24 March, 2010


( This story posted earlier on 27th Sept 08 got deleted by an error. Just a repost)

Mornings are serene. Almost quiet.
We don’t relax much otherwise but at these times early in the day am always far less stressed . In our business,being the senior most can have its advantages. I was generally treated fondly by the owner. After all he started this business with me. What glorious times were those!!! Reminiscing about the good old days is what keeps me in good humour these days.

The whole day I listen to the radio, whichever station is being played. I listen to the clink of the glasses and the bottles, the crunching sounds of the crates being stacked in readiness for the business. Typically we are open from nine in the mornings till two in the night.

Oh...What kind of business? It’s a Country Liquor Bar, License no… No I cannot tell you that else you will know exactly where it is. Suffice it to know we are near an Industrial area.

Today is payday in the neighboring factories. Pockets are going to be heavy and we will aid them shed some of that weight into our till. In anticipation, more raw stock has been ordered from the suppliers for today and the week ahead. The day began as usual, Namdeo Doke, our early morning regular has with him a new fellow from his machine tool factory, where they both work as skilled lathe operators. Between them they order one bottle of Santraa (An Orange flavored..Cloudy liquor extremely strong and very popular) and a plate of spiced dal. They quickly go about finishing it. After all they have to reach in time for the second shift. The pungent fumes and slurred words begin. I overhear their conversation but no one notices me. The till rings as the first customer pays up. Business has begun.

The door to the entrance is always open but covered with a dark blue curtain so no passerby can casually peep in. The Panwala outside conducts brisk business serving bidi’s and cigarettes to the customers walking in, and scented pan and mava’s to the ones going out. Nothing can quell the stench of the rotten liquor but everyone attempts and commerce prospers.

Whooooooooooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnnn goes the factory siren, a sound that always reminds me of the flea ridden mangy cur in the neighborhood who wails when he sees the full moon. The siren announces the ending of the first shift. It is now five minutes past four in the afternoon, and the patrons who would rush in now are not the kind to leave in a hurry. Extra plastic chairs are ordered from the shop next door who supplies chairs to functions and marriages. Their only condition to us is always the same, that the chairs be washed and wiped before being returned. Our customers are not the genteel types that the chairs are normally used to.

Mhaadu dada is the first to walk in with his three cronies. Mahadeo, the name he is born with is long forgotten. The day he bashed the head of a union leader in-charge of the line of factories in this area, the title dada ( elder brother ) got added to plain Mhaadu. This was for teasing Rakhmi whom Mhaadu was soft on. He took charge of both, the line of factories and the curves on Rakhmi. He is a very quiet man, broad shouldered and clever. He keeps his eyes and ears open and is prepared for danger, after all running a union of workers is neither easy nor a healthy occupation unless one is watchful. He comes in only once a month on payday to collect the union contributions from existing members and to enlist new members.

Today the word has gone out that the union contributions are upped by Rs.10/-, after all hadn’t the Union negotiated a pay-hike of Rs.100/- for the ordinary worker? Most workers will happily pay the extra charge but there always is that one ungrateful soul who would accept the manna but not want to settle the due. Mhaadu and his three friends would firmly talk to such souls and their presence would ensure that dissent doesn’t achieve rebellious proportions. I knew about this action for a month now as Mhaadu had quietly mentioned this course to the same three men here and I had overheard.

One is privy to a lot of secrets by simply being in a bar. Our guests after all need a reason to be here. I shall tell you the trend as have seen it happening time and again. It begins with a celebration by a group, where a few first timers join a few veterans at the table. The old timers place the order and the rookies look about wide eyed, soaking in the inside sights of the bar. Till this moment their daring has led them to only the fluttering blue curtain on the door. The curtain has been swept aside and a threshold is crossed. Rookies make faces at the first sip, the veteran’s laugh and soon challenges to manhood are issued. These challenges have only one measure, glasses or bottles. Soon the frequency increases and it graduates from a want to a need. Another type is the one, who sought the support of the bottle, when the first crisis hit them. Had they faced it squarely and moved on, I would never have come across them. Now they are here and totally bottled in, both by circumstance and habit.

I know each of our regulars very well. I never talk hence they like to sit in my corner and rant. Patiently I listen to them talk, mumble, exclaim and sometimes even see them cry. I have no choice. I know Namdeo Doke has three ugly daughters with no hope for marriage unless he pays a huge dowry. He drinks to avoid the issue and he has a unique style of searching a groom. He periodically brings in a new young man, like the one he brought in today morning, into the bar and coaxes him for a drink. Then he would tell him about his terrific daughters. The routine never varies. Till today morning he was pitching for all his daughters tells me that nothing has materialized from his efforts. It is obvious that his daughters and wife are not too thrilled with his idea of prospecting for a son-in-law in a country liquor bar. Namdeo continues, he is the father after all, I observe and the till keeps ringing.

Balram is the havaldar at the police station in the next precinct. He comes here for his late evening nautaak. Balya favor’s my corner always. From the window he gets a view of the lamp-post outside the bar and Nimmo. Nimmo is the young prostitute, who stands there and solicits business. He is in love with her but afraid to tell her and seeks the courage of the spirit, we serve bottled. She likes him too and teases him by asking, when will he stop the daily lease and negotiate a total purchase of her. Not that Balya pays ever, either at the bar or with her. Despite all he is a likeable soul who often steers legal and regulatory trouble away from our bar, hence he is welcome, always. This is one unlikely love story and unless both flee, reality - would constrain them around the lamp-post. Balya has plans to run away and would practice his dialogues in his glass, on how he would convince Nimmo to join him; I just listen and hope it works out for him.

Bheema is very unlike his namesake from Mahabharata. He is a frail wisp of a man, married to the sensuous Rakhmi, with whom Mhaadu dada is having a rip roaring tryst. Bheema’s frustration at being cuckolded and it being thrown in his face has made him hit the bottle to contain his rage big time. He especially hates the moments when he runs into Mhaadu at the bar on pay day. I used to overhear Bheema mumble into his glass on what would he do to Mhaadu as clearly as if he is speaking to me. Bheema conveniently forgets that his ill-treatment of Rakhmi is what has thrown her into Mhaadu’s arms. I knew this when Bheema’s neighbor Ganpya and Raghu had once sat and discussed this. Ganpya said that Bheema spends all his salary on drink (not far from the truth), Bheema hits her, time and again when she would ask for household spending money. She was drawn to Mhaadu not just for his good looks but also the respectful manner in which he treated her. This situation did not benefit anyone and is swiftly slipping in the mire. Rakhmi and Mhaadu are now besotted with each other and Bheema plans revenge, twisted with public humiliation. I see it all happening in front of me without uttering a word.

It is around 7.30 in the evening now and the atmosphere in the bar is warming up.
The 21 inch TV on the shelf above the bar sees Lara Dutta and her gyrating butt. It is swinging to a popular song from Khakee, a movie. Personally, as much as bar songs go I always feel that Helen doing her “Mungda Number” is a classic (but that makes me old fashioned). Helen was one lady who could dance and whip up frenzy without being vulgar at all. Lara is not much of a dancer but her butt does have class and it’s in your face movement make even quite a few of the regulars lose their focus. Some of them splutter as they have tipped the glass up their noses ogling Lara who works her magic as she screams "Kaisa Jaadu Zaala Reyyy".

All is well and joyous as bars can be till I see the four enter. They quietly walk towards my corner. Pull up the chairs near me and sit. They are not our regulars and seem too sober and deep.They order two bottles of Narangi and boiled eggs. The spicy dal is also ordered. We serve the dal in plastic packets that is accompanied by the chopped onions, chilies and one slice of lemon. The packet is roughly broken open and the contents poured in the plate that has onions in it. The lime is squeezed on it and the same tossed about with an aluminum spoon. The spoon is the latest addition and was our upgrade. No bar in the area yet provides spoons. It is a simple yet important improvement. Our clients do wipe their eyes which would water with the strong liquor and smoke around. Now if they have eaten dal with their fingers with the chilli powders sticking to it imagine the drama. They would scream paaaaani..or water and rush to the metal wash basin, splash water on their faces and make such a mess. All of this is now avoided with our one aluminum spoon per plate.

It’s my age; I am rambling away from what I overheard then. Initially the conversation starts with praise to the lord for the drink and food. Rather incongruous, I think, but have heard stranger things here. All are hungry and concentrate on their food. Two plates of boiled eggs are finished in no time and two plates of bhurjee (An Indian version of scrambled eggs ) ordered before they are through with their first glass of drink.
They talk like friends who have not seen each other for a long time or old colleagues assembled together. The comfort in their tones with each other is evident in their conversation. They don’t address each other by names so it is confusing. I simply give names to their voices, Gruff, Tinny, Baritone and Rasp. Now u would wonder how I would know baritone in a country liquor bar, but the bar does have a TV and once Robert uncle a church organ player who after his wife died became our regular, stopped while surfing and there was a man baying on the screen. He was fat and had a beard and Robert uncle said he is a baritone called Pau or roti or something. That’s how I know Baritone.

Enough, I stray from the conversation, the four speak very quietly.

Baritone: “It has come in at the safe-house” 
Tinny: “When do we take it to the location?” 
Gruff: “According to the original plan, tomorrow at 10a.m.” 
Tinny: “How big is it?” 
Rasp: “About the size of a cigarette carton” 
Tinny: “Will it finish the job, seems so small” 
Rasp; who talked like the technical end in the quartet : “It will, Both the target and some bonus buildings too.”

I start wondering what buildings?? Are these men builders? No one from that occupation has ever frequented our bar.Then Tinny asked the question that sent a chill down my grain.

Tinny: “How many casualties expected if it detonates at 10.30, its peak hour in the embassy building no?”

Holy cow, these guys are going to blow up an embassy building. Now I was really scared. I was as usual taken for granted and the conversation flowed. So did the drink.

Rasp: “About 250 at least not counting property damage and the injured” 
Baritone: “This would be our statement. No demands. First the action and second the claim. Then the authorities of this country would take our demands seriously.” 
Gruff: “Yes, then shall flow in the money and the members. Our organization shall be the most respected group in this side of the world.” 
Tinny: “Who would think that the four of us here are starting a revolution?”

Involuntarily he twitched his leg against me and I shuddered and the plates rattled. He groggily stared at me and steadied me. These guys were terrorists. I had seen a lot of people and slotted them as petty thieves, drunkards, strong arm robbers, gangsters, union leaders etc. Terrorists were a first even for me. This brand of evil had me scared, angry and disgusted all at once.

My only urgency was, who do I tell this explosive piece of news that I just overheard. And then again who would listen and believe it if they hear it from me? Balya is a cop and would know what to do. He is sitting watching Nimmo while there is evil planned here, right next to him. Even if Mhaadu is alerted then he with his three associates can capture these people and a lot many lives can be saved tomorrow.

But I know I won’t tell anyone. I am not a coward but like a lot of conversations overheard this too shall not be told. I only wished that apart from having four sturdy legs and a strong browned mahogany body, bar tables could talk.

20 March, 2010

Kaus Fowl Curry (KFC) & Rice

For sure had tumbled out on the other side of the mattress; why do I say a different side? This anomaly has not one but three explanations. One, because it was not yet 8 o clock in the morning, two it was a Sunday and finally the wife was on tour( have never ever woken up in the morning unless someone shakes me awake ).

Was fresh, made my tea, opened the freezer slapped in two leftover ham slices between two slices of bread, picked up an orange and the breakfast was set. Sunday thought process especially when alone moves from one milestone to another. Each of these milestones are meal oriented. So now with Breakfast concluded successfully was looking forward to lunch. Sunday Lunches are special . Here I had found myself elevated to the best cook of the house position, so what if it was by default, had to live up to the title.

There were a few pre-conditions to this scenario. I was too lazy to step out into the market or mall in the morning. So the special meal had to come out of what was in the refrigerator and the kitchen cupboards. After the quite simple breakfast and a leisurely newspaper read, I turned my attention to the serious task of beginning lunch, starting with the ‘What’s available” search.

Ingredients: From the Freezer & Shelves

Looked into the deep freezer & found two fat chicken legs and two breasts; the likes of which would have made a pigeon proud.

Also from the cabinets several Ingredients were located ; some in containers clean and some from dusty ones ( indicating sparse use ) It was an interesting find.

Assorted nuts: About a small cupful of Walnuts, Almonds, Peanuts ( Who else but a certified nut would first lay his hands on assorted nuts? This was an omen…things were going to be nutty )

Some flakes of Saffron left over from what were used in the Basundi made a month back. It was a superb variety of Kashmiri saffron about 10-15 flakes. Black peppercorns found a huge quantity. Took about a tablespoon of about 20 corns. The whole spice box delivered to me a bark of Cinnamon (Dalchini) about an inch, Clove (Laung) pods about 8-10 pods of them), Fresh Green Cardamom about 8-10, Cummin seeds the tiny variety called Shahajeera and some black Mustard seeds; the staple of a typical Indian Kitchen. Went further and located the powdered Turmeric about 2 tablespoons and Red chilly powder about 3 tablespoons.

From the larder basket came out Red Onions medium size about 6 and Garlic about 10 pods small size.

There was salt but had run out of cooking oil had only about two tablespoons left in the container. Looked around for a substitute and found Ghee (clarified butter) about 100 ml. Also found some regular Cummin seeds and a cupful of long grained rice.

The Lunch Idea :

No rocket science after this. It had to be some variety of chicken and rice. Did not have stuff for a good biryani as the ingredients were insufficient and it was too much effort. So settled on what can be done under half an hour of preparation time. Cooking time did not count as it didn’t involve me to be present.

The process rather than selection began by eliminating options and eliminated the rice by deciding on Onion and Jeera rice. And the Chicken had to be some curry or with a thick gravy that went with rice. Heres what happened.

Kau’s Fowl Curry :

Cutting , Chopping , Grinding and Sectioning.

  • Started with the Chicken. Washed and cleaned it after totally thawing it. The rather large pieces were chopped into smaller pieces of about two inches each and yielded about 12 pieces of Chicken. Totaling about 750 gms approximately. Kept it aside.

  • Dry Spice powder : Took a frying pan and added just a drop of oil. Roasted dry the whole spices Cinnamon, Cummin, Cloves, Mustard and Pepper. Once they started to crackle and smoke a bit removed them into the pestle and roughly pounded them into a coarse powder. The spice masala was ready. Kept it aside in a cup.

  • Garlic water : Crushed the Garlic into paste in my small kitchen pestle. Dissolved the paste in half a cup of water and strained the few uncrushed pieces of garlic out.

  • Nut Paste: Soak the nuts in a cup of hot water and let them stay for about half an hour. Grind them into a fine paste. Keep the paste aside.

  • Onion Paste: Dice the onions roughly about five of them and finely slice half an onion for the rice. Taking the rest of the oil on a hot pan sautéed the onions some mustard and Cummin till golden brown. Added the two tablespoon of turmeric to it and tossed it further for a minute on the hot pan. Removed into a food processor and ground to a fine paste.

  • Red Chilly Paste : Take the 3 tablespoons of chilly powder and carefully add water till it became a thin and consistent paste.

  • Chicken Saute : In the rest of the oil left on the hot pan tossed in the chicken pieces and turned them till they changed colour and the skin tightened around it.

  • Clove Butter : In a fresh pan on a medium flame heat the clarified butter and coat the sides of the pan . Toss in the Cloves until they start popping.

  • In three tablespoons of warm water dissolve the saffron.

  • Salt to taste and few cups of water for gravy

The Making ( Chicken Curry )

On a medium flame, take the Clove flavored clarified butter. Add in the onion paste, the dry ground masala and the chicken. Toss till the ingredients inside change colour and the mixture thickens coating the chicken thoroughly. This takes about five minutes. Add in the garlic water and the red chilly paste and salt to taste. Pour in three cups of water, cover the pan and bring it to a slow boil. This may take about fifteen to twenty minutes. Lift the pan lid and add the nut paste and stir. Add the saffron water and bring it a quick boil in about 3 minutes. Turn off the burner and keeping the pan covered let the gravy thicken in and chicken cooks under the steam further marinating and soaking in the flavours of the curry. After half an hour pour it into a serving bowl. Warm it if required. Garnish with fresh chopped coriander if available. I didn’t. so it went without.

The Making ( Jeera Onion Rice )

Wash the cup of long grained rice thoroughly and remove the water. In a pan. Take a little bit of oil and toss the finely chopped onion and cumin seeds . Pour in the washed rice and toss till it dries off and each grain separates. Pour in two and half cup of water, cover and cook on a high flame. In about five minutes the water is absorbed, remove the lid and lower the flame and cook for about a minute. The rice would be ready.

The lazy one had rustled up a Chicken curry that turned out to be so surprisingly yummy that had to share it here. I have faithfully put in the ingredient quantities that I had used such that for varying quantities you gents and ladies may apportion appropriately. My serving of chicken was enough to serve five comfortably. The curry, not the rice. It tasted great with both Chappati as well as bread which became my dinner. The Rice was lunch.

Have fun guys. I had a lot of it and it is surprisingly less to medium spicy and despite the pepper corns and chilly powder doesn’t turn out fiery. I guess the nuts and onions helped here.

12 March, 2010

Power of the Press

The train glided onto the platform and the bundles dropped. Experienced hands picked them and carried them to the sidewalk. More hands joined in as the packing strips were cracked and the quiet but urgent job of assembling a newspaper began. Like clockwork the route copies were handed over and the copies on the stand arranged. There were many brands of newspapers in this busy metropolis but only a few moved with regular frequency. Fresh gleaming copies, warm from the presses cut a handsome picture on the news vendor’s display.

One such paper was the “Time of the Day”. It was a magnificent fourth in the leader board of circulation numbers. Its editor Nari Batliwala was a graduate of the school of thought that a newspaper Informs, Educates, Engages & Interacts with the readers. It plays the role of a catalyst towards both the general and specific benefit of the society. Keeping in line with this thought, today’s edition carried amongst other things three noteworthy articles.

First was by the current Commissioner of Police D.Sivanandan, an erudite man. He talked about the need to increase the Police–Public dialogue and sharing goodwill as a means to the well being of the Police force and Society.

The second was by a leading social worker who protested the division of the metropolis and the services it offered along linguistic lines. It was directed at a suburban shakha pramukh who had announced a protest march against a popular new movie release later in the day today.

The third was on the growing sense of awareness in the Parent Teachers association on physical punishment meted out to children in schools. This was an in-vogue topic. The same parents had been whacked by their teachers in their time and no one had protested. In fact their parents may have actually been happy at that. This grumble was being addressed by the new generation of parents.

There was also a health and beauty column where a young lady reader had asked the secret behind having a sparkling rosy complexion and a bounce in her step. The periodical against Nari’s best wishes also had an Agony Aunt’s column where a young man had expressed a desire to know the means to reach out to and win his lady love.

Like all newspapers that for their sustenance need advertising TOTD had its own classifieds and personal columns. An entreaty published in today’s sheet said “Dear Rajeev, Am truly sorry for being so stubborn. I shall wait for you near the Flora Fountain today at 10.15am. If you have forgiven me please be there. Leaving today at noon.K”
A young man with a strained expression passed by the vendors stall at 8.45 am and picked up a copy. On today’s agenda was the search for a new job. Bunching the newspaper with his handkerchief he thrust it into the open flap of a shoulder slung bag he carried and boarded the train to VT. It was a testy ride in the crowded compartment that barely allowed him space to stand, let alone read the newspaper. He left it for the luncheon time. At 9.45 am from VT he had started walking to his office at Colaba. In the surge of the human stream walking with him, someone jostled him and the newspaper got knocked off. He had reached the Prince of Wales Museum when he felt the first beads of sweat and missed his handkerchief. Cursing he realized that it was the monogrammed one and traced his steps back. He had reached the Flora fountain again when he saw it fallen on the road bunched up in the newspaper. As he drew the kerchief out of the paper, it was the hour, his eyes made contact with those of a beautiful teary eyed girl who rushed into his arms. Rajeev you have come!! In this meeting all anger and thoughts of changing a job flew off from his mind as a light wind blew her hair in to his face.

The same wind carried his newspaper separating the pages. They flew and plastered themselves on the window of a yellow and black cab. It swerved & banged into a fire hydrant and caused a cut above the eye to the young driver. Constable Tanaji Kadam, the local beat cop, hastily gathered the flying pages as he sensed that they were a mortal danger and could cause more accidents. He rushed this way and that and finally put all of the newspaper together, only to find Rajeev and his companion had walked away. His adventurous trot across the street was observed by Abdul the local chaiwala. Abdul companionably called out to him, Tanu bhaiyya have a cutting ( half a glass ) before you go on your round. The friendly words and someone having made a note of his being on duty made the cop happy. He had the cup of chai and suitably refreshed by a general member of the public he cheered up considerably. With a jaunty step he walked on ahead to find a kid in a white shirt and blue shorts walk by. Playfully he extended the newspaper to him and said boy this shall be your education for today. Having done his good deed Tanaji ambled along on his beat.

In the meantime the taxi driver was carried into a nearby municipal hospital. His wound being administered by the young nurse whose attention he had struggled to acquire. His heart had thudded from the first time he had seen her six weeks ago. He had even penned his problem to the agony aunt. Today she was not only close to him but was administering to his cut gently and when he had asked her out for a chai she had not refused.

Where is the newspaper? These stories can progress quite happily all on their own; let us remain with the news sheet for today.

The young boy whose name was Deepak carried the paper home. He had to collect his bag and be off to school in the noon. His sister Deepali a very plain looking girl came in and saw the newspaper. A long while back she had written to the doctor who answered queries on health and wellbeing. She had given up hopes on seeing her query turn up by now. Very carefully she withdrew the glossy supplement from it. It was a plain sheet as the ad copy line was at the bottom of the page. She carefully cut it and used the rest to line up her threadbare muslin skirt from the inside. So skillfully she pasted it, that the same skirt developed a flare and pleats which made its fall smarter. As she went out and saw the envious stare of Devyani, the girl who stayed next door. In that envious look of Devyani her day was truly made. Had Deepali been able to see herself, she could have seen a girl with a face flushed with pride and a bounce in her step from the crackle of her skirt. It made her look almost pretty. She even attracted a wolf whistle.

Damu Angre was the father of Deepak and Deepali and he came in and frowned at the newspaper sitting on the stool. He didn’t even pause to wonder who belonged to it. From his rear pocket he fished out a switchblade and noticing nobody about carefully cut out the crossword and the sudoku puzzle. Then with a pen and paper he retired into the bedroom. Damu was the shakha pramukh (council leader of a social union) of his area and had arranged a protest against a movie ( the real cause of the protest is immaterial) today at 12.30 noon, the time of the first showing. His fellow protestors had gathered but the final three words had eluded Damu. Such was he engrossed and engaged. The followers waited a while and muttering to themselves melted away without a protest.

By the time Deepak came home the paper was nowhere to be seen. Not being the brightest academic talent his teacher had promised to rap his bottom hard with a ruler if his homework was not finished. Sitting down after these sessions was always an uncomfortable business. Deepak had not finished his homework. The teacher had proceeded to smack his bottom but the shorts Deepak wore were extra fuller today. His gait was waddling but there was an impish smile on his face. By the time he reached home his waddle had pushed one of the many pages of the Times of the Day to come out from the leg of his shorts at the back.

Such is the aura of the fourth pillar of democracy. Nari Batliwala had unwittingly achieved the mission of his paper serving as the catalyst for the well being of the society. Is it a wonder then when it is said that newspapers are important and the press has a power that reaches out and touches people?