in 2002 when I first moved into Ganga Hostel to make my hostel room a little cheerful. Almost a decade later and after travelling half way around the world they are still cheering me up...the little bell we picked up for Christmas....

A closer look at the lights....
The drawing room....our landlord provided these super comfy black sofas and the stark white curtains....touch of turquoise was Indranil's idea....I wanted a profusion of earth colours likes reds, greens and yellows...but I gave in when we found these Indian cushion covers from a gift store....layering the curtains with turquoise ones was my idea.....and now I love this colour scheme.....
We were searching for a special lamp...not the usual ones found in home store chains in the UK....after going through all the choices, we decided to innovate and this is the result.....
This elephant hanging has been part of my life since my Delhi days....

The fire place while we were setting up the house...not there yet....
A rug can make all the difference in the world....found this matching rug from the same shop....

 In the absence of logs, we decided to make do with some candles....
Kitchen and eating area...
Our dinning table, soon after moving in...

Kitchen window from outside...
Our sitting area in the garden. All this place needs is a barbeque machine and summer!

The garden which I confess I have been neglecting.
Our bench for enjoying morning cup of tea....cannot wait for summer!